KIAWAH ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA | The phrase “Glory’s Last Shot,” as in the slogan for the PGA Championship, has always baffled me. Could somebody explain it to me please? Who is Glory? Is he a man or a woman or neither? Old Glory, I was taught, was the US flag. How can a flag have a shot? Someone can have a shot at a flag. I know that.
If, on the other hand, you want to talk about England’s Glory, then now you’re talking. England’s Glory were boxes of matches, manufactured by a firm called Bryant & May in a factory in Gloucester. Having stuffed some St Bruno tobacco into the bowl of your pipe you used a fizzing England’s Glory match to set fire to it and sat back with a smile on your face and clouds of smoke forming circles above your head.
But Glory and Glory’s Last Shot? Perhaps the words should be reversed. Last shot at Glory. Last chance to win a major championship in a given year. Last chance to get into a Ryder Cup team without being selected by the captain. That makes sense.
Years ago, the PGA Championship ranked fifth in a field of four, the runt of the litter that included The Masters, the US Open and the Open. It was still the final major championship of the year, still produced a winner who was proud to say he had won a major championship, but a championship to stand compare with, say, The Masters, which delivered so many thrilling Sunday afternoon finishes, the US Open, which defined the word difficult, and the historic Open held over some ancient, rumpled links in England or Scotland? Hardly.
There were too many funny things going on at the PGA then. For example, why was the event held on a series of below-par courses such as PGA National in 1987 and Kemper Lakes in 1989? Why did so few people watch it in those doldrum years? At the 1987 championship the PGA positioned a bikini-clad girl on a floating scoreboard as if the fourth major championship of the year was some kind of beauty contest. They boosted paltry attendance figures by counting the number of cars passing through the tournament gates and multiplying that figure by four, as if each car had four passengers.
In 1987, the walking scorer with Ian Woosnam did not have the correct figures to record Woosnam’s score. Admittedly it was about 15-over par but you get my point. The event got the respect it deserved, which was negligible. If the PGA in those days could be described in terms of a bell, it didn’t resound throughout the world of golf, never mind across the country. At best it was muffled. At worst, it didn’t ring at all.
Now, at a time when the glories of finishing first, second or third in an event in the Olympic Games are etched into the mind’s eye, where does the PGA rank? “There’s no doubt it’s firmly the fourth major,” Graeme McDowell said.
My question is this: What’s wrong with that? Started in 1916 and played at match play until 1958, the PGA had neither the history of the Open, which had begun 66 years earlier, nor was it the national championship of the country as was the US Open. Its justifiable claim to be the third senior of the four major championships was diminished by the overpowering presence and involvement at The Masters of Bobby Jones, the incomparable amateur. Jones’s personality, charisma and standing in the game helped The Masters leapfrog the PGA in importance even though it did not start until 18 years after Jim Barnes had won the first PGA.
The PGA would do well to concentrate on its current position. “Trying to move up is a battle not worth fighting,” Geoff Ogilvy remarked recently. The PGA runs the Ryder Cup in the US, a bonanza that has never been held in higher esteem than it is now. The PGA Championship anchors the year’s major championships. It regularly has more of the world’s leading players than any of the other three major championships, though that does not of itself mean it has the strongest field in golf. And it’s the only all-professional major championship, which marks it out.
Enough is enough. “We are going to leave it to someone else to weight them in some particular order to hang an identity on each and every one of them,” said Joe Steranka, chief executive of the PGA of America.
“For us, it’s our job to make the PGA Championship and the Senior PGA and the Ryder Cup and the Grand Slam as good as they can possibly be and we are going to leave the titles on those to someone else.”
Steranka retires in a few months. The genial, jazz-loving former journalist, who was brought in by Jim Awtrey to redress the PGA Championship’s low standing, has helped to do just that. Do a good job and “…leave it to someone else to weight them in particular order” were wise words. Forget self-aggrandisement. Forget rankings. And most of all, forget Glory, whoever or whatever he or she is.