ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI | It’s easy to take major championships for granted.
Sounds strange and maybe it is because there are four of them each year on the men’s professional golf schedule, and if you follow the game each major has its own distinct personality and style.
Then the PGA Championship comes to Bellerive Country Club on the west side of the city baseball’s Cardinals call home and it’s a reminder of how special the majors are.
It’s sticky hot here, not as hot as it could be but warm enough to make you wish you’d invested in body wash, and still about 50,000 fans showed up to be part of the first big golf event here in a decade.
If you’re in San Diego or Columbus or Charlotte, you know the Tour’s coming through every 12 months. Augusta becomes the center of golf’s universe every April, the U.S. Open frequents familiar spots (with the occasional Erin Hills tossed in to break the routine) and the Open Championship is a bucket list trip for most American golf fans.
In St. Louis, where the Cardinals fired their manager earlier this summer and where two NFL teams have left town and where Budweiser and the Clydesdales are now owned by an international conglomerate, this is an understandably big week.
The grounds crew at Bellerive saved a golf course ravaged first by a wicked winter then by an uncommonly hot spring and summer. Bentgrass greens react to high heat and humidity the way the wicked witch took to water in The Wizard of Oz.
The players have been generous in their comments, understanding the challenge of keeping the greens at championship level in the wilting days of August. That doesn’t mean they aren’t occasionally irritated by spike marks or the slower speeds but, as they say, everyone has to play on the same greens.
The scene around Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas on Thursday morning was a reminder of the impact of star power. The size of the gallery made getting around Bellerive a challenge in spots, foot traffic moving at the pace of a wagon train. It looked and felt special because it was.
By sundown Thursday, the championship was off to a good start. Gary Woodland shot 64 in the afternoon to take a one-stroke lead ahead of Rickie Fowler, who is trying to win his first major in his 36th try.
The weather forecast calls for a 93-degree afternoon Friday and there’s no serious chance of rain on the weekend. The Cardinals are on the road and school hasn’t started yet.
It’s been 26 years since there was a major played at Bellerive. A little sweat didn’t seem so bad after all.