Four years ago, the final round of the PGA Championship was played in threesomes, with players going off two tees after a thunderstorm pushed the conclusion of the third round at Kiawah Island to Sunday morning.
Two years ago, the championship ended in pitch dark, with Rory McIlroy all but hitting into Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson on the 18th green at Valhalla in order to get his final putt into the hole before midnight.
A year ago, a violent summer storm at Whistling Straits on Friday afternoon destroyed a scoreboard near the first tee and pushed the completion of the second round to Saturday.
And then there was Baltusrol. After several days of enervating heat and humidity and a brief rain delay Friday, all of Saturday afternoon was wiped out by storms. The only way for the championship to finish before nightfall on Sunday was to re-start at 7 a.m.; schedule the last 10 players in the field to play 36 holes; not re-pair for the final round and allow lift, clean and place in the fourth round because the golf course was so saturated.
This is a major championship?
Kerry Haigh, the man who had to make all those decisions on behalf of the PGA of America, summed it up pretty well on Saturday: “This time of year, the possibility of thunderstorms exists just about every day.”
Which is why it is time to move the date of the PGA Championship once and for all. It should be played in May, when it is warm enough to go almost anywhere you want in the U.S. without dealing with summer storms and brutal heat on an almost daily basis. It would be good for the PGA, good for golf and would have the collateral benefit of taking care of the Olympic scheduling problem that has been such a nightmare this year when the next Games come around in Tokyo in 2020.
It would not be difficult to do but it will take a collective putting aside of egos by the men who run the PGA of America and the PGA Tour. That won’t be easy.
Now, though, is the time to do it. With Jay Monahan expected to take over as the Tour’s commissioner from Tim Finchem in January, this is a chance for him to show right out of the gate that – unlike Major League Baseball’s Rob Manfred – he isn’t going to insist on keeping the status quo just because it’s easier to not make changes.
Monahan and PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua need to sit down and talk about changing the dates for the event that is most important to each: Monahan needs to move The Players Championship back to March and Bevacqua needs to move the PGA to May.
The tour moved The Players to May for several reasons. One was the hope that the golf course would be in better condition in May than in March. There was also the fact that the event always had to compete with the NCAA basketball tournament on TV and for media attention. And, there was the gnawing notion that the tournament came off looking like a lucrative warm-up for the Masters.
The golf course has remained a headache in the 10 years since the date-change – so much so that Finchem has publicly said, on multiple occasions, that moving back to March is a possibility. Even now, TPC Sawgrass is undergoing yet another renovation.
Bad weather – wind and rain – is more likely in Florida in March, but so is good weather – seasonable, comfortable temperatures. What’s more, the NCAA tournament TV issue is gone. The geniuses who run the event having moved virtually all their games on the regional weekend to evening starts. There would be very little, perhaps no conflict at all. As for media coverage: it will be the same in May as in March; the number of people who cover both golf and basketball regularly can be counted on both hands.
Then there’s the image issue. Several years before the date change, Greg Norman, the 1994 champion, was withdrew from The Players with an injury. He put out a statement expressing his disappointment saying, “The Players has always been a wonderful warm-up for me prior to the Masters.”
You could almost hear the screams of pain coming out of Ponte Vedra.
That shouldn’t worry Monahan. For one thing, The Players has established its niche as the most important non-major tournament in the world – regardless of date. Plus, if it was played three weeks prior to the Masters, rather than two as in the past, the separation would be the same as between the U.S. Open and The Open and between The Open and the PGA – in normal years. Moving the new WGC event in Mexico back a couple of weeks shouldn’t be an issue.
It’s also worth noting that, since the move, the newly-minted Masters champion has traditionally been a non-factor at TPC Sawgrass. None has finished in the top 10; the best finish for any of them was Angel Cabrera’s T-14 in 2009 and the last two, Jordan Spieth and Danny Willett, have both missed the cut. Neither Willett nor Spieth played this year between the Masters and The Players, eschewing any warm-up at all for the Tour’s biggest event.
Moving The Players back to March would leave an opening on the schedule for the PGA in May. It makes far more sense for the rhythms of the golf schedule to have one major a month beginning with the Masters in April. This would do that. Masters, PGA, U.S. Open and The Open. It would also boost the PGA to come in May rather than late in the summer when the heat is at its worst and many players are exhausted. And, it would allow top players a real break between the final major and the start of the playoffs.
Thirty-five years ago, the PGA was played in February, a move to get to the front of the majors calendar when people in snowbound areas were dying for golf. Jack Nicklaus won at PGA National, with Gary Player second. You can’t do much better than that. The problem was that the February date severely limited the golf courses where the championship could be played.
That’s not a problem in May. Next year’s championship is in Charlotte – a place where the May weather for the Tour’s annual event there is usually close to ideal. That won’t be the case in August. Bellerive is next up in 2018. Ever been to St. Louis in August?
And here’s the extra benefit: In 2020, the Olympics are scheduled to begin July 24th. Whether the men play the first week – beginning July 30th – or the second – beginning August 6th – hasn’t been decided yet. If you put the men second and The Open ends on July 19th, there is a two-week gap between the season’s final major and the Olympics. There’s no need to change or squeeze the majors schedule.
If the PGA is still scheduled for the summer, where do you put it? Right on top of The Open again with no gap between it and the Olympics? Hardly ideal. Play the PGA in May and everyone’s happy.
It is always difficult for men who wear expensive suits to admit that major changes should be made to what has been their routine. This, though, makes absolute sense for everyone. Monahan and Bevacqua are both paid a lot of money.
This is their time to earn it.