Oak Hill primed for PGA Championship 

Ronan MacNamara

A view of the 18th hole at Oak Hill Country Club (Photo by Gary Kellner/PGA of America).

The PGA Championship returns to Oak Hill for the fourth time, and first since 2013, with four Irish teeing it up hoping their dreams will come true from May 18-21 in Rochester, New York. 

Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Séamus Power and Pádraig Harrington will carry Irish hopes into battle as Justin Thomas defends his PGA Championship title which he won in dramatic circumstances, beating Will Zalatoris in a playoff after Mito Pereira’s chances ended in a watery grave on the 72nd hole. 

McIlroy will be hoping to bounce back from a turbulent few weeks in which he missed the cut at the Masters, meaning his Grand Slam bid is on ice for another year at least, before withdrawing from the following week’s designated event at the RBC Heritage. 


Shane Lowry has been playing well from tee to green but has struggled to get a tune out of his putter while Séamus Power will be looking to build on a maiden Major top-10 at the event last year.  

Oak Hill also presents past champion Pádraig Harrington with his first Major appearance of three this term, while another three-time Major winner resumes his quest for golfing immortality. 

A brief history… 

The PGA Championship is often seen as the lesser of the four Majors but the move to the month of May has given it a spotlight, meaning Major championship season doesn’t fizzle out after the excitement of the US Open and Open Championship. 

The PGA Championship was a match play event between 1916 and 1957 and has remained a 72-hole stroke play event since 1958. 

It is the only major tournament that does not extend invites to amateur players, instead allowing teaching and club professionals from the PGA of America to compete. 

Brooks Koepka holds the lowest 72-hole scoring record after rounds of 69, 63, 66 and 66 gave him a 264 total at Bellerive in 2018. Jason Day, however, holds the lowest score in relation to par with a twenty-under total in 2015. 

Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen are level for the most wins (5) in the PGA Championship while Hagen is famously responsible for losing the Wanamaker Trophy before it was found.  

The story goes that Hagen paid a taxi driver $5 after winning it in 1925 to lug the trophy back to his hotel. It turned up six years later in a large box found in the basement of the building that had once housed the Walter Hagen Golf Products Corporation. Nobody’s sure how it got there. 

Fast-forward to Kiawah Island in 2021 when Phil Mickelson became the oldest winner of a Major championship when he won his second Wanamaker Trophy aged 50 years and 11 months. 

Gene Sarazen remains the youngest PGA Championship winner having won aged 20 all the way back in 1922. 

Rory McIlroy is chasing a hat-trick of PGA Championships and his first Major since the 2014 edition in Valhalla. He holds the record for the largest winning margin in the stroke play era when he romped to an eight-shot victory at Kiawah Island in 2012. 

A word for the East Course 

Oak Hill Country Club is one of the premier golf courses in the United States. Founded in 1901, it’s hosted multiple major championships.  

Among the four PGA Championships that will have graced the Rochester turf, the East Course has played host to three US Open Championships, two US Amateur Championships, a US Senior Open, two Senior PGA Championships and the 1995 Ryder Cup. 

May will see championship golf return to Oak Hill for the first time since Ken Tanigawa lifted the Senior PGA Championship in 2019. 

Will the 2023 PGA Championship provide another left field winner? Unknown success stories have been commonplace on the East Course with Shaun Micheel (2003) and Jason Dufner (2013) winning the last two PGA Championships which remain their only Major gongs to date. 

Lee Trevino (1968 US Open), Jack Nicklaus (1980 PGA Championship) and Curtis Strange (1989 US Open) boost the pedigree of Oak Hill as three standout winners of championships past. 

Unlikely success stories at Oak Hill aren’t just limited to individual competitions, however, with Europe winning the Ryder Cup on US soil for just the second time in 1995 by a margin of 14.5-13.5. 

Ireland’s Philip Walton secured victory for the Boys in Blue when he beat Jay Haas by one hole as the unheralded Irish rookie wrote his name into Ryder Cup folklore. 

