On Thursday morning, 156 of the best golfers in the world will be in Louisville, Ky., for the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. It’s the third time that the PGA of America-owned course - designed by Jack Nicklaus - will host the event, and there’s no shortage of storylines as we head into the final major championship of the season.
Below is a combination of event and course history, as well as what we can expect to see this week at Valhalla in theScore's A-Z Guide to the 2014 PGA Championship.
Since the last professional event was held at Valhalla, the 2011 Senior PGA Championship won by Tom Watson, the course has undergone some major renovation work, with just about every single area being altered in some way. Jack Nicklaus and Valhalla officials worked on all 18 greens, simply because the original gravel layer wasn’t working anymore and as a result, the greens that the players saw at previous PGA Championships and the 2008 Ryder Cup are now completely different.
Tiger Woods was the last non-senior major winner at Valhalla, claiming his fifth major championship in the 2000 PGA Championship, but it almost didn’t end that way thanks to a stunning performance by 31-year old Bob May. After opening with an even-par 72, May fired three consecutive rounds of 66, including a birdie on the last hole to force a three-hole playoff with Woods, which he would lose by one. May’s career after Valhalla was derailed by a serious back injury, and while he has made attempts to get back onto the PGA Tour, he hasn’t played in a professional tournament since August of 2012.
Every year, the PGA of America puts together a field of 156 players for the PGA Championship, and 20 of those players are club professionals. These club pros are the top-20 finishers of the PGA Professional National Championship, held every year in late June. Most of the club pros will miss the cut, but it’s a chance for them to play one of the best courses in the world against the top players. The best finish in the last decade was a tie for 31st from Chip Sullivan back in 2004.
Jason Dufner is the reigning PGA Champion, having won last year at Oak Hill with a superb display of ball striking that was very reminiscent of his hero, Ben Hogan. Dufner wasn’t considered a huge favourite going into the tournament last year, and he hasn’t exactly had the best run in 2014 either, with just four top-10 finishes in 20 stroke play events worldwide. He also announced last week that he’s dealing with two bulging discs in his neck that don’t require surgery, but he is taking shots to limit the inflammation and he hasn’t been able to practice nearly as much as he usually does because of the pain.
People often like to think of professional golfers as a group of rich athletes who’ve got it made, and when it comes to certain guys, say Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, that’s true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Winning a tournament like this is a massive deal for a guy like Shaun Micheel, who pretty much nobody had heard of prior to his winning the 2003 PGA. A win at Valhalla grants the player a five-year exemption on both the PGA and European Tours, invites to the other majors for the next five years, and a lifetime spot in the PGA Championship. That kind of security is tough to beat.
For the second consecutive year, the PGA of America and Jack Nicklaus have teamed up to offer fans the ability to vote on the pin position of a key hole on Sunday. Last year, the par-3 15th at Oak Hill was selected, and this year fans will be able to choose between four spots on the green of the 508-yard, par-4 16th. Fans can vote at PGA.com.
The Gahm family, pictured above, have been prominent in the Louisville community for decades, and it was father Dwight along with his three sons Walt, Gordy, and Phil who brought Valhalla to life. It was always Dwight’s dream to create a golf facility that could bring the world’s best players to Kentucky. He enlisted the help of Nicklaus, who finished the design of the track in 1986, and while the course has seen many changes over the years, it has been widely considered as the best in Kentucky over the last 28 years. The Gahm family remains heavily involved at Valhalla in every aspect of running the club.
Walter Hagen was one of golf’s earliest stars, winning 11 major championships from 1914 to 1929, including five PGA Championships. In addition to being very talented on the course, Hagen was known to love the nightlife and was definitely one of the most confident people on the planet. Winners of the tournament got to bring the trophy home with them, and after winning the tournament in 1925, Hagen decided that he didn’t have to bring the Wanamaker Trophy back for the tournament the following year. When asked why he didn’t have it ahead of the ’26 tournament, Hagen said that he had no intention of losing the tournament, which he didn’t. He won in 1927 as well, but when Leo Diegel upset him in 1928, Hagen claimed that he actually had no idea where the trophy was.
