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Sports Then and Now

PGA Championship History is Full of One Hit Wonders

Posted on August 12, 2009 by Dean Hybl
Rich Beem is one of 27 golfers whose victory at the PGA Championship makred their only win in a major.

Rich Beem is one of 27 golfers whose victory at the PGA Championship makred their only win in a major.

Like the musical group that had one big hit then faded off into the world of elevator music and reunion tours, the PGA Championship has more than its share of champions whose greatest moment under the professional golf sun came at the final major of the season.

Names like Jim Turnesa, Chandler Harper, John Mahaffey, Wayne Grady, Jeff Sluman Shaun Micheel and Rich Beem grace the victory roster at the PGA Championships while golf greats including Arnold Palmer, Nick Faldo, Hale Irwin and Seve Ballesteros never claimed the crown.

Of the four major championships, the PGA Championship has by far been the kindest to players looking for their first (and in many cases only) major championship.

Since World War II, 37 golfers have claimed their first major title at the PGA Championship. This compares to 33 for the U.S. Open, 26 for the British Open and 24 for the Masters.

The PGA Championship is also home to the greatest number of golf’s “one hit wonders” as 27 of the first time winners of the tournament failed to claim another major title. In comparison, 19 winners of the U.S. Open, 17 of the British Open and 15 of the Masters failed to win another major.

It is hard to pin-point one specific reason for why so many golfers have won their only major at the PGA Championship, but there is no question that it has been the toughest tournament for great players to win multiple times.

Known as “Glory’s last shot”, the PGA Championship comes at a time on the calendar when players are typically nearing the end of a grueling season.

Since the tournament moved from match play to stroke play in 1958, only nine players have claimed the title more than once. Of those, only Jack Nicklaus (five titles) and Tiger Woods (four championships) have won the title more than two times.

For many years in the 1940s and 1950s, the tournament was played the year after the British Open, which made it tough for players to participate in both events. As more Americans began playing the British Open, the PGA Championship moved to its current date of four weeks after the British Open.

Because the tournament is under the guidance of the PGA of America, which is made up of club and teaching professionals, the PGA Championship annually reserves 20 spots for club professionals. While club professionals rarely challenge for the title, having them in the field does take spots away from other tournament regulars.

Sergio Garcia tied for second at the 2008 PGA Championship and is considered the best player in golf without a major championship.

Sergio Garcia tied for second at the 2008 PGA Championship and is considered the best player in golf without a major championship.

But, that limitation doesn’t seem to have a huge impact on the quality of the field as this year 100 of the top 101 players in the world are in the field.

After a stretch early in the decade when David Toms, Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel gave the tournament three only major winners in a row, players that already owned at least one major victory have claimed the last five titles.

That doesn’t bode well for Sergio Garcia, who now is generally considered the owner of the dubious distinction to be the best player without a major title. Garcia finished two strokes behind Padraig Harrington a year ago and would like to finally get the “monkey off his back” this time around.

Even as recent history has not been kind to those looking to join the list of major champions, the long history of the PGA Championship seems to indicate that there is a pretty good chance that the player hoisting the championship trophy on Sunday will be experiencing the honor for the first (and probably only) time.

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