The PGA – How it got started

It is perhaps ironical that the PGA Championship was inspired by a department store owner and not a golfer.

It is perhaps ironical that the PGA Championship – or USPGA Championship as the Brits like to call it – sprung from the brain wave of a successful department store owner and not from a golfer.

His name was Rodman Wanamaker and he was one of the earliest marketers to see the merchandising possibilities in tying up a business enterprise with a professional golf organisation.

At the time there was no such body, but Wanamaker was so passionate about his plans that he invited a group of 35 individuals to a luncheon at the posh Taplow Club in New York on January 17, 1916.

His guests were a mix of some of the games foremost professional golfers of the time, including the iconic Walter Hagen, and some of the USA’s most prominent leaders of commerce and industry.

The luncheon led to an exploratory meeting, the up-shot of which was the formation of The PGA of America.

Wanamaker, the driving force at the meeting, then pointed out that an organisation like the PGA should run it’s own Championship along the lines of the News of the World PGA Championship of Great Britain, and offered to put up prize money of $2,500 along with some suitable trophies, including a gigantic cup that would come to be known as the Wanamaker Trophy. Some 97 years later, that trophy still being presented to the annual winner of a tournament that has established itself as the last of the four majors played every year in April (the Masters), June (the US Open), July (The Open Championship) and August (The PGA Championship).

Wanamaker hinted that he would like to see the event played along the lines of the British event which at the time was a 36-hole elimination match play championship. This was informally accepted along with his offer to make prizes available and seven months later, still in 1916, The PGA of America’s first match-play Championship was hosted by Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, New York.

This was in the days when British golfing ex-patriots were dominating professional golf in the US and it was no surprise when two of them, Jim Barnes and Jock Hutchