PGA Championship

Thursday Notebook from PGA of America Pool Reporter Jeff Babineau

May 16, 2024


Jeff Babineau


Koepka opens with 67

Brooks Koepka did not have much momentum going for him midway through his second nine on Thursday. Having started his day on the 10th hole, the defending champion and three-time PGA Championship winner was 1-under par and making no birdies while others around him were going low.

And then lightning struck. Koepka eagled the 590-yard 7th hole, reaching the green with a 6-iron, then hit a nice tee shot into the 169-yard 8th to make birdie on top of it. That quickly, he had gone from 1under to 4-under and was very much in the mix.

“I said to Ricky (Elliott, his caddie) walking up 5, if we can get to 3 or 4 (under), that would be nice,” said Koepka, who won his third PGA Championship (and fifth major) a year ago at Oak Hill. “Just stay patient. That’s what majors are all about, I think.

“You can’t win it today, but you just try to hang around and give yourself a chance or in a good spot come Sunday. ... It was nice to see the one on 8 go in. I thought it was short, but I’ll take it. Really happy with the way I finished.”

Home cookin’ for a Hometown Hero

Justin Thomas knew that coming home to Kentucky to play in a major championship at Valhalla would make for an emotional week. Just how emotional, he had no idea.

Thomas grew up in nearby Goshen, and proudly calls Louisville his home. On May 6, he was honored with a Hometown Hero banner unfurled along the side of a large building in Watterson City Park Towers that thousands of commuters will pass alongside I-264.

The mayor declared it Justin Thomas Day in the city, and Thomas was so choked up with emotions he barely could speak.

“The things I felt today, I’ve never felt in any golf tournament,” he told the assembled crowd.

A two-time PGA Champion, Thomas opened the 2024 PGA Championship with a solid opening 69 on Thursday. It could have been better had he got some putts to go, but all things considered, it was a good way to start. He said he was nervous on the first tee, but soon his main emotion was joy.

“It was fun, a lot of fun,” Thomas said. “Felt a lot of great things out there, a lot of positive encouragement.”

Thomas said it felt pretty good to be a fan favorite as he walked the fairways of Valhalla. Record PGA Championship crowds are expected this week in Louisville, which has hosted the event three previous times.

“To be honest,” Thomas said, “I’ve never had this many people root for me before. So it’s a pretty good feeling, to be perfectly honest. ... I wish we had more tournaments in Louisville, because I like this.”  

This teacher can play

Jeremy Wells, one of 21 PGA of America Golf Professionals on the Corebridge Financial Team at this week’s PGA Championship, realizes he probably overdid it a little bit a year ago in his PGA Championship debut, playing four 18-hole practice rounds at Oak Hill. He was worn out by the time the tournament began.

The 33-year-old from Estero, Florida, who is PGA Director of Player Development at Cypress Lake Golf Club, had his reasons.

“I had a blast, but for us, when you come to one of these, you never know if you’re going to play in one again, right?” Wells said. “No regrets from that.”

Wells earned his way back into the PGA Championship by tying for eighth at the PGA Professional Championship in Frisco, Texas, and Thursday he shot 2-under 69, low round among the Corebridge Financial Team members.

As good as the round was, Wells’ best moment of the week likely came on Wednesday. He was standing on the 10th tee, hoping to play a practice round – only nine holes this time, thanks – and up walked U.S. Ryder Cup players Scottie Scheffler (World No. 1) and Max Homa to join him.

You can only imagine how nervous Wells was when he took the club back to hit his first shot, fans lining both sides of the fairway. He hit a good one, too.

On Wells’ bag this week is his former college roommate and teammate from William & Mary, Spencer Kushner. Kushner works in finance in New York now, and was a bit surprised two weeks ago when Wells dialed him up and opened with, “So, how are your green-reading skills?”

“I was from California, and Jeremy was from Virginia, and we couldn’t be more different to be college roommates,” Kushner said. “Here we are, 12 years later, still buddies.”

So the two savored a special moment on Wednesday when Wells hit that opening tee shot alongside Scheffler, Homa and PGA Tour pro Ben Griffin, their fourth. Wells striped his first drive. Said Kushner, “He pulled me over to the side afterward and said to me, ‘That could have gone ANYWHERE.’”

Wells played nicely on Thursday, his round sparked by a 3-3-3 run beginning at the 13th hole. He very nearly jarred his approach for eagle-2 at the 424-yard 15th. He was only the second PGA of America Golf Professional in the last 20 years to break 70 in the opening round of the PGA Championship, joining Bob Sowards (69, first round in 2011 at Atlanta Athletic Club).

Back home in Florida, Wells has been mentoring a group of PGA of America Associates working toward membership. He smiled and said the group assigned to him has been “slow playing” their book work. He thought he needed to motivate them, so he sent out a memo. He said he received zero responses.

“So hopefully they see this interview,” Wells said, smiling. “And I’m going to craft a good email next week when I get home and see if we can get it going, because this (playing in the PGA Championship) is one of the very cool perks and opportunities as a member.”