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Opinion & Analysis

The PGA Championship: Headlining the new Triple Crown of American professional golf

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The PGA Championship, as it celebrates its 100th anniversary at Bellerive Country Club just outside of St. Louis, marks the end of an era. Since the 1960s, the PGA has been the final major of the year, the last leg of the modern “Grand Slam” of professional golf. All that will change next year as the event moves to the third weekend in May, and moves from a major afterthought to being the most important major in the on-going growth of interest in our sport here in the U.S.

The Grand Slam has long been considered competitive golf’s ultimate achievement. This is more than a bit of a misnomer, though, since it is something that has never been accomplished in the modern game, and is simultaneously considered by most to be all but unattainable. Sure, Bobby Jones won what was called the Grand Slam back in 1929 as an amateur, but that was back when two of the four legs were amateur events, excluding most of the most accomplished players of the day.

And the immortal Ben Hogan, in his “Triple Crown” season of 1953, when he won the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the Open Championship in succession, in theory had a shot at it. But at that time, the Open Championship and the PGA overlapped, making it impossible for him to compete in both, and the level of competition was nowhere near what it is today.

In modern professional golf, no player has ever even come into the PGA Championship with a shot at the “Grand Slam,” leaving the season’s final major to always feel like it’s finishing on a bit of an anti-climactic note. So maybe it’s time to stop wishing, hoping, dreaming, and talking about someone winning the Grand Slam, and instead, take a cue from Hogan’s immortal season, and start talking about someone winning the new “Triple Crown” of American professional golf that the PGA has set the stage for by making its move.

By moving to May, for the first time ever, the American majors will be conducted in three consecutive months. The PGA claims they did this for a number of reasons, including the addition of golf to the Summer Olympics, the fact that cooler May weather opens up a wider array of options for host courses, and to keep the season ending FedEx Cup Playoffs from having to compete with the start of football season. But there’s an unintended consequence of this move that will ultimately make the PGA Championship the most pivotal, and important major in seasons to come.

Like the Preakness in horse racing, the PGA Championship now becomes the second leg of what I will call the new “Triple Crown” of American major championships. Being only a month apart, winners of the Masters each year will now come into the PGA, the year’s second major, with more momentum. They will also contest that second leg under conditions most players feel are a fairer and more typical test of golf than the often brutal slog the USGA sets them up for at the U.S. Open.

The result of this should be that more future Masters champions will not only come into that second leg feeling like they have a realistic shot, but, as we see in horse-racing many years, could come out of it with a shot at the Triple Crown. The interest and excitement this will generate, and the build-up to the U.S. Open will increase ten-fold if we see a player winning the first two majors of the year, just as it does many years for the Belmont Stakes, when millions of eyeballs tune in because the storyline transcends the sport.

It doesn’t matter that (not unlike the Belmont) the course setup and conditions of the U.S. Open favors a very different type of player than the Masters and PGA Championship. What matters is more players at least having a shot at it. The move up of the PGA Championship will facilitate that, and with a more attainable goal, like the new Triple Crown of American professional golf, we should be in store for some much more exciting golf seasons in the very near future.

The PGA Championship will go from being a bit of an afterthought, to being the major most sought after in the quest for American professional golf’s new ultimate accomplishment.

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Mike Dowd is the author of the new novel COMING HOME and the Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life series. He has been Head PGA Professional at Oakdale Golf & CC in Oakdale, California since 2001, and is serving his third term on the NCPGA Board of Directors and Chairs the Growth of the Game Committee. Mike has introduced thousands of people to the game and has coached players that have played golf collegiately at the University of Hawaii, San Francisco, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, University of the Pacific, C.S.U. Sacramento, C.S.U. Stanislaus, C.S.U. Chico, and Missouri Valley State, as men and women on the professional tours. Mike currently lives in Turlock, California with his wife and their two aspiring LPGA stars, where he serves on the Turlock Community Theatre Board, is the past Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock. In his spare time (what's that?) he enjoys playing golf with his girls, writing, music, fishing and following the foibles of the Sacramento Kings, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the PGA Tour. You can find Mike at mikedowdgolf.com.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. doesnotno

    Aug 9, 2018 at 8:55 am

    An alternate view to the PGA moving to 2nd spot in the majors calendar (and thereby you suggest raising its importance) might be that rather than looking forward to the event as the final major its seen as pretty much indifferent from the regular PGA events that take place in the weeks before and after it and people begin to question why it even has major status. The Masters has Augusta, the US Open has penal setups on classic courses, the Open has British weather and links layouts.

