When this major started back in 1916, golf pros weren’t even allowed clubhouse privileges at most courses. They changed their shoes, etc. in the parking lot. Being paid to play a sport was looked down upon. Amateurism was extolled and encouraged as late as the mid to late 1950s, with amateur Bobby Jones being the paragon of excellence. So the pros got together, formed the PGA, and founded a tournament just for pros. It is the only major that does not explicitly invite leading amateurs to compete (it is possible for amateurs to get into the field, although the only viable ways are by winning one of the other major championships, or winning a PGA Tour event while playing on a sponsor’s exemption), and the only one that reserves so many places, 20 of 156, for club professionals. These slots are determined by the top finishers in the club pro championship which is usually held in late April. The PGA is the only major that so accommodates these hard working and dedicated teaching pros.
According to Wikipedia, the tournament’s trophy has an interesting story: “The Wanamaker Trophy, named after business man and golfer Rodman Wanamaker, stands nearly 2.5 feet tall and weighs 27 pounds. The trophy was lost, briefly, for a few years until it showed up in 1930 in the cellar of L.A. Young and Company. Ironically, this cellar was in the factory which made the clubs for the man responsible for losing it, Walter Hagen. Hagen claimed to have trusted a taxi driver with the precious cargo, but it never returned to his hotel.”
Up to 1957, it was also the only major that played as match play. It changed to medal play when TV requested the USGA to make the change, hoping to increase viewer interest. The year before, the tournament actually lost money because of audience disinterest. And with medal play, interest did increase. That way the final day had many more of the greats playing and appearing on TV.
The PGA was the only major Arnold Palmer never won. And it was one of the King’s biggest regrets. He won his seven majors between 1958 and 1964.
For about 70 years, the PGA was known as “Glory’s Last Shot.” Then a few years ago, at the urging of then PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem, it was changed to “This is Major,” which wasn’t particularly well received. He made the change when the FedEx Cup came into existence, which followed the PGA and was yet another shot at glory before the season ended. But in this year of the coronavirus, it could rightly be called “Glory’s First Shot.” The season’s traditional last major is now the first, played this year, without fans present, at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park golf course, a city muni. Originally, before pandemic restrictions, tournament organizers planned for some 3,500 volunteers; this year, there will be 290 taking shifts.
Brooks Koepka has won the PGA two straight years now, beating Tiger Woods and Adam Scott coming down the stretch last year. He was runner up in Memphis this past week, so he’s obviously found some form. Jordan Spieth needs a PGA win to complete his career Grand Slam, but Jordan is still struggling to find consistent form, especially his confident putting stroke. Tiger is hoping for his 16th Major victory (and one more additional win to pass Sam Snead in total career wins), in his quest to best legend Jack Nicklaus’s 18 total.
Boasting the strongest field among all the majors, only Jack and Walter Hagen won the PGA five times, with Hagen taking it four years in a row in the 20’s. Tiger has won it four times. And for many, it was their only major win. Players such as Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Mark Brooks, Yang Jong-eun, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, and Wayne Grady didn’t do much after their one win at the PGA, but I’m sure consider it a major accomplishment in their careers.
Will a longshot take it this year? This field is deep in talent, and includes standout youngsters like recent winners Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff. Tiger is hungry to continue his remarkable comeback. Brooks has won an amazing four majors in the last couple years. Rory is due for a win. And Bryson has also won recently and is achieving unheard of distance with his driver. But my pick is the winner of this past week at Memphis, his 13th PGA victory at 27 years of age, Justin Thomas. Caddies can sometimes provide the edge of choosing one player over others, and, as he did in Memphis, JT will have one of the best on his bag at the PGA: Jim “Bones” MacKay, the caddy who looped for many of Phil’s victories, including his five majors. Thomas is in form, and Bones is great at figuring out the right club for the right situation. He’s a calming influence as well, although JT is a pretty even-tempered young fellow. His regular caddy, Jimmy Johnson, is also excellent, but is home convalescing from a spell of dizziness.
Anyway, it should be a great major. My buddy Steve Prebble has played TPC Harding Park over 60 times in his younger days and told me it will be one tough test of golf. The fairways are fairly tight, many bordered by sprawling cypress trees ready to eat any wayward balls. I was a spectator there at the Presidents Cup in 2009, and I agree with Steve-O. Johnny Miller grew up playing this course. And as an amateur, Ken Venturi, later a U.S. Open champ, beat his friend Harvey Ward, also a highly ranked amateur, in front of 10,000 fans at Harding in 1956 at the famed City Championship of San Francisco. Steve tells me there’s a bunker named after Venturi on the 18th hole.
Enjoy the action, starting Thursday of this week!