The PGA Championship: The major that turned pros from hired help into stars

The PGA Championship is the final major of the year. Those 10 words will be bouncing around Rory McIlroy’s head in stereo. It has not been the year Rory expected but you have to play the ball as it lies, and despite a disappointing 2017, there is now cause for optimism.

Rory already has two Wanamaker trophies and he’s back at a course he excels on. His new caddie may be the fuse he needs to explode out of the blocks and win this tournament by a handful of shots. We’ll know soon enough.

This year’s PGA Championship tossed in some added late drama as Sky lost the rights to the tournament. In stepped the BBC, and golf fans across Ireland thought they would be able to switch on for live coverage. Sadly not. Live TV coverage will be on BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport online and BBC Red Button, with highlights on BBC Two each evening with Peter Alliss and Ken Brown. BBC Radio 5 Live and Sports Extra will broadcast live from the Championship.

History

The PGA tournament is the second youngest of the Majors, behind the Masters. It celebrated its centenary in 2016, and it holds an important place in US golf. In the early 1900s, professional golfers were regarded as little more than the hired help, rarely if ever granted access to America’s private clubs. Rodman Wanamaker, a renowned sportsman and heir to a New York City department store empire, decided it was time to recognise and promote professional golfers. The goal was to establish a national organisation to represent these pros and Walter Hagen and Francis Ouimet were in attendance at a luncheon held by Wanamaker, in January 1916. This, ultimately, led to the formation of the PGA of America. Wanamaker even put up a prize fund of $3,000 (around €2,500) and ordered a trophy for the professional-only tournament. The British-born Jim Barnes won the first PGA Championship that same year… and the next.

The trophy is one of the biggest in professional golf, weighing in at 27lbs (12kgs)… or two stone, if you add a couple of golf balls. It is 28 inches high (78cms), 10.5ins (26cms) in diameter, and 27ins (68cms) handle to handle.

Walter Hagen didn’t take long to win the Championship, doing so for four consecutive years from 1924. In 1926, when asked why he hadn’t brought the trophy with him to that year’s tournament, his reply was succinct… if disingenuous. He had no intention of surrendering the title, he said, although the truth was that he had lost it after his 1925 victory… when the story goes that he left in in a taxi in Chicago.

It wasn’t until 1930 that the trophy reappeared, located in the basement of Young & Co, the firm that produced Walter Hagen golf clubs. By that stage, the PGA had made a replica and it is this trophy that is presented to the PGA champion.

The original still has the winner’s name engraved on it but it is now on permanent display at the PGA Historical Centre, in Florida.

Lewis Rodman Wanamaker was a fascinating man. He financed expeditions to the North Pole, built the first multi-engine plane to cross the Atlantic, founded the Millrose Games and even donated a jewelled processional cross still used in royal ceremonies in Britain.

Records

When Jason Day won in 2015, his 268 strokes (68/67/66/67) represented the lowest ever 72-hole score (vs par) of -20. David Toms, however, holds the record for the lowest overall total score, at 265, after carding 66/65/65/69 at the Atlanta Athletic Club, in 2001.

Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen are the most prolific winners, with five victories each, although Hagen’s were during the matchplay era and Jack’s in the strokeplay era. Jack also holds the record for being runner-up — four times. The youngest winner was Gene Sarazen, in 1922, when he was 20; the oldest was Julius Boros, in 1968, when he was 48. It’s fair to say that Sam Snead also deserves a special mention when it comes to his age. He won the championship three times and also finished in the top 10 on three other occasions… during his 60s.

Rory holds the record for biggest winning margin, as he won by eight shots in 2012.

PGA Moments

One of the greatest shots wasn’t even by a victor… Sergio Garcia’s famous six iron from behind a tree, in 1999, when he came second to Tiger, remains one of golf’s and the PGA Championship’s iconic moments.

Tiger has claimed four PGA titles but his ferocious battle with YE Yang, at Hazeltine in 2009, may be the PGA he is remembered for most. His victories in 2007 and 2008 had made him the dominant force in the 2009 field, but South Korean Yang was not overawed on the final day as the two men went toe-to-toe in the final pairing. Tiger started the day two strokes in front but Yang eventually won by three shots, taking everything that Tiger Woods fired at him… and returning it with interest. Tiger Woods was out-Tigered, and it was the first time that Woods had failed to win a major when holding at least a share of the lead after 54 holes.

Rory’s 2012 victory at Kiawah Island was a stroll in the park compared to 2014, when he won at Valhalla by a single stroke. Anyone who watched the 96th Championship will remember the dramatic conclusion. After starting the day one shot ahead, Rory found himself three shots behind Rickie Fowler, after nine holes. By the time Rory birdied the 17th, however, he led by two. The par five 18th offered further drama: in rapidly fading light, Fowler and Mickelson stepped to the side of the fairway to allow McIlroy and Bernd Wiesberger to play their tee shots. McIlroy avoided the water, just, but put his second into a bunker. From there he left himself 60 feet from the flag, taking two putts for a par and victory. Rain delayed play on the final day at Valhalla, threatening a washout, but it turned into one of the most titanic of all PGA battles as McIlroy, Stenson, Fowler and Mickelson all vied for the lead and the trophy.

The tournament will also be remembered for Harrington’s 2008 victory, at Oakland Hills, where he beat Ben Curtis and Sergio Garcia by two shots… but there are other, far less famous names who deserve a mention. Before the 2002 PGA, Rich Beem had made just one cut in his three major appearances and yet he fought off Tiger Woods on the final day at Hazeltine National to win by one. The following year, Shaun Micheel hit the shot of a lifetime when his seven iron approach stopped two inches from the cup on the final hole, giving him a two-shot victory over Chad Campbell.

It is 1991, however, that still rises above all other victories, for this was when John Daly exploded into golfing folklore. Daly was the ninth and final alternate for Crooked Stick, in Indiana, and only found himself competing the night before the first round. Daly drove through the night to claim the spot — and the caddie — left by Nick Price. Daly’s monstrous driving helped him to the lead on day two and he never relinquished it. His 12-under-par total gave him a three-shot victory.

Quail Hollow, 2017

Charlotte, North Carolina, is the venue for this year’s Championship. Established in 1959, Quail Hollow was designed by George Cobb, who also created the par three course at Augusta National. Quail Hollow has hosted the Wells Fargo Championship since 2003, with Rory McIlroy winning in 2010 and 2015.

As a 20-year-old, McIlroy shot a new course record of 10 under par to become the youngest man to win on the PGA Tour since Tiger Woods. His 62 on the final day included eight birdies and an eagle. He finished with six threes. It’s worth noting that with three holes to play on Friday, he was set to miss the cut until an eagle saw him squeak in for the weekend. It was his first win on the PGA Tour. In 2015, he beat his own course record with a 61 in the third round and, after a strong showing at this past weekend’s Bridgestone Invitational, he will be primed for his third victory at Quail Hollow… and his third PGA Championship.

The course will be a par 72 of 7,442 yards and the fireworks will undoubtedly ignite on ‘The Green Mile’, the feared final three holes: par four 16th (506 yards), the par three 17th (223 yards) and the par four 18th (494 yards).


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