The story goes that sometime after that win in 1925, Hagen wanted to go party, and he paid his cab driver to drop the trophy back in his hotel room. Did Hagen simply want to keep the trophy, or did he actually lose it? Well, two years after Diegel won, the trophy was found in a crate at L.A. Young & Co., who just happened to be the manufacturer of Hagen’s clubs.
Hagen passed away in 1969 at 76 and was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in its initial 1974 class.
Outside of the players who qualify for the tournament, the PGA of America also extends invites to a number of players every year so they can get to their 156-man field target. Notable names this year include WGC-Match Play star Victor Dubuisson, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Matteo Manassero, and Ryder Cup captains Tom Watson and Paul McGinley, even though McGinley withdrew citing a shoulder injury. Kentucky native Kenny Perry also received an invite, and the 53-year old is looking at this tournament as his farewell to the PGA Tour.
We’ve already talked about Nicklaus’ involvement at length as it relates to his design work at Valhalla, but he also won this tournament five times from 1963 to 1980. The last time he played in a PGA Championship was at Valhalla back in 2000, and the PGA of America paired him with Tiger Woods for the opening two rounds. Needing to hole out from the fairway on the 18th to make the cut, Nicklaus stepped up and did this:
His five wins tie him with Hagen for the most in tournament history.
Jim Barnes is one of those names in golf that has been forgotten over the years, but he is one of the most prolific champions that the game has ever had. Why is he on this list? He won the first two PGA Championships in 1916 and 1919, as the tournament wasn’t held in ’17 and ’18 due to World War I. All told, he won 21 times on the PGA Tour, and was one of the original 12 inductees into the PGA Hall of Fame.
When you think of golf destinations in the United States, Kentucky isn’t exactly at the top of the list, with Valhalla really being the only course that these days would get consideration as a venue on the PGA Tour. However, there are some courses that have popped up in recent years that are getting attention. Olde Stone and Champion Trace, both designed by Arthur Hills, as well as Idle Hour from Donald Ross are worth your time if you can get out there, plus there’s also Big Spring, which hosted this tournament back in 1952.
For years at the PGA Championship, one of the big attractions was the long drive competition held before the tournament. Lawrence Winchester won the last competition in 1984 at Shoal Creek before the Re/Max Long Drive Competition became an actual event in 1985, but the biggest name to win the event by far was Nicklaus, who took the honours in 1963 and won the money clip you see pictured above. The PGA of America has decided to bring the competition back this year, and on Tuesday every player will get a chance to hit one ball for measuring purposes on the 590-yard, par-5 10th, with balls needing to land in the fairway to count for the contest. A similar money clip to the one that Nicklaus won over 50 years ago will go to the winner.
Bubba Watson was considered one of the favourites, but he told Jason Sobel of Golf Channel that he won’t be entering. Dustin Johnson is sitting the event out entirely, so if they tee it up, look at Rory McIlroy, Nicolas Colsaerts, and J.B. Holmes as the favourites. By the way, that winning drive from Nicklaus in 1963 came in at 341 yards with him using a wound golf ball and persimmon driver, which is just ridiculous.
From 1916 to 1957, the PGA Championship was contested as a match play event, making it the only major that didn’t use the stroke play format. However, match play isn’t always the most television friendly format, as evidenced by this year’s WGC-Accenture Match Play, when none of the four number-one seeds in the tournament made it past the second round of the competition. It was for this reason that the broadcasters requested a switch to stroke play, which in theory has a higher probability of a leaderboard filled with name-brand players.
As mentioned above, Valhalla has been around since 1986, but considering that it has only hosted three events that the current players would ever have had a chance to play in, it’s going to be a brand new course for so many of the players in the field this week. Even with the changes that Nicklaus and his crew made, the players that did play it in the 2008 Ryder Cup or even the 1996 or 2000 PGA should have a slight advantage over the guys that are seeing it for the first time in a competitive setting Thursday morning.
One of the interesting things about Valhalla and the way it’s routed and designed is that the two nines play very differently. Most courses tend to look the same from front to back, but the first nine at Valhalla plays more like a Scottish links-style course than anything, encouraging players to keep the ball low with wide fairways throughout. When the players make the turn to the back, they’ll be greeted by tree-lined fairways that narrows the course significantly, making it play very similarly to venues they see on a weekly basis on the PGA Tour.
