A step-major no more.
The PGA Championship this week might become the most-watched major championship of all time. Well, maybe in the non-Tiger Woods category.
Though if Tiger somehow sidesteps all of the obstacles (the cold and damp weather, competitive rust, punitive rough, etc.) and gets a late-Sunday tee time, the numbers could be better than any sporting event that doesn’t have Roman numerals after its name.
The PGA Championship has long had an image problem that will disappear for the next four days, largely because of the next four nights. Yes, nights.
There was a time when the networks would reflexively tuck a West Coast major into the normal East Coast time window, pushing tee times earlier on the weekend to provide a 6 or 7 p.m. finish in the East and Midwest.
That changed with the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, and given the Tiger-Rocco Mediate drama, prime time golf coverage was a new cash cow. But maybe never more flush than this week, as the PGA of America’s major championship tees off at Harding Park on the fringes of downtown San Francisco.
Along with a picturesque course, framed by Lake Merced on one side and elbow-to-elbow Frisco neighborhoods on the other, you will be inundated with shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, onrushing fog, and downtown cable cars — tight shots only, of course, to avoid glimpses of the streets’ seedier elements.
ESPN will have it live Thursday and Friday from 4 to 10 p.m. On the weekend, CBS airs the PGA from 4-10 on Saturday and 3-9 Sunday night, with ESPN showing three live hours before CBS begins.
Yes, that’s a lot of golf, but if you’re a fan of championship golf and you’ve gone 13 months without a major championship, you’ll gladly wallow in it. The PGA of America knows this, expects this, is overjoyed by this, and in the end hopes to get its pro-golf messages across during commercial breaks.
Unlike the PGA Tour, which is comprised of professional golfers, the PGA of America is made up of golf professionals — the 29,000 men and women who operate America’s golf facilities. Whatever has become the newest promotional strategy and accompanying slogan, expect to see a lot of it. Can’t blame ’em, this might be their best opportunity ever.
The PGA’s annual major championship dates back to 1916, and by the last quarter of the 20th century, it had clearly fallen into fourth on the pecking order of majors, behind the Masters, U.S. and British Opens.
The PGA Championship seemed to lack the sex appeal of the other three majors, and it also sat fourth in the annual batting order, in August, a month after the British Open and just as you could practically smell the upcoming start of football. That was remedied last year when the PGA was moved to a new springtime home in May.
Of course, the entire calendar was upended this year, and hopefully for just this once, the PGA is back to August and instead of fourth or even second, it kicks off an abbreviated season of major championship golf — the British Open was scrubbed entirely, with the U.S. Open moved to September and the Masters in November.
Caught up in the moment, it’s too easy to suggest the anticipation for these four days is practically unmatched in recent golf history.
But it’s no hype to say the PGA Championship has rarely, if ever, enjoyed fanfare like this.
Reach Ken Willis at firstname.lastname@example.org