Oh, how the time flies! We are upon the year’s second major already.
Scottie Scheffler’s maiden major at the Augusta seems to have happened just hours ago. This is the fourth year that the US PGA Championship, the only major that is exclusively for professional players is being played on the weekend before Memorial Day after a schedule rejig by the Professional Golfers' Association of America. Scheffler is expected to have a strong run as he is in white-hot form.
Although defending champion Phil Mickelson won't be there, the roster of players vying for the Wanamaker Trophy is wildly impressive with the field looking quite a lot like the top of the Official World Golf Rankings. Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith, Shane Lowry, and Brooks Koepka are amongst the favorites.
2-time winner Rory McIlroy had the biggest winning margin in the stroke-play era: 8 strokes in 2012. The trio of him, 4-time champ Tiger Woods, and Jordan Spieth — who can complete his career Grand Slam with a win at the PGA Championships will be teeing off together in rounds 1 and 2 in Tulsa. Incidentally, the last time, it was held in Tulsa in 2007, Tiger Woods emerged victorious. This makes it a decade and a half in between majors at Southern Hills and this time the atmosphere is buzzing with excitement. Now, tell us if that isn’t that doesn't bring crowds to the greens of the Southern Hills Country Club.
The PGA Championship has been nomadic in nature, flipping across golf courses across the country, but it has normally been played in the eastern half of the United States. Some of the early sites are now obscure and slipping into oblivion with the event in the recent past being generally played at a small and select group of celebrated courses. Now with its fifth time hosting, Southern Hills becomes the most preferred destination for the USPGA Championship.
The Perry Maxwell-designed Championship Course has a new look after being recently restored by architect Gil Hanse and his team of able men. Hole 5 is par 5, stretches to more than 650 yards, and is one of the longest in championship golf. But even the shortest hole (11) with 173 yards and par 3 has the sneaky challenge of maneuvering around the system of creeks.
Hole 12 ( 461 yards) is one of the most famous par 4s in the United States. Southern Hills' 18th hole is one of major championship golf's most punishing par-4 finishers and a fitting end to a course that tests the best and brings out their A-game. Some might say it is a beast of a course, that punishes a slight mistake.
Fairways, slopes, bunkers, creeks, and doglegs. Rolling, undulating, challenging. The course is quite a demanding task, as a major should be and the players will be using the best golf technology at their helm to get an edge over their rivals; be it a golf laser, a rangefinder, or a distance finder for that calculated putt that fetches a crucial birdie. A championship win here gains the winner instant attention and immediate access to the big league. And so, it is major!
As with the other 3 majors, winning the USPGA champions are automatically invited to play in the rest of the majors (Masters US Open, and The Open) and The Players Championship (dubbed as the fifth major) for the next 5 years. Additionally, they receive membership for the European Tour for the following 7 seasons.
This is a major that Jack Nicklaus has won 5 times and so has the father of professional golf, Walter Hagen. Gary Player has won it twice apart from Ben Hogan who believed the Hole 12 at Tulsa was the best in all of golf. That’s a ringing endorsement. The course (Par 70, Length 7,556 yards) and the major are steeped in tradition and another exciting, indelible chapter is waiting to be written. Woods in 2007, Nick Price in 1994, Raymon Floyd in 1982, and Dave Stockton in 1970 won the USPGA at the Southern Hills Championship Course. Who wins this Sunday? Who among the 156 players will be lifting the prestigious trophy and nab the lion’s share of the official prize purse of US $12 million?
Can’t wait for the tee-off.