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PGA Championship History is Full of One Hit Wonders

Posted on August 03, 2020 by Dean Hybl

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 what was for many years the final major of the season.

Jason Dufner is one of 33 golfers whose lone major title came at the PGA Championship.

Names like Jim Turnesa, Chandler Harper, John Mahaffey, Wayne Grady, Jeff Sluman, Shaun Micheel, Jason Dufner 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, 44 golfers have claimed their first major title at the PGA Championship. This compares to 38 for the U.S. Open, 31 for the British Open and 31 for the Masters.

The PGA Championship is also home to the greatest number of golf’s “one hit wonders” as 33 of the first-time winners of the tournament failed to claim another major title. In comparison, 24 winners of the U.S. Open, 22 of the British Open and 19 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 for many years as “Glory’s last shot” because it was always the final major of the year, the PGA Championship moved to second in the order of majors in 2019. However, because of COVID-19, this year it will be the first major of the 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 week 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 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. But, that limitation doesn’t seem to have a huge impact on the quality of the field as typically most of the top 100 players in the world are part of this tournament.

Because of the rearranged schedule due to COVID-19, the top golfers have spent the last few weeks getting back into championship form.

One interesting storyline for the 2020 PGA Championship will surround two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka. If he is able to claim his third straight PGA title, he would be the first golfer since Peter Thomson claimed three straight British Open titles from 1954-56 to claim the same major three straight years. He would also be the first player to win any of the three majors played in the United States for three straight years since Walter Hagen won the PGA title four straight years from 1924-1927.

Koepka almost recorded a three-peat of the U.S. Open last year, but fell just short. After winning the title in 2017 and 2018, he finished second in 2019, three strokes behind Gary Woodland.

Another interesting historical note to watch is that Jordan Spieth will be making his fourth attempt to join the elite club of golfers who have won all four majors. Last year Spieth finished third at the PGA, but has not won a major since winning the British Open in 2017.

Though Koepka has won the last two PGA titles after already winning another major, the three previous PGA titles were won by first time major winners Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker and Jason Day. Interestingly, though Thomas and Day have remained near the top of the PGA rankings, neither has claimed another major. Walker has battled Lyme disease since 2017 and though he remains on tour, has not been competitive in any of the majors.

Given the long history of first-time major champions at the PGA Championship, 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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