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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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The Gear Dive: Vokey Wedge expert Aaron Dill

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Titleist Tour Rep Aaron Dill on working under Bob Vokey, How he got the gig and working with names like JT, Jordan and Brooks.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Is your driver the first “scoring club”?

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I was traveling Sunday and didn’t get to watch the end of the PGA Championship, so imagine my shock Monday morning when I read what had happened on that back nine. Like most everyone, I figured Brooks Koepka had his game and his emotions completely under control and Sunday’s finish would be pretty boring and anti-climactic. Man, were we wrong!!?

As I read the shot-by-shot, disaster-by-disaster account of what happened on those few holes, I have to admit my somewhat cynical self became engaged. I realize the conditions were tough, but it still boils down to the fact that Koepka nearly lost this PGA Championship because he couldn’t execute what I call “basic golf” – hitting fairways and greens – when it counted. And Dustin Johnson lost his ability to do the same just as he got within striking distance.

I’ve long been a critic of the way the game has come to be played at the highest levels; what we used to call “bomb and gouge” has become the norm at the professional tour level. These guys are big strong athletes, and they go at it harder than anyone ever did in “the old days”. Watch closely and you’ll see so many of them are on their toes or even off the ground at impact, especially with the driver. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t see how that can be the path to consistent shotmaking.

So, my curiosity then drove me to the year-to-date statistics on the PGA Tour website to dive into this a bit deeper. What I found was quite interesting, and I believe can be helpful to all of you readers as you think about how to lower your handicap this season. Follow me here, as I think there are some very helpful numbers from the PGA Tour.
I’ve long contended that golf is a game of ball control . . . let’s call it shotmaking. Your personal strength profile will determine whether you are a long hitter or not, and there’s probably not a lot you can do (or will do) to change that dramatically. But PGA Tour statistics indicate that accuracy, not distance, is the key to better scoring.

The Tour leader in driving accuracy is Jim Furyk, the only guy who is hitting more than 75% of the fairways. The Tour average is under 62%, or not even 2 out of 3. That means the typical round has the tour professional playing at least 4-5 approach shots from the rough. I’m going to come back to that in just a moment and explore the “cost” of those missed fairways.

The Tour leader in greens-in-regulation is Tiger Woods at 74%, almost 3-out-of-4 . . . but the Tour average is less than 66%, or just under 2-out-of-3. I believe enlightenment comes by breaking that GIR statistic down even further.
From the fairway, the Tour leader in GIR is Justin Thomas at 85% and the worst guy at 65%, three points better than the tour average for GIR overall. Hmmmmm. From the rough, however, the best guy on Tour is Taylor Gooch at 63.4%, which is not as good as the very last guy from the fairway.

But let’s dive even a bit deeper to better understand the importance of driving accuracy. Is it true these guys are so good from the rough that hitting fairways doesn’t matter? Not according to the numbers.

From the rough in the range of 125-150 yards – a wedge for most of these guys – the tour’s best hit it 25-27 feet from the hole and only 30 tour pros are averaging inside 30 feet from that distance. But from the fairway, 25 yards further back – 150-175 yards – the tour’s best hit it inside 21-23 feet, and 160 guys are getting closer than 30 feet on average. Even from 175-200 in the fairway, the best on tour hit it closer than the best on tour from the rough 50 yards closer.

So, what do you do with this information? I encourage any serious golfer to really analyze your own rounds to see the difference in your scoring on holes where you find the fairway versus those where you don’t. I feel certain you’ll find throttling back a bit with your driver and focusing more on finding the fairway, rather than trying to squeeze a few more yards of the tee will help you shoot lower scores.

If you have the inclination to see what more fairways can do to your own scores, here’s a little experiment for you. Get a buddy or two for a “research round” and play this game: When you miss a fairway, walk the ball straight over to the fairway, and then 15 yards back. So, you’ll hit every approach from the fairway, albeit somewhat further back – see what you shoot.

Next week I’m going to follow up this “enlightenment” with some tips and techniques that I feel certain will help you hit more fairways so you can take this to the bank this season.

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Opinion & Analysis

Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the PGA Championship

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. On Sunday, Brooks Koepka made it four wins from his last eight appearances at major championships, and here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action at Bethpage Black.

Hot

While Brooks Koepka’s play off the tee was excellent at last week’s PGA Championship, the American utterly dominated the field with his deadly approach play. The 29-year-old led the field in New York for his approach play gaining 9.5 strokes over his competitors. In case you were wondering, this represents Koepka’s career-best performance with his irons. Check out the clubs Koepka did the damage with at Bethpage Black in our WITB piece here.

Jordan Spieth finished T3 at last week’s event, and the Texan was streets ahead of anyone for the four days with the flat-stick in hand. Spieth gained a mammoth 10.6 strokes over the field on the greens of Bethpage Black, which is over three strokes more than anyone else achieved. It was the best-putting display of the 25-year-old’s career thus far, and Spieth now heads to Colonial CC ranked first in this week’s field for strokes gained: putting over his last 12 rounds.

Dustin Johnson came agonizingly close to capturing his second major title last week, and encouragingly for DJ is that he gained strokes in all of the significant strokes gained categories. Johnson also led the field for strokes gained: off the tee, gaining 7.2 strokes over the field – his best performance in this area this year.

Cold

Bubba Watson endured a wretched two days on the greens at Bethpage Black. In just 36 holes, Watson lost 6.8 strokes to the field with the flat-stick. Even more frustrating for Watson is that he gained 6.5 strokes for the two day’s tee to green. A tale of what could have been for the two-time Masters champion.

Phil Mickelson faded badly at last week’s championship, and it was a poor display with his irons that did the damage. Lefty lost 6.3 strokes to the field for his approach play in New York, which is his worst display in this area for 2019.

It was a quick exit for Tiger Woods at Bethpage Black, and though the 15-time major champion was far from his best off the tee (losing half a stroke), it was Woods’ putting that was his undoing. Woods lost almost a stroke and a half on the greens at Bethpage – his worst display with the putter since last August.

 

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