The final major of 2017 is here. Unfortunately, the PGA Championship is ranked by most fans as their 4th favorite major. Many, like myself, don’t even consider it their 4th favorite tournament of the year. It’s a shame. The PGA continues to struggle in the hearts of fans, I believe, mostly because it feels too much like a second U.S. Open. A roaming tournament played on classic American courses that must be defended with fast greens and challenging rough. It does sound familiar.
Golf historians still debate where the idea of the four modern majors came from. Many point to Arnold Palmer in 1960 stating that if he could win the British Open and the PGA, following his wins at The Masters and the U.S. Open earlier in the year, he would complete his own Grand Slam.1
So, it’s history and Arnold Palmer then that makes the PGA Championship a major? It’s a major today because it was a major yesterday. But times are changing. Fans, especially the all-important casual sports fan, expect major sporting events to be something special and unique. Being a major just because it’s been a major may not be enough for much longer.
There are folks that continue to politic for The Players to be a major. I tend to agree with them. It’s traditionally a very strong field thanks to a big pile of cash and job security coming with a victory.2 The tournament has a 43-year history dating back to its inaugural 1974 champion, Jack Nicklaus. The last 36 tournaments have been played at the now infamous TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. Love it or hate it, the place has a signature look and makes for amazing drama coming home on Sunday. The Players is already a major in every way other than being blessed as one by those who have the influence to do so. That may change soon.
Others argue that having three of the four majors played in the United States really doesn’t represent golf as the world game it has become. It’s likely time to add another major outside of the United States. But, do we add a major or replace a major? The pressure is on the PGA Championship because The Masters, the U.S. Open, and The Open Championship certainly aren’t going anywhere.
Some changes may already be taking place to help add some new life to the PGA Championship. Rumors have been circulating of a calendar change in the near future.3 I don’t believe moving the PGA to May will be enough. What I think might change things would be to have the PGA Championship move to May and then return to its roots. The PGA Championship should roll back the clock to 1957 and once again become a match play event.
Oh, but television and sponsors don’t care much for match play tournaments. The idea of having only two players with a chance at victory on Sunday makes them very nervous. If it’s McIlroy versus Spieth in the final match then they have a ratings miracle on their hands and there would be much rejoicing. Not so much if we have world #32 versus world #43 in the final group (apologies to Bernd Wiesberger and Ross Fisher) with McIlroy and Spieth on their way home following losses in the quarterfinals. So it will likely never happen, but, I still believe that a major with a unique format could work.
Instead, the PGA will move to May, eventually, and hope that by being the second major of the year instead of the last it will rise again as must-watch television for the casual sports fan. Maybe it will work. But, maybe we will instead start to argue over whether Jack’s and Tiger’s Players wins should count towards their “majors won” records.