2011 PGA Championship: Verplank Is a Lock to Win Wannamaker Trophy

Robert Hartman@@RobertHartman20Correspondent IAugust 13, 2011

Scott Verplank
Scott VerplankMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The traffic around Spaghetti Junction near downtown Atlanta is crippling. Motorists will put the vehicle in park, put in their favorite CD and dream about being just about anywhere other than the concrete of the I-85/I-285 interchange, one of the most traffic challenged loops in the country.

Just outside Atlanta, in John's Creek, there is a similar problem. The leaderboard at the 93rd PGA Championship is the personification of Spaghetti Junction. Players are tightly jumbled, searching for the rarefied air at the top where the Wannamaker Trophy sits ripe for the picking.  

Major championship are compelling. That's what happens when there are just four tournaments with amped up expectations.

The gnashing of teeth on the scorecards and at the top of the leaderboard has a lot to do with the difficulty of the course. But, through the mire of players, there is one that has seen the traffic, battled the elements that are present this week and come out on top.

To fully understand what will happen just outside Atlanta on Sunday, there needs to be a little history lesson:

Call it serendipity. Call it ironic. Golf is sometimes mystical like that.  

Team Tway and Verplank
Team Tway and VerplankMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Twenty-five years ago a young player named Bob Tway was in the green-side bunker on the 72nd hole in the 1986 PGA Championship. Tway was tied with Greg Norman as the last hole unfolded. He surveyed his sand blast several times, looking at his landing spot, then his ball, then back at his target. Finally, he pulled the sand wedge back and landed a perfectly executed flop shot onto the last green at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. The ball rolled toward the cup. A birdie would clinch the title for Tway. It rolled in as Greg Norman looked on.

Fast forward to the 93rd PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Thursday’s story was about the old geezers at the top of the leaderboard. And now, heading into the final day of play, two PGA Tour wannabes are at the top of the leaderboard:

Brendan Steele (-7) and Jason Dufner (-7) lead the tournament with just 18 holes to play. In third place is Keegan Bradley at 6-under par.

In fourth place is past-his-prime, too-old-to-compete Scott Verplank. Here is where what is happening at the AAC in John’s Creek gets a little eerie.

Verplank, 47, followed Bob Tway to Oklahoma State University in the early 1980’s. Tway had a remarkable season as a college player in Stillwater and came on the PGA Tour in 1985. Verplank’s Cowboy career was as scintillating as Tway’s winning the NCAA individual championship just before Bob Tway’s PGA Tour season in 1986. This is not where the Tway-Verplank relationship ends however.

Verplank’s current caddie is Bob Tway’s brother, Scott. Scott Tway joined team Verplank in 2000 when both Bob Tway and Verplank needed a caddie change. The first event for Tway, the Reno-Tahoe Open, Verplank won.

Scott Verplank was the best putter in the third round of the PGA Championship Saturday. He enters the final round with very little expectations, but a mountain of confidence. He is one of the best ball strikers in the field. He has never won a major, but he will show up on Sunday and hoist the Wannamaker Trophy Sunday night.

Why? It is just meant to be.  

The golf world is captivated by the role of caddies. The golf world is swept into a frenzy because of the great young army of PGA Tour talent. And hiding just behind the leaders is a player that has played in two Ryder Cups (2002, 2006) and was named the comeback player of the year in 2008. He has battled diabetes, grinded out a respectable career, but has never won a major.

That will all change Sunday.