Dont Ignore This Great Event


2005 PGA ChampionshipIts a shame, really, that the PGA Championship is played this deep into the season. It really should get much more credit ' it may have been the most exciting major over the last 20 years. The PGA is an excellent tournament with a field to match.
But alas, its been five months since the first major ' the Masters way back in early April ' and that seems like eons ago. There are 13 major championships among the three principal tours - the PGA Tour, the Champions Tour and the LPGA. By now, you begin to feel that its almost too much of a good thing.
The PGA has been all over the map with its dates in its existence. Before it settled on August in 1972, it resembled a floating crap game. In 1971, the PGA was played in February, for goodness sakes! In 1970, it was the week before the Masters, in April. For several years, it was a couple of weeks after the British Open, in late July. And remember Ben Hogan in 1953? He won all three majors in which he played. He didnt play the PGA because it ended just one day before the British Open began. There would have no preparation time for the British had he played the PGA.
For the last 34 years, though, the PGA has selected August as its month. Thats good inasmuch as the PGA finally has a set time. Its bad inasmuch as people are beginning to be interested in football ' training camps are under way in the NFL. The second half of the baseball season has started and pennant races are beginning to heat up. Its almost as if the PGA Championship is a snotty-nosed kid who comes running up saying, Yoo-hoo! Dont forget about me! Im a major, too!
All the majors, of course, have their own little quirks and characteristics. The Masters has only 90 or so players, and many in its field are oldtimers who dont have a chance of winning or amateurs who stand even less of a chance. The U.S. Open has so many qualifiers who will never get close to the championship. So does the British Open, with the added burden of being so far away that some of the good Americans simply dont want to travel back-and-forth to Europe.
The PGA? Well, the PGA stands for the Professional Golfers Association. And the Professional means primarily club professional, as opposed to touring professional. Not that long ago 40 club pros dotted the PGA field, totally understandable given that this is the PGAs tournament. Now, however, it has been trimmed to 25 club pros, and the PGA actually leads the list of majors with the most top-100 players in the world rankings vying for its trophy.
Padraig Harrington likes the PGA setups. The Irishman isnt anti-Masters or anti-U.S. Open, of course. But no one sets up a golf course quite as professionally as does a golfing organization, the PGA. That's excepting the British Open, of course.
We like going to a U.S. Open golf course, going to a Masters; it's a little bit different, he agreed. It (the Masters and the Open) is obviously extreme on those weeks. We probably wouldn't want to be doing that every week.
Whereas a U.S. PGA golf course is one that the players say is set up more for the players. Very rarely has anybody got a bad word to say about a PGA golf course. They tend to be fair, and to be honest, you tend to see some decent scoring on the courses. It's not normally level par that wins.
Back in the 50s and 60s, PGA Championships tended to be held on totally forgettable courses. But no more. With the possible exception of Valhalla, which the PGA owns and derives much more benefit than other venues, all the championships are contested on big-league courses. And Valhalla is, at worst, acceptable.
Champions? Well, there was Rich Beem in 2002, Shaun Micheel in 2003, but most of the PGA champions have been among the worlds top 20. Vijay Singh won it last year and in 1998. Tiger Woods won in 1999 and 2000. David Toms was the champion in 2001 and Davis Love III in 1997.
Oddly enough, this is the one major that Arnold Palmer never won. He was the son of a longtime greenskeeper who eventually became a head pro, but he never could win the PGA. Arnold finished second in 1964, in 68 and 70, lost by only one stroke to Julius Boros in 68, but he never could win the championship that meant more to him than any other. Boros, incidentally, was 48 years old when he won, the oldest winner of a major in history.
Walter Hagen won five PGAs back when the tournament was still held at match play ' it changed in 1958 to stroke play. And Jack Nicklaus also won five times, including a torrid 13-year stretch beginning in 71 when he won four PGAs and finished runner-up in four others. During those 13 years, he finished in the top four nine times.
So pause this week and pay close attention to all that is going on with the PGA. Just because its the final major of the year, just because some other sports are beginning now to creep in now, doesnt lessen its significance one iota. It is the PGA Championship, run by the people who are all about the business of golf.
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