15 of the best PGA Championships from 100 years of classic golf

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ST. LOUIS – Before they get started here with the 100th PGA Championship, let’s say you could go back and watch a few of the first 99.

Your time machine is ready, so which ones to visit?

We’ll be moving around a lot. The PGA has been played in 25 different states and nine different months, so pack lightly.

Here are 15 that would be worth the trip.


Jim Barnes

Might as well be there at the beginning. That’s Jim Barnes, down one hole to Jock Hutchison at the noon break of the 36-hole match play final, at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, N.Y. He’s ready to tee off in the afternoon, and what’s that he’s saying to the gallery? “I always do better after lunch.” Good for a laugh, but he means it. He ends up winning the first PGA Championship 1-up.

If you want, we can stay around for 1919, when Barnes repeats after a two-year PGA hiatus because of World War I. He beats Fred McLeod 6 and 5, and it would have been just as one-sided had it been a jump ball in basketball. Barnes is 6-3, McLeod 5-3.


Walter Hagen

It’ll be 12 years until Gene Sarazen’s iconic double eagle at the Masters. But he’s making headlines already, in a PGA final showdown with Walter Hagen, pairing two of the giants of the age. Sarazen’s late three-hole lead melts, and the two have to go extra holes. On the 38th hole, Sarazen nearly drives out of bounds, and is in heavy rough. Let’s get down to that spot, because those standing closest will hear Sarazen say, “I’ll put this one up so close to the hole that it will break Walter’s heart.” Then he hits it within two feet, for an easy birdie. Hagen tries to stay even with a desperate bunker shot that misses by inches. Applause, please.

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We’re here at the victory ceremony. Leo Diegel has just won the PGA Championship, ending Hagen’s four-year streak, and officials want to present him the Wanamaker Trophy. Uh, there’s a problem. Hagen informs them he lost the trophy in a Chicago cab. So we get to see a trophy presentation with no trophy.

P.S. The Wanamaker is found unscathed two years later by a porter in the basement of the manufacturer of Hagen’s line of golf clubs.


Sam Snead

Five months after Pearl Harbor, it’s a chance to see Sam Snead win his first major, and then say goodbye. He’s reporting to the Navy the next day.


Jerry Barber

Like to watch Sunday charges? You’ve come to the right year. With the PGA Championship now stroke play, Jerry Barber is down four shots to Don January with three holes to play. Blow the bugle. The 45-year-old Barber rolls in putts of 20 feet for a birdie on No. 16, 40 feet for a par on No. 17 and 60 feet for a birdie on No. 18. Suddenly, an 18-hole playoff. He wins by a stroke.

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We have to see a Jack Nicklaus PGA Championship, right? Let’s stop by his first one, as he rallies from three shots behind in 100-degree heat in Dallas. It means he’s already won the PGA, Masters and U.S. Open. And he’s only 23.


Alas, Arnie, so close again. Arnold Palmer’s bid for the PGA Championship he would never win falls one shot short, to Julius Boros. At the age of 48, Boros becomes the oldest major champion in history. He still is.


We’re at the 10th green of the third round in Dayton, Ohio, and Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus are putting. Wait a minute. Who are the people throwing a program and ice at Player, and coming out of the crowd to run towards Nicklaus? Civil rights protesters decrying poverty, with Player a particular target because of his native South Africa’s apartheid policy. It makes for some tense moments rarely seen at a golf tournament. Player recovers to chase Raymond Floyd to the wire on Sunday before losing by a shot.


We can watch two legends go at it on Sunday. Nicklaus puts up a 69, but can never get past Lee Trevino, who matches him shot for shot with an old putter he found in the attic of his rental home. The final round ends as it began, with Trevino one stroke ahead.

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We’ll be here for just one shot, because that’s all we need to see. Bob Tway out of the bunker for a birdie on the 72nd hole to hand Greg Norman one more Sunday heartbreak. Don’t miss Tway’s victory triple jump after the ball rolls in. He nearly bounces out of the bunker.


It’s Thursday morning at Crooked Stick north of Indianapolis, and that blonde guy rushing to his tee time is the ninth alternate, who was only invited at the last minute. His name is John Daly, and he proceeds to go out and shoot 69 without one second of practice on the course. We’ll be here for all four days, as Daly torches the place with his bombs off the tee for one of the unlikeliest major victories ever seen. This being Indiana, he’s Hoosiers, in long pants.


We’ve come to see a new era. Tiger Woods is 23. Sergio Garcia is 19, and the kids do battle at Medinah. Woods finally wins by a stroke to become the youngest PGA champion in 36 years, Garcia has become the youngest to play in the PGA in 78 years.


What a Sunday. Woods shoots 31 on the back without a bogey. But so does Bob May, to hang with him. Woods eventually has to put May away in a three-hole playoff and becomes the first man since Ben Hogan, 47 years before, to win three majors in a season, May’s final three rounds are 66-66-66, and that still isn’t enough. Not in the Age of Tiger.


Four words. Phil Mickelson flop shot. That’s why we’re here. That recovery from rough to a tap-in birdie on No. 18 means victory at Baltusrol.


Last stop, Hazeltine, for something no one has ever seen before. Woods chased down, passed, and beaten on Sunday at a major. Y.E. Yang does it, apparently having built up an immunity to Woods’ red shirt.  It seems like a fluke that day in Minnesota. How was the world to know the dark ages were imminent for Woods?

Time to get back to the PGA No. 100. They’re about ready at Bellerive.