For this year’s PGA Championship at historic Oak Hill, we convened a special PGA Champions Confidential roundtable with Shaun Micheel, Vijay Singh, Lanny Wadkis, Raymond Floyd and Gary Player to talk about this year's tournament, the Oak Hill course, and their favorite PGA memories. Special thanks to these gracious champions for their time. We hope you enjoy it.
What type of game fits Oak Hill, and do you have a pick to win?
Shaun Micheel, 2003 (Oak Hill) PGA Champion: As is now commonplace at the PGA Championship, the rough is extremely penal. An accurate driver allows the player to play Oak Hill aggressively. Because the green complexes aren't as intimidating as other major championships, putting isn't the premium as at other venues. Of course, the winner usually makes his share of putts, but if you don't find the fairway you won't have many chances to make birdie. Brandt Snedeker seems to fit the bill nicely. Although he won't enter the PGA under many people's radar, I like Lee Westwood. Because of his world ranking, he will get a lot of attention, but most won't give him much of a chance because he hasn't won a major yet. Many may write him off early as they may view the pressure to win one to be too great. I like his chances.
Vijay Singh 1998 (Sahalee) and 2004 (Whistling Straits) PGA Champion: A guy like Charlie Beljan or Jason Kokrak has a good chance on that course. They hit it long and straight. I haven't played the course yet, but I imagine it's the one who's hitting it straight and long. There are so many guys out there who drive it well now. Driving the ball used to be an art, and now it has a lot to do with who your clubmaker is.
Gary Player, 1962 (Aronimink) and 1972 (Oakland Hills) PGA Champion: The past three PGA Championship winners have all been in their 20s, so maybe another young guy will take the final major of the year. I like the chances of Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Brandt Snedeker, Luke Donald, and of course you cannot count out Tiger. For a dark horse, I think Richard Sterne or Branden Grace, but I also think the young Jordan Spieth will do very well. After winning his first PGA Tour event, I had a chance to speak with him during the Open Championship, and he is an impressive young man. I think we will see some great things from him soon.
Lanny Wadkins, 1977 (Pebble Beach) PGA Champion: Well, first I’m gonna look at great players. If I had to make an early pick, I’d go with Tiger. I think it sets up really well for him. I think he’s gonna play it very smart, and he can work the ball both ways, which you really have to do at that course.
Raymond Floyd, 1969 (NCR Country Club) and 1982 (Southern Hills) PGA Champion: A good player. When you get good golf courses well laid out, it tends not to have the occasional name pop up that never fits at that time, nor in history. Your great golf courses prove that in most instances. Today a lot of the Tour has gone to TPC or TPC-type golf courses. I was concerned about that when we first put TPCs on the map and began shifting our tournaments to them. And I said, “You’re going to have a type of architecture that favors a certain type of player.” And while certain players will love it, others won’t like at all. That’s not always a level playing field, in my opinion. I love the classic courses, but some of them are becoming obsolete. I put Merion in that class. They don’t have room to expand or move it out, and they can’t keep up with today’s game.
How Oak Hill will play this week?
Singh: Great, I assume.
Player: Oak Hill should be a good test and be difficult. It is a historic course that has proven its difficulty in past majors. I think this year will be no different, and I do not see a winning score being very high. Accuracy off the tee will be essential to ensure they do not encounter the tree-lined Oak Hill and its formidable rough. The greens at Oak Hill are quite small and also have a great deal of slope. You will have to find the greens, but also putt well, of course, to find any success there.
Floyd: I think Oak Hill is a very good golf course. I like the traditional architecture -- that’s the main thing. The diversity of play is special. It requires a variety of shots.
Wadkins: It has everything you could ask for in a classic, championship golf course. It’s a terrific, northern Donald Ross: bent grass, a great variety of holes, demanding par 3s. You have to work it both ways, and you absolutely have to drive the ball straight. I mean, Trevino and Nicklaus won there. Champions of that caliber should validate it alone.
Micheel: Oak Hill is one of those timeless courses that will always be relevant in major championship golf. Technology has changed the way that many of us play the game. Driving distance has, certainly, affected golf courses more than any other statistic in the game. But, tight, rolling fairways will be the great equalizer. Oh, and let's not forget about the pressure to win a major championship.
Where does the PGA rank for you compared to the other three majors?
Micheel: That's hard to say. Players do have their favorites, for sure. I'm guessing that Europeans favor the Open Championship over any other. Many of us in the U.S. grew up thinking about having a putt to win The Masters. That may be the marketing machine of Augusta National. The mystique of "The National," may have contributed heavily in its success over the years. The PGA Championship has, arguably, the best field in golf according to the World Ranking System. Remember, the PGA Championship has a field of 156. So, maybe, the PGA of America hasn't marketed itself as well as the others have. The list of names on the Wanamaker Trophy are as impressive as any in the game of golf, so I'm not sure why "people" feel the way that they do about the PGA. I can assure you that Tiger and Phil are as proud of their PGA Championship victories as any of the others.