    Ask people what the PGA has and I feel most people would tell you ‘last major of the year’.

    • Ns

      Aug 9, 2018 at 11:57 am

      and……. you’re an idiot.
      The PGA Championships is representative of the PGA and the PGA Tour. That’s why it’s a Major. Always has been, always will be. But to modernize the game, they had to change it from match-play.
      If anything, they need this major sometime in October. That would be the way forward, where The Players would be the 5th Major in early summer and the PGA moved to the Fall since there is now a wrap-around season.

      • doesnotno

        Aug 10, 2018 at 8:46 am

        Some great ideas there. Oh no, you’re clearly sub-normal.

  2. Greg V

    Aug 9, 2018 at 8:50 am

    Nice try at Triple Crown. But to leave out the Open Championship, which is the oldest and many would say, the best of the majors, is disingenuous.

  3. Matt

    Aug 9, 2018 at 7:30 am

    Massive shank, find another term as Triple Crown is already being used in golf as the winner of the US Open, Open Championship and Canadian Open all in the same year. 2 players have done it, Trevino and Woods, there is even a trophy for it.

  4. Ronald Montesano

    Aug 9, 2018 at 6:09 am

    The term “Grand Slam” came from bridge, and the term “Triple Crown” comes from harness racing. Seems odd that golf wouldn’t have its own term. May in the northeast is very wet, akin to Wales (cough cough Ryder Cup cough cough) in the fall. It can also be cold. Venues like Oak Hill and Bethpage will suffer more than a few days of St. Louis’ weather this week, but they won’t have the summer sun to dry things. Also, ask a superintendent how much easier it is to get the course in shape for a major in May. This might be the way in which southern courses finally get major-championship recognition. I’m not a xenophobe, though, so I think that any focus on an American whatever is pushing the game away from the global direction it needs.

  5. Frankie

    Aug 9, 2018 at 2:58 am

    Amateurs vs pros in Bobby Jones’ era was completely the opposite from today, it was the amateurs who were better than the pros because pros couldn’t make enough money back then to play golf full-time so they had to work at the golf clubs as teaching pros. In Bobby Jones’ case, he was rich enough to play golf full-time and therefore he was better than all of the pros as an amateur, including Walter Hagen. The perception of amateurs vs pros in early 20th century golf didn’t shift until Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson beat Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward in the Match at Cypress Point in 1956. To deny Jones’ skill of winning the Grand Slam is just blasphemy.

    • Mike Dowd

      Aug 9, 2018 at 7:38 am

      Bobby Jones’ accomplishment was one of the greatest, if not the greatest story in the games’ storied History. I was merely pointing out that it was not the same accomplishment as it would be today, and giving nod to the fact that some will feel the two amateur events being a part of his Grand Slam gives it a bit of an asterisk because players like Hagen were excluded. No one will ever accomplish what Jones did again, and so to a degree, I really believe the term should have been retired with him as a testament to that. Even winning two majors a year in today’s game is something that Player of the Year seasons are made of, and that’s why I think we should shift the storyline to something that is at least potentially attainable. Otherwise, it’s just a whole lot of talk for talk’s sake.

      • Ns

        Aug 9, 2018 at 12:01 pm

        “it’s just a whole lot of talk for talk’s sake.”
        That’s what America is built on. Talk without much substance.

    • Greg V

      Aug 9, 2018 at 8:48 am

      Not so. All of the other top 10 finishers in the 1930 US Open were pros. As a matter of fact, pros overtook Amateurs from the very beginning of American golf, as players such as Willie Anderson and Alex Smith were transplant pros from Scotland. Yes, you had Francis Ouimet, Jerry Travers and Chick Evans winning the US Open in the early teens, but after Jones won his 4 US Opens, no amateur has won since.

