This week is golf’s final major of the season. Glory’s Last Shot. Um, scratch that.
The 2013 PGA Championship is this week at Oak Hill G.C. in Rochester, N.Y. After three intense, electrifying majors already this season, it’s going to be hard for the PGA of America to top them.
An Aussie finally won the Masters, in a dramatic playoff, no less.
Justin Rose broke through to win a major championship, just like his friend and nubile major winner Adam Scott said he would. Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson was second-best for a record sixth time.
Then, Lefty turns it around amid an amazing Sunday leaderboard to ironically make the Open Championship his fifth major and first major open win.
Whatcha got, PGA Championship? Are you a Wanamaker or a Wanabe?
Regardless of the outcome this week, the PGA Championship is often subjected to some tough love this time of year. It’s the last major. It lacks an identity. It’s just followed a World Golf Championships event. All of that is true, and while ultimately all majors count the same, this one feels like the least of the four. (On the bright side, being the fourth of four majors is still better than the fourth of five or not counting at all.)
The Masters is played on the same course every year. The U.S. Open is the toughest of the majors. The Open Championship is both the oldest and most bizarre style of the four. Then there’s the PGA.
It used to be played in February. It used to be match play. It used to be the preferred choice of the travel-weary over the Open Championship — until transatlantic flight became more accessible and Arnold Palmer single handedly put it back on the major map in 1960.
What can the PGA of America do, then, to help its championship reclaim a larger part of golf’s collective heart? We have five suggestions.
Return the PGA Championship to the match-play format
Up until 1958, the PGA Championship was a match-play affair. That made it unique among the other majors. All of the others are stroke play. Television broadcasters, hoping for a better likelihood of marquee names in contention on the weekend, pressured the PGA of America to deviate from match play to a 72-hole medal-play affair.
While match play can produce some strange brackets (the WGC-Accenture Match Play proves this each year), the format would give the PGA Championship a unique identity that would not only separate it from the other three majors, but as well from the four World Golf Championships, The Players Championship and the four FedEx Cup tournaments. Needless to say, there’s enough stroke play in the world of professional golf.
But to make CBS feel better, the format could be changed to include stroke play. The first two days could be a 36-hole shootout to determine who qualifies for match play on the weekend. Limit it to 16 players and make it a single-elimination affair. Have the Round of 16 and the quarterfinals on Saturday, with the semifinals and final on Sunday. Or, heck, start on Wednesday with stroke-play qualifying and draw it out until Sunday.
Either be the first major or the very last major
Yes, the PGA Championship is the last major championship on the men’s calendar, but it’s not the last major tournament. See the difference? After this week, the PGA Tour ramps right into the run to the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bounty. When the concept began six years ago, people scoffed at the notion that money could buy import on the golf calendar. However, the results are in: It did.
The FedEx Cup matters, lining up a month of great golf tournaments against the dawn of a new football season. No longer do players shut it down for the year with a possible eight-figure payday looming at the end of Month 9 on the calendar.
It’s so important that the PGA of America acquiesced to the PGA Tour suggestion to abandon referring to the PGA Championship as “Glory’s Last Shot.” Seriously. (Yes, it was a dumb moniker, suggesting the PGA was only important because it’s the last one, but still.)
Add in that the gap between it and the Open Championship is tied for the smallest in the sport (three weeks). Unlike the intervening weeks between the U.S. Open and Open Championship, however, the PGA Championship has the unfortunate build-up of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, typically claiming at least 90 percent attendance among the world’s top 50 players.
So, create some separation. Be like the states all jostling for position to be among the first primaries contested and move the PGA Championship back to February. Become the first major of the year — Glory’s First Shot — instead of the major caboose. Steal some thunder from the Masters, which is the unofficial start to spring and the golf season.
That’s the move that saved the Australian Open’s relevance in tennis. In 1987, the Aussie Open decided to finally stick to a January date. That’s probably too close to Christmas and New Year’s for its own good, but going to February might be the Goldilocks of dates for the PGA Championship.
Hell, make it the week after the Super Bowl.
Besides, golfers won’t be out of form heading into a second-month PGA Championship. The golf season doesn’t end anymore. And it would be better than inviting competition from football by moving deep into the fall.
Embrace being the major that is golf’s all-star game
Unbeknownst to the casual fan, the PGA Championship has the deepest field of the majors. That’s probably its one true identifying characteristic. Most of the top 100 in the world ranking wind up with a spot in the PGA Championship field. (Even with the 20 PGA professionals in the field, it’s still the deepest and probably best in golf.)
Play up that depth, creating golf’s version of the all-star game. It’s a concept I’ve been advocating for these last six years.
Up until the mid-80s, the PGA Championship used to have a driving contest. Why not take it a step further and have a skills challenge ahead of the week? Putt-putt (like in the 1904 Olympics), chipping, that “Big Break” glass challenge, etc. There’s plenty of skill to show off.
Sure, the Masters boasts the Par-3 Contest, but no one has ever gone on the win the green jacket after going low on the short course.
Add in autograph sessions, special interactive demos and other activities for fans and make the PGA Championship the most fun of the four majors.
Increase fan interactivity on social media
The PGA of America was onto something when it announced fans could vote on one of four hole locations for the 15th hole in the final round of this week’s championship. It’s a savvy move that invites fans to interact with the tournament and have a vested interest in the course setup.
Why stop there? Go further with it.
Let fans pick some groupings for the first two days. They surely would have put Tiger and Sergio in a grouping. Or put Phil and Keegan in a group.
Ask fans to design the logo for the championship, or a flag that’ll be used on a hole. Whatever. Just get fans involved.
Become the shortest major in the Grand Slam
For decades, Grand Slam courses were getting longer. In fact, last year’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island was the longest course in major-championship history, playing to a length of 7,676 yards (‘Murica twice). Given the drama of the last two majors, however, the PGA of America may want to reverse course.
Merion and Muirfield (as well as Oak Hill) are small ballparks. The longest players didn’t need driver to get around either, but in both cases, they were set up in such a way that only one player emerged under par in each of them.
Become the shortest major of the four. Never play longer than 7,200 yards — under any circumstance. Make all of the par 5s reachable. Have a par 3 that can play under 100 yards. Throw in a drivable par 4. Create odd windows to cut off corners. Force strange angles. All of this seems to confound the best players in the world way more than yet another 500-yard par 4.
Honorable mention: Ditch the PGA professionals in the field
Alright, that’s just downright mean. But do it anyway.