Europe overturned a 9-7 deficit heading into the Sunday singles that year and they’ve only come from behind to win on US soil once since at the biennial contest. A miracle in Medinah in 2012. 

The East Course is built around Allen Creek which comes into play on holes 9 and 18. It has undergone several changes over the years with Andrew Green completing a restoration project in 2019.  

Upon the completion of the 2008 Senior PGA Championship, Oak Hill became the only club to have hosted all six men’s major championships that move around the country. 

The course record was set by Jason Dufner who shot a 63 in the second round of the 2013 PGA Championship on his way to victory. 

Oak Hill will now move into second place in the list of most frequent PGA Championship venues. 

McIlroy to pull up trees in pursuit of Major glory 

Doom and gloom surrounded Rory McIlroy after his ninth bid for the career Grand Slam failed to get off the ground as he missed the cut with a whimper at the Masters in April.  

McIlroy can move level with Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead in joint third place on the PGA Championship winners’ list if he can lift his third Wanamaker Trophy, and in many ways a return to Rochester will aid that mission. 

McIlroy’s wife Erica Stoll is from New York and with the course conditions set to play into his wheelhouse, the Holywood star looks to be arriving at the ideal golf course to end his nine-year Major drought. 

McIlroy finished in a share of eighth place here ten years ago, seven shy of Jason Dufner, but the since two-time PGA Champion having picked up wins in 2012 and 2014 at Kiawah Island and Valhalla, certainly found Oak Hill to his liking a decade ago. 

“I love PGA Championship golf courses because they set the golf course up so well,” McIlroy said. “They are not looking to protect par. They are not bothered about people making birdies, but it’s obviously a very stern test of golf.  

“You need to do everything well. You’ve got to drive the ball well. You’ve got small, small greens, small targets to hit into. You’ve got to control every single aspect of your game. You can’t fake it around Oak Hill. 

“You have to really hit the shots. And when you do miss a few, you’ve got to just get it back into play, or if you miss a green, sometimes you’ve just got to take your bogey and walk away. But it’s going to be a really, really good test of golf.” 

The other Irish raiders 

Shane Lowry made just his second PGA Championship appearance in 2013 when he finished in a share of 57th place at Oak Hill. 

The PGA Championship is where Lowry has found his most consistent Major form, missing just two cuts and picking up top-8 finishes in two of his last four appearances. 

The Clara man has become a Major player and now boasts top-4 finishes in all four Major championships, including lifting the Claret Jug in 2019. 

The Rochester venue will provide a supreme tee-to-green test and Lowry ranks 19th in that strokes gained category this season. He also enjoyed a decent putting week at Augusta, ranking 45th in putting on the undulating greens. Sloping and tiered green complexes await him in New York which might free him up on the putting surfaces. 

“I’d love to win, obviously I’d love to win more Majors,” Lowry says. “But I don’t think that’s a given.  

“I think that’s just something that you need to go out and work towards, and if it comes your way, you need to take it. It’s one of those where you get four of them a year.” 

Also proving to be a dab hand at Major assignments is Séamus Power who was thoroughly impressive on his PGA Championship debut last year, culminating in his first Major championship top-10. 

Power’s journey from the mini tours to the top table of professional golf has been a turbulent one but he has found instant comfort in the Major championships and a second successive made cut at the Masters leaves him in good shape heading to Oak Hill. 

“I’ve heard great things about the course,” Power says. “It’s going to be interesting up there. May is still early in the season in that part of the world but we’ll see. Any time you’re going to be in a Major, you’re going to be excited about it. 

“I saw my game hold up really well last summer. I feel like I can win a major. Obviously depending on the courses and that sort of stuff, but I feel like if I can get myself in a good spot, I should have at least an opportunity to win on Sunday. 

“I haven’t really experienced that in a major yet so who knows, but that’s definitely the goal – to get there, as people say, give yourself a chance with nine holes to go and see what happens.” 

