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PGA Championship history

A look into the history of the PGA Championship

Coming up on its centenary, the PGA Championship has a long and storied history…

 

The PGA Championship is the third oldest of the major championships, dating back to 1916, but what is the history of the tournament?

1860 saw the beginning of the Open Championship, with the US Open then following in 1895. Two decades later, the PGA Championship was born.

The history of the PGA Championship begins with the founding of the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) of America. The PGA of America was founded in February 1916, and just eight months later, the first edition of the tournament would take place.

Rodman Wanamaker, head of the department store Wanamaker’s, donated a gold medal complete with diamond studs for the winner of the tournament. England’s Jim Barnes would be the victor, also receiving $500 for becoming the first PGA Champion. The tournament was held at Siwanoy Country Club, the only time the venue held the event.

The trophy which is now given to the winners of the PGA Championship is named the Wanamaker Trophy after Rodman, with the winners receiving the real trophy for a year, before then getting a 9:10 scale replica to keep thereafter.

The trophy given out today is actually the second iteration following the original being ‘lost’ in the 1920s.

The Wanamaker Trophy became synonymous with Walter Hagen during that time. ‘The Father of American Golf’ lifted the trophy five times over the decade which included four straight wins between 1924 and 1927.

Hagen’s streak was eventually ended in 1928 by Leo Diegel, who defeated the five-time champion in the quarter-finals to upset the favourite and claim the title. But there was one slight problem. The Wanamaker Trophy had gone missing.

With the prospect of having to return the trophy apparently slipping his mind after a four-year reign, Hagen was forced to admit he had in fact lost the prestigious prize.

The story behind its disappearance remains a mystery. Hagen claimed the trophy had gone missing in the aftermath of his 1925 victory, when the 11-time major champion went out partying in Chicago and mistakenly left it in a taxi. All 28 inches and 27 pounds of it apparently not spotted by the departing taxi driver…

With Diegel still waiting, the PGA of America was forced to commission a duplicate trophy, the same one that is still used to this very day. Astonishingly, the original was discovered three years later in the cellar of Hagen’s club makers firm. Hagen’s lost property can today be seen on display at the PGA Historical Centre in Florida.

Wanamaker Trophy history

For the first four decades of the tournament, the PGA Championship was played in a match play format. That was changed in 1958, with the tournament changing to the standard four-day, 72-hole stroke play format, after the PGA of America were somewhat forced into the change by network television broadcasters.

During its match play phase, Hagen was the main man, winning the title five times. Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen were three-time winners, while Jim Barnes, Leo Diegel, Denny Shute, Paul Runyan, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan all claimed victory twice at the PGA Championship.

Sarazen remains the youngest ever winner of the tournament, just 20 years and 174 days old when he was victorious for the first time in 1922.

Within the first decade of the tournament becoming a stroke-play format, a pair of records were set. Arnold Palmer became the first man to shoot four rounds in the 60s at a major in 1964, while Julius Boros – at 48-years-old – became the oldest major champion in 1968, a record he would hold for more than half a century.

Jack Nicklaus joined Hagen in winning the PGA Championship on five occasions, and he is the only man to do so during the stroke play era. 4 of the 15 majors won by Tiger Woods also came at the PGA, with Brooks Koepka winning his third title (and fifth major overall) in 2023.

2010 saw one of the biggest rules controversies in recent major championship history. Dustin Johnson‘s drive on the 72nd hole found a sandy area to the right of the fairway. Thinking it was a waste area, the American grounded his club and went on to make bogey. However, rules officials then informed him that the area was actually in play as a bunker, meaning he received a two-shot penalty for grounding his club, dropping him out of the play-off and into a tie for 5th place. Thankfully, Johnson would go on to win the US Open a few years later to break his major duck.

The tournament moved to a May spot in the calendar for the 2019 season, with the Players Championship reverting back to its original March slot. Since then, the tournament has been the second major of the year after the Masters.

As with most other facets of life, the PGA Championship had a weird feel to it in 2020. There were no fans in attendance at TPC Harding Park, as Collin Morikawa won his first major title, before dropping the lid of the Wanamaker Trophy in the presentation!

Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka are the last three men to lift the Wanamaker Trophy, with Koepka becoming just the third man to win the tournament three times in the stroke play era.

Mickelson’s victory saw him become the first player over the age of 50 to win a men’s major championship, defeating the field and Father Time at Kiawah Island in 2021.

pga championship tee times

The 2024 edition sees Valhalla host the tournament for a fourth time, becoming just the third venue – after Southern Hills and Oak Hill to have hosted the PGA Championship on at least four occasions.

In total, 75 different venues have played host to the tournament over its lengthy history, with two brand new venues to be added to the list in the near future.

Have your say on the history of the PGA Championship

What has been the defining moment in the history of the PGA Championship for you? Let us know by leaving a comment on X!

Matt Coles

Matt Coles

Mention a European country, and Matt will tell you which resorts make the National Club Golfer Top 100s: European Resorts list. He might even throw in who designed the golf course and how many rooms the hotel has got at each one…

Matt got into the game of golf from a young age, following his old man to the local golf club. He fell for the sport, and now can’t seem to go a day without thinking about how to improve his game (Thanks Dad!). Matt has been a member of Howley Hall GC in Leeds since 2020, and is just about managing to maintain a single-figure handicap. He likes to remind people that he once broke 75, but won’t tell people that it was on a shortened course during the winter.

He moved to Leeds after graduating from the University of Central Lancashire with a First Class Honours degree in Sports Journalism. Matt joined NCG after almost five years travelling the world with the Professional Squash Association, working on events in all four corners of the globe.

Matt currently plays a Cobra King LTDx driver and RadSpeed 3-wood. TaylorMade monopolise the rest of his bag, with a SIM UDI, M5 irons and both Milled Grind and HI-TOE wedges, along with a Monza Redline putter. He uses a Vice Pro Plus golf ball, because he’s a bit different…

Away from golf, Matt is a Manchester United fan, and a keen runner, having ran the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon (his first and possibly last), in May 2023.

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