Floyd: Everybody wants to know that, but I don’t know how you can rank any of them 1-2-3-4. It’s not sensible. You only have four in the world, and the three tournaments in the U.S. that are majors all mean the same to the player. For that matter, all four. For an American they’re all important. It’s pretty hard to rank them. But like I said earlier, if you gave an American player one choice, and asked him which one he’d like to win, most likely he’d say the U.S. Open.
Singh: It's a major event, so pros perceive it as a major and it's important to us. I'm sure the fans feel the importance too.
Player: I have won the PGA Championship twice and I have won the Senior PGA Championship three times, so it has a very special place in my career and heart. Every major is special in its own way, so I would never be able to say that one is my outright favorite. The PGA Championship is a great test every year and this year at Oak Hill will be no different.
Wadkins: I don’t rank one major ahead of the others. It’s not like I won so many that I can pick and choose. But I always liked the PGA. They play great courses, and Kerry Haigh is the best set-up man in the business. Along with the Players, you’ve got the strongest field of any tournament, and the weather’s really warm. It’s a great way to cap off the year. I liked the PGA because of the courses, the Masters because it meant going to Augusta, and the U.S. Open because you never knew what you were going to get -- just tee it up and open the box of surprises.
Given the history of the PGA, what are the chances of a match play major ever gaining traction again?
Micheel: No, I don't see that happening. As we have seen with the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, there is a lot of excitement that comes with match play. But, I think that the nerves of finishing a tournament off are eased somewhat in a match play situation. Fans want and deserve to see PGA Championship end on the 18th.
Player: I do not think it will be likely that a match play major will ever be likely again. I do, however, believe that match play is very exciting for viewers. I think the Olympics have missed a great opportunity when they decided to make the 2016 competition stroke play. The Olympics would have been the perfect match-play event, and bring an atmosphere like the Ryder Cup or President’s Cup.
What are your standout memories from your win or wins at the PGA Championship?
Floyd: The opening round in Tulsa, where I won my second [at Southern Hills in 1982]. I shot 63, and had nine threes in a row in the middle of a round. That’s something I’ll never forget.
Wadkins: When I won at Pebble in ’77, it was the first major ever won in sudden death. The par-save I made on the first hole against Gene Littler -- that was probably my favorite moment. Rolled in a 15-footer to stay alive. Things like that stay around a long time: the credibility that came with achieving that. I won five times before, and something like 20 times after. It validated everything I’d done, saying I was a major champion.
Micheel: Of course, I will always think about my 7-iron to seal my victory. But, having my wife, Stephanie, there to share it with me was really the best part of all of it. I've known my wife for 30 years and she has always known me as a golfer. She pushed me to be the best that I could be when I wasn't sure that I wanted to keep going. When we hugged on the 18th green, I told her how much I loved her and how much it meant to me to share this victory with her.
Singh: Winning a major is an excitement like no other in golf and winning that first one will never leave me. The second one was in '04 at a time when I was playing really well so it just kind of fit in there.
Player: For my second PGA Championship victory during the 1972 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, I made a shot that is one of the most memorable of my career -- a nine iron on the 16th hole. It was the shot that helped me win the major. Going into the 16th hole, there were five of us within a shot or two of each other, and I had just missed an 18-inch putt of the 15th hole. To follow my missed putt, I sliced my drive on the 16th tee and it flew into the right-hand rough behind a huge willow tree that guarded the green. Luckily, I remembered my divot from a practice round that ended up in a similar spot and took an 8-iron onto the green. That Sunday, though, the grass was wet, so I knew that it would take a 9-iron. There was no way I could see the flag, but I was fortunate when I saw that a spectator had left a seat stick right in line with the hole. I was able to sight my shot with the seat stick and hit the ball out of the wet rough that had been trampled down by the spectators. It cleared perfectly. When I hit the ball, I knew that it was going to land on the green, but I had no idea it would end up only four feet from the cup. Left with a makeable birdie putt, I took a two-stroke lead and eventually my second PGA Championship.
Who will be first to win their next major: Tiger or Phil?
Player: Maybe neither of them next week at the PGA Championship. Tiger and Phil are two of the game’s greatest short-game players. That is what wins majors. Time will only tell who will win another major first. However, I expect them both to win more majors before their careers are over.
Micheel: I don't care which one wins their next major first. Look, I am a golf fan. But, while I am still competing, I am focused solely on what I need to do to get back to being competitive.