The PGA Championship is defined by 94 years of traditions. This major championship dates back to 1916 when Jim Barnes won the PGA at Siwanoy CC in Bronxville, NY. The PGA of America was founded that same year by Rodman Wanamaker, a New York City department store magnate, who organized a bunch of club professionals into the PGA of America. Today, the championship trophy bears Wanamaker’s name.
Over the years, the PGA Championship has missed three summers of competition, 1917-18 and 1943. Those voids were created when America was mired in the serious business of war. The PGA was decided by match play until 1958 when it converted to the 72-hole stroke play format used now.
Keegan Bradley is the defending champion and it will be a tall order for him to repeat. In the 94 year history of the PGA only Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Leo Diegel, Denny Shute and Tiger Woods have been repeat winners. Woods did it twice in 1999-2000 and again in 2006-2007. Shute was the last before Woods to win two PGA’s in a row and did it in 1936-37 demonstrating the greatness of Woods’ modern day golf feat.
As the 2011 champ, Bradley was honored on Tuesday night at the annual PGA Champions Dinner. A total of 16 former Wanamaker recipients were on hand to pay their respects to Bradley. Keegan is the son of a PGA member. He and his dad, Mark, lived in a 15-foot wide trailer for several years and the young Bradley went to work with his dad each day. Keegan was what we call in my business a “golf course rat.”
Bradley has developed a close relationship with Phil Mickelson. At each Champions Dinner, the winner can ask two players to speak. Bradley chose Mickelson and Dave Stockton, two-time PGA Champ and Captain of the victorious 1991 Ryder Cup team in “The War by the Shore” at Kiawah.
Both Mickelson and Stockton talked about what a great champion and example for the game that Bradley is. And they are right. Keegan played collegiate golf at St. John’s University in New York. He was an unheralded college player.
“Three years ago at this time I was playing the Hooters’ Tour and had $1,200 in my checking account,” Bradley recalled. “I’m in better shape today.”
Indeed he is after winning $1.5 million last week at the Bridgestone World Golf Championship at the Firestone CC when he defeated Jim Furyk on the final hole. The victory solidified a Ryder Cup spot for Bradley.
Traditionally, the PGA Champion will present a gift to all of those in attendance at the dinner. Bradley selected a Boston Red Sox #11 Bradley jersey for his gift. As a diehard Yankee fan I will be trying to figure a use for that.
I did have the pleasure of being seated with Tiger, Y.E. Yang the 2010 PGA champion and Tim Finchem, the Commissioner of the PGA Tour. It was a great night and our dinner consisted of Maine lobster, filet, baked potato, corn on the cob and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. It was truly a New England evening delivered by the kid who grew up in Vermont.
Our dinner conversation was dominated by Olympic basketball and the art of setting picks. Yang was there with his interpreter and he even offered opinions on Korea’s soccer performance in the Summer Games. It was interesting that these players were spending time away from the course tuning into the London competition.
Woods talked about the difficulty of preparation during practice rounds because of the number of tee boxes that Kiawah has. He basically said that the course would unplayable from the tips. The wind would dictate daily course setup, and with 60 tee stations to choose from, it’s a guessing game for the players in their Monday-Wednesday preparation.
He provided insight to the 12th hole which will probably be setup as a drivable par four on at least one day during the PGA. Tiger indicated that even though he drove it on the front of the 12th green during Monday’s practice round, the obvious play during the PGA will be six iron and sand wedge saying that it’s too easy to lose a par trying to drive the green.
The intermittent showers have produced over 10 inches of rain here in the last week. While the Ocean Course drains well, it has still been soggy and not producing the hard, fast conditions that we look for at major championships. As you can imagine the humidity has been brutal and when there is no wind, the bugs have been feasting on human bodies. There are snakes and alligators here, too.
That being said, the scenery at Kiawah is magnificent. The course sets on the Atlantic Ocean and I have never been to a more spectacular major championship venue. The crowds have been great and the transportation flawless considering that most spectators are coming from Charleston which is an hour away.
As Bradley closed out the dinner he thanked all of the past champions in attendance.
“You will never know how much it means to me that you all came tonight. That being said, I am still going to try and kick your butts this week,” laughed Bradley.
There is a video circulating on the internet that shows Rickie Fowler jumping from a second story balcony in to the swimming pool at the house that he and Bubba Watson are renting together. Both players were posting Facebook pictures during their trip to a local grocery store this week as they stocked up on supplies for the PGA. There will be no dull moments in that house this week!
Coincidentally, Fowler has the same agent as Shaun White, the Olympic Gold snow boarder. As I said, the Olympics are in full force here at Kiawah as well as the ignorance of youth……….