The PGA Championship: The underrated major that continues to deliver drama in abundance

Ronan MacNamara

A view of the Wanamaker trophy from the ninth hole at Southern Hills Country Club (Photo by Gary Kellner/PGA of America via Getty Images)

It’s the one nobody looks forward to, the lesser major, but the PGA Championship is underrated and the 104th edition at Southern Hills promises to be another thriller.

The PGA Championship has been much maligned for years. Perhaps the number of one-hit wonders that have swanned off with the Wanamaker Trophy never to reach the dizzying heights again has dampened the prestige of the championship.

However, for every Sean Micheel, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Rich Beem there have been some classic PGA Championships over the years and the last decade or so have been fantastic spectacles whether in August or mid-May.


The most recent example is of course Phil Mickelson holding off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen to win at Kiawah Island and break a barrier for the over-50s and it is a shame that he can’t be there to defend his title this week. What a strange year for golf.

The PGA has smiled on Irish golfers through the years, one of my earliest memories of watching major championship golf is in 2008 when Pádraig Harrington once again snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in one of golf’s marquee events.

The scenes of Paddy fist-pumping that par putt home will be forever imprinted in my brain but for me, it kicked off a sequence of thrilling PGA Championships.

I can understand people’s gripe that the cream doesn’t necessarily always come to the top but the PGA has rarely been lacking in drama late on a Sunday evening. As an Irish viewer, late Sunday night drama as the clock ticks towards midnight is unrivalled.

Rory McIlroy of course won two Wanamaker Trophies in his pomp, the first a barnstorming victory at Kiawah Island where he beat Jack Nicklaus’ scoring record and the second a thrilling finale at Valhalla. The 2014 championship was played out in bizarre circumstances with the final two groups teeing off the 18th together to beat the darkness.

Since McIlroy won by a mammoth eight strokes in 2012 the largest margin of victory since has been just three shots when Jason Day held off Jordan Spieth in 2015.

Going back even further to 2010 at Whistling Straits where Rory had his first real jaunt at major championship glory, one could argue that edition is still the best there’s been over the last fourteen years.

It was the latest episode of some calamitous Dustin Johnson howlers on major championship Sundays, a sequence that would finally be halted in 2016.

The American looked destined to book his spot in a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson but television replays showed he grounded his club in what he thought was a waste area on 18 only for it to be a bunker.

It was drama til the last!

We have had some ‘meh’ winners in the shape of Bradley and Dufner but even then, the margins were so tight with the former downing the latter in a playoff in 2011 before the Duf struck gold at Oak Hill in 2013.

Brooks Koepka had a stranglehold on major championship golf winning back-to-back US Open and PGA Championships but he was made to work ferociously by a certain Tiger Woods in 2018 at Bellerive. It was like the old days as Tiger made a charge up the leaderboard on Sunday but Koepka did enough to hold him off and edge to a two-shot victory.

The 2019 edition at Bethpage Black is probably the only blot in the copybook over the last fourteen years as Koepka eventually won by two shots on a Sunday that looked a mere formality despite some late Dustin Johnson pressure.

Justin Thomas broke through in major championship golf in 2017 with some clutch putting at Quail Hollow in what was another serious test of golf. Hideki Matsuyama would have to wait four years to make his own bit of history at Augusta.

Paul Casey looked destined to become the latest first-time major winner at the PGA Championship until Collin Morikawa decided he would lay claim to that feat and slammed the door shut with a sensational drive onto the 71st green.

In the midst of the Covid pandemic, the 2020 PGA Championship delivered in spades. It was a championship that was anybody’s entering the back nine, coupled with a Koepka Sunday collapse.

Matthew Wolff, Scottie Scheffler and Jason Day all threw their hats into the ring at various stages down the stretch but it was Morikawa who came out on top holding off Casey and Johnson by a couple.

In an era where the USGA has had a habit of losing control of the golf course at their US Open Championships, there have been a few boring Masters tournaments where the likes of Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Matsuyama and Scottie Scheffler have ridden off into the sunset, the PGA Championship has been the premiere major for drama in the States.

Let’s have ourselves a week!

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