The year’s fourth and final major championship begins today at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky, and – at least until Tiger Woods’ back injury on Sunday – it boasted a field that included all 100 of the world’s top ranked golfers.
There’s a reason that is trumpeted.
The U.S. Open and British Open are the most democratic of the majors. Anyone can get in, and even if you’re a touring professional you need to tee it up with Joe Bob in a qualifier and earn your spot. That doesn’t always happen.
The Masters is a dictatorship, and they determine who and how many are allowed to drive down Magnolia Lane. You may be a top 100 player, but if you don’t hit certain markers the year before, you’re watching alongside Joe Bob at the sports bar.
Then there’s the PGA Championship.
Personally, it’s my favorite major. I have a long history with the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, and no other organization in this country does more all the players of the game – juniors, seniors, women, hacks and pro’s.
But I love watching it. That may seem odd, considering my stance that the game is relatively boring when so many "no-names" win majors and the PGA seems to always christen a new one.
That said, to me, the guy who wins the PGA Championship truly earned it. He didn’t have to beat a tournament director’s course set up. He didn’t have to have long-built up knowledge of creeks and corners. He just had to beat the best field in all of major golf for four days.
And, usually, that "no name" had to do something amazing to become a name:
Rich Beem held off Woods by one shot in 2002.
Shaun Micheel’s 6-iron into the 18th in 2003 is eared into my memory.
Y.E. Yang became the first player to ever chase down Woods on the final day of a major in 2009, which has since proven to be the last major Woods has been relevant in.
Who here in Wisconsin could ever forget 2010 at Whistling Straits, with Dustin Johnson’s grounded club and a playoff between Martin Kaymer and future two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson?
Keegan Bradley, and his horrific putter, beat 2013 PGA champion Jason Dufner in a playoff. Then in 2012 Rory McIlroy dominated to capture his second major.
Now, golf isn’t like the major team sports where you could do a list of the top players in the league and have basically heard of all of them.
I’m sure the likes of Victor Dubuisson (No. 22), Jamie Donaldson (32), Joost Luiten (47), Brian Harman (66) and Daniel Summerhays (100) don’t capture the imagine. They’re just non-descript guy s in white belts hitting golf balls.
For 51 weeks out of the year, I agree with you.
And, if on Sunday evening one of them is hoisting the Wannamaker Trophy as another first-time major winner, I’ll lament the fact that McIlroy didn’t win his fourth, or that Watson didn’t capture his third or that Phil Mickelson didn’t catch lightning in a bottle for his sixth.
But, I know that I’ll have been entertained – because those guys don’t run away with majors. They have to earn it.
If it does turn into rout, then it’ll be by a guy like Kaymer or McIlroy adding another liner to their Hall of Fame biography, and I’m always in the mood to watch greatness.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.