The game of golf is confusing, especially when it comes to the rules and organizations that govern it, and no group embodies that more than the PGA of America. They are the organization that puts on the PGA Championship every year, and yes, they are different from the PGA Tour. Founded in 1916 to garner more interest in the game and to get more recognition for professional players, they currently have over 27,000 employees, all of whom are trained in the areas of teaching, tournament directing, rules, and more. PGA of America isn't as influential in the professional game as say the United States Golf Association or the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, but it is still a big player in the golf industry.
It’s hard to imagine it these days, but about 100 years ago, golf was pretty much run by wealthy amateur players. This is part of the reason the PGA of America was founded in the first place, and to this day, the PGA Championship is the only major that does not leave a spot open for amateur players. Amateurs can still get into the tournament, but they would have to win one of the other majors to do so, or have a high enough world ranking. Below is the list of criteria qualifying for the PGA Championship, courtesy of PGA.com:
The PGA Championship might not have the prestige of the other majors and the courses might not be as renowned, but there’s no shortage of quotes about the tournament and Valhalla from previous years. Here’s the best, courtesy of Golf Today:
“A golf designer’s dream because there’s a variety of terrain, vegetation and water to work with. Everything necessary for an excellent golf course is here: room for wide, tree lined fairways and spectacular golf holes."
– Jack Nicklaus on Valhalla
“The knack for scoring can go at any moment. It can go while you’re walking from the second green to the third tee. But it’s like worrying about an atom bomb hitting you. You can’t worry about it.”
- Howard Twitty in 1980 (he finished in a tie for fifth)
“Where can you go to have a good cry?”
– Mike Reid, after blowing a three-stroke lead on the last three holes of the 1989 PGA
“You can describe my round as having moments of ecstasy and stark raving terror. I looked like I knew what I was doing at times and at other times I looked like a twenty handicap player.”
- Arnold Palmer at the 1968 PGA, where he tied for second (he never won the PGA)
“Which one of you is going to be runner-up?”
- Walter Hagen, to Leo Diegel and others on the eve of the 1925 US PGA, which Hagen won
What a difference a year makes. Going into the PGA Championship last year at Oak Hill, McIlroy was listed at 33-1 in some spots thanks to a difficult year, but now he’s the heavy favourite going into Valhalla, with most books listing him at 5-1. That’s what happens when you win three of your last six starts, including the last two, with one of them being the British Open. Don’t forget as well that he’s finished outside of the top-25 just twice since September of last year. He’s dominating the game right now and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be in contention this week at Valhalla.
Rickie Fowler’s 2014 year at the majors has been seriously impressive, with him finishing tied for fifth at the Masters and tying for the runner-up spot in both the U.S. Open and British Open. Fowler made a point of mentioning earlier in the season that he was building his year around the majors, and so far, it seems to be working. If it wasn’t for massive runaways by Martin Kaymer and McIlroy, Fowler would likely have his first major championship win, but he’s built up a nice point total in both the FedEx Cup Standings and for the Ryder Cup, so it’s been a very good year for Fowler and he’s trending in the right direction for the last major of the year.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since Sergio Garcia had his legendary duel with Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, but you can make the argument that Garcia’s in a better place to win a major now than ever before. He tied with Fowler as the runner-up to McIlroy at the Open Championship, and was the solo runner-up to McIlroy again last week at Firestone, which moved him to third in the Official World Golf Rankings. The ball striking is still superb and the putter is no longer an issue, but the mental side of things still seems to be a struggle for Garcia, who when asked about Valhalla last week, admitted that he doesn’t really like the course much at all, having played it in the 2000 PGA and 2008 Ryder Cup. Even with that comment, 15 years after he made himself known to a worldwide audience, Sergio Garcia is more prepared than ever to finally win his first major.
