US PGA Championship – May 2024

It is little more than four weeks since Scottie Scheffler was receiving his Green Jacket as a most deserving winner of The Masters – the opening Major of the 2024 season. But now the best players in the world are convening again, this time at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky to get ready for the second of the game’s biggest prizes, the PGA Championship, or as we perhaps better know it, the US PGA.

Despite its status, it is a tournament that can sometimes feel a bit ‘meh’, or unloved, certainly in comparison with the other three. But here at AMERICAN GOLF, this is our chance to explain how it got its reputation and what helps to define it as an event.

Fourth out of four:

Golf, like in tennis, is defined by the four biggest tournaments of the year – the Majors (the Grand Slams in tennis). They are the events where all golf fans tune in to watch, along with more casual sports fans. They are the events where you can recite the winners, years after they were played because they carry the weight of history and tradition.

In tennis, all four Grand Slams are love and cherished. The Australian Open may have been the poor relation many years ago, but it has long since shed that unwanted and unloved tag. In golf, it would be unfair to describe the US PGA as unloved, but it is definitely the fourth out of four in the list of Majors that players want to compete in, and ultimately win.


What is the US PGA’s selling point?

Probably one of the biggest issues around the US PGA concerns its identity, and most certainly in comparison with the other three Majors. The Open has the history and tradition of being the world’s oldest Championship played on classic seaside golf courses. It is the game of golf as it was first played. The Masters is Augusta, and Augusta is The Masters. As the only Major to be staged at the same venue every year, the golf world has been able to fall in love with this pristine plot of land in Georgia, with its southern charm, quirks and mannerisms. Without fail, everyone loves The Masters. That love is maybe not shared for the US Open, but the event commands a healthy respect. The US Open, run by the USGA (United States Golf Association) is widely seen as the toughest test in golf. The USGA delight in setting up their selected venues to be as difficult as possible, with level par determined to be the score they hope the winner to achieve at the end of 72 holes of strokeplay competition. And we must not forget that it remains the national Open of the biggest golf-playing nation on the planet. 

Amidst all that, the US PGA is trying to fight its own corner. The tournament is not played at the same venue every year. It is not as old as the two Opens. It is not the hardest test of the season. But it is still a Major, and therefore it is certainly worth winning.

Calendar shift:

One of the biggest issues the US PGA has faced down the years is its position in the golfing calendar. When it was originally played, it was a matchplay event, staged at any point between May and December. In the 1960s, when it had converted to strokeplay, it was held five times in the week immediately after The Open, thereby rendering it impossible for golfers to compete in both Majors.

From 1969 through until 2018, apart from in 2016 when it was moved into late July to accommodate golf’s participation in the Olympic Games, it was held in mid-August as the season’s final Major.

For many of those years, it had the tagline, ‘Glory’s last shot’, as the last chance to win a Major for eight long months before having to wait for The Masters again the following April. However, in 2019, the US PGA was shifted in the diary from mid-August to the third Sunday in May. The idea was that the PGA Tour’s lucrative Fed-Ex Cup play-offs needed to be brought forward a few weeks ago to avoid a clash with the start of the NFL American Football season in the US. That was agreed, with the US PGA being moved forward three months in the year to make room for this alteration.

Instead of being the fourth and final Major of the year, the US PGA is now the second in the calendar, sitting in between The Masters in April and the US Open in mid-June. But a fair question would be which other major sporting events would allow their spot in their sporting calendar, and the mind of all fans, to be moved so easily? 

No amateurs and no open qualifying:

One of the key points about this tournament is that it is purely for professionals – no surprise given that it is run by the Professional Golfers’ Association of America. There is not the select group of players with an (A) to their name in this event as in the other three events. Nor is there any way for players to come through some kind of open qualifying event to take their place alongside the game’s biggest names. This is not an ‘open’. If players do not meet the selected criteria, they do not get to tee it up.

With that in mind, the US PGA has the strongest and deepest field of any of the four Majors. Of the 156-man field, it is usual for all of the top 100 in the world rankings to be included. However, it does mean there is little chance for the type of Cinderella story more commonly associated with the US Open or The Open.

Club pros:

But one distinction the US PGA does have is its acceptance of club professionals. Out of a field of 156, 20 places are reserved for American club professionals. In April each year, the PGA Professional Championship is staged, which is open to club pros and teachers who are members of the PGA of America. From that, the top 20 qualify to play in the US PGA the following month. The great Sam Snead was one of the first winners of that event, but it came well after the last of his seven Major triumphs. No winner since Snead in 1971 has either been, or gone on to become, a Major Champion.

