Does the US PGA Championship have an “image problem”?

Jack Nicklaus… five time winner of the Wanamaker Trophy

Christopher Vogt says the US PGA Championship, taking place this week at the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is greeted with a ‘studied nonchalance’ by much of the media. Vogt laments the tournament’s perceived image problem and the blinkers worn by those who perpetuate it.


Another year, another PGA Championship. And yet another litany of indifference from so many quarters. Every year the tournament suffers the indignity not of being the least important major, but of being referred to as such. It beggars belief that this storied event needs shielding from the apathy of those who comment on the game. In defending it, one need look no further than the players, past and present, who grace its glorious stage.

I still recall one of the tournament’s champions dealing beautifully with a reporter who cast doubt on the winner’s claim to greatness, that somehow winning one PGA doesn’t count for much. The newly-crowned major champion offered not to count his one PGA if Nicklaus didn’t count his five. It was a retort that concisely addressed the ‘4th’ major’s standing in the game.

Prestige is often in the eye of the beholder, but the greats have always known the true value of things, whether that be certain courses, traditions, sportsmanship, or tournaments themselves. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson bled themselves dry in their quest for a PGA. That it proved elusive to these icons only raises its status. Tiger Woods is rather fond of his four victories. And don’t tell me Jordan Spieth is non-plussed about the missing piece in his Grand Slam puzzle.

The PGA is often derided for throwing up one-hit wonders, as if climbing the mountain a single time somehow leaves unfinished business. Yet major history is littered with those unable to reproduce their best on another of those four golden weeks. Consider such non-legendary figures as Ben Curtis,  Scott Simpson, Paul Lawrie, Steve Jones, Lucas Glover and Tom Lehman, all of whom won The Open Championship or US Open in recent decades. Fine players all, and rightly in the history books, for they summoned their best when it mattered most.

The PGA Tour often does the tournament, and itself, no favours by choosing less-than-hallowed golfing ground for the event. But the championship regains stature whenever it returns to the famed turf of Baltusrol, Winged Foot, and Riviera. Southern Hills stands with them, and champions, journeymen and rookies alike will bust themselves to claim a piece of permanence in an increasingly fluid sporting landscape.

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