After missing a large portion of the 2014 season due to a back injury, Tiger Woods came back a few weeks ago at Congressional ahead of the Open Championship. While he didn’t play overly well, he looked physically healthy and that continued through the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week, until he did this:
He apparently re-injured his back and nobody knows now if he’s even going to tee it up this week at Valhalla, where he won the second of his four PGA Championships. It’s been a nightmare season for Tiger to say the least, and even if he was healthy, his chances to win the tournament this week seemed slim at best. If he does end up playing, there’s no reason to expect much of anything, but you can guarantee that you’ll see tons of him, good or bad.
When it comes to individual golf tournaments, everyone knows that the four majors carry more weight than regular stops on the PGA or European Tour, but if you drill a little deeper, there’s a definite hierarchy within the major championships as well. The order varies depending on what part of the world the player is from, it seems, with the European players tending to favour the British Open, while players from the United States will always side with either the Masters or the U.S. Open as the one they would like to win the most. Players from other countries will usually pick from the above three as well, but no one ever picks the PGA Championship as their favorite major despite a rich history dating back nearly 100 years. It’s still a major and one that the players want to win, but the respect level unfortunately isn’t there when compared to the other three.
“In Norse mythology, Valhalla was the Great Hall of Odin, where the bravest warriors who had died in battle lived forever. Every morning they went out to battle; every evening they returned; their wounds were tended; they drank and feasted and listened to tales of great valor.”
Sounds just like the golfers of today, doesn’t it?
Rodman Wanamaker was born in Philadelphia in 1863, the son of a successful entrepreneur, John Wanamaker. Fresh with money from the success of the Wanamaker’s department store, which is now Macy’s, Rodman Wanamaker invited a group of golf professionals and industry leaders to a meeting in early 1916. Wanamaker proposed the creation of the PGA of America, the first organization dedicated to professional golf in America - a big deal considering that golf worldwide in those days was mostly in the hands of the amateur player.
Wanamaker suggested to the group that the organization needed a flagship tournament, and that’s how the PGA Championship was born. Wanamaker also forked over $2,500 of his own money for the trophy, which, as mentioned above, was lost by Hagen a decade later. After recovering the original, the PGA of America put it on display at the PGA Historical Center in Port Lucie, Fla., and a replica of the original, weighing in at just over 27 pounds, is given to the winners each year. After a year, the champions are given a smaller replica to keep for their own trophy case.
Ten years ago, Vijay Singh was the best player on the planet. Coming into the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Singh had already won four times on the PGA Tour that season, including his last start at the Buick Open, but he hadn’t won a major since the 2000 Masters. Singh entered the final round with a one-shot lead over Justin Leonard, but Sunday at Whistling Straits was brutal, with only one player in the top-10 shooting a sub-70 round.
At the end of the round, Singh was tied at the top with Leonard and Chris DiMarco, forcing a three-hole playoff, which Singh would go on to win by playing the three in 1-under par. Singh would go on to win four more times that season for a total of nine on the year, which tied him with Tiger Woods for the most wins in a season on the PGA Tour since 1950. Singh would later unseat Woods as the number-one ranked player in the world in September.
Ten years later, Singh is splitting his time between the PGA and Champions Tour, relying mostly on exemptions to get into non-senior tour events, but he’ll be at Valhalla this week as a two-time former champion.
As is the case with most courses these days, Valhalla has been lengthened significantly since it opened back in 1986. When Nicklaus first designed the course, it played at around 7,000 yards, but due to advances in technology, the PGA of America had it come in at 7,144 yards for the 1996 PGA and a little longer at 7,167 yards four years later.
They extended it again for the 2008 Ryder Cup, and now it will play at 7,458 yards this week. The course was also changed from a par 72 to a par 71.
If there’s one thing that golf teaches us every week, it’s that predicting the outcome of tournaments can be very difficult. Of all of the majors, the PGA Championship has probably produced the most random winners. We’ve already talked about Micheel, but there was also Rich Beem and Y.E. Yang at Hazeltine, and the ultimate story of unpredictability when John Daly won at Crooked Stick in 1991. All of the focus will be on the big names, but remember that at this level, all of these guys are good.
The 2014 PGA Championship begins at Valhalla Golf Club on Thursday morning at 7:30 a.m. ET.