Kelly Kraft was coming anyway, because he didn’t want a repeat of last year.
The 2011 U.S. Amateur champion made his way from last week’s AT&T Bryon Nelson in Texas to Bethpage for the PGA Championship this week not knowing if he was going to get in as an alternate. A year ago, he was also an alternate for the PGA at Bellerive in St. Louis and didn’t leave until he got into the tournament on Wednesday, then didn’t play a practice round before missing the cut by three.
So Monday, when Justin Thomas withdrew with a wrist injury, Kraft was here and ready to go for his fifth start in a major championship. It also happens to come in Thomas’ marquee spot with a 7:40 a.m. tee time for Thursday’s opening round off the 10th tee alongside Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott.
“Just wanted to treat it like a normal week and have a chance,” Kraft said. “It’s hard to play a major without seeing the course.”
Kraft, 30, was a terrific amateur out of SMU, joining the 2011 Walker Cup team that included seven current PGA Tour pros, one of them being Jordan Speith. But the road for Kraft has been a little bumpy getting here, not earning his PGA Tour card until 2016 and peaking with two second-place finishes.
He missed the cut in his two most recent tournaments and four of his previous five, but he was happy with the way he was hitting the ball while hoping his putting came around on the flatter greens of the Black Course. He also planned to use his experience winning the U.S. Amateur as proof he can compete in big-time events.
“It’s something I’ll always remember, and I wouldn’t trade that week for anything,” Kraft said. “Anytime you win a big tournament you can draw back on it. I think that’s why when I have been in contention on Tour, I have done pretty well.”
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker said he shed a tear while watching Tiger Woods win the Masters in April, and he had some interesting company along with his family.
“Tony Bennett, the Virginia basketball coach, was with us,” Stricker said. just two months removed from Bennett’s Cavaliers won the NCAA championship in April. “So we all were able to watch it together and enjoy it all together. It was fun.”
If Brooks Koepka successfully defends his PGA title, he would be the first player to be a current two-time defending champion in two of the four majors at the same time.
Just three golfers have even had that opportunity: Ben Hogan in 1952, Arnold Palmer in 1963 and Woods in 2001.