PITTSFORD, N.Y. - We look at them differently, as well we should. There is something recognizably special about them, like the people in the old days who wore letterman's sweaters or Phi Beta Kappa pins. Any golfer who has won even one major carries a distinction everywhere, and forever.
Truth is, major winners see themselves differently, too. "I think more than anything, it just gives me a little bit of peace, knowing there's not many unknowns," said Webb Simpson, who won the U.S. Open last year and tied the Oak Hill course record Friday with a 6-under-par 64 in the second round of the PGA Championship (a mark that was broken later in the day by Jason Dufner's 63).
Oak Hill is hallowed ground in golf, with plaques all over the place, including one for the likes of Shaun Micheel. He never had a win, or much of a career, before or after the 2003 PGA here, but he has lasting status. As Tiger Woods said the other day, "He's going to go down in history as a major championship winner. That just puts you automatically into another category."
This is all a tribute to the fact that it is hard as heck to win any major, and the honor that comes with it never wears off. Think of it this way: Fred Couples has 15 career PGA Tour wins, the same as Mike Souchak and only one more than Bruce Crampton and Kenny Perry. But unlike them, Couples is a Hall of Famer and virtually an icon, golf's King of Cool. The difference is, he won the Masters.
Judging from recent history, the one feat in golf that is about as tough as winning a major is winning a second one.
Let's face it, every time some guy under the age of 35 finally breaks through (as we always say), there is an almost unanimous chorus among golf cognoscenti (led by a certain 24-hour all-golf television channel): "This is only the start! He is going to win multiple majors!"
It doesn't work out that way. Maybe the sense of urgency is gone, maybe there are too many other good golfers. In any case, we see how winning a major opened the floodgates for Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer, Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson. Their combined total majors after the first one? Zero.
So with a bow toward those who have won multiple majors (18 seems phenomenal), somebody has a chance to put himself in a higher category Sunday. Win one major, it changes your life. Win more, it changes your legacy.
"I can't take my foot off the gas just because I achieved something great at Augusta," said current Masters champion Adam Scott, who shot 68 yesterday and is at 7 under, two behind Dufner. "I certainly feel like you prove something to yourself to win a major, and maybe to some other people, too."
Then again, he had the lead on the back nine in the British Open last month and his green jacket couldn't help him win the Claret Jug.
Justin Rose shot 29 on his second nine Friday, finished at 66 and is 6 under. He feels differently about himself than he did two months ago, before he won the U.S. Open at Merion.
"I think you are possibly not as desperate going into the last couple of days because you have done it. You also know what to expect, and that is the most important thing," Rose said. "It doesn't mean it's going to be easy, but at least you've got the positives to draw on."
Then again, he will be experiencing something he didn't feel at Merion: Golf 's knack for telling a major champion, "Let's see you do it again."