19 May 2022 | Professional golf |

Clayton: The fourth major and the importance of legacies

by Mike Clayton

Tiger Woods spoke on the importance of legacies this week.
Tiger Woods spoke on the importance of legacies this week.

Played in August until recently America’s PGA championship was chronologically and metaphorically the fourth of golf’s important championships. It’s not a national Open for one and it’s not The Masters, a triumph of the finest marketing minds in the United States and a course at the top of every golfer’s wish list to play.

Of course, if The Masters was at The National Golf Links of America or at Sand Hills – both superior courses – they would be at the top of the list. Or The Old Course at St Andrews if it was kept for a privileged few as opposed to being open to all – to walk at least, if not to play.

Either way, the PGA is this week being played at the Gil Hanse revived, restored, renovated (pick one or all three) Southern Hills, a Perry Maxwell gem in Tulsa. Hanse is a big fan of golf on the Melbourne Sandbelt and his Olympic course in Rio de Janeiro was a superb transfer of the principles of the sandbelt onto a site perfectly suited to it.

Southern Hills, from afar, looks to be some of the same. The fairway bunkers are not surrounded by long grass in the curious fashion of so many American courses, (but not Augusta, NGLA or Sand Hills) something allowing the ball to feed into the hazards. The fairways are wider than the dull and formulaic thirty-yard norm of too much championship golf where the examination is to hit straight as opposed to hitting accurately to a particular part of the fairway- the great test of Royal Melbourne.

Short grass looks to have been used prolifically around the greens to feed errant irons further away from the greens is otherwise the case when they are surrounded by long, thick, green grass and all the one-dimensional short game play that approach encourages.

The course and its set-up alone promise to make this a memorable championship.

It’s also a championship surrounded by the noise of a rival tour headed by Greg Norman and the speculation as to who might play for the Saudi’s and who likely will not.

The most prominent of those who will not play for Norman and his masters is Tiger Woods who, this week, pointedly spoke of the importance of legacies.

“I believe in legacies”, said Woods. “I believe in major championships. I believe in big events, comparisons to historical figures of the past. There's plenty of money out here. The Tour is growing. But it's just like any other sport. It's like tennis. You have to go out there and earn it. You've got to go out there and play for it. We have opportunity to go ahead and do it. It's just not guaranteed up front.”

Woods has seemingly had a long-held antipathy for Norman (both have long memories of slights, real or perceived) but there was never a chance of Woods leading the migration to a rebel tour aimed at blowing up the PGA Tour.

Nor has the PGA Tour done the Australian Tour any favours. It’s not its job to care about Australia but beginning their new season in the final quarter of the previous year has properly hurt our local events including the Australian Open and PGA Championship because our best players are still playing in the United States and ensuring a good start to the ‘following’ season.

Almost all the early week speculation and interest at Southern Hills will be on the continuing comeback of Woods, a man enjoying redemption and looking to be swinging as well as ever. He’s never again going to play as well as he did at his very best but nor is anyone else in the foreseeable future and to contend he doesn’t have to.

The Australians playing this week (Cameron Smith, Marc Leishman, Cameron Davis, Jason Day, Matt Jones, Lucas Herbert, Adam Scott, and Min Woo Lee) playing this week are a fine bunch of players – arguably the strongest we’ve ever had play in the championship. All except the 23-year-old Lee have won on the PGA Tour and that Minjee’s little brother is going to win soon enough is, whilst not beyond doubt, more than likely so impressive is his game.

Chronologically this is now the second major championship of the season, but it remains the fourth (by some way) in terms of both interest and affection.

Given all the speculation of a world tour and the truly awful “grow the game” phrase (nurture the game is way better) this needn’t be the case in the long-term.

If once every four years the PGA moved around the world – to say, Royal Melbourne, or the wonderful Chantilly in Paris or Japan’s Hirono – it’d before long be the equal of the other three and do much to remedy the silly arrangement of the United States holding three of the four major championships in the game.

Tennis doesn’t to many things better than golf but one of them is its distribution of the most important events to all points of the globe.

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