If only someone had won the first three major golf tournaments in one calendar year, that season’s PGA Championship would have been off the charts, especially if that someone had been Tiger Woods. That would have finally been vindication for the event that was always last in the rotation and last in prestige.
That never did happen for the PGA and it apparently never will. After this week, it no longer will be the fourth major on the schedule, regardless of where it might rank in pro golfers’ hearts. With the 100th PGA Championship, which begins Thursday at Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis, the event will say goodbye to August and aiming toward a new day in May.
It will get an early jump, ushering in a new landscape for professional golf when it is held May 16-19 at Bethpage Black. PGA officials like the prospect of having the championship between the Masters and U.S. Open, when the golf year still is fresh. They are willing to roll the dice on the weather.
"We hope for a mild, warm winter. That would be great,” Pete Bevacqua, chief executive officer of the PGA, said recently. “But if you grew up on Long Island, and I grew up in the Westchester area, playing Bethpage, you know that the condition of the golf course in late May is probably as good as it gets all year."
By May, Bevacqua will be long gone from the association, having announced last month that he has been named president of NBC Sports Group. The search for a new leader adds another thick layer of uncertainty for a tournament that could have a completely different vibe.
As it is, the PGA Championship’s last turn in the cleanup spot could be one for the books. Jordan Spieth has the chance to complete the career Grand Slam, which would put him in the heady company of Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Woods. That would be a distinction. But this week at Bellerive would remembered forever if Woods wins, ending a 10-year major drought and capping a dramatic comeback from back fusion surgery.
His progression has been the one consistent thread in an otherwise theme-free major season. No one has won more than one of the first three. Brooks Koepka, by winning at Shinnecock Hills for a second consecutive U.S. Open title, stopped a trend of first-time winners. Francesco Molinari of Italy, in hoisting the British Open’s Claret Jug, halted a run of six consecutive majors won by Americans.
Woods stoked interest in his resurgence by briefly taking the final-round lead at Carnoustie last month. As recently as the spring of 2017, he told fellow pros he probably never would play again because his back was in such bad shape. The subsequent fusion surgery allowed him not only to get back on tour but to become a contender.
The better he has played, the more dominant a story he has become. Jason Day acknowledged as much after having shot 5-under-par 65 Friday at the Bridgestone Invitational, moving within two shots of the leader. He began his post-round news conference by saying, with a laugh, “Let’s go ahead and get the Tiger questions out of the way first.” He recognized, correctly, that the focus would be on the fact he had played in the same threesome as Woods, who shot 68.
Justin Thomas, the defending PGA champion who later said that receiving an invitation for a congratulatory dinner from Woods last August was as thrilling as the victory itself, said at the Bridgestone: “I’m always pulling for Tiger if I’m not playing, or if he has a chance to win and I don’t. I mean, it’s the same as any of my friends. I said this at the beginning of the year. I think he’s going to win (tournaments) if he stays healthy. And it would be really cool for the game, if and when he does.”
If Woods does not win his fifth PGA this week (he will play the first two rounds with fellow champions Thomas and Rory McIlroy), he will have to wait only nine months for another shot.
Dobyns readies for PGA
Matt Dobyns, head pro at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, has been preparing for the PGA Championship the best way a club pro can: playing matches with competitive young members, participating in a pro-member tournament at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton and practicing putting on the synthetic green in his basement every night.
“I haven’t been quite on my game all year, but I do feel like I’m going in the right direction. I’m excited,” he said on Saturday.
A unique feature of the PGA Championship is that allows 20 club pros into the field, based on their finish in the national club pro championship. It will be the fifth entry for Dobyns, a two-time national club pro champion and two-time Long Island Open winner who has made the cut in a PGA Tour event.
“If you had told me, when I first got into the business, about what I have done so far, I would have taken it and said, `Yes, that was a successful career.’ I think I have to have that perspective, that I’ve already accomplished everything I set out to do as a club professional and then anything that happens from here on out is a bonus,” he said. “I’ve got to make myself really believe that and accept that, so I can be a little bit freer.”
He has been particularly looking forward to this trip, on which he will be accompanied by his wife, children and parents, because his sister lives in St. Louis and he hasn’t seen her in a while.
Also in the field is Danny Balin, assistant pro at Westchester Country Club and two-time winner of both the Met Open and New York State Open. He advanced through the club pros’ tournament on the seventh playoff hole.
Just the facts
What: 100th PGA Championship
When: Aug. 9-12.
Where: Bellerive Country Club (par 35-35—70, 7,316 yards).
TV: Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m.-8 p.m., TNT; Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., TNT; 2 p.m.-7 p.m. Ch. 2.
Money: $10.5 million, winner’s share $1.89 million.
Defending champion: Justin Thomas closed with a 3-under 68 for a two-shot victory at Quail Hollow Club.
Story lines: Jordan Spieth gets his second chance to become the sixth player to gain a career Grand Slam. Tiger Woods tries to tie the record for most PGA Championship titles (5 by Jack Nicklaus, Walter Hagen).
Last shot: The PGA Championship will become the second major starting next year when it will be held in May on Long Island at Bethpage Black.