The fourth and final Major of the year, the PGA Championship, begins this week. Every year, leading up to the Major season finale, there is some discussion about the PGA’s unofficial but widely acknowledged status as the least of the four Major Championships. Invariably, too, there is discussion of why this should not be so. Personally, I think it boils down to one thing: The PGA Championship has no “hook.”
The Masters is the first Major of the year and is played at Augusta National, thus benefiting from both the pent up anticipation of the off season and being played at one of the most spectacular venues on earth. The US open is our nation’s championship and is played on a rotation of the Nation’s most venerated courses. The Open Championship is the oldest of the majors and is played at locales in Great Britain steeped in the tradition of the game. The PGA, despite featuring the deepest field (every one of the top 103 players in the World Rankings will be there this week), and despite benefiting in the last decade or so from a move to US Open-worthy courses, lacks the cache of the other three. Someone (TV marketing guys?) tried to gin up enthusiasm in recent years by inserting the tagline, “Glory’s Last Shot,” and while that doesn’t even make sense, I suppose it’ll have to do. Despite that lack of respect, or perhaps because of it, the PGA is my favorite Major. Crazy, you say? Of course, but here’s why I like the PGA.
There’s nothing contrived about the PGA and it doesn’t deserve to be looked down upon by the other Majors and golf fans in general. It has a complex, no doubt. The PGA is like the little brother desperately trying to impress his older siblings. “Look at me. I have this giant trophy--the Wannamaker is the largest trophy of the Majors—notice me!” Pundits have opined (or pundified™—new word—claiming it) that the PGA comes at a time of year when we have grown a bit weary of televised golf, and our own miserable games, so we just don’t care about it as much. That could be true, but golf fans love golf, and the fact that the season no longer ends should be enough to dispel that theory. I think it really boils down to marketing. I mean the Masters has made winning an ugly sport coat seem like finding the Holy Grail (trivia: what is the Trophy for the Masters? Don’t know? Me either. Don’t care? Me either). The Masters is run by the most successful businessmen in the country. They know how to sell product. The PGA is run by PGA club pros—guys who love golf, sure, but whose marketing skills are limited to deciding how much margin they can safely eat when marking down those ugly leftover polo shirts after Independence Day.
Part and parcel with all that is the exclusivity of the organizations that run the other three events. The Masters is run by the Tournament Committee of Augusta National, the US Open by the USGA and the Open Championship by the R & A. Organizations don’t get much more exclusive than those. So maybe part of why we revere these events is because they are run by people who want nothing to do with us. The PGA, on the other hand, is run by guys who, in a sense, work for us—the club pro. In my opinion, that is one more reason to embrace the event. But we don’t—not whole-heartedly—and that’s ok because the PGA has something going for it that the other Majors do not--real meaning beyond just who wins.
This year, as in virtually every even-numbered year, there are huge implications for the composition of the Ryder Cup team, just over a month away. The 8 automatic berths that go to the highest point earners since the last Cup will be finalized at the conclusion of the PGA Championship.
Tiger is the only player today who is mathematically safely on that squad, although it’s a virtual certainty that the first 5 on that list will lock up their spots. Less certain is the status of one Phil Mickelson. He’ll be on the team for sure; it’s just a question of whether Davis Love will have the luxury of getting Phil via an automatic spot, or will be forced to use one of his four Captain’s picks if Phil should fall from his current 8th place position heading into the tournament. Davis Love is probably including in his nightly prayers a special request that Phil find some form this week after months of lackluster play. Love happens to be conveniently paired with Phil the first two days, so it should be interesting. It could be fun to watch if (when?) Phil starts getting sideways with the driver, we get to witness Davis Love abandoning his own ball while frantically scouring the brush for Phil’s errant nugget. I could see it happening—Ryder Cup Captain as forecaddie.
Likewise, barring injury, it’s a lock that Steve Stricker, at the 10 position, will either play his way on this week or get the nod from Love for a Captain’s pick. Mickelson and Stricker are two guys on the short list of potential picks that are “potential” in theory only. Again, though Love would prefer Stricker to play his way on, even if it means bumping the likes of either Zach Johnson or Matt Kuchar, numbers 6 and 7 respectively, he will be on the team.
The guys that are probably sweating their positions the most are Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson, numbers 11-14 on the list. It’s impossible to predict what each must do short of a win to secure an automatic spot, given that so much depends on how the guys immediately above and below them on the list play, but with the possible exception of Furyk, none are safe to assume they will be the next guy picked.
Hunter Mahan, who appeared to be cruising to his best year ever, has been a non-factor in most events in the last 2 months. Fowler has shown a propensity to shoot weird scores (80 in round 2 at the WGC last week) at odd times before lurching back to consistent golf (70, 69, 69 in rounds 1, 3 and 4). Snedeker has played brilliantly at times this year, but Love has to be concerned of his inability to finish on occasion. Johnson may be the only guy on tour more accurate with a driver than his wedge, which is problematic when he misses greens from 70 yards after lacing a 340 yard drive down the middle, as he did last week—more than once.
Anyway, you can see that there is drama built in to this event. They don’t need the big trophy (although it’s nice) or the huge check (nicer still) to make this particular Major more meaningful than the other three—at least this year. The Ryder Cup is waiting for those who can perform. It should be cool to see who plays his way on, and who stumbles from an assured spot on the team. It’s too early to predict what might happen, although I will have my tournament picks tomorrow, including an odd assortment of sleepers---just to make it interesting. I will say this; you might want to keep an eye on number 18 on the Ryder Cup points list. I’ll have more about him tomorrow. Stay tuned.