Without club pros, the PGA Championship is just another golf tournament
LOUISVILLE -- The PGA Championship needs to get its funk back! Bring back the club pros!
Once again, not a single fellow who knows how to fold a sweater while talking GHIN with a lady of a certain age, made the cut in this great championship, which was first played in 1916 as a match-play event.
No club pros will play Valhalla this weekend. No club pro has played 72 holes in the PGA Championship since Mike Small did it in 2011. And Small, the golf coach at Illinois, is not exactly a typical club pro. The last time a club pro had a top 20 was in 1990, when the late Bob Boyd finished T-19. Without club pros, what is this tournament sponsored by the 27,000 men and women of the Professional Golfers Association of America? Answer: just another golf tournament.
So how do you fix the problem?
Bring in more club pros!
Yep. The more club pros you have, the better the odds that somebody is going to step on up and, in the name of member-guest organizers everywhere, make a weekend stand.
This week at Valhalla, only 20 club pros were in the field, the number the PGA of America has used since 2006. From 1980 through ’94, that number was 40. Having 40 clubs pros in the field gave the tournament an identity like no other.
The Masters is a cozy little invitational club event. The U.S. Open is a gruelfest for which anyone with a handicap not higher than 1.4 may attempt to qualify. The British Open is the championship of the world, and its winner is the champion golfer of the year. But what is the PGA Championship? It seeks to have the top 100 players in the world, just as the Players Championship does. Fine. Knock yourself out trying to make that happen. But that still leaves 50 or more spots. And, really, it doesn’t matter whom you fill those spots with, you’re going to have players who are unknown to the public. So why not fill out the field with club pros?
At the 1971 PGA Championship, Tommy Bolt, then a 55-year-old club pro, finished third. Now that was cool. If you paired a club pro with Phil and Keegan on Thursday and Friday, how cool would that be? If you paired a club pro with Tiger and Vijay on Thursday and Friday, that would at least be . . . interesting.
You need a critical mass to give this championship its identity, but right now it does not have one. It’s a major, but it’s the fourth major. Jack’s 18 and Tiger’s 14 were built on it. (Nicklaus won five PGAs, and Woods has won four.) You need something to reaffirm its place in the firmament. Taking the championship to places you dream about going to, no matter where they are in the world, would add to the allure. Returning to match play has been talked about forever and should be considered, complicated though it is. (Maybe the week could start with 54 holes of stroke play, with 16 players then teeing it up on Saturday and Sunday in a yet-to-be-invented match-play format.)
But a starting place is more club pros.
Michael Block won this year’s PGA Professional Championship, which earned him a ticket to Valhalla. He’s a club pro in Southern California, and before he played the first of his 151 shots, he laid out for reporters what his typical day is like.
He gets up at 5 and watches whatever Golf Channel will give him. He squeezes in three or four lessons between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Then he’s in the shop until about 2 p.m. Then he teaches through dusk. He eats dinner and watches golf. On his days off, he plays with his two young sons.
“And I've been doing that, I swear, for 30 years,” Block said. “And I keep on thinking I'm going to get burned out on golf. But I must be one of the biggest fans in the world. I'm just like everyone else out there on the other side of the ropes. I see myself in them. I've been there. I've done that.”
Don’t you just wish that guy had made the cut this week? But just getting to Valhalla, that’s a hell of a story right there. That’s what the PGA Championship really should be about.