PITTSFORD, N.Y.— There possibly are people who consider the PGA Championship their favorite golf major. They probably number as many as the folks who prefer Tuesdays over weekends.
Don’t let that fool you. When history counts majors that golfers have won, the PGA counts just as much as the rest. The PGA is much like the average-looking, non-emotive, unassuming man who won it Sunday, Jason Dufner. What is true about the champion is true about the tournament: There is a lot more there than meets the eye.
Go ahead and point out that the PGA has no pink azaleas and green jackets, no cachet as the national championship and toughest test in golf, no Old Course and claret jug.
But this peanut stand believes there are many things about the PGA that make it the best.
It has the strongest field. The PGA is the tournament that allows the three previous major champions to play together for two days. It wraps up the major season and provides closure.
It is the championship that, in recent years, has produced the most consistently interesting stories. The PGA is the last major that Tiger Woods won twice in a row. This is the tournament that validated Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy as stars who could win more than just one of the big four.
This is where Dustin Johnson lost because he didn’t know he was in a bunker and Keegan Bradley emerged as a national figure because he played better than anyone knew he could.
Sunday, the PGA shone because it brought redemption for Dufner two years after he created his own heartbreak by blowing a five-shot lead in the final four holes.
A big problem with the PGA is that its personality fluctuates depending on the venue. The PGA of America sometimes shoots itself in the foot by bringing its crown jewel to places such as humidity-drenched, traffic-clogged Kiawah Island, S.C., and the hilly, ankle-wrenching Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Hats off to current president Ted Bishop for making the push to bring it to Bethpage Black.
Oak Hill Country Club this year was an excellent choice because it is steeped in history, festooned by rough and still not impossibly difficult. There were plenty of low scores, yet par still ruled on the back nine Sunday.
The best part about the PGA is that the philosophy seems to be, “Just play.” No fancy stuff. Just go out and play and see who does best. That mirrors the credo of the PGA of America’s members, club pros who are in the trenches every day and who really make golf work. One of the best parts of the PGA Championship is the convergence of worlds: Elite tour players compete alongside 20 club pros once a year.
My favorite moment this week was seeing Scott Piercy, a PGA Tour pro who got into the mix of the major on Friday, maintain the patience to keep encouraging Long Island club pro Mark Brown, who was laboring to shoot 82. “I’ve been there,” Piercy said. “He struggled. It’s not the stage he plays on every day and he’s not entirely comfortable being here. But I was there at one point, and people were nice to me.”
It was nice to see Piercy flirt with a record 62 Sunday and finish with a 65, tying for fifth in a major that turned out better than expected. It always does.