The Identity Crisis of the PGA Championship

The PGA Championship ended this past weekend with Jimmy Walker as its champion. He was able to outlast any charge by the #1 ranked player in the world, Jason Day or The Open Championship winner, Henrik Stenson. It was pretty exciting on the back 9 with Walker clinging to a small lead the entire way. It featured a hole out from a bunker, a couple long putts and an absolute “Tiger-esque” shot by Day at 18 to make an eagle to put pressure on Walker. That being said, I still felt like there something missing.

I saw a discussion on Twitter between fans and an anonymous Tour pro (aka Secret Tour Pro or STP) and it caught my attention. The same thing was noticed by others too, even by a tour professional. The PGA lacks identity of sorts. The other three majors all have the specialness or uniqueness and the PGA Championship does not. The Masters has Augusta. The US Open has a tough and grueling set up. The Open is played on historic links courses and has the element of weather. The PGA has… well… um… no one is really sure. Some say it feels like any other week on tour and there is some validity to that. Courses like Baltusrol, Southern Hills and Atlanta Athletic Club are amazing courses but I think it’s courses like these that make the Championship lack identity.  These courses look similar to courses played every week on Tour. However, the PGA brings the best players from all over the world, a field only worthy of a major championship. The field alone can’t create an identity for this tournament however.

One thing the PGA Championship has going is the amount of birdies made. The winning score of 14-under this past week was the second lowest among majors, and last year, Jason Day set the record for lowest four round total in major championship history at Whistling Straits. These low scores provides entertainment for the fans, allowing them to cheer and create massive roars for each birdie thats made. This atmosphere can add so much to a major on a Sunday afternoon.

I felt like watching Sunday that the course was almost boring until the final hole. It seemed almost every player hit iron or wood of the tee and had similar shots into the large greens. There was not a lot of variety and not to much risk or reward.

If I got to run the PGA of America and was in charge of setting up the PGA Championship courses, I would try and choose courses that are unique but also ones that offer great risk and reward. I think the PGA has started to do this by awarding the Championship to courses like Whistling Straits in 2010 and 2015, to Quail Hollow next year and Trump National in 2022. These newer courses can provide great excitement, uniqueness and scenery which can help give much needed identity to the tournament and make it feel different than other tour events. The PGA needs to fully commit to this path or another one otherwise the fourth major of the year will always lack that certain something and will make people ambivalent about its identity.


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