It is a windfall the PGA of America could not have fathomed in August 2017.
On the Tuesday of PGA Championship week at Quail Hollow, then-PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua announced the tournament would move from the August slot to a May date, beginning in 2019.
On the faces of Bevacqua and his cohorts were plastered seemingly permanent smiles.
They would no longer need such lame labels as “Glory’s Last Shot” or “It’s Major.” They wouldn’t be lost amid baseball’s summer pennant races and NFL buildup. Family vacations away from the television are still a happy promise in mid-May.
The PGA and its broadcast partner, CBS, knew it was a tremendous switch to leapfrog ahead of the U.S. Open. They just couldn’t have concocted what will transpire beginning Thursday at the Bethpage State Park Black Course on New York’s Long Island.
When Tiger Woods won the Masters four weeks ago to take his 15th major title and cap an incredible comeback from back fusion surgery, it was as if the karma from all of those muggy, sweat-drenched days in August at courses in Louisville and Tulsa and St. Louis came back to the PGA.
“Who would have ever forecast that the PGA Championship would walk into year one of this coming on the heels of one of the greatest moments in the history of the sport?” CBS Sports golf anchor Jim Nantz asked on a conference call this week. “The PGA Championship hit the lottery with the move in 2019.”
In a way, Woods even helped them — though maybe not his own game — by choosing not to play any event since the Masters, thus ratcheting up the anticipation.
All of golf stands to benefit. Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, said this week he expects ad revenues and ratings to increase. For the final round of the Masters, which was moved up several hours because of impending thunderstorms, CBS drew 18 million viewers at its peak, and the broadcast was the mostwatched for morning golf in 32 years.
The PGA of America has said the weekend rounds were virtual sellouts before Woods’ victory at Augusta, and in the Masters’ immediate aftermath, the public response to wanting to be at Bethpage was “extraordinary,” said PGA of America President Seth Waugh.
“Obviously, Tiger has impact — sort of the moon landing,” Waugh said at the PGA’s media day. “It’s not golf; it’s ‘where were you, when’ kind of stuff.
“I don’t know about you guys, but watching the last putt at the Masters, [it was a] ‘I can’t wait to go out and hit some seven-irons in my back yard’ kind of thing, because you just kind of get the bug. We think this will really feed into that in a huge way.”
This will be the first PGA Championship to be played in May in 70 years. In 1949, at Hermitage Country Club in Richmond, Va., Sam Snead won the last edition contested in this portion of the calendar.
The PGA held mostly an August slot since 1969, though there was an odd staging of the major in February iin 1971 (won by Jack Nicklaus), and a move to July to accommodate the Summer Olympics in 2016.
The Olympics were a large factor in why the PGA and PGA Tour revamped the schedule, which facilitated the PGA Championship switch to May. In turn, the tour moved its biggest event, the Players Championship, from May back to March.
“We always felt there was this excitement that happened in April, and then a bit of a letdown from the golf calendar,” Waugh said. “As you get people excited to play, and from a fan’s perspective, there was this big gap.”
The front-loaded schedule has forced players to alter their approaches to the majors and other events.
Phil Mickelson chose not to play in his hometown tour stop, the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, for the first time in his pro career. It has been his habit to play in tournaments the week before a major, but he didn’t do that before this year’s Masters, where he tied for 18th.
Mickelson also did not play this week in the AT&T Byron Nelson after missing the cut the previous week in the Wells Fargo Championship.
Owing to the high of the Masters and what it might have exacted from his body, Woods made the more curious choice of not entering any tournament since the Masters. He did show up at Bethpage last week, all smiles, and practiced alongside Mickelson.
It will be 32 days from Woods’ final putt at Augusta to when he tees off at 5:24 a.m. PDT on Thursday with reigning PGA and U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and 2018 British Open titleist Francesco Molinari. Woods certainly can count on good memories at Bethpage, having captured the U.S. Open there in 2002.
“He has to come out and pick up where he left off at Augusta,” CBS analyst Nick Faldo said. “That was amazing. It’s a tall order. He’s not making it easy on himself.”
New Yorkers and their beloved state-run golf course — the first truly public course to host a major championship — will be as much the star as most of the players not named Woods or Mickelson.
Known for its posted warning that it is an “extremely difficult course” that is recommended for only “highly skilled golfers,” the Black Course will play 7,432 yards at par 70 for the PGA. Three par-four holes will play at more than 500 yards and the par-five 13th is stretched to 608 yards.
It can be a brutish layout to the average hack, but it hasn’t been overly punishing for the pros.
Both U.S. Opens played there (2002 and 2009) were won in red figures (three and four under par), and in the two stagings at Bethpage of the PGA Tour’s playoff event, The Barclays, the winning scores were nine and 10 under.
What this PGA possesses is the beauty of anticipation.
“We thought it was smart,” Waugh said of the change in the schedule. “It looks brilliant now.”