A Lost 'Identity' And Weather Troubles - Why The PGA Championship Moving To May Has Backfired
"Glory's Last Shot!" That's what the PGA Championship was always billed as on golf's Major calendar. That is, until it was moved to May ahead of the 2019 edition in order to ease scheduling concerns around the FedEx Cup. Now, nobody is quite sure what its identity is.
The Masters is, well, The Masters. Held at Augusta National every year, it's the event that hooks the casual observer like no other and signifies an unofficial start to the season of golf ahead.
Then there's the US Open, notorious for its brutality with the USGA regularly taking a giant leap over the symbolic line of fairness into the sadistic. (See Shinnecock Hills in 2004, Winged Foot in 2006, Oakmont in 2007, Chambers Bay in 2015, Shinnecock Hills again in 2018 as cases in point.) The list goes on.
Finally, we have The Open. The game's oldest championship and the only Major of the four held in the UK, where the game originated. It's a links spectacle that captures the imaginations of players and fans alike, no matter the conditions. It's the truest form of the game, with luck playing almost as big a part as anything else, and the winner rightly or wrongly declared 'The Champion Golfer of the Year' in the third week of July.
It's little wonder the PGA Championship has struggled to compete. Yet it's hard to argue its appeal has increased since being punted up the chronological pecking order to May. It's something Rory McIlroy alluded to in his press conference ahead of his bid for a third Wanamaker Trophy.
"I always liked it in August that this was glory's last shot and there was a real identity there," McIlroy, the 2012 and '14 winner, said. "Not saying that it's lost any of that identity in terms of its still a Major championship, but I feel like having it be the last Major of the year maybe just gave it a little bit of something that it doesn't quite have right now."
Another reason behind the May move was to enable tournament organisers to bring courses back onto the rotation that were too hot in August. Southern Hills was the venue as Justin Thomas produced a comeback for the ages last year. Before that, the Tulsa layout was last used in 2007, when play was halted because temperatures reached a sweaty 40°C (104°F).
But is what was always likely to happen this year any better? Oak Hill is situated in Rochester, New York, an area in the north-east of America renowned for throwing up some dicey conditions. It's that far north, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's in Canada if you looked at a map.
Players were layered up for Wednesday's practice round as temperatures nearly hit 0°C and the inevitable frost alert was issued come Thursday morning.
In the end, tee times were delayed an hour and 50 minutes, meaning the 156-strong field is already playing catch-up with little to no hope of getting round one in the book until Friday morning. Luckily for tournament organisers, the weather forecast for the four days is fairly benign, but that won't always be the case.
Of course, the odd delay is part of the deal in golf, but taking a Major to Rochester in May is asking for trouble. It's like hosting the Ryder Cup at the end of September at Celtic Manor, one of the wettest parts of a particularly wet country - a recipe for disaster.
Despite that, the PGA of America's plan is to plough on for the betterment of the "ecosystem", even if it means its own championship suffers. Nobody would argue Oak Hill's Major credentials, but even golf's greatest courses are no match for Mother Nature.
"Do I like it in May? Look, the only thing about May is that, maybe in the future it'll start to exclude places like this in the north-east from hosting this championship, so that's a shame," McIlroy added. "The north-east is sort of my favourite golf to play in this country.
"I love the golf courses up here and I love the tradition, and a lot of the historic golf course architects started their journeys up here and have built some amazing golf courses. It would be a shame if we weren't able to come back here."
Perhaps it can still be considered "Glory's Last Shot" then, just not for the players.