News & Opinion

PGA’s promotion won’t alter major reality

Feel good for the PGA of America. The folks in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., moved their signature event from mid-August to mid-May, beginning this year, and their timing could not be better. It’s like having James Holzhauer pinch-hit for you on “Jeopardy!”

No event will benefit from the recent “Miracle on Magnolia Lane” – Tiger Woods’ victory at the Masters – more than the PGA Championship. That’s because the PGA is no longer “Glory’s Last Shot.” It’s “Glory’s Next Shot,” May 16-19 at Bethpage Black. The steroid injection that the golf industry received at Augusta, and the orgasmic media response surrounding it, will resonate most immediately at the next major.

There will be pictures of Woods in red, talk of a Tiger Slam, pomp and circumstance like you read about. The fact that Woods has won a major championship at Bethpage, capturing the 2002 U.S. Open at the height of his powers, will advance the narrative. The 2019 PGA host sits in the shadow of New York City, where everything is larger than life, including the Yankees’ 10-day injured list and Noah Syndergaard’s ERA.

Good on the PGA. The runt of the major-championship litter deserves the eggs. Perception never has been reality where the PGA Championship is concerned. The late show often has been the best show of past major seasons.

An example is Woods’ epic battle with Bob May at Valhalla in 2000, among the most dramatic and entertaining championships ever. And there was Davis Love III’s rainbow in 1997 at Winged Foot, Mickelson’s 72-hole birdie at Baltusrol in 2005, Y.E. Yang’s improbable takedown of Woods at Hazeltine in 2009, Woods and Sergio Garcia at Medinah in ’99, John Daly at Crooked Stick … Bob Tway’s bunker shot … so on and so forth.

But the PGA never gets the love, never gets the same play, never tops the marquee. And honestly, here’s the thing: The change in the batting order, Woods’ revival and the calendar reset notwithstanding, it never will.

No matter when or where the PGA Championship is played, it can’t compete with the Big Three, for tradition, for romance or for structure. Sorry, but it just can’t.

Started in 1916, the PGA has been around longer than the Masters, which began in 1934. But as Curly from “City Slickers” might say, the Masters has “one thing,” and everything else “don’t mean [something that rhymes with spit].” That one thing is Augusta National. There’s no other place like it. No other place hosts the championship, and no other place ever will. Toss in the mystique of Bobby Jones, the Par 3 Contest and the green jacket and you have golf’s perfect Monet.

The U.S. Open represents golf’s earliest footprints in this country. The USGA conducted the first Open in 1895, a day after the first U.S. Amateur. Over time, the U.S. Open has produced some of the most historically significant moments in American golf, including Francis Ouimet’s 1913 win at The Country Club.

The reputation of the national championship precedes it each year. With oppressive rough and asphalt greens, the joust in June is considered the most difficult major, the place where par is most valued. Sandy Tatum, a former president of the U.S. Golf Association, once was asked whether the USGA was attempting to embarrass the world's best golfers. He famously replied, “No. We're trying to identify them.”

With body tags, perhaps.

The British Open in mid-July now bats cleanup in the major-championship order, and it can carry the weight. The “Open Championship” is the sport’s oldest competitive artifact, first played in 1860 and rotated among ancient seaside playing fields such as sacred St. Andrews. Nothing matches it in look, in feel or in sound. For Americans watching their morning TV, it’s like having Mary Poppins as a house guest for four days. For aspiring Europeans, it ranks No. 1 on the bucket list.

Moreover, the U.S. and British championships are, in fact, just that: “open.” Pros and amateurs from all walks of life – with a proper handicap – can chance to qualify. And each year, the fields are sprinkled with the inspiring and unlikely tales.

The PGA, on the other hand, is closed to amateurs. While its field always is flush with top-ranked PGA Tour names, it also saves room for 20 club and teaching professionals. Commendable on the association’s part, appropriate for those PGA members, but a practice that lacks in rags-to-riches color.

Perhaps the PGA Championship suffers a bit from its match-play origins, which ended with the 1957 event. This will be only the 62nd stroke-play edition. In golf years, it’s practically a baby, and that’s the rub. In the world of golf prestige, you never can go back again. You are what you are, no matter where you go, no matter when you arrive.

The PGA Championship always will be No. 4 on the major-championship landscape. But it’s No. 2 on the schedule this year, and that promises to be terrific.

Dan O’Neill, who covered golf for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1989 to 2017, is an editorial consultant on golf for Fox Sports. His articles have appeared in publications such as Golfweek, Golf World, Golf.com and The Memorial magazine. Email: dan13153@gmail.com; Twitter: @WWDOD