The PGA Championship is one of golf’s four Major tournaments and sits aside the Masters, The Open Championship, and the US Open Championship. Up until 2018, the PGA Championships took place in mid-August; however, in 2019, the PGA moved the tournament to the weekend before Memorial Day in May.
Unlike the Masters, which is played at Augusta National in Georgia each April, the PGA Championship tours the US with the event played on a different course each year. The prospective clubs undergo an extensive and rigorous selection process in order to host the PGA Championships tournament.
As a Major tournament, the golf courses are set up to be extraordinarily challenging. The PGA attracts the best golfers from around the world as they compete for prize money in excess of $10 million; this year’s winner will take home just over $2 million.
The PGA Championships have been held since 1916, and besides the sizeable check, the winner also receives a lifetime exemption to the event. Subsequently, the winners of the PGA Championship are also invited to each of the four Majors for the next five years; the Masters, The US Open, and the Open Championships. Finally, players also gain valuable points toward Ryder Cup selection.
The History of the PGA Championship
In 1894 the United States was home to 41 golf courses and was the host of two national amateur championships, both of which at that time were unofficial. The Newport Country Club was host to the United States event, while across the pond, St Andrews hosted the British version of the tournament.
The St Andrews course also held an open tournament exclusively for professional players; the tournament was called the Open Championships. However, neither the Open Championships nor the US PGA championships were sanctioned tournaments which caused much dispute and controversy with players and officials alike.
To combat the problem, players and officials came together in 1894 and formed the United States Golf Association. The USGA became the first national governing body for golf in the US.
Rodman Wanamaker, a manufacturing and merchandising tycoon established the PGA Championships in 1916. Over lunch with distinguished guests like golfing greats Walter Hagan and Francis Ouimet and course architect A.W. Tillinghast, Wanamaker laid out his vision for the future of golf. Less than one month later, the group formed what know today as the PGA of America.
The group believed that to separate themselves and gain the spotlight, they needed to launch a tournament that would bring the best players from around the US and worldwide to compete annually. Later that same year, in 1916, the inaugural PGA Championship took place over 36 holes and was hosted at the Siwanoy C. C. in Bronxville, New York.
The first-ever event was contended by James Barnes, an Englishman, and Jock Hutchinson, a Scottish golf pro. Barnes would ultimately snatch victory from Hutchinson and, in doing so, won the inaugural PGA Championships. Barnes took home $500 and the Wanamaker Trophy. He also received a diamond medallion presented to him by Wanamaker, who also happened to be a master jeweler and collector of fine antiques.
In the 1920s, multiple tournament records were set. Gene Sarazen made history in 1922 when at 20 years of age, he was the youngest PGA Champion in history. He backed up his win the following year by defeating Walter Hagan on the 38th hole in a playoff; many experts and golf buffs consider it one of the most incredible rounds in golfing history.
Sarazen made history again in 1972 as the oldest player ever to tee it up at the PGA Championship aged 70. Walter Hagan, however, was not be outdone dominating the tournament during the 1920s, winning an impressive four times in a row from 1924 to 1927.
In 1930 the tournament organizers moved the PGA Championship from fall to summer, and in 1958, organizers also changed the format from 36 holes to the modern-day 72-hole stroke play. During the PGA Championship tournament, Arnold Palmer established himself for all the wrong reasons, with the legendary player never holding the Wanamaker Trophy aloft.
However, Arnold’s friend and nemesis Jack Nicklaus won the PGA Championships on five occasions. From 1963 through 1980, not only did Jack win five times, but he also amassed 14 top-ten finishes, the most of any golfer to date.
Tiger Woods dominated the tournament during the 2000s, winning three times in 2000, 06, 07, but it was his 1999 win that cemented his place in PGA Championship history, becoming one of the youngest players to capture the Wanamaker trophy.
Many golfers consider the PGA Championships to be the weakest of the four majors, but in my opinion, that’s a tough call, especially considering the best players in the world all compete. Granted, the depth of talent might not be as strong as the other three majors, but that’s because the tournament offers twenty exemptions for PGA Club Pros. I love this idea as it gives club pros the chance to tee it up against the best of the best.
During the 1960s, the PGA Championships were played the week immediately after the Open Championships; this meant it was practically impossible for golfers to tee it up at both events.
Tournament organizers moved the event to August in 1965, and apart from a brief move in 1969, the tournament remained there until 1971. In 2016 the USGA was forced to move the PGA Championships to July because golf had been reinstated into the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
The USGA made another move in 2017 when it announced to the golfing world the event would be moving to May, where it remains today. The PGA also moved the Players Championships to March in the very same year.
The PGA said the reasoning behind the move was to accommodate the Olympics, and the cooler weather during March would offer a more comprehensive array of courses to choose from. Sportswriters also believed the PGA Tour did not want to compete against the NFL, which started just as the FedEx Cup playoffs were taking place.
Up until this point in time, the PGA Championships have been predominantly played on the east coast of the US and have only been played out west on 11 occasions, with the most recent being played at the TPC In San Francisco.
States who have held the most PGA Championships
- New York 13 times
- Ohio 11 times
- Pennsylvania 9 times
For years the PGA Championship used the marketing catchphrase “Glory’s last shot,” but at the behest of PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, the slogan was changed to “the seasons final major.” Finchem believed the original tagline took away from the events that immediately followed the PGA Championship, such as the FedEx Cup tour playoffs.
