Preview: The 2011 PGA Championship
IN 2002 Observer Sport Monthly published the ‘10 Greatest Shocks In Sport’s History’. In at No 1 was Don Bradman’s duck in his final Test, second was James ‘Buster’ Douglas stunning Mike Tyson in Tokyo and next came John Daly’s win at Crooked Stick. For golf to feature in these types of lists it would have to be something extraordinary. Safe to say, this was.
Twenty years ago the then 25-year-old rookie drove through the night from his home in Memphis to take up his place, as the ninth alternate, in the field following the withdrawal of Nick Price whose wife was due to give birth to their first child.
Into the bargain Daly got Price’s caddie, Jeff ‘Squeaky’ Medlen, and the pair set about Crooked Stick for the first time together in an opening 69.
On Friday morning he took the lead and never gave it up, finishing with 21 birdies and an eagle in his 12-under total, three clear of Bruce Lietzke.
This was the PGA’s second longest course in history at 7,289 yards, yet Daly was able to bludgeon Pete Dye’s creation into submission courtesy of a backswing that never ended and a Cobra driver with a head made of Kevlar, a material used in bulletproof vests.
All this on a course which Jack Nicklaus described, after three practice rounds, as the most difficult he had ever played while Curtis Strange slumped to an 81 on the first day and didn’t bother with the second. What is less well known was that Daly came within a whisker of receiving the most unpopular rules decision since Roberto de Vicenzo at the 1968 Masters. On the par-five 11th on the Saturday Medlen momentarily rested the flagstick behind the hole as Daly putted for eagle.
Three armchair fans rang in and Daly was advised in the scorer’s trailer that his three-shot lead might just have been cut to one. In the end the flagstick was adjudged not to be in line with the putt and common sense prevailed.
A player who had previously missed 11 of 24 cuts, had taught himself to play on a nine-hole course in Dardanelle with balls fished out of a pond and had never won in three years at the University of Arkansas was now a Major champion.
This year the championship returns to Atlanta Athletic Club and the club’s Highlands Course for the third time following the successes of Larry Nelson (1981) and David Toms (2001).
Germany’s Martin Kaymer defends and, having already enjoyed a reconnaissance trip to Georgia, he expects the winning score to be in single digits with a big emphasis on finding the fairways.
Though with eight par 4s measuring over 450 yards he also expects to have to hit the driver eight or nine times.
We may be asking a little too much for something akin to 20 years ago but, in recent years, the PGA Championship has often outshone its bigger brothers courtesy of Messrs Harrington, Yang and Kaymer.
Let’s hope the next chapter is equally as dramatic.
‘JD’ putting his money to good use
During the week a spectator, Tom Weaver, was killed by lightning in the car park at Crooked Stick. Without making it public Daly decided to donate $30,000 of his winner’s cheque into a trust to help put Weaver’s two daughters through college. He then left it at that and sought no further contact for fear of upsetting the family.
In 2005 the family got in touch to tell Daly that one daughter, Karen, would be graduating with plans to become a doctor while the other, Karen, was about to earn her degree as a respiratory therapist.
Twenty years ago the then 25-year-old rookie drove through the night from his home in Memphis to take up his place, as the ninth alternate. Five things you didn’t know about the PGA
From its inception to the agony of Arnie
1 NO FIXED ABODE
BEFORE 1965 the championship was held in late July making it impossible to play in both the Open and PGA Championships. It has also been held in May and June and in 1971 it was the first Major of the year being, bizarrely, held in February when Jack Nicklaus won.
The most well-known scheduling mess came in 1953 when Ben Hogan (below) landed the Masters, US Open and Open Championship but was unable to take part in the PGA as it came the week before Carnoustie.
Now, with an improved cooperation between the game’s governing bodies, it is played in mid-August.
2 MATCHPLAY DAYS
UP until 1958 the PGA was played under a matchplay format. Under increasing pressure from network television and the revenue at stake the decision was made to move to strokeplay. No more would any star names go out on the first day.
In its matchplay era Walter Hagen collected five of his 11 Majors, four in succession from 1924, winning 22 consecutive matches, while Jack Nicklaus also matched his countryman’s five wins though over three decades.
3 BORNE FROM BRITAIN
IN 1916 Rodman Wanamaker, a wealthy department store owner, hosted a lunch for 35 people, including Hagen, to discuss the possibility of a professional golfers’ organisation. The following month the PGA of America was formed.
In the meeting Wanamaker pointed out the organisation would need an annual all-pro event and it should be run along the lines of the British News of the World tournament, a 36-hole matchplay competition. Seven months later England’s Jim Barnes claimed the first PGA and won $500 and a diamond-studded gold medal from Wanamaker. These days players compete for one of golf’s largest bits of silverware, the Wanamaker Trophy.
4 PALMER’S MISSING LINK
IN the modern era five men – Sarazen, Hogan, Player, Nicklaus and Woods – have captured all four Majors. Arnold Palmer was second three times, the first in 1964 when he became the first to post four rounds in the 60s in a Major but still came up three shy of Bobby Nichols. Four years later he lost to Julius Boros who is still the oldest player, at 48, to win a Major. Tom Watson also missed out on the PGA. He had 10 top 10s which included a play-off loss in 1978 having been seven ahead of eventual winner John Mahaffey.
5 THE WEAKEST LINK?
YOU would be hard pushed to find many leading professionals singling out the PGA as their No 1 target but a win here is as impressive as any Major. Back in the day, even within the past decade, it was truly seen as the poor relation – few repeat champions on unheard-of courses. Now we have the strongest field with more players from the world’s top 100 teeing it up than any Major and stunning courses such as Whistling Straits (above), Baltusrol and Medinah.
It remains the only Major which does not explicitly invite amateurs and is still run by the PGA of America, a body for club and teaching professionals, rather than the PGA Tour. ◆