The year was 1916. Department store owner Rodman Wanamaker thought the fledgling PGA of America-formed that April-needed an annual championship similar to the British News of the World Tournament. A savvy businessman, he also thought success of the new players association could provide merchandising possibilities.
Wanamaker had played key role in launching the PGA when he invited prominent golfers-including Rochester’s Walter Hagen-and industry leaders to a luncheon at the Taptow Club in New York City on Jan. 17, 1916. In similar fashion, he stepped forward to contribute $2,500 along with trophies and medals as a prize fund for the tournament.
The first PGA Championship was played in 1916, with England’s Jim Barnes defeating Scotland’s Jock Hutchison 1-up in a match-play competition at Siwanoy Country Club in the New York City suburbs. Barnes took home $500. (Rory McIlroy pocketed $1.445 million when he won the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina. The purse for the 95th PGA Championship at Oak Hill is $8 million.)
The championship was not played in 1917 and 1918 because of World War I, but it resumed in 1919 with Barnes beating Scotland native Fred McLeod 6 and 5 at the Engineers Country Club in Roslyn, N.Y.
Hagen won the PGA Championship five times, starting in 1921. He reached the match-play final six times and won 22 consecutive matches en route to four championships from 1924 to 1927 before the streak ended in 1928.
Hagen’s streak was interrupted in 1922 when at the age of 20, Gene Sarazen became the youngest PGA champion, beating Emmett French. The next year produced one of the most thrilling finals in the history of the Championship, with Sarazen defending his title by defeating Hagen on the 38th hole in the tournament’s first extra-hole finale-thanks to a legendary approach shot out of the rough to within two feet of the hole.
In 1934, the Championship was played at Park Country Club in Buffalo-the only other Upstate New York golf club to host the tournament. The winner was Paul Runyan, whose caddy-Harold Hacker-later became the director of the Rochester Public Library and the Monroe County Library System.
In the late 1930s and ’40s, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan were the dominant players. Snead, like Sarazen, won the PGA Championship three times. But in 1938, Snead suffered the most lopsided loss in the match-play history of the PGA Championship when Runyan dominated him, 8 and 7, at Shawnee Country Club in Pennsylvania. Runyan was 24 under par for the 196 holes he played and made only one bogey in his final 70 holes.
The championship was converted to stroke play in 1958, with Dow Finsterwald winning at Llanerch Country Club in Havertown, Pa.
Oak Hill Country Club is the fifth course to play host to the PGA Championship at least three times in the tournament’s 95-year history. It is one of only two to have the event thrice in the last 33 years.
Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., is the only four-time host, in 1970, 1982, 1994 and 2007.
The Championship came to Oak Hill’s East Course in 1980, 2003 and 2013. Jack Nicklaus was the 1980 champion with a four-round total of 274, 6 under par and 7 shots ahead of runner-up Andy Bean.
"It was just easy," Nicklaus recalled prior to the 2008 Senior PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
"I hit the ball just horribly that week. I hit it all over the world, but no matter what I did I knocked a putt in to save what I did, so I just made a very easy week out of it. I’m sitting there sort of feeling like, ‘Why is that happening?’ But the ball, it just kept going in the hole."
It was his fifth PGA Championship-he previously won in 1963, 1971, 1973 and 1975-tying him with Hagen.
A highlight for Rochester golf fans, of course, came in 1988 when Greece native Jeff Sluman closed with a round of 65 to win the tournament at Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond, Okla. Sluman was three shots back of Paul Azinger when the final round began, but he made five birdies and an eagle-with a 115-yard wedge shot on the fifth hole-to win the tournament. It was his first victory on the PGA Tour.
The first of Tiger Woods’ four PGA Championship titles came in 1999, when he became the youngest player since Nicklaus in 1963 to earn the Wanamaker Trophy.
Shaun Micheel won the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill, finishing 4-under 276 in his third appearance in a PGA major. Micheel was winless in 163 PGA events and was ranked 169th in the world at the time; he captured the PGA Championship with one of the greatest clutch shots in the tournament’s history.
Leading Chad Campbell by a stroke with one hole to play, Micheel hit a 7-iron from the first cut of rough-175 yards from the pin-and placed it two inches from the cup. He tapped in for a birdie and a two-stroke victory.
"Actually, I don’t typically birdie the last hole," he said in a post-tournament transcript in PGA archives. "I seem to struggle for some reason coming down the stretch."I don’t know why that is. Maybe just nerves, maybe I’m tired or maybe I’m trying to get the round over with. But I sure like the way I finished today."
Micheel was nearly apologetic afterward, saying he didn’t play particularly well."You always are afraid you’re going to blow it," he said, "and I didn’t want to do that." Jean Van de Velde did just that in 1999, coughing up a three-shot lead with a triple bogey on the final hole to lose the British Open.
"Someone yelled at me today that I didn’t want to pull a Jean Van de Velde," Micheel said. "I was surprised he could even pronounce his name. That was kind of irritating, actually. I kind of put that behind me and went on."
Added Micheel: "I think the fear of the unknown frightens all of us, and I certainly had that today. Even though I am a PGA champion, I don’t know what’s out there in store, I really don’t. … I just hope that I can represent the PGA, the PGA of America in a professional and very humble manner."
Micheel finished runner-up to Tiger Woods in 2006, but the 2003 PGA Championship remains his only PGA victory.
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