NBC Sports’ and Golf Channel’s Steve Sands and ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg recently joined Glenn Clark Radio to discuss the 2021 BMW Championship, whether the tournament could come back to Caves Valley Golf Club in the future and more.
Patrick Cantlay outlasted Bryson DeChambeau in a memorable six-hole playoff to win the event. Each player shot -27 through four rounds to earn his way into the playoff, with Cantlay’s hot putter ultimately winning the day.
Sands is part of NBC Sports’ and Golf Channel’s coverage of tournaments, often interviewing players after their rounds. Van Valkenburg covers a wide range of sports, including golf, for ESPN.com. Both were at Caves Valley to cover the BMW Championship. Here’s what they had to say about the weekend.
The PGA Tour returned to the Baltimore region for the first time since 1962 with the BMW Championship, the second of three PGA Tour playoff events. Only the top 70 players in the FedEx Cup standings leading into the BMW Championship are eligible to play, meaning the very best players in the world descended upon Caves Valley … and there was a ton of scoring. So how’d it all turn out?
Steve Sands: It was great. It was the best atmosphere I’ve seen all year in golf. And obviously it’s been a weird year and a half for sports and for fans. The energy and electricity that’s been at sporting events our whole lives has been kind of in an upheaval here in the last year and a half, but man, was it fun last week. That place was rocking. The way it was set up was great.
Kevin Van Valkenburg: What was really going to bring in people who hadn’t seen a PGA Tour event in 60 years here? Was it guys grinding and the final score was like 8-under? Or was it guys just absolutely throwing darts and making a ton of birdies? I think it was the right setup for a place that really has been yearning to see some good golf for many years. So I had a ton of fun — big crowds, mostly respectful crowds, a lively bunch.
Every golfer was under par at the BMW Championship for myriad reasons. The fairways were a little more generous than Tour pros are used to. It rained a lot the week prior, so golfers could attack the pins on soft greens. There wasn’t much wind, either. And there were four par-5 holes, presenting eagle and birdie opportunities for every golfer in the field. Was the course too easy?
SS: A year from now when people look back on the BMW, they’ll only think of the Cantlay-DeChambeau finish. They won’t think of the score. Last year, the playoff was incredible at Olympia Fields with Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson, and nobody remembers that [4-under] was the winning score and [very few golfers] got to under par. Nobody cares about the score. They care about the competition and the excitement of it all, and that’s what took place this past week. The golf course is awesome.
KVV: I think the PGA Tour probably does want its playoffs to have lots of birdie opportunities. These guys don’t want to grind over 3-footers that they have to make to stay in contention. At this point in the year, they’ve been playing a ton. They’ve been beat up. The guys who are going to advance to the Ryder Cup have even more golf. … Some of the players didn’t like it. They were sort of saying, “This isn’t really my kind of golf,” but I think for the most part they were like, “This is fine. This is fun.” You bomb it out there. You don’t have to really try to fit shots [into] certain places. Everybody can hit driver and that’s fun.
The BMW Championship will be played at Wilmington Country Club in Delaware in 2022, with no sites announced beyond that yet. The tournament most commonly takes place in the Chicago area, but is it possible that Caves Valley will be in the rotation moving forward?
SS: I would love to see Caves Valley in the semi-rotation. It’s in Chicago mostly every other year. They’re having some conflicts next year and that’s why it’s going to be in Wilmington, Del. But they’ve moved it to some great golf courses — Cherry Hill out in Denver, Crooked Stick in Indianapolis, Aronimink up in Philadelphia and now Caves Valley in Baltimore. When it goes outside Chicago, I think Baltimore should be in the rotation and Caves Valley is a wonderful setting for the BMW Championship.
KVV: They want to kind of spread it around and give basically places an opportunity that might not get a tournament every year to soak it in. I think that’s actually good because every time they show up at a new place, it’s sort of fresh. It’s not like, “Oh, do you want to go out to Caves yet again?” This year it’s like, “Oh man, it hasn’t been here in so long, let’s go out to Caves.” I think if it comes back in five years, that’s totally reasonable. It’s possible they could get a little different weather, although if you’re doing it this time of year, this is basically what golf in Maryland is. It’s soft, it’s humid, you’re going to get thunderstorms at night and they’re just going to be able to attack it and tear it up. I don’t think it was too easy for the casual fan or even the Tour. I think it was only too easy for super golf nerds who care about that kind of thing.
Ryder Cup sites in the U.S. are known through 2037. PGA Championship sites are known through 2029, with 2031 and 2034 also known. Could Caves Valley be an option for either tournament down the line?
SS: I don’t see any reason why Caves Valley could not host a major championship, a Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup. After seeing what took place last week, the biggest thing with the PGA Tour is, “Let’s connect the sponsor to a golf course and a community and see if we can bring them together.” Well, that clearly took place last week [in Baltimore] for the first time in the modern era for the PGA Tour.
KVV: Part of the problem with the Ryder Cup is you need such a huge amount of infrastructure. There might be room at Caves, but they would want to pack so many [fans onto the course]. I don’t know if they have enough parking. A lot of times Ryder Cups have hotels on site. I think there are three or four cabins or rooms where you can stay in at Caves. Those decisions, too, are kind of powered by where the corporate money is sort of interested in being. They’re going to have it up at Bethpage up in New York in four years. They’ve been anticipating that and wanting that for a long time because it’s right there in sort of the financial supernova of the United States. I’d say it’s unlikely. I think it’s a decent venue for the Ryder Cup maybe in the fall. When they usually have the Ryder Cup in October it would be a little firmer and a little bit more of a test, but I think it’s probably unlikely that that would ever happen.
For more from Sands, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Van Valkenburg, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Charles Cherney/Western Golf Association