Friday, August 14, 2009

The PGA: The major for everyman

The PGA Championship is the last of the year's four major men's professional golf championships. But some believe it's also the least of the four majors, and it's not too hard to see why.
In the 90 previous PGA Championship tournaments, roughly a third (31) were won by pros who captured no other major title. Two PGA winners, Shaun Micheel (2003) and club pro Tom Creavy (1931), won no other PGA Tour event, period.
TNT and CBS this week are promoting the PGA as "golf's last chance for glory," but while true, it's mostly hype to attract viewers. The PGA is to the Masters and U.S. and British Opens as the Australian Open is to tennis' majors, the other three (Wimbledon and French and U.S. Opens) held in more prestigious locales (London, Paris, New York) and at better times of the year.
In April comes the Masters, which is beloved because of its rich history, which is weird, really, since it's the youngest of the four majors. But big names win this thing (Jack Nicklaus, 6 times; Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, 4 each; Nick Faldo and Sam Snead, 3 each). Plus, it's held at lush Augusta National, the only major that uses the same venue every year.
In June we have the U.S. Open, ending on Father's Day and almost universally accepted as the toughest of the four majors, thanks to the sadists at the United States Golf Association, who generally go looking for a difficult golf course and then turn it into a monster. Again, big names win this one (Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, the great amateur Bobby Jones and turn-of-the-century Scottish legend Willie Anderson, 4 titles each; Woods and Hale Irwin, 3 apiece).
July brings the British Open, or "The Open Championship," as it's known across the Atlantic. Played at courses rich with history. Again, big-name winners (Harry Vardon, 6; Tom Watson and Aussie Peter Thomson, 5 each; Walter Hagen, 4).
While the PGA also has its share of marquee champions (Nicklaus and Hagen, 5 each; Woods, 4), it's also just as likely to see a no-name hoisting the 44-pound Wanamaker Trophy. Hold your applause, folks, but guys named Rich Beem, Mark Brooks, Wayne Grady, Jeff Sluman and Bob Tway all won the PGA in the past 23 years.
The winners-from-nowhere pattern at the PGA also comes in waves. Micheel's victory capped a three-year run (Beem in 2002, David Toms in 2001) of one-time major champions. It also happened in 1995 (Steve Elkington), 1996 (Brooks) and 1997 (Davis Love III). In the mid-1960s, Bobby Nichols (1964), Dave Marr (1965), Al Geiberger (1966) and Don January (1967) made it four straight for PGA winners who won no other major.
The record, though, was set in 1957-1961, when Lionel Hebert, Dow Finsterwald, Bob Rosburg, Jay Hebert (older brother of Lionel) and Jerry Barber won the PGA for their only major titles.