- Paul Graham-Fielding
THE PGA CHAMPIONSHIP - GOLF'S HARDEST MAJOR TO WIN
They used to call the PGA Championship ‘glory’s last shot’, at least they did in America. This year however it has been brought forward in the season’s calendar to make it make it the second month of a 4-month Major run. So, plenty of more chances of glory beckon. Still as each year passes the PGA Championship gets tougher, becoming golf’s hardest major to win.
The tag line used to be ‘the season’s final major’ and with an eight month gap to the Masters it was the difference in an off season offering justification to the hard work a golfer had put in, or forced a player to search for the missing piece in his golf game. This year will be different, every player to start in Bethpage Black will have warmed in to his game, and for those atop the world golf rankings or ‘trending’ towards greatness with a run of good finishes will have already justified their presence, ensuring an air of confidence is running through the field.
The PGA used to be considered the weakest of golf’s four majors. The other majors were unique; The Masters is the one to be played at the same venue every year; the US Open provides a test that plays out like a Tough Mudder in comparison to a normal road race (especially when the USGA committee throw in a few obstacles); The Open Championship is played on centuries old links land in weather both fair and foul; and then there was the comparatively normal US PGA Championship.
But it seems the days of a journeymen winner, one of the biggest reasons the PGA was sneered at, are over. In the past 5 years the title has been claimed by a handful of world No.1’s, multiple major champions and Ryder Cup stalwarts. A far cry from Tiger beating Bob May back in 2007. The PGA has become the most competitive of all the majors.
It has the toughest field. The US PGA Championship doesn’t just make up the numbers, it has the deepest, strongest field in golf. Its very openness makes it the most difficult to win. For the top players, playing year in year out within the confines of the worlds top 50, The Masters with its limited field comprised of a generous smattering of over 50’s, and played each year on the same course would appear to be the easiest major to win. In contrast the PGA invariably invites the top 100 on the Official Golf World Ranking golfers to play, and this strength in depth adds to the difficulty.
Come the end of May there are more golfers trending into form for the PGA Championship and it has almost double the field size of the The Masters too. I recently read on the one of the many golf forums I frequent “how many Shawn Michaels have come out of the blue to win the Masters?”
When we look back at Tigers penultimate major in 2009, do we think Ye Yang would have ever toppled him at Augusta, Pebble Beach or St. Andrews given the same set of circumstances?
With a wider field that regularly compete against each other, so many tour players up their game in the PGA Championship, sometimes the ones at the summit of the game can find the pressure too much.
It’s like a PGA Tour event on steroids. Phil Mickelson once said that the PGA Championship was “major without an ego”, and that ego often precludes many players with less than perfect mental fortitude to pass up chances than at the other three majors. Not so at the PGA, which usually sets up with just enough familiarity of a normal PGA Tour golf course with a slight tip of the cap towards a US Open setup. It’s enough to make every player in the field that little bit more comfortable.
Ernie Els, when asked about the PGA Championship field came up with an answer that illustrated the mindset of many players, “When I get on the first tee at the PGA, I’m not as nervous as when I get on the 1st at The Masters, The US or The Open Championship. You know you can score. At the other majors you’re trying to place yourself, seeing where your game is and what the golf course is taking. At the PGA you’ve got to have an aggressive mindset, and with the strong players in the field you know you have to go low, it’s like a PGA Tour event on steroids!”
The Young gun factor. Let’s also face the fact that the game’s elite players are getting younger, hungrier, and more professional. While it was expected that the elite of yesterday ply their trade and earn their stripes before winning a major (see Davis Love III and Paul Azinger as points in case), today’s young talent is capable of winning today, or next week, or both! When Tiger Woods won his first major at the age of 21, it proved that winning young wasn’t the most unlikely scenario of a major week. Since then young guns on tour, who hit the ball longer, higher and straighter than anyone else before them, see no barriers denying them access to golf’s most elite club.
Players aren’t afraid to win majors these days and this will be even more evident at Bethpage Black this year when over 156 potential winners line up, each one of the knowing that they have the game to win the hardest major in golf.
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