Speaking of belief, two-time champ Pádraig Harrington will carry no shortage of confidence with him to Rochester. 

The Dubliner thrilled the nation when he took down Sergio Garcia at the PGA Championship in 2008. The three-time Major champion missed the cut at Oak Hill in 2013 and was T29 in 2003 when Shaun Micheel completed a surprise victory. 

Harrington has been in impressive form recently and picked up his first top-10 on the PGA Tour since the 2021 PGA Championship at the Valero Texas Open. 

He arrives at Oak Hill in fine form and nothing would get more Irish bums on seats in front of the TV on Sunday night than Harrington competing to win a fourth Major at the age of 51. 

“Going from three to four Majors, oh, I dream of it,” Harrington says. “Who cares about reality? What gets me up in the morning is another Major. What gets me out practicing, the reason I work so hard at this game is another Major. 

“The chance of winning a Major is everything. You know, that’s what gives me a buzz, and to be honest, there’s not many things that would change my resume when it comes to golf. There’s not something that would really change what I’ve done.  

“Even winning another Major isn’t that big a deal, from three to four. But it’s something I dream about.” 

A case for the defence 

Defending champion Justin Thomas will have no interest in relinquishing his grips on the Wanamaker Trophy to an Irish raider in Rochester. 

Thomas has struggled for consistency since ambushing Mito Pereira and Will Zalatoris to win the trophy for the second time in 2022. 

JT is winless since then and has racked up just five top-10 finishes culminating in a slip outside the top-10 in the Official World Golf Rankings. 

Leading into last year’s PGA Championship, Thomas had notched four top-10s in seven starts and was bang in form.  

Defending the title has proved tough with only Brooks Koepka (2019) and Tiger Woods, (2000 & 2007) retaining the PGA Championship in the stroke play era. 

Fine company to keep if Thomas can manage it, but history suggests a changing of the guard is coming in New York. 

Spieth looking to climb Grand Slam mountain at Oak Hill 

Jordan Spieth, one of golf’s most box office players, will head to Oak Hill Country Club for his seventh bid at arguably the most underrated career Grand Slam attempt. 

Since lifting the Claret Jug at the 2017 Open Championship in Royal Birkdale, Spieth has struggled in the PGA Championship with finishes of 12th and 3rd, followed by results of 71st, 30th and 34th. In total he has just two career top-10 finishes in ten starts in this Major championship. 

However, Spieth boasts five top-6 finishes this season and three of them could easily have been converted into wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Valspar Championship and most recently at the RBC Heritage where he agonisingly lipped out for victory in the playoff only for Matt Fitzpatrick to steal the crown. 

The going will be tough in the cold May conditions but if Spieth can shake off a niggling wrist injury, then this is when he tends to get going. Five of his sixteen PGA Tour wins have come on tough par-70 courses including the 2015 US Open and 2017 Open Championships. 

Yet there are parallels between Spieth and McIlroy’s shortcomings at the one event they need in order to unlock golfing immortality. Poor starts. 

Spieth has only broken 70 once in the opening round of the PGA Championship since winning the Open in 2017. Spieth’s last six opening rounds at the PGA Championship read: 72, 71, 69, 73, 73, 72. Like McIlroy, he has shown his capability to recover from poor starts, backing up opening rounds of 71, 73 and 72 with rounds of 66, 68 and 69. 

However, a good start is half the work and Spieth’s hopes of entering the most exclusive club in golf might just hinge on those opening 18 holes. 

“I don’t think I talk about it much with other people,” Spieth said prior to last year’s Championship. “But it’s certainly at this point, given I’ve won the other three, it’s an elephant in the room for me. It’s a goal of mine. 

“If you just told me I was going to win one tournament the rest of my life, I’d say I want to win this one, given where things are at.” 

Stay ahead of the game. Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest Irish Golfer news straight to your inbox!

More News

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy & Terms of Service apply.