There is something about the PGA Championship, a quality that doesn’t make the event any less entertaining than the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship, yet provides it with its own distinct identity. Often this is viewed pejoratively—the cliché is to call the PGA “the “Ringo” of men’s majors. But the PGA counts every bit the same as the others. Jack Nicklaus’ five PGA wins are an integral part of his 18 professional majors.
As the PGA prepares for its 100th playing next week at Bellerive, there are, however, moments in its history that feel just so, well, PGA like. We’d argue they give the championship a character that the rest of the majors might actually envy—moments of humor and levity that have an appealing, let’s-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously feel. These moments deserve commemoration as well.
1916 — The first PGA Championship isn’t the brainchild of America’s nascent golf cognoscenti, but rather of a department-store magnet. And the prize Rodman Wanamaker helped procure for the winner isn’t some simple loving cup, but a 27-pound behemoth that would seemingly be hard to misplace (unless you’re Walter Hagen). If the PGA’s start wasn’t obscure enough, who would win the PGA of America’s new event? An Englishman, Jim Barnes.
1920 — Jock Hutchinson gets a measure of revenge for losing in the final of the inaugural PGA in 1916 by winning four years later at Flossmoor Country Club outside Chicago. Never mind that he wasn’t actually in the field initially, but when two players dropped out late, Hutchinson got the call.
1927 — Walter Hagen has become synonymous with the PGA Championship by winning the event five times from 1921-’27. En route to his last victory at Cedar Crest Country Club in Dallas, he couldn’t help but employ some ahead-of-its-time gamesmanship, repeatedly conceding putts early in the semifinal tilt against Al Espinosa and the finals against Joe Turnesa, only to force his opponents to make the putts late in each match. Golf mindgames are officially born.
1928 — Walter Hagen finally loses the PGA, but the bigger story might be that he has lost the Wanamaker Trophy. Literally. After being beaten by Leo Diegel in the quarterfinals at Five Farms outside Baltimore, ending a run of four straight victories in the event, it surfaces that the Haig actually has misplaced the trophy, claiming he had given it to a driver to deliver to his hotel after an earlier victory. The PGA of America is forced to eventually make a replacement, but two years later, workmen going through boxes at a Detroit sporting-goods warehouse found the trophy in a sealed leather case.
1953 — Ben Hogan opts not to play in the PGA, heading instead to the Open Championship, the one and only time he’d cross the Atlantic to play in the event. By doing so, he is forced to skip playing in the PGA because boat travel would make it nearly impossible to get back in time. Sure enough, he wins the claret jug at Carnoustie, after having won the Masters and U.S. Open earlier in the year, compiling one of the greatest major championship seasons ever. And Walter Burkemo becomes the answer to the trivia question of who won the year’s other major, taking the PGA title at Birmingham (Mich.) Country Club.
1957 — The most distinguishing feature of the PGA Championship is that the event is a match-play competition for its first 41 years. But when Lionel Hebert beats Dow Finsterwald in the final at Miami Valley Golf Club in Dayton, Ohio, the PGA of America will have wound up losing money on the event and decide in its best long-term interests, it will switch to 72-hole stroke-play format starting the next year.
1964 — Arnold Palmer is the first player ever to shoot four rounds in the 60s in a major championship, yet finishes tied for second behind Bobby Nichols at Columbus (Ohio) C.C. It’s one of three times Palmer would finish runner-up in the PGA, never winning the tournament that would have capped the career Grand Slam despite making the most starts of any player in its history (37).
1968 — Despite playing in wilting July heat in San Antonio, a 48-year-old emerges as the winner at Pecan Valley. Julius Boros becomes the oldest golfer ever to claim a major championship title, a distinction he still holds today.
1987 — The PGA is played at PGA National … in South Florida … in August. Maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time, and it’s not like the championship hadn’t been played in hot weather previously (see Boros). Still the result was a winning score of 287, the highest at the PGA by five strokes. Golf Digest’s Dan Jenkins described the conditions this way: “A month before the championship the greens were struggling in the humidity to be 80 percent bent and 20 percent Bermuda, but then they were kidnapped by a strange fungus. By tournament time they were 80 percent dirt, 10 percent wire and 10 percent herpes.”
1991 — John Daly, the ninth alternate in the field at Crooked Stick Golf Club, drives through the night after being informed he’s gotten into the championship, then storms the field in Indianapolis to win. In the euphoria of Daly’s out of nowhere win, America is introduced to the golf mullet.
1996 — Instead of preparing on the range for a potential playoff at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky native Kenny Perry watches the final groups come in from the CBS TV booth. He promptly loses said playoff to Mark Brooks on the first hole of sudden death. An entire state goes into mourning.
2002 — Rich Beem clinches his first major title at Hazeltine National. As much as he will remember his performance over the 72 holes, the collective golf audience remembers the best hula dance from a major winner since the days of Hagen.
2003 — Shaun Micheel wins the PGA with one of the most memorable shots in the championship’s history, a 7-iron to two inches on the 18th at Oak Hill. Making the victory all the more amazing is the fact it was his lone PGA Tour win and one of just two top-20 finishes he would ever post in 30 major championship starts (the other being a runner-up at the 2006 PGA).
2005 — Bad weather at New Jersey’s Baltusrol Golf Club forces a handful of players to come back on Monday to complete the championship. Yet the clubhouse leader at the end of Sunday, Tiger Woods, decided to fly home anyway, presumably believing one of the players finishing up on Monday would pass him. Sure enough, Phil Mickelson did.
2006 — Speaking of which, Tiger Woods claims the fourth of his four PGA Championship titles at Southern Hills. He’s paired on the final day with Luke Donald, who infamously decides to wear a red shirt despite knowing Woods’ color of choice for Sundays. By the second hole, Donald is regretting the decision.
2010 — Dustin Johnson may one day win the Wanamaker Trophy, maybe even next week at Bellerive. Until then, he’ll be remembered for having unwittingly lost the title at Whistling Straits when, leading by one stroke, he hits his drive on the 72nd hole right into a sandy area where spectators had been standing. He then mistakenly grounds his club before hitting his second shot, unaware that the spot is considered a bunker. He taps in for a bogey 5 and thinks he’ll be in playoff, only to have a PGA of America official explain his mistake, give him a two-stroke penalty and drop him into a tie for fifth place.
2014 — Wet weather plagues the final round at Valhalla as the final groups race daylight to try to finish. Rory McIlroy holds off Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler but only after they let him tee off on the 18th hole while they’re in the fairway and hit his approach shot while they were still on the green so that he can finish the round and not have to return the next morning.
2016 — A return to Baltusrol brings more bad weather, forcing officials to finish the third round and play the fourth round on Sunday. Circumstances are such that that the PGA of America agrees to allow golfers to play under “lift, clean and place” rules in the fairway in the final round, which is believed to be the first time “preferred lies” had been OK’d in a major.
2017 — PGA of America officials adopt a policy found on the European Tour and allow players to wear shorts during practice rounds. Given the hot, humid conditions at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C.,, several participants jump at the chance. “I don’t recognize some of these guys out here,” joked Lucas Glover, “and I'm sure they probably don't recognize me either."