A case for the PGA as the game's best major

By Jason SobelAugust 5, 2014, 1:50 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – So, I happened to wander into the 19th hole at a local muni the other day, not far from Valhalla Golf Club, site of this week’s PGA Championship. And who do I run into but none other than an old buddy named Shanks McGee, who’s never met a 19th hole he didn’t like.

We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries – and by pleasantries, I mean Shanks hit me up for 20 bucks and I pleasantly declined. I then asked what brought him into town this week.

“Are you kidding me?” he bellowed, nearly tipping over his barstool as he stood to face me. “It’s the PGA Championship, man. Glory's Last Shot, as they used to call it. The best major championship of them all!”

I started to ask him if he’d had one too many, but decided that was a rhetorical question. Instead, bemused, I asked him to explain.

“Think about it,” Shanks implored, shaking a finger just inches from my face. “The Masters? That’s all so ooh-la-la, with their ‘patrons’ and their ‘second cut.’ Sure, it’s a great track, but you can’t even get on there unless you’ve got eight or nine zeroes in your bank account. Too fancy for my taste. I'd rather hang out with Daly down the street at Hooters.”

Maybe the blue-collar, democratic nature of the U.S. Open suited him better?

PGA Championship: Articles, videos and photos

“Oh, don’t get me started on that one,” he said while double-fisting two fresh cocktails. “It’s like the USGA doesn’t think golf is hard enough, so they make it ridiculous for four days. Like playing golf on the moon! I bet Mike Davis enjoys doing advanced trigonometry in his spare time, that twisted dude.”

Mentally taking a note to inquire about Davis’ math skills the next time I see him, I wondered aloud how he could disapprove of the Open Championship, but Shanks cut me off.

“Open Championship?” he growled. “What are you, one of them now? It’s called the British Open – and I’m sorry, but they might as well play Bingo to determine the winner of that old jug. I mean, half the guys wind up playing in a freakin’ monsoon, then the other half play in something that looks like Key West without the palm trees. I like my major champions decided by a little more than luck, thank you very much.”

Fine, I told him. You don’t like the first three majors. I get it. But what’s so great about this one?

He stared at me cockeyed, like Keegan Bradley eyeing a birdie putt.

Then he unleashed.

“Have you never heard the term, ‘Save the best for last?’” he roared at me. “Why do you think God or Arnold Palmer or whoever decided to put ‘em in this order in the first place? Because the best one is supposed to go last!”

He was on a roll now, spittle flying at me like a high school team firing shots at the range picker.

“Before DJ didn’t not get unsuspended or whatever, all 100 of the world’s top 100 players were in the field. The others can’t say that! And there are no amateurs taking up spots from the play-for-pay guys here. OK, maybe the 20 club pros won’t contend, but they still deserve to play. I’d like to see Tiger and Phil fold shirts and run the ladies’ nine-hole shamble for the other 51 weeks and see how they’d do.”

Shanks ordered two more drinks – both for himself – and put ’em on my tab.

“There’s more, too,” he grumbled. “You can say the U.S. Open is democratic, but more dreamers win the PGA. Rich Beem? Shaun Micheel? I mean, Y.E. Yang beat Tiger, for goodness sake. Bob May shoulda, too!”

I tried to explain that the last four champions – Jason Dufner, Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley and Martin Kaymer – are all world-class players, but he’d already moved on.

“And I love the Wanamaker! Now that there’s a trophy. Sounds like a good drink, too. Or the punchline to a dirty joke. Hey, you Wanamaker…”

I covered his mouth to keep from hearing the rest, knowing it would just get us thrown out. When I took my hand away, he kept on going.

“I was even reading this piece recently – yeah, I can read; don’t look so surprised – and they quoted Ian Poulter. I have it right here,” he barked as he grabbed a crumpled piece of paper from his back pocket. “Poulter said, ‘I don't care which major I win. Hell, give me the PGA Championship.’ What a compliment, huh?”

Again, I tried to correct him, pointing out that the comment was actually the opposite of a compliment, but he’d already turned his back to me, wobbly trying to practice his swing in front of a mirror behind the bar.

Instead, I changed the subject, asking how he’d played that day.

“Lemme tell ya,” he said, turning around to look me in the eye. “I had the round of my life. Shot even par. I couldn’t miss. And still, those lucky stiffs took every dime in my pocket.”

Um … which lucky stiffs?

Shanks gave me the cockeyed Keegan look again. “My brothers. There’s four of us. Those three always beat me in everything. They get more attention. More respect. People like being around ‘em more. They get invited to parties and have celebrations thrown in their honor. Me? It’s like I’m an afterthought. Always been that way, too.”

I gave him a pat on the chest, right across the PGA Championship logo on his shirt. All of a sudden, his favorite major championship made perfect sense.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 9:20 am

Following an even-par 71 in the first round of the 147th Open Championship, Tiger Woods looks to make a move on Day 2 at Carnoustie.

Getty Images

McIlroy responds to Harmon's 'robot' criticism

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2018, 6:53 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy said during his pre-championship news conference that he wanted to play more "carefree" – citing Jon Rahm’s approach now and the way McIlroy played in his younger days.

McIlroy got off to a good start Thursday at Carnoustie, shooting 2-under 69, good for a share of eighth place.

But while McIlroy admits to wanting to be a little less structured on the course, he took offense to comments made by swing coach Butch Harmon during a Sky Sports telecast.

Said Harmon:

“Rory had this spell when he wasn’t putting good and hitting the ball good, and he got so wrapped up in how he was going to do it he forgot how to do it.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“He is one of the best players the game has ever seen. If he would just go back to being a kid and playing the way he won these championships and play your game, don’t have any fear or robotic thoughts. Just play golf. Just go do it.

“This is a young kid who’s still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts. Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and can be No.1 again if he just lets himself do it.”

McIlroy, who has never worked with Harmon, responded to the comments when asked about them following his opening round.

“Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that's mechanical and someone that's – you know, it's easy to make comments when you don't know what's happening,” McIlroy said. “I haven't spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn't know what I'm working on in my swing. He doesn't know what's in my head. So it's easy to make comments and easy to speculate. But unless you actually know what's happening, I just really don't take any notice of it.”

McIlroy second round at The Open began at 2:52 a.m. ET.

Getty Images

How The Open cut line is determined

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 5:57 am

Scores on Day 1 of the 147th Open Championship ranged from 5-under 66 to 11-over 82.

The field of 156 players will be cut nearly in half for weekend play at Carnoustie. Here’s how the cut line works in the season’s third major championship:

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

• After 36 holes, the low 70 players and ties will advance to compete in the final two rounds. Anyone finishing worse than that will get the boot. Only those making the cut earn official money from the $10.5 million purse.

• There is no 10-shot rule. That rule means anyone within 10 shots of the lead after two rounds, regardless of where they stand in the championship, make the cut. It’s just a flat top 70 finishers and ties.

• There is only a single cut at The Open. PGA Tour events employ an MDF (Made cut Did not Finish) rule, which narrows the field after the third round if more than 78 players make the cut. That is not used at this major.

The projected cut line after the first round this week was 1 over par, which included 71 players tied for 50th or better.

Getty Images

The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 5:30 am

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

How old is it?

It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

Where is it played?

There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

Where will it be played this year?

At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

Who has won this event the most?

Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

What about the Morrises?

Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

Have players from any particular country dominated?

In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

Who is this year's defending champion?

That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

What is the trophy called?

The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

Which Opens have been the most memorable?

Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.