SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — One of these days, someone is going to break golf’s unbreakable barrier. A golfer is going to defy more than a century of tradition, beat the odds and grab the sport’s holy grail. One of these days, in a men’s major, somebody is going to shoot 62.
And that day could be Thursday, or Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
It sure seems to be trending that way, what with scores plummeting and with Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson each shooting 63 at the British Open the week before last. Mickelson’s putt for 62 seemed all but in the cup before spinning out at the last instant.
True, Baltusrol Golf Club for the PGA Championship this week will be more of a brute than Royal Troon was. But logic tells you that if a 62 is going to be shot, it is going to be done at the PGA, which has produced 13 of the 29 rounds of 63 ever recorded in majors.
Mickelson, having come as close as anyone, at least since Tiger Woods lipped out on the final hole at Southern Hills during the 2007 PGA, was asked Tuesday if the “golf gods” that kept his ball out of the hole will someday relent.
“I’m sure they will,” he said. “The conditions will have to be right. We’ll have to get something kind of like what we had at Riviera in ’95 [63s by Michael Bradley and Brad Faxon], where there was a heat wave and the greens were soft and it was a playable golf course. It would have to take something like that.
“But,” Mickelson added, “I don’t see anybody shooting that here at Baltusrol.”
Oh no? Check out which course has yielded the most 63s. You guessed it: Baltusrol, by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf at the 1980 U.S. Open and Thomas Bjorn at the 2005 PGA.
What’s more, this era is ripening by the day. Eleven of the 29 63s have been recorded since 2000 even though majors have been contested since the 1800s.
Players are getting better, stronger and more accurate. Equipment has improved dramatically, as have methods to groom courses. Add that the PGA Championship never sets up its layouts to be easy, but it does not consider it the end of the world if someone shoots a great score. Hiroshi Iwata — remember him? — came home with a 29 on the back nine at Whistling Straits last August to finish with a 63.
“It’s obviously quite unique in the way that they never go to for a certain type of golf course,” Masters champion Danny Willett said. “It can be very varied . . . and they never really shoot for a number to win.”
If you really stop and think, it is kind of surprising the 63 threshold has not already gone the way of the four-minute mile. Maybe there really has been an unseen hand or a wacky karma. Nicklaus had a three-footer on the final hole, but later told Dave Anderson of the New York Times, “I totally choked.”
Rory McIlroy, when he was asked Tuesday to ruminate on it, said, “Tiger in Tulsa, I don’t know how that putt didn’t drop.
“I sort of had a chance at St. Andrews a few years ago and missed a short putt on 17,” McIlroy said, recalling 2010. “I think it’s one of those things that’s in people’s minds, that 62 number. And I think once someone breaks the barrier, then you might see a whole bunch of guys go out and shoot it.
“I tell you,” he said, “I’d love to be the one to break it someday.”
That day could be arriving very soon.