The awesome Wanamaker Trophy is just one of many rewards for the winner of the PGA Championship. (Cannon/Getty Images)
Glory's Last Shot
The year's strongest field in professional golf takes to the tee at Hazeltine National to continue a golf tradition that dates back to 1916.
By Don Jozwiak, PGA.com Contributor
For spectators and players, this week’s PGA Championship represents many new opportunities. For spectators, it’s a chance to see many of the game’s top young stars and longtime favorites tee it up in Minnesota for the first time since Hazeltine National Golf Club hosted the 2002 PGA Championship. For the players, it’s a chance to either break through with a first major championship victory or add another prestigious title to an already accomplished career.
While these storylines will dominate the week, it’s important to know that the PGA Championship is built on a foundation that includes more than nine decades of unforgettable golf by the game’s greatest players. The PGA Championship is one of the four major championships that serve as the cornerstone of modern professional golf, and as the fourth and final major of the season it has truly earned its place in the game as “The Season’s Final Major … Glory’s Last Shot.”
Like The PGA of America itself, the PGA Championship came to be in 1916. Just seven months after department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker helped establish The Professional Golfers’ Association of America, the fledgling organization – using $2,500 of Wanamaker’s money as a purse, along with trophies and medals he donated – held the first PGA Championship at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, N.Y. Played as a series of head-to-head matches – known as match play – the event was won by Englishman Jim Barnes.
The PGA Championship was then put on hold for two years by World War I, but resumed in 1919 at Engineers Country Club in Roslyn, N.Y., with Barnes again emerging victorious to claim what is now known as the Wanamaker Trophy, which is still awarded the winner to this day.
The PGA Championship continued to be held as a match-play event each year – with the exception of 1943, when World War II interrupted play – through 1958. During the match play era, legends such as Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Paul Runyan, Tommy Armour, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead were among those to lay claim to the Wanamaker Trophy. Hagen won four PGA Championships in a row in the mid-1920s, and his record of five PGA Championships has been equaled only by Jack Nicklaus.
The PGA Championship switched to its current stroke-play format in 1958. The format calls for four rounds of 18 holes, with the field reduced to the low 70 scorers and ties after the first 36 holes have been completed. If there’s a tie after 72 holes, a three-hole aggregate score playoff is held on holes 16, 17 and 18. If a tie remains after three holes, the remaining players will play a hole-by-hole playoff until one emerges victorious.
Many of the game’s greatest names have earned the title of PGA Champion during the stroke-play era, from the aforementioned Nicklaus to Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Payne Stewart, John Daly, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. With his victory last year at Oakland Hills Country Club outside Detroit, Irishman Padraig Harrington became the first European-born player to win the PGA Championship at stroke play – and the first to win the Wanamaker Trophy since Scotland’s Tommy Armour won in 1930.
The PGA Championship has become known as the major championship with the strongest field. When Hazeltine National hosted the event in 2002, it was the strongest all-professional field ever assembled: 98 of the top 100 players in the world rankings competed. As you would expect, getting into the field is no easy matter. It is made up of all past winners of the PGA Championship, winners from the last five Masters, U.S. Opens and British Opens, the 2009 Senior PGA Champion (Michael Allen), the low 15 scorers and ties from the 2008 PGA Championship, the low 20 scorers at the 2009 PGA Professional National Championship, the 70 leaders on the PGA Championship points list from the 2008 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational through the 2009 Buick Open, members of the 2008 U.S. and European Ryder Cup teams that are in the top 100 of the world rankings, and winners of sanctioned PGA Tour events from the 2008 PGA Championship through this week. In addition, The PGA of America reserves the right to invite additional players not included in these categories to fill the field to a maximum of 156 players.
It’s a tough tournament to crack, but the PGA Championship has many rewards for the victor. Last year, Harrington won $1.35 million from a purse of $7.5 million and had his name permanently inscribed on the Wanamaker Trophy – which is on display at the PGA Historical Center in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Additional benefits for the PGA Champion include a lifetime exemption into the PGA Championship, five-year exemption into the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour and a berth in the 2009 PGA Grand Slam of Golf, played in October at Bermuda’s Port Royal Golf Club. The winner will also receive 30 points toward the 2009 PGA Player of the Year Award, and if the Champion is American-born, he will also receive points for every $1,000 earned toward a berth on the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup Team.
Appropriately for an event first won by Jim Barnes, a player born on foreign soil, the PGA Championship has become a truly international event. More than 20 countries were represented in the field at the 2008 PGA Championship, with media representatives from 15 countries covering the event. The 2008 PGA Championship was televised in 197 countries, giving the event a potential reach of more than 158 million households. From Anguilla to Yemen, from Barnes to Harrington and from Siwanoy Country Club to Hazeltine National, the PGA Championship has earned its reputation as one of the world’s major golf championships.
Editor's Note: This story appears courtesy of The 91st PGA Championship Journal.