The CEO of the PGA, Pete Bevacqua, said that media outlets like CBS were also an integral part of the decision to change the catchphrase. A CBS executive said, ” not much could be done” with the original tagline.”
How to Qualify for the PGA Championships
The PGA Championship was launched for the specific purpose of providing club and teaching pros from around America the opportunity to tee it up at one of golf’s four majors. Many of these teaching pros dedicate their lives to coaching and helping others realize their dreams; this was the PGA Tour’s way of saying thank you for their years of dedication to the game.
Even today, the tournament does not invite amateur golfers to play the event; that’s not to say they can’t play; they can. However, the only possible way for an amateur to gain entry would be by winning one of the other major tournaments; so far, this has not happened.
Twenty of the 156 spots go to the top club pros who participate in their own qualifying event in late April each year. The PGA Tour is not in control of the PGA Championship; the PGA of America has been running the tournament since 1968, so they can allow club professionals to play the event.
The clear distinction here is that the PGA Tour is the governing body for tour professionals while the PGA of America presides over the clubs, courses, and teaching professionals.
Ways to qualify for the PGA Championship
- Every previous PGA Champion
- The previous five US Open holders
- The previous five Masters holders
- The previous five Open Championship holders
- The previous three Players Championships holders
- The present champion of the Senior PGA
- The highest 15 placed finishers in last year’s PGA Championship
- The highest 20 placed finishers in the last PGA Professional Championship
- The current top 70 on the PGA Tour money-list
- Members of the Ryder Cup teams from Europe and the US are all eligible provided they’re ranked inside the top 100 one week prior to the event
- The PGA of America also has the right to hand out special exemptions at its own discretion
- If the list can’t be filled, then players on the “alternate list” are selected to play; the alternate list starts with players ranked 71 in the world and lower.
Past Champions of Note
Two legends of the game, Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagan have hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy on five occasions. Nicklaus captured the PGA in 1963, 1971, 1973, 1975, and 1980. In 1921, 1924, 1925, 1926, and 1927, Walter Hagan won incredibly for four consecutive years, a feat never repeated.
One name that you surprisingly won’t find on the list is the legendary Arnold Palmer, who, although he had seven Majors to his name, never captured the sought-after Wanamaker Trophy. Arnie was runner-up on three occasions.
The Wanamaker Trophy
The Wanamaker Trophy is named after Rodman Wanamaker, a wealthy manufacturing magnate who also happened to be an avid recreational golfer. The original idea for the PGA Tournament came to light over a lunch meeting in 1916 when Wanamaker laid out his plans and vision that, in his words, “would revolutionize” the sport of golf. Now more than 100 years later, Wanamaker’s vision was almost prophetic.
The trophy itself is a beast standing nearly 3 feet high and weighing in at 30lbs. In the late 1920s, the trophy went missing until it showed up in a cellar in 1930. The cellar belonged to L.A. Young and Company who manufactured golf clubs for Walter Hagan. According to Hagan, he left the Trophy with the taxi driver entrusting him to deliver it to his hotel; the trophy was never delivered.
The Only All-Professional Event On The Tour
Contrary to popular belief, the PGA of America primarily consists of club and teaching pros, not professional tour players. The PGA set out to create an event designed solely for pro golfers, and as such, the PGA Championships have remained faithful to its original aim.
Unlike the other Majors, which permit amateur players or grant exemptions, the PGA Championship is exclusive to professional players. Club pros have the opportunity to qualify for the event, with the top twenty club pros from around the nation getting a chance to tee it up alongside the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
The only possible avenue for an amateur golfer to be able to play the PGA Championship would be for them to win one of the other three Majors; the Masters, the Open championships, or the US Open, which to date has yet to happen.
PGA Championship Host Courses
Incredibly since 1916, the PGA Championship has only been hosted by 17 different courses that have held the event multiple times. The course to host the most PGA Championships is the Southern Hills C.C. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has been privileged enough to host the tournament on four occasions in 1970, 82, 94, and most recently in 2007.
Although largely played on the east side of the US, the event does venture out to the west, with courses like the TPC Harding Park in San Francisco hosting the event in 2020.
Notable Moments in PGA Championship History
Although the PGA Championship doesn’t have the stature and appeal of the other three Majors, the Masters, the US Open, and the Open Championships, it’s still been able to produce some of the most unforgettable moments in golfing folklore.
One of those incredible and heartwarming moments came in 1991 when John Daly captured the Wanamaker trophy by three shots; not bad considering prior to the event, Daly was not even close to qualifying and was ninth on the alternates list. The tournament was played at the Crooked Stick Golf Club in Indiana and will go down as one of the most inspiring and motivating victories for any golfer.
What would the highlight reel be without a special moment from one of the greatest of all time, Tiger Woods? In 2000, Tiger captured his third consecutive major by sinking a clutch six-footer that would eventually get him into a playoff with fellow American Bob May. There’s not a highlight package going around where this amazing Tiger moment isn’t featured.
In 2009 Y.E. Yang captured his first and only major to date at Hazeltine National, holding off a surging Tiger Woods who was finishing with a barrage of birdies on the back nine. Yang held his nerve, though, and on the 14th hole chipped in for eagle, and in doing so, catapulted himself to victory.
Last year saw one of the most remarkable and most popular major victories of all time when the crowd favorite Phil Mickelson became the oldest golfer to win the PGA Championship. Mickelson, aged 50, captured his first major win since 2013 at the Kiawah Islands Ocean course by two strokes, taking his tally to five with only the US Open missing from his trophy cabinet.