One of the strongest fields in golf will slug it out for the final major of the season this week in St. Louis, as the PGA Championship returns to Bellerive Country Club for the first time since 1992. The par-70, 7,317-yard track dates back to 1897 and previously hosted the 1992 PGA Championship and 1965 U.S. Open – where Gary Player became just the third player to win the career Grand Slam. Next year the PGA Championship moves to a new spot on the calendar – as the second major of the season rather than the last, so Bellerive’s new champion will have a short reign. Here are five things you need to know about the 100th edition of the PGA Championship.
Inside the FieldA megawatt field of 154 players, including 100 of the top 102 in the OWGR are competing for the Wanamaker Trophy this week at Bellerive. Justin Thomas undertakes his first major championship defense and is grouped with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Jordan Spieth tees off with Justin Rose and Jon Rahm. A victory at Bellerive would make Spieth the second-youngest player behind Woods to achieve the career Grand Slam. None of the five players who have achieved this feat, however, accomplished it at a PGA Championship. The traditional group of current major champions includes Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, and Francesco Molinari, each with vastly different styles of play.
It’s Never Been More Wide Open
The days of individual golfers dominating majors appears to be long gone. Seemingly anyone can win a major championship these days, which is not to suggest it’s easy – rather it’s more competitive than ever. Of the last 11 majors played, there have been 10 different champions. In the last 23 majors played, there have been 19 different champions (with Koepka, Spieth, and McIlroy winning multiple times). For nine of the last 10 major champions it was their first major victory, and of the last 15 winners, 11 have been first-timers.
Still Missing a MajorSergio Garcia was the latest player to take his name off the “Best Player to Never Win a Major List,” but there are still plenty of players waiting to break through – including eight of the top-20 players in the world. Rickie Fowler has come agonizingly close multiple times with nine top-10 finishes, including three top-5 finishes in the last six majors. Jon Rahm is a threat to win every time he tees it up, but his major performance has been surprisingly lackluster with only one top-20 finish in nine majors. Hideki Matsuyama has done just about everything in the game but win a major, with five wins on Tour, including two World Golf Championships, and seven top-10 finishes in 24 major appearances.
Bellerive Promises ChallengesBellerive will throw some grueling and unique course features at the players that most aren’t accustomed to seeing. Bunkers are extremely deep and uniquely placed, while the greens are some of the widest you’ll find on any championship course. At Bellerive, players are going to see 80 to 100-foot greenside bunker shots – much longer and more difficult than the average greenside bunker shots they see all year. On the par-3, 237-yard, 16th hole, for example, shots that find the trap will leave players with a 150-foot blast just to escape.
Tree-lined fairways are lined by dense rough and sprawling bunkers. You better hit it straight and avoid the bunkers if you want to contend. The par-4, 521-yard, 4th hole is a great example. Bunkers are numerous and gaping. Eight of them are positioned from tee to green, including three that swarm the putting surface. Some of these fairway bunkers are so deep players won’t be able to see the flagstick. To merely escape they’ll need extraordinary trajectories - seemingly straight up on the air.
All About the WanamakerThe Wanamaker Trophy is named after Rodman Wanamaker, the founder of the PGA of America in 1916, and is one of the largest trophies in all of sports. The Wanamaker is roughly two-and-a-half feet tall, almost just as wide from handle to handle, and weighs in at 27 pounds. That’s more than the weight of a Tour player’s golf bag complete with all 14 clubs, balls, and miscellaneous accessories. A full-sized replica of the trophy is given to the champion, who must return it the following year when he returns to defend his title.
In the early years of the Championship, however, the actual trophy was given to the winner. That is until it was lost by Walter Hagen in 1928. Hagen entrusted it to a taxi driver to take it to his room, but it never arrived. Fortunately, the trophy turned up two years later in an unmarked box in a Detroit cellar. From that time on, winners received replica trophies, and the original was sent to reside forever in the PGA Tour Historical Center.