Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Dustin Johnson
- The 2019 PGA Championship starts on May 16 at Bethpage Black Course.
- Jason Sobel ranks the entire PGA Championship field, 1 to 156, so bettors and DFS players know which players to back and which to fade.
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Welcome to Strong Island. Again.
I grew up here, somewhere in between Shinnecock Hills GC, last year’s U.S. Open host, and Bethpage State Park, home to five golf courses of varying degrees, including the devilish Black, which will hold the PGA Championship this week, its third major in 17 years.
Even though I didn’t play much golf when I lived here, I still consider Bethpage sort of like a home club. It’s where golf-hungry amateurs show up in droves every day, from top-level players trying to catch their big break to poor schlubs who think they’re much better than they really are.
(True story: Two years ago, our group of three was joined on the first tee at the Black by a single, who was huffing and puffing before he ever hit a shot. “I haven’t played in 15 years,” he declared, then ignored the famous signage and teed off from the tips. The next five hours went about as poorly for him as you could imagine.)
It’s because of this provincial protectiveness that Bethpage is always a bit rowdier than any other venue. The fans think they own this place — in a way, they do — and they believe it’s their birthright to watch the world’s best players chunk shots out of the nasty rough or three-putt the puzzling greens.
It hasn’t always worked out this way, but if you’re looking to bet a winner this week, give a slight advantage to those guys who play with some swagger. Confidence, maybe even cockiness, could be a key intangible as players try to inherit the mindset of these brazen galleries.
A few other things I’m looking for in contenders this week: Distance, as the course plays “only” 7,459 yards on the card, but repeated 8-irons will offer a major advantage over 6-irons; birdie-or-better percentages from over 150 yards, because there aren’t many wedge approach shots; and while we shouldn’t blindly consider leaderboards from any of the previous U.S. Open or FedEx Cup playoff events, there should be a correlation to players who have enjoyed success on colder, wet venues, especially in the Northeast.
With that in mind, let’s get to my ranking of the entire 156-man field, which does indeed begin with a few guys who own plenty of swagger.
PGA Championship Player Rankings
1. Dustin Johnson
Is it possible to be the world’s No. 1-ranked player and still fly under the radar into a major championship? DJ is proving that it is. Despite two worldwide wins already this year and a T-2 at the Masters when it never quite seemed like he even had his best stuff, the likes of Woods, Koepka and McIlroy are all drawing more attention.
That should suit Johnson just fine. He’s won multiple times in the New York area before, but it’s another major venue, Oakmont, where he won the 2016 U.S. Open, which might correlate nicely to Bethpage Black. It isn’t often you can pick the No. 1 player and not have it feel like a chalky selection, yet that just might be the case with DJ.
2. Brooks Koepka
Let’s see … a major championship … on a big ballpark … with the pressure of playing in front of rabid spectators … yup, this one checks all the right boxes for Koepka. He’s won three major titles in the past two years, but I’m not sure any of those venues suited him better than this one should.
It’s not just that the course fits his style, either. The South Florida native’s bravado and swagger is perfectly New York — and more to the point, perfectly Bethpage, where amateur hackers show up every day to play the tips, armed with the false confidence that they can tame this beast. Koepka insists he gets overlooked by the media, but expect him to be a fan favorite this week.
3. Tony Finau
Despite a stellar recent record at majors — four top 10s in his last five starts — Finau still owns just one PGA Tour victory, which came at the alternate-field Puerto Rico Open three years ago.
I loved his answer when I recently asked whether he felt like he needed another win before he could claim a first major: “I don’t feel that way at all. When I stepped onto the first tee at Augusta National with Tiger and Fran, I felt like I could win. I didn’t feel like, oh, let’s notch another experience under my belt and learn something. I’m ready to win major championships. Why not now? Last year, I felt that way; this year, I don’t. I feel quite different. I don’t feel like I need to win another tournament.”