So far, you must have recognized that it has been a notable year in the majors, if you count first-time winners as a big story.
It’s fair to say that many people might have preferred an alternate saga this year, something along the lines of Tiger Woods stacking up majors like so much cordwood, or Davis Love III waking up and winning another after a six-year siesta, or John Daly winning again, in-between drag racing his motor home and finding shirts that still fit.
Yes, fun stories all, but they’re fiction. The reality in the majors this year is something else indeed.
In April, there was Mike Weir coming through at the Masters and thus firmly establishing this first-timer trend. Weir was the first Canadian and first left-hander to win at Augusta National, his first major title.
It was Jim Furyk’s turn at the U.S. Open. Furyk won his first major at Olympia Fields outside Chicago, becoming the first person to win one using a swing modeled after a pretzel.
The most unusual one of the bunch was Ben Curtis at the British Open. Curtis won the first major he ever played a couple of weeks ago at Royal St. George’s and everyone is still trying to figure out how that happened, possibly including St. George himself.
There is only one more major left this year. It’s the PGA Championship, which long ago established itself as the birthplace of unexpected happenings ... see Bob Tway in 1986, Jeff Sluman in 1988, Wayne Grady in 1990, Daly in 1991, Steve Elkington in 1995 at Riviera, and so on, right up to Rich Beem’s unlikely triumph last year at Hazeltine in Chaska, Minn.
This is the universally accepted resume of the PGA Championship.
Historically, it has been a trend-setter, the Nehru jacket of majors, which means there are only two ways to look at what’s going to happen at leafy Oak Hill Country Club, tucked away in the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y.
* Somebody is going to win his first major.
* Somebody is going to add to his major collection by winning another one.
Chances are it’s going to be an entertaining tournament.
Remember, this is the major that gave us Tiger winning back-to-back trophies, which hadn’t happened at the PGA Championship in 63 years. How about Atlanta Athletic Club and David Toms beating Phil Mickelson by a shot, a margin coming from Toms’ hole in one on Saturday?
Other than that, at least in recent years, unfairly or not, the PGA has been sort of an afterthought on the major circuit, a well-intentioned attempt to pump some helium back into the majors’ balloon after seeing it go flat as soon as the British Open was over.
But look at it this way: If the first three majors of the year combined to produce three first-time major champions, what are the odds the PGA Championship is going to buck that trend?
Why would it fall in line to be like all the rest?
It never has, although there have been a series of attempts in recent years to make it appear to be more like the other majors.
The PGA of America has taken a number of positive steps, from cutting back on the number of club pros who compete, to beefing up the fields to include more international players to moving the tournament from virtual pitch-and-putt courses to venerable layouts such as Southern Hills, Riviera, Winged Foot, Medinah, Atlanta Athletic Club and Hazeltine, to name a few.
Feel free to assume that in what has evolved into a huge year for rookie major champions, Oak Hill and the PGA Championship are going to stand out for being different.
Four first-time major winners in one year?
It would be a sweet story for non-major winners such as Mickelson or Sergio Garcia or Padraig Harrington or Colin Montgomerie or Charles Howell III or even Thomas Bjorn, provided he has mentally removed himself from that sandbox in England that swallowed him up.
The PGA Championship has spent a long time crafting a reputation as the
major that resists the routine, embraces the unexpected and exalts being different.
Will this major fall in line and wind up looking like the other three? That would be a real first.