What does the move to May mean for the PGA Championship?
One of the game’s worst-kept secrets was revealed in August 2017 when the PGA’s then CEO, Pete Bevacqua, informed a press conference at the start of the week at Quail Hollow that the PGA Championship move to May would be happening with the Players going back to its slot in March.
The last time this May slot had happened was in 1949 but it wasn’t until 1972 that the PGA of America settled into its August date.
Bevacqua, now the president of NBC Sports Group, said: “We are doing this primarily for three reasons: it’s in the best interests of the PGA Championship, we feel it’s in the best interests of the players who play in the PGA Tour, the PGA Championship, around the world, and maybe most importantly for our organisation, it makes the most sense to our members.
“Such a large percentage of our members start and are active in their season in May and for an organisation whose strategic mission is to grow this game, we feel May is a far more powerful date for us to contest our major championship.”
So now the PGA Championship, which has been billed as Glory’s Last Shot, is now the year’s second major with all four majors coming in consecutive months and finishing with the Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
Take it a step further and, with Sawgrass in March, we still have five months of majors and fifth majors but just a month earlier and, crucially, the majors and now shortened FedEx Cup Play-offs all done and dusted by August 25 ahead of the start of the NFL and college football season.
As PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said at the time: “By concluding at the end of August, the FedEx Cup Play-offs no longer have the challenge of sharing the stage with college and professional football.”
Which, put simply, means missing out on a large chunk of TV ratings.
PGA Championship move to May: Good news for the PGA?
It’s hard to see a downside in terms of interest levels. The game’s final major was always a slightly tired affair coming at the end of a hectic few weeks, after the WGC at Firestone and ahead of the Play-offs.
Of all the majors this is the one where you have to dig into the recesses of your brain to recall the recent winners. Now, in May, there’s a genuine thirst for a second major particularly with Tiger Woods going for his 16th major for the first time.
Who would have thought anyone would be able to say that after his stunning win at Torrey Pines in 2008?
PGA Championship move to May: Are players on board?
Even given their nature of backing the authorities – other than the odd rules brouhaha – and saying the right thing this obviously has benefits for the international superstars.
“We get to August, and that excitement kind of dwindles a little. It’s at a time of year where golf seems to linger on, so maybe there will be more energy behind the PGA earlier in the year,” said Phil Mickelson.
Rickie Fowler likes the lack of month-by-month nature of the game’s biggest tournaments: “The schedule will be more uniform from March to August as far as big events, which will probably be a good thing.”
While Adam Scott, who has become one of the more outspoken and better speakers in the game, added: “I would prefer that there was a real break with no events in the fall. Why not have a few months off and starve everyone of PGA Tour golf?
“If they run tournaments the whole time and players do take the fall off, then you are so far behind when you do come back. I don’t see the value in running tournaments all the time. It seems to weaken the overall product.”
PGA Championship move to May: Will it affect the players’ preparations?
Rather than arriving at the PGA running on empty and trying to stir themselves for one last push some of our heroes will arrive at Bethpage a bit short of game time.
Tiger hasn’t teed it up since his heroics in Georgia so this will be just the seventh time that he hasn’t played a tournament in between majors.
A host of players have started just one tournament while a handful of European Tour stalwarts flew to New York from Hillside.
PGA Championship move to May: Are there any negatives?
One is that the conditioning of Bethpage and other future sites might not get the growth that it would like due to the colder weather in the run-up to the championship but Charley Hoffman, for one, is looking at the long-term picture.
“In the long run, I think this is good for the tour and good for the PGA. Yes, it could limit some choices for PGA sites, but it could open up choices, too, like in Florida and other parts of the country. The history of the PGA Championship is what carries the championship, not the time or the date. So the PGA is going to be just fine.”
As for the logistics the chief championships officer Kerry Haigh explained: “We started construction early February, and any time you start your construction that early, then, you know, you do have snow. You do have frost. You do have some challenging conditions to build the media centre and main entrance, etc. Thankfully this winter wasn’t as bad as some winters have been.
“From the agronomic standpoint we certainly sort of revised our plans from what the club would normally do in the springtime. Did a lot of it in the fall. It’s more just letting the grass grow and come into the championship in good condition.”
PGA Championship move to May: Will we get it done?
We’ve all got the memory of Rory McIlroy getting it done in the near dark at Valhalla so how will the change in schedule affect the possible snail-like play?
And, as Haigh explains, there’s more good news.
“We actually have more daylight in May than we do in August. June 21 is the longest day, so we’re three-and-a-half, four weeks from the longest day.
“It’s nice to have a little more daylight to accommodate anything that may come up.”