Skip to main content

Who will be PGA's next surprise champion?

Getty Images

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – You can read all the columns and blogs you want about the PGA Championship, except this one, and you likely won't find the name of the eventual winner because, when it comes to surprises, the year's last major is like the start of a James Bond movie.

Since the PGA Championship went to medal play in 1958, which gives us 58 events to look at, there have been 25 players - 43 percent - whose victory was their first and only major win. Compare that with the same time period at The Open and the U.S. Open, where 17 players made it their maiden and only major, and the 15 who have done so at the Masters since 1958, and it's easy to see that the other three majors are far more predictable.

Keegan Bradley won the PGA in 2011 in his first major championship. Y.E. Yang and Rich Beem beat Tiger Woods in 2009 and 2002, respectively, the former when Tiger had the 54-hole lead and had been unbeatable in that position. Shaun Micheel had played in just two previous majors and was ranked 169th in the world when he did his best Johnny Miller imitation, hitting his approach to tap-in range at the last, and won the PGA Championship in 2003.

Who was the last man to get in the field in the 1991 PGA Championship is a question everybody can answer, because John Daly didn't just win, he elevated the status of a major championship almost on par with the way Gene Sarazen's albatross at the 15th in 1935 changed the Masters.

PGA Championship: Full-field tee times | Photo gallery

Full coverage from the PGA Championship

There are a few things that contribute to the surprises we get at the PGA Championship. The combination of it being, except for 1971, the last major of the year, played in searing heat and humidity and subsequently, generally the softest setup of the majors, is the perfect recipe for surprises.

The best players come to the last major of the year more calloused by the scrutiny, more physically beat up by the demands of their stature, and that, combined with the summer heat, is taxing. Consider by contrast those players who don't have to plan for an hour or more a day to accommodate the demands of the media and you realize Bradley, Yang, Beem, David Toms, et al had more time to practice and sleep and recover than the stars they were trying to beat that week. And finally the softer conditions, which are less punishing to the miss, make the field more wide open than the other three majors.

You might point to the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol and say that the nature of this golf course will allow the best to separate themselves this week. I am certainly inclined toward that line of reasoning, until you consider that 2005 was not a Ryder Cup year, not an Olympic year, not that it would have mattered then because golf wasn't in the Olympics, and the FedEx Cup didn't exist.

So as I consider the favorites this week I also give an eye to those that fit the mold of so many past PGA Championship winners. That takes me to names like Kevin Kisner, Andy Sullivan, Thomas Pieters, Brandon Stone, William McGirt, Bill Haas, Francesco Molinari, Brendan Steele and yes, a man who is just coming into his prime (forgive me) - Andrew Johnston.