This Thursday The PGA Championship, as it celebrates its 100thanniversary at Bellerive Country Club just outside of St. Louis, will also mark the end of an era. Since the 1960’s, The PGA has been the final major of the year, the last leg of the modern “Grand Slam”of professional golf. All that will change next year, as the event moves to the third weekend in May, and moves from a major afterthought, to being the most important major in the on-going growth of interest in our sport here in The U.S..
The “Grand Slam” has long been considered competitive golf’s ultimate achievement. This is more than a bit of a misnomer, though, since it is something that has never been accomplished in the modern game, and is simultaneously considered by most to be all but unattainable. Sure, Bobby Jones won what was calledthe “Grand Slam”back in 1929 as an amateur, but that was back when two of the four legs were amateur events, excluding most of the most accomplished players of the day. And the immortal Ben Hogan, in his “Triple Crown”season of 1953, when he won The Masters, The U.S. Open, and The Open Championship in succession, in theory had a shot at it. But at that time The Open Championship and The PGA overlapped, making it impossible for him to compete in both, and the level of competition was nowhere near what it is today. In modern professional golf no player has ever even come in to The PGA Championship with a shot at the “Grand Slam”, leaving the season’s final major to always feel like it’s finishing on a bit of an anti-climactic note. So maybe it’s time to stop wishing, hoping, dreaming, and talking about someone winning the “Grand Slam”, and instead, take a cue from Hogan’s immortal season, and start talking about someone winning the new “Triple Crown”of American Professional Golf that The PGA has set the stage for by making its move.
By moving to May, for the first time ever the American Majors will be conducted in three consecutive months. The PGA claims they did this for a number of reasons, including the addition of golf to the Summer Olympics, the fact that cooler May weather opens up a wider array of options for host courses, and to keep the season ending Fed Ex Cup Playoffs from having to compete with the start of Football Season. But there’s an unintended consequence of this move that will ultimately make The PGA Championship the most pivotal, and important major in seasons to come.
Like The Preakness in horse-racing, The PGA Championship now becomes the second leg of what I will call the new “Triple Crown” of American Major Championships. Being only a month apart, winners of The Masters each year will now come into The PGA, the year’s second major, with more momentum. They will also contest that second leg under conditions most players feel are a fairer and more typical test of golf than the often brutal slog The USGA sets them up for at The U.S. Open. The result of this should be that more future Masters Champions will not only come into that second leg feeling like they’ve a realistic shot, but, as we see in horse-racing many years, could come out of it with a shot at the “Triple Crown”. The interest and excitement this will generate, and the build-up to The U.S. Open will increase ten-fold if we see a player winning the first two majors of the year, just as it does many years for The Belmont Stakes, when millions of eyeballs tune in because the storyline transcends the sport. It doesn’t matter that (not unlike The Belmont) the course setup and conditions of The U.S. Open favors a very different type of player than The Masters and PGA Championships before it will. What matters is more players at least having a shot at it. The move up of The PGA Championship will facilitate that, and with a more attainable goal, like the new“Triple Crown”of American Professional Golf, we should be in store for some much more exciting golf seasons in the very near future. And The PGA Championship will go from being a bit of an afterthought, to being The Major most pivotal to American professional golf’s new ultimate accomplishment.