Contrary to popular belief about the unprecedented popularity surrounding the 2012 PGA Championship set for Kiawah Island in August, tickets are still available for the first round on Thursday and practice rounds Monday through Wednesday.
Probably not for long. Bubba Watson's magical Masters and Carl Pettersson's unconventional approach to winning last week's RBC Heritage on Hilton Head add ideal layers of border state appeal to the already loud buzz.
Think “Hunger Games” with a Daniel Radcliffe cameo.
A Southern-fried personality named Bubba winning the first major of the year was sweeter than peach cobbler, complete with homemade whipped cream: an 18th green hug from his mama. Watson played college golf for Georgia. He uses a bright pink club to drive balls longer than anyone else on tour.
The portly Pettersson might not be able to out-run Verne Lundquist. He looks like a Saturday morning hacker fond of extra helpings of barbeque. Better yet, the native Swede is a former N.C. State golfer who lives in Raleigh.
Of course, the “Sea Monster” Ocean Course is the star, but it gets a little brighter as we get closer to the Aug. 9-12 showdown. Players dropping in for practice rounds and TV folks on scouting trips have been amazed.
“We had some Golf Channel people out here yesterday,” 2012 PGA Championship director Brett Sterba said Tuesday. “Their jaws were hitting the ground. The Ocean Course is standing up to what people have proclaimed it to be. It's uncommon.”
Enter golf's most recently anointed winners, with a pair of swings you won't find in instructional books.
“Bubba is a great champion,” Sterba said. “A great personality. He's a real person. What you see is what you get with Bubba. He's great for the game of golf. And, for me personally, it's great that he's an American. We want to see Americans back at the top of the world rankings, especially with the Ryder Cup coming up this year. We want to take that Ryder Cup back.”
In theory, the Ocean Course sets up well for Watson's creative bag of blasts. Can't wait to see how he navigates wind, sand, salt and distracting views of Atlantic surf.
“It's a long course, a ball striker's course,” defending champion Keegan Bradley said during a Kiawah Island visit last month. “You've got to be very accurate with your iron shots in there because it will roll down some slopes if you're not careful. I think it's a great course and it'll be a great test.”
The 33-year-old Watson leads the tour in driving distance at 313.1 yards per wallop.
“He's going to have all day long to bomb it,” Sterba said. “There aren't many trees at the Ocean Course, we know that. But the rough will be penal. It's a make or break lie when you hit a sand dune.”
Watson has PGA Championship motivation, too. The pride of Bagdad, Fla., lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer in the zany 2010 shootout at Wisconsin's Whistling Straits.
Pettersson, imaginatively listed at 5-11 and 195 pounds, was just getting back out of shape in 2010 — on purpose. He ditched a workout routine he says ruined his golf game and plunged into the Homer Simpson diet.
“You drink 10 beers and (eat) a tub of ice cream before bed,” Pettersson, 34, explained after his Heritage triumph. “That puts it on quickly.”
Not exactly a cardiologist's dream. But maybe Pettersson will inspire people of all shapes to pick up clubs.
“Average golfers can see themselves in Carl,” Sterba said, “and can see themselves in Bubba.”
And can see themselves following these guys around the Ocean Course.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or Twitter: @sapakoff.