What is the Best of the Four Majors – Part Three The PGA Championship

Department Store Owners Know Golf

Department Store Owners Know Golf

I jumped over the Open Championship on the calendar to do the PGA Championship. This is part three (previous posts: The Masters and the US Open) and, spoiler alert, I’m leaving the best for last. The PGA Championship is without a doubt the worst of the four majors. Why do I say that? Well, there are several reasons:

1. Let’s start with the comparatively weak tradition of the event. The first PGA Championship was held in 1916. A wealthy department store owner, Rodman Wanamaker, donated the championship trophy and to this day the players compete to keep a replica of the original Wanamaker Trophy for one year. And that’s it. There’s no cool story behind the trophy and it isn’t even named for a professional golfer.

2. It has changed places on the calendar several times (it was actually played in February in 1971). It was played the week after the British Open in the sixties. Not surprisingly, there weren’t very many pros that played in both events.

3. The format has changed over the years. It used to be a match play format. In 1954, the final round was played on a Tuesday (as scheduled) and the whole event was 216 holes of match play. [1]

4. It was only classified as a major when Arnold Palmer made an offhand comment to reporter Bob Drum after he won The Masters and the US Open in 1960. On the flight to England for the 1960 Open Championship Arnold Palmer said that if he won the Open Championship and the PGA Championship it would constitute a modern Grand Slam. Drum spread the notion and it eventually caught on. No debate. No discussion. Palmer was probably drinking. He could have meant to say “The Crosby” and said “PGA” instead and then passed out.

5. The spotty tradition has led to lame marketing efforts. It actually has a slogan: “The Season’s Final Major” What?? Boxing has slogans.[2] Golf doesn’t have slogans. But it was worse, “The Season’s Final Major” replaced “Glory’s Last Shot” in 2013. Good lord. What marketing hack came up with “Glory’s Last Shot”? It sounds like something you might find in a warehouse in WeHo. Imagine if other major sporting events developed their own taglines: Women’s World Cup, “Someone Could Take Off Their Top” or The Super Bowl, “Big Guys in Tight Uniforms For It All”.

The other problem with the event is the venues they have chosen. They have a loose rota:

Valhalla, KY 3 times

Oakland Hills, MI 3 times

Atlanta Athletic Club, GA 3 times

Whistling Straights, WI 3 times

Oak Hill Country Club, NY 3 times

Southern Hills, OK 4 times

Hazeltine, MN 2 times

Medinah, IL 2 times

Oakmont, PA 3 times

What’s notable about that list? Not much except lots of Oak. With the exception of Whistling Straights these courses are all parkland courses in the Eastern or Central time zone. Of the 100 or so PGA Championships, there have only been ten contested in the Pacific or Mountain time zones. The last time the event was held in the Western US was at Sahalee golf course near Seattle in 1998. The next one scheduled on the West Coast is in 2020 at Harding Park in San Francisco. How do you go 22 years without scheduling even one of these on the West Coast? They held the 1983 and 1995 events at Riviera in Los Angeles. Riviera would be great. Spyglass would be great. A public course would be great. Except for Whistling Straights all those courses are private.

Here’s some advice, keep Harding in the rota, drop an Oak or two and add Harbor Shores in Michigan. Harbor Shores golf course has a feel good story of community renewal aided by the construction of an upscale golf resort. The Senior PGA has held their event there 4 out of the last 8 years.

Despite all that, the PGA Championship has had some of the most memorable duels of all the majors:

1. Tiger v young Sergio at Medinah in 1999

2. Tiger v Y.E. Yang at Hazeltine in 2009

3. Martin Kaymer over Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson at Whistling Straights in 2010[3]

4. Jason Day’s breakthrough, beating Jordan Speith at Whistling Straights in 2015.

5. In the last 20 years it had three of the most unlikely major winners in Shawn Micheel, Rich Beem and Y.E. Yang. They won 5 PGA events between them and 3 were majors.

6. In 1991 John Daly won his first major (as the 9th alternate) by three strokes over Bruce Lietzke. Nick Price withdrew late because his wife was giving birth, Daly hired Price’s caddie Jeff “Squeaky” Medlin and won the tournament without playing a single practice round.

So I give the PGA Championship a half thumb up for their gritty champions and unlikely drama. I give the PGA Championship a huge thumbs down for shunning the West Coast for 22 years and for having a slogan.


[1] That year they played a stroke play qualifier on Wednesday and Thursday, 18 holes each day. The rest of the tournament was match play. Between Friday and Tuesday, if you prevailed, you would play 36 holes each day to complete the tournament. Good lord, who thought up that format? That’s as long as a cricket match. No one wants to watch that much golf (let’s go another 36 on Tuesday!).

[2] The Gatti-Mayweather fight was “Thunder and Lightning”. Lennox-Grant was “Two Big”.

[3] I had bet $10 on Bubba to win at 120-1. Martin Kaymer made a 15 footer on 18 to force a playoff. Dustin Johnson grounded his wedge in a bunker to miss the playoff. Tied going into the final playoff hole, Bubba hit is second shot in the water and ended losing by a stroke to Kaymer.

One Response to “What is the Best of the Four Majors – Part Three The PGA Championship”


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)