Oak Hill Country Club’s East Course has undergone substantial transformations since the last time it hosted the PGA Championship 20 years ago.
So too has one of the players that competed there.
As Trevor Immelman returns to leafy Rochester, NY, for the 105th edition of the tournament on Thursday, he does so not as a wide-eyed 23-year-old chasing his first major, but as a seasoned broadcaster heading up TV coverage.
Promoted to lead golf analyst for CBS in January following Nick Faldo’s retirement, the South African is less than half a year into his new role in the hot seat.
With PGA Tour events coming thick and fast, the 2008 Masters champion has had to learn quickly. Fortunately, his biggest lesson learned was pretty much muscle memory already.
“Be ready,” Immelman told CNN Sport.
“When I was playing, I was the type of guy that loved to practice, loved to prepare for any scenario. I treat it the same way with broadcasting, so I do a lot of research, a lot of homework. I like to get out to venues and be in amongst the players and the caddies and the coaches and try and pick up as many little nuggets as I can and then be ready.
“Because, with live sport, you never quite know what’s going to happen. We could come on the air and Rory McIlroy makes a hole in one or some other player makes a triple bogey and you’ve got to be able to react really quickly. So I find the more preparation I can do, the better I’m going to be able to react when something happens.”
That mantra was tested at the RBC Heritage in April when Jon Rahm, a week on from claiming a green jacket of his own at The Masters, joined Immelman to offer some impromptu live analysis on the final round.
It was a daunting gig for a man who had just completed yet another 72 holes of golf, yet the Spaniard received rave reviews for his insight, not that Immelman was surprised.
“He’s extremely smart and thoughtful, and it’s massively impressive to me that English is his second language,” Immelman said.
“He speaks so fluently and really gets his point across in a very clear, smart way. But I can’t say that I’m really worried about him taking my job because he’s going to be a great player for a while.”
Rahm will arguably be the main attraction at Oak Hill this week, no small feat in a field shimmering with superstars.
The world No. 1 is already chasing a fifth victory of the year but will have to dethrone reigning champion Justin Thomas to become only the fourth golfer – and the first since Jack Nicklaus in 1975 – to win both the Masters and the PGA Championship in the same season.
A host of other major winners will set out to deny Rahm that place in history. Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa and Matt Fitzpatrick, to name a few, carry strong form and the combined pedigree of seven major titles into Oak Hill.
It’s the type of line-up that leaves Immelman doubting a surprise win reminiscent of the one he had a front row seat for in 2003, when world No. 169 Shaun Micheel powered to what would ultimately be the sole PGA Tour win of his career.
Instead, Immelman expects a name already around golf’s summit to emerge victorious. However, not the name currently on top of it.
“I think Scottie Scheffler’s going to win, I really do,” Immelman said.
“He’s just been playing some beautiful golf and has already won multiple times this season. The only thing that has really held him back has been his putting.
“Rahm has had a spectacular season, there’s no doubt about it. But if Scheffler’s putter gets hot, I think he’s going to be tough to beat.”
Spieth braced for slam noise
Victory for Scheffler would seal a second career major for the world No. 2 after triumph at The Masters in 2022, taking him to the halfway point in the pursuit of golf’s holy grail: the career grand slam.
Those three words will trail Jordan Spieth like a shadow this week, with the 29-year-old a PGA Championship victory away from becoming just the sixth golfer to win all four majors in the modern era.
Spieth will compete despite fears he would miss the major due to a wrist injury that ruled him out of last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson Classic and will be hoping to fare better than McIlroy did in his attempt to complete the feat at The Masters.
A grueling opening two rounds saw McIlroy miss the cut at Augusta National, pausing endless chatter around the elusive slam for another year. For Immelman, it will be impossible for Spieth to tune out that noise.
“We lived it with McIlroy [at The Masters] … I don’t think there’s a way to block it out,” Immelman said.
“It’s just going to be coming at him from all different directions. I think he’s equipped to handle that – he’s been a great player, getting a lot of attention for a long time. Three-time major champion, he’s seen everything there is to see in the game of golf.
“I’m a little more concerned with his health coming in … particularly with as thick as what this rough is apparently out there at Oak Hill.”
Woods’ absence ‘always a loss’
Tiger Woods is one of only six players to have completed the slam, but will not tee up on Thursday following surgery on his ankle last month.
The 15-time major winner underwent the procedure shortly after his third-round withdrawal from The Masters, having played through pain to make the cut. Major championships have made up the bulk of the 47-year-old’s competitive appearances since he suffered severe leg injuries in a 2021 car crash.
His absence at the PGA Championship will mark the second major he has missed since he returned to the sport. Immelman is as familiar as any with the sporadic nature of Woods’ appearances in recent years, but even so, each miss marks a fresh loss for himself and the wider game.
“It’s been a tough slog for him,” Immelman said.
“Seeing him make the cut [at The Masters] was a monumental effort with the conditions combined with the body issues. Then understanding the surgery that he had to have shortly after that just shows how incredible it was for him just to make the cut there.
“He’s still the biggest name in golf: everybody knows it. Everybody in our business knows it, all the players know it. And so, absolutely, it’s unfortunate that he won’t be there.”
Yet the show must go on, and Immelman is expecting a new-look Oak Hill – renovated by architect Andrew Green – to produce plenty of fireworks across the week.
“Nobody’s quite sure how it’s going to play and nobody’s quite sure how the weather’s going to be,” he said.
“That sort of uncertainty breeds a lot of excitement leading up to when that first ball gets in the air on Thursday.”