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Opinion & Analysis

High School reunion golf: When 58 feels like 18 again

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golf buddies reunion

Eric and David were winning our match as we approached the halfway point of the back nine at Falls Road Golf Club in Potomac, Md. But when my partner, Chip, yes, chipped in for eagle, their 15-footer for eagle suddenly seemed doubly long. David’s exuberant fist pump after draining his putt to match us said it all – the juices were flowing, and the match wasn’t going to be lost due to lackluster play or attitude. That we were paired together in a reunion tournament 40 years after the Class of 1978 graduated from Winston Churchill High School mattered not. We were athletes then – all four of us played on a Maryland state championship football team together – and, by gosh, our competitiveness was on full throttle now.

The years melted away as we traded stories about yesteryear and we learned about each other’s lives in the four-decade interim. Family and golf are shared passions, and our match showed it. While we were happily catching up in laughs and nostalgia, both teams clearly wanted to win. For bragging rights, of course. Once competitors, always competitors.

Cut to the past: David and Chip went on to play college baseball, while I stayed briefly with football, and Eric went forward playing basketball. Eric was such a gifted athlete that he not only quarterbacked our high school team to a senior year state championship (we also won it our junior year), he led the basketball team to a state title as well. A hoops scholarship to Georgetown followed, where he captained Coach John Thompson’s team his senior year. His teammates included Patrick Ewing, now Georgetown’s coach, among others. If you want to see Eric in action, Google “Michael Jordan game-winning jump shot in national championship.” You’ll find video clips of Eric (pictured below) running at Jordan a hair too late to stop His Airness from elevating and nailing the game-winning jump shot for North Carolina.

georgetown university north carolina national basketball championship 1982

Eric gets there too late to stop MJ’s game-winner in the national championship.

All to say that competition and living the athletic physical life contributed to our formation as people, and while we’re well removed from our peak years, we continue to pursue the pleasure that such activities afford. I’m still playing competitive baseball, and I’m trying to get David to join my team for the coming season, and a few other guys who I ran into at the reunion party the next night – Jimmy Flaikas, Mitch Orcutt, and Brian Hacker. How great it would be for us five former high school baseball teammates to be back on the diamond together. Priceless!

Jimmy and David have concerns about the physical demands, among other things, and whether their bodies are up to it. They’re both in great shape, so I’m confident they would do well. But they’re wise to weigh this carefully; discretion is the better part of valor when aging, after all. And that’s why golf is ideally suited to our current places in the circle of life. No torn meniscus or sprained ankles to be suffered, no concussions or broken bones forthcoming. Instead, we carelessly joked and competed with joyful appreciation of reconnecting through the game during our reunion weekend.

That golf is a lifelong game is one of its most appealing aspects. Perhaps it’s even an after-life game, as two elderly gentlemen illuminated. Lifelong friends now in their 80s, one of them fell deathly ill. His friend visited one last time and they reminisced about the good times shared through the game. As they parted, the friend said to his dying companion, “Do me a favor – let me know if there’s golf in heaven when you get there.” His friend promised he would and then he passed on peacefully that night. The next night, his friend was sleeping when he heard a voice. “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, there’s golf in heaven; the bad news is, you have a tee time tomorrow morning.”

Fore! Now and forever.

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: Bear Slide Golf Club in Cicero, Indiana

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member AUTIGER07, who takes us to Bear Slide Golf Club in Cicero, Indiana. From the horse’s mouth, Bear Slide Golf Club offers a “Scottish links-style front nine and a traditional style back nine”, and in AUTIGER07’s description of the course, he highlights the tracks excellent variety of different holes on offer.

“Played this quite a bit when I lived in Indianapolis. Was always in really solid shape and the course provides a good mix of short-to-long holes. Pace of play used to be very enjoyable, and you never felt “rushed” during the round.”

According to Bear Slide Golf Club’s website, 18 holes around the course during the week will set you back $39, while the rate rises to $55 if you want to play on the weekend.

@joel63763660

@thelgcsaa

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep 63): Valentino Dixon talks Golf Channel documentary; Marvin Bush remembers his father

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Valentino Dixon shares his amazing story in an exclusive interview with Michael Williams. Also in this episode: a tribute to George H.W. Bush, featuring a conversation with his youngest son, Marvin.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

featured image c/o Golf Channel

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19th Hole

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