Given the step up from club professional to the standards of the world’s best touring professionals, most of the ‘PGA 20’ struggle to make it to the weekend. However, last year, Michael Block caused a big stir with his performance. After three rounds of level par 70, the club pro from California was in a tie for eighth, the first to be inside the top ten after 54 holes since 1988. He eventually finished in a tie for 12th, but his last round provided one of the highlights of the week as he aced the par-three 15th whilst playing alongside Rory McIlroy.

Early years:

In 1916 in New York City, the Professional Golfers’ Association was created. Later that year, the first US PGA Championship was held in Bronxville, New York. Jim Barnes won the 32-man tournament, played in matchplay format and was awarded $500 and became the first recipient of the Wanamaker Trophy, silverware donated by wealthy department store owner Rodman Wanamaker.

For the first 39 editions of the US PGA, the winner was decided by matchplay with Walter Hagen successful on a record five occasions with the field rising from an initial 32 to 128 by the end. But in 1957, the event at the Miami Valley course in Dayton, Ohio lost money, while television broadcasters pressured for it to become a strokeplay event as the best players were more likely to have a chance of being in contention to win on the final day. That was decided at a meeting in November 1957 and from the following year, the 72-hole strokeplay format prevalent in the other three Majors was introduced.

Unlikely winners:

Between 1986 and 2016, there were 15 winners of the US PGA for whom victory is or was their sole Major success. Many of them are Americans with little Major pedigree behind them who would all have started the week with very long odds, but they all found inspiration when it mattered most over the four days. 

In 1986, Bob Tway holed out from a bunker to defeat Greg Norman in a play-off. In 2003, Shaun Micheel hit a seven-iron stiff from 174 yards at the last hole at Oak Hill to claim what would be his only victory, PGA Tour or otherwise, having begun the week ranked 169th in the world. In 2009, South Korea’s Yong-Eun Yang or YE Yang as he is better known, became the first Asian male to win a Major with his success at Hazeltine. Just as significantly, he also became the first golfer to overhaul Tiger Woods after Tiger had held the 54-hole lead in a Major – no mean feat whatsoever.

Nobody would describe this trio as legendary golfers – or similar for Jeff Sluman, Mark Brooks, David Tom, Jason Dufner – but they will all go down in the golfing annals as Major Champions.        

Big hitters:

The US PGA may have become associated with unlikely winners, but don’t worry, many of the biggest names have prospered, too. Five of Jack Nicklaus’ 18 Majors were collected in this one over a 17-year timespan between 1963 and 1980. Next on the list is Tiger Woods, with four victories between 1999 and 2007, twice going back-to-back.

Coming up on their heels is Brooks Koepka, with the Florida golfer becoming a modern-day US PGA specialist. Koepka has collected three titles in the last six years (2018, 2019 and 2023) and was second three years ago. However, it took something special to stop Koepka that week and Phil Mickelson provided it as ‘Lefty’ became the first 50+ plus winner of any Major Championship with his success at Kiawah Island.   

Not a happy hunting ground for Europeans:

With just six wins in the 105 previous stagings of this tournament, there have only been six won by Europeans, making it the worst of all the Majors for the old continent. Maybe that comparative lack of success is a big reason why as golf fans in Britain we struggle to generate the same enthusiasm for this Major as for the other three.

England’s Jim Barnes and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy have both won it twice, with Irishman Padraig Harrington and Martin Kaymer of Germany successful once each. For those of you who don’t know, Barnes was a Cornishman who moved over to America when he was 20 and won the first two editions of the US PGA in 1916 and 1917 when it was a matchplay event.

To think, Europe’s most successful golfers, Sir Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros, never really came near to claiming this one. Faldo’s tie for second, three shots behind Nick Price in 1992, was the closest. With the event always played in August in those days and usually in hot and sweltering conditions, it was never as conducive for European success as those magical April days at Augusta.

Harrington in 2008 to McIlroy’s second US PGA in 2014 marked a purple patch of four in seven years, but there has been nothing since. Perhaps a return to Valhalla could be the spark Rory needs to rediscover his magic as it is now ten years since his second US PGA and the last of his four Major titles.

Future venues

US PGA Championship 2025 – Quail Hollow Club; Charlotte, North Carolina

US PGA Championship 2026 – Aronimink Golf Club; Newtown Square, Pennsylvania

US PGA Championship 2027 – PGA Frisco; Frisco, Texas

US PGA Championship 2028 – Olympic Club; San Francisco, California

US PGA Championship 2029 – Baltusrol Golf Club; Springfield, New Jersey

US PGA Championship 2030 – Congressional Country Club; Bethesda, Maryland

US PGA Championship 2031 – The Ocean Course; Kiawah Island, South Carolina

US PGA Championship 2034 – PGA Frisco; Frisco, Texas