Dusek: Learn to love the PGA Championship
Monday, August 11, 2014
It's over, so Ted Bishop can now exhale. The PGA Championship wasn't forced to finish on Monday, even though Bishop and the other majordomo's at the PGA of America decided not to push tee times forward with rain in the forecast. Television pays the bills, and ratings are every bit as important as pars and birdies in the world of professional golf. Who knows, maybe night golf will catch on and be a new grow-the-game initiative? Thankfully for Bishop, Rory McIlroy saved not only the ratings Sunday, he also saved the top of the Wanamaker trophy from splashing on the 18th green when Bishop dropped it. All's well that ends well.
In time, our memories of the rain and finishing in the dark will recede like the water in Floyd's Fork. What will linger is the epic final hours of the 2014 PGA Championship. Birdies, eagles, Rory, Rickie, Phil, great shots and even great recoveries … it was all there. The PGA Championship gets the short end of the major championship stick. European writers even refer to it these days as the U.S. PGA Championship. (Refer to their major as the British Open and you'd better be ready for the flurry of social media critics who will adamantly tell you it's The Open Championship you clod!). However, for more than a decade, the PGA Championship has delivered some of most riveting drama and theater the sport has seen. There have been a few runaways, but in case your memory is shorter than Bubba Watson's temper these days, take a look:
2014 (Valhalla Golf Club): Rory recovers on the back-nine to pass Mickelson and Fowler, winning his second consecutive major.
2013 (Oak Hill Golf Club): After shooting 63, Jason Dufner holds off Jim Furyk and Henrik Stenson to win his first major.
2012 (Kiawah Resort): Not a lot of drama, but a big-time performance by McIlroy on a course that was made for TV.
2011 (Atlanta Athletic Club): After carding a triple-bogey on 15 Sunday, Keegan Bradley makes up a four-shot gap on Jason Dufner and then wins in a playoff.
2010 (Whistling Straits): Martin Kaymer wins in a playoff over Bubba Watson after Dustin Johnson grounds his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole.
2009 (Hazeltine National): Y.E. Yang comes from behind to defeat Tiger Woods, becoming the first Asian-born player to win a major.
2008 (Oakland Hills): After winning at Royal Birkdale, Padraig Harrington collects his third career major and holds off Sergio Garcia.
2007 (Southern Hills): In scorching heat, Tiger Woods fends off Ernie Els and underdog Woody Austin to claim his third PGA Championship.
2006 (Medinah): Tiger Woods runs away and hides from the field to claim his second PGA Championship at the Chicago venue.
2005 (Baltusrol): On a course that was as tough as Tony Soprano, Phil Mickelson gets up and down at No. 18 on Monday to beat Steve Elkington and Thomas Bjorn by a shot in New Jersey.
2004 (Whistling Straits): Vijay Singh defeats Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco in a playoff in the sand dunes alongside Lake Michigan.
The PGA Championship may be searching for an identity – the emergence of the season-finale FedEx Cup playoffs prompting a new slogan, "This is Major" – but it has delivered drama.
PHOTOS: 2014 PGA Championship, Sunday
Check out images from the final round of the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club.
For a long time I thought that to cure our collective underappreciation of the PGA Championship it would need to change either its format or its timing.
Before 1957, the PGA Championship was contested in a match-play format, not 72 holes of stroke play like nearly every other event. Reverting back to match play would set the PGA Championship apart, but television producers and media rights holders don't have the stomach for that today. The possible reward – stars going head-to-head for the Wanamaker trophy – is outweighed by the risk of losing Rory, Rickie, Tiger, Phil and other ratings boosters before the weekend.
Shifting the PGA Championship out of August and to another time, maybe in October or November, could also help it create a unique identity and create a sense of closure for fans to each season. But that would land it in the middle of America's football season, so getting a favorable TV deal would be tough. Getting a good TV rating would be almost impossible. The PGA Tour has also adopted a wrap-around schedule that includes events in the United States and Asia in the fall. No one is going to mess with the geese that lays platinum eggs for elite players and the Tour.
The only time the PGA Championship is going to move is in Olympic years. The 2016 PGA Championship is scheduled for July 28-31 to accommodate the players who are going to be in Rio. Assuming there's a course to play on.
The Masters, U.S. Open, and Open championships have carved out unique positions for themselves and have distinct character. The PGA Championship is going to be stuck in the fourth slot for the foreseeable future.
Maybe that's the root of the problem, the venues. All you have to do is mention Augusta National Golf Club to most golfers and they immediately lower their voice and bow their heads. The U.S. Open visits venerable tracks like Pinehurst No. 2, Shinnecock Hills, Winged Foot, Oakmont, Pebble Beach – all classic tracks that golfers lust to play. New courses that are added to the fold, like Chambers Bay and Erin Hills, automatically get elevated in stature. The Open Championship returns the Old Course at St. Andrews every five years. When it's not at the home of golf, you'll find it at hundred-year-old tracks with 'Royal' in their name and pot bunkers in their fairways.
The PGA Championship is going to be played at inviting, accessible venues in the future, some (Baltusrol, Bellerive) with a little more pedigree and tradition than others.
2015: Whistling Straits
2016: Baltusrol Golf Club
2017: Quail Hollow Club
2018: Bellerive Country Club
2019: Bethpage Black
2020: TPC Harding Park
2022: Trump National Bedminster
It's like comparing Coldplay to the Rolling Stones.
But there's room in everyone's iPod for Coldplay and the Rolling Stones. Enjoying one does not preclude you from enjoying the other. We can love the Masters, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship and still appreciate and enjoy the PGA Championship.
So relax, Ted, and breathe easy. Your tournament was the best major of 2014. Even in the dark, Sunday was worth waiting for.
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