History of the PGA Championship: Part one
- Credit: Dan Weir/Pinnacle
In our latest golf history series from Axe Cliff member Kyle Phillpots, we look at the PGA Championship.
The PGA Championship is very much part of the PGA of America.
Although formed some 15 years later than the first Professional Golfers’ Association in the UK, they organised their national tournament in their first year of operation in 1916.
In Britain, the national PGA tournament was only introduced in 1955 and is the tournament that has been played at Wentworth for many years now.
Designed as a national tournament specifically for professional golfers in an era where they were generally seen as less important than the elite amateur players, the USPGA Championship proved a great attraction from the very beginning.
This led to it becoming the third tournament to be given the title of one of golf’s “Majors”.
It remains the only Major than does not have a specific route for amateurs to compete. They can qualify for the tournament, but only if they win one of the other Majors or if they win a PGA Tour event while playing under a sponsors’ invitation.
Another unique aspect of this Major, is that it reserves 20 places for the leading club professionals in America.
This relates to the fact that the PGA of America, as with all the National PGAs, is primarily responsible for the welfare and promotion of the golf professionals who work in the golf clubs as coaches, club technicians, managers and general experts in the game and business of golf.
In the 1960s and 1970s, many of the larger PGA’s saw the need to divide their business model in order to meet the needs of the club professionals and the increasing requirement to provide a full-time playing schedule for those who made their living playing tournaments.
In the USA, this led to the formation of the PGA Tour in 1958 and in Great Britain, the European Tour in 1984, both of these being totally independent of the PGAs. The PGA of America retained their Major though, hence the places for their own members.
This Championship followed the trend set by the US Open of American dominance and in over 100 years, only 11 players from outside the USA have ever won it.
However, the first two tournaments were won by an Englishman. Jim Barnes was born in Lelant, Cornwall and was a clubmaker’s apprentice and caddy before moving to America at the age of 20. He beat a Scotsman, Jock Hutchinson, in the final by one hole.
In contrast to the other two Majors, which have always been stroke play, the PGA Championship was a match play event until 1958.
Barnes retained his title when the Championship resumed in 1919, beating another Scot, Fred Mcleod.
Jim Barnes had a very successful career and went on to win the US Open in 1921 and also four years later the final Open Championship to be played at Prestwick GC in Ayrshire.
He is one of only three British players to have won these three majors, the others being Tommy Armour and Rory Mcllroy. Barnes was in his mid-40s when the fourth Major, The Masters, started and he never played in the event.
The Championship is now generally played at well-established and well-known venues with the facilities to host very large crowds.
While it would be unfair to label these Championships as the sort of target golf served up on the PGA Tour, with wide fairways, little rough and benign greens, in contrast to the US Open, the scoring at the USPGA tends to be much lower.
The stroke play version had been in operation for 25 years before Hal Sutton reached double figures (-10) in 1983.
Since then, 22 of the 37 events have been won with double figure under par scores, for example Rory Mcllroy -16 in 2014, Jason Day -20 in 2015 and most recently, Colin Morikawa -13 in 2020.
Part two of the PGA next week.