Shane Lowry ready for PGA in an abnormal time

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — It would be better if things were normal. Shane Lowry, the Open winner, “the champion golfer of year,“ told us that.

But the times are not normal, as we know. And as Lowry knows.

We have been forced to adapt because of a pandemic, to revise, to push the major tournaments back on the calendar or, with the British Open, push them off the calendar entirely. We have been forced to play without spectators.

For a while, it seemed the 102nd PGA Championship might not be played at all, but three months late it arrives Thursday at TPC Harding Park, the joyful muni.

A place of sporting success from World Series champs (Giants and A’s) to NBA titlists (Warriors) to Super Bowl champions (49ers) to U.S. Open venues (Olympic Club), the San Francisco Bay Area now adds another attraction to the list.

It wasn’t easy, as Lowry, his fellow competitors and determined PGA officials are well aware. They had to deal with COVID-19, with TV shifts, with players’ international travel.

“There will be relief on Sunday when we hand out a trophy,” said Seth Waugh, chief executive of the PGA. “It’s an honor to be in this position, and we also think it’s bigger than golf. This is the first really major sporting event since the Super Bowl that’s being played.”

And, of course, it’s being played in the cool, gray city of love on a course where anyone can play, a course that U.S. Open winner Gary Woodland said has rough that’s brutal when it's wet.

Municipal layouts for many years were dismissed when compared to the elite private courses, where the play was less frequent and the maintenance more frequent.

Not long ago before it was revitalized after the urging and leadership of the late Sandy Tatum (for whom the clubhouse has been named), Harding was not much more than pock-marked greens and patches of dirt. The grounds crew spent as much time playing cards in a shed as it did working on the fairways.

Then, when the PGA and PGA Tour agreed to hold events there, such as the American Express Championship, the Presidents Cup and this PGA Championship, the city of San Francisco in effect invested in Harding Park, renamed TPC (Tournament Players Club) Harding Park.

The course created in the 1920s by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting (who also designed the Olympic Club, just on the other side of the Lake Merced reservoir) regained its old glory and at least one new admirer, John Daly.

In the post-match interview after he was beaten by Tiger Woods in a playoff at the 2005 American Express, Daly was told some fairways at Harding had been used as a parking lot when the 1998 U.S. Open was held at Olympic.

“They should have parked cars at Olympic and played the Open here,” said Daly, no fan of Olympic’s reverse camber lies or hundreds of trees.

Harding has its own trees. A cypress alongside the Golden Gate Bridge is the course logo.

Lowry was a bit put off by the schedule changes. When the 2020 Open was cancelled, he didn’t have the opportunity to defend the championship he won at Royal Portrush in Ireland, his home country.

“Very strange times the last sort of six or eight months,” Lowry said, “and yeah, I am the most recent major champion, although it doesn’t feel like it because it was so long ago (July 2019). But I’m happy to be back playing a major.”

Even if coming to the United States, and facing a potential 14-day quarantine when Lowry returns to Ireland, will keep Lowry here — and away from his family — until the end of December.

“I was so looking for to going to Augusta in April,” said Lowry of the Masters, now scheduled in November. “And as the Open champion, I was looking forward to going to Ireland to play in the Irish Open at Mt. Juliet, a place that I love.

“It’s great to be back playing golf, but it would be better if things were just normal, and we were playing in front of crowds, and you were getting a chance to live life normally. But we just have to make the best of a bad situation and get on with it.”

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