Thursday’s Pro-Am at the Deutsche Bank Championship, TPC Boston, found the 52 pros loose, casual, and companionable. Their 208 amateur partners and the swarm of fans over the Arnold Palmer-designed layout enjoyed a gorgeous summer day and some great golf. The course, renovated in 2007 by Brad Faxon and Gil Hanse, is in impeccable condition, and the Bentgrass greens are rolling true and fast, approaching 12 on the Stimpmeter. The race to East Lake is about to begin in earnest.
Talking jovially with the amateurs, signing autographs at almost every tee and green, and posing for pictures, the pros also enjoyed their last day before the cutthroat competition begins on Friday for both the $8,250,000 total purse—$1,485,000 to the winner—and the precious FedEx Cup points. Only 70 players of the top 100 Tour players in the world will qualify for the semi-finals at the BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Illinois, and then only the top 30 in points will play East Lake in Atlanta, Georgia, in the finals.
In his second year as CEO of Deutsche Bank North America, Jacques Brand played with Jordan Spieth and former Mayor of the Big Apple, Michael Bloomberg. He spoke to the tournament’s charity aspect: “The Championship is committed to raising awareness of important causes. Since its debut in 2003, the Championship has generated more than $25 million for the Tiger Woods Foundation and 18 Boston-area charities, including the Boy Scouts, The First Tee of Massachusetts, Greater Boston Food Bank and the Women’s Lunch Place.”
I tracked down Brand’s predecessor, Seth Waugh, who put the Deutsche Bank on the PGA map in the first place. He was easy to find on the practice tee, getting ready to play with Zach Johnson and Celtic co-owner Stephen Pagliuca, because he was inundated by well-wishing pros and amateurs. I asked him how it felt to be playing in the Pro-Am of the tournament he created.
Retired now for two years and living in New York state in the summer and near Palm Beach in the winter, Waugh looked around at the pros and the amateurs on the practice tee and said, “This is really the Deutsche Bank’s Super Bowl day and a day to spend with our clients. Obviously, Deutsche Bank gets some branding, which is terrific, but more importantly we’ve done so much for charitable causes, and for New England, this event brings in about $60-70 million a year.
“For me, I’m just having a great time, greeting so many friends from over the years, and having a good walk on this great course. I’ve always wanted to make sure that everyone on Pro-Am day has a good time. I’m so glad to be back in town. This is the 13th year, and I never imagined we’d get this far. The Deutsche Bank Championship has gotten bigger and better and cooler than I ever thought it would.”
Now back to the players. The Pro-Am, with its informal environment, allows the golf journalists to talk with the pros either on the golf course as they interact with their partners or in the Media Center for scheduled interviews. Here are some quotes that should be of interest.
Who’s the hottest player in the universe? Jason Day, no question about it, with three wins in his last four outings at the PGA Championship, Canadian Open, and last week’s first FedEx Cup event, The Barclay’s. Now numero uno in the FedEx standings and third in the world behind Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, Day is as upbeat as he can be.
Jason said, “Yeah, it’s been quite a run. It’s been amazing for me just to see how this summer’s kind of unfolded. But it was a good start to the FedEx Cup playoffs last week with the win. I’m looking forward to another good week this. I love coming back here. It’s a beautiful place. The people are fantastic. The crowds are great. The golf course, for some reason, fits my eye.
“So when you put all that together you start to feel a lot more comfortable out here. And then once you have a good game plan, as long as you stick to it, you can make some low numbers pretty quickly. It’s just a good set up for me. So, I liked last week’s venue, and I like this one even more. I’ve just got to go out there and play some golf.”
And Rory McIlroy, who didn’t play last week but took it easy to make sure his injured left ankle would not be a problem down the stretch, is no less positive and optimistic. He said, “Everything feels really good. I’m excited to be back here in Boston, a place where I’ve played well before. Good memories from three years ago when I won. I feel like the game’s in good shape. I’m just excited to get going. I play here, play Chicago and then play Atlanta, trying and get myself up the FedExCup rankings and trying and get into the top-5 heading into Atlanta. From there, anything can happen. When I’m playing my best, everything sort of clicks together, and I don’t feel like there’s anyone that can beat me.”
OK, what does Jordan Spieth, who threw out the first pitch at Fenway on Tuesday, have to say? Jason, Rory, and Jordan are being touted as the new Big Three, and that sort of competition is good for the game. Right, Jordan?
“Yeah, I love this place. I have great memories here and have played well the last couple of years. I have been working hard early this week, from Sunday afternoon, Monday morning on, just to get ready for a solid week. The hospitality here is fantastic. We all love coming to north Providence, where we stay, and it’s cool, because my family comes in, too. My brother starts school up in Brown around this week.
“Jason, Rory, and I, we’re all focused on our own goals. And, yeah, we have to—as one, two and three in the world, beat each other right now in order to remain at the top. We’ll be working hard just to try to win this tournament. And hopefully that can be me.”
The defending FedEx Cup champ, Billy Horschel, is not willing to concede his crown to anyone just yet. When I asked him if lightning could strike twice, he said, “I’m a positive guy. I think lightning could strike the same place more than twice! I feel good. The last two weeks have been a little bummer, and I didn’t putt very well. But my teacher, Todd Anderson, found the major secret for my stroke. I’m hitting it better than I have all year, so I feel pretty good. I can’t wait to see what happens, make some putts early on Friday morning and get some confidence with the putter. Then I can be off to the races just like last year. We’ll see.”
Defending Deutsche Bank champ Chris Kirk waxed appreciative and philosophical: “This has been one of my favorite tournaments of the year. I’ve always loved the golf course. And the people here that run the tournament are great. The staffs in the dining room and the locker room, they remember me, and they remember my kids and my wife. It’s a great family environment at this tournament.
“I work on my golf process every day and don’t really worry about it. I know how you win tournaments is that you practice and prepare as well as you can, and you work on the little things. And the little things all add up if you just do as well as you can in each moment. That may sound like a cliché or like a sports psychologist is talking to you, but it makes life a lot more simple for me. I just try to do as well as I can every day and just sort of see what happens.”
Rickie Fowler really didn’t want to talk about golf! He wanted to talk about Boston. “This is the first time I’ve stayed in the city, and I have made it to two Red Sox games. That’s pretty special. I’ve been to Fenway before, but I currently have a couple of buddies on the team that I’ve known previously from the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization. I was able to spend some time with them. That’s been the highlight of my week so far, and I have totally enjoyed the city of Boston. Of course, a win here would make the week for me.”
And what’s happened to Jason Dufner this year? When I asked him if he liked TPC Boston and if his game was ready, here’s what he had to say. “It’s a good course. I’ve had some good results on it, so that makes it a little easier for me to play. I don’t know if I’m ready to win. I don’t have really good results the last couple of months, but I will find out. My goal every week is to try to be good enough to win. I’d like to have a chance to win on Sunday. Will my game stand up? That’s the $1.485 million question right now!”
Can Keegan Bradley regain the form that has won his three tournaments, including the 2011 PGA? I was going to ask him on the third tee, but he was so busy signing autographs for kids and posing for pictures with them—Keegan is one of the good guys on Tour, believe me—that I turned to his caddie, Steven “Pepsi” Hale, and asked him, “I know Keegan is working on a swing change. Are you enthusiastic about this change?”
Pepsi replied, “Absolutely! He’s returning to the swing that got him here on Tour, that he has been successful with, and that Keegan knows will work. He feels more natural now with his motion. He’s been striking the ball well all day [Keegan started on the 10th]. His drives have been over 300 yards and finding the fairway. He’s been flushing his irons. His putting is good, too. No negatives from discarding the belly putter. I’m very excited for him. Very excited for him.”
Finally, I wanted to ask Kevin Kisner if it were time for him to win. Kisner, if you remember, tied for first in three tournaments—RBC Heritage, The Players Championship, and the Greenbrier Classic—only to lose all three in sudden death. In 2015, he has also finished fourth in the McGladrey Classic, fifth in the Crowne Plaza Invitational, and eighth at the Memorial. The man is ranked 13th in the FedEx Cup standings and 35th in the world rankings, and he has earned $3,262,689. So, Kevin, are you ready to win?
“Yes, I just have to stay in the hunt,” he said, “and I’ll have good chance. I know I belong with these guys, and winning the Deutsche Bank is crucial to winning the FedEx Cup. If I can just get myself into position on Sunday, I’ll see what I’ve got over the final holes.”
The whimsical New England weather appears to smiling on the Deutsche Bank this weekend. Of the 100 Tour players who tee it up tomorrow, only the top 70 will be smiling come Monday. But the next four days of golf will be the best that New England golf has to offer.
(All photography by Vicky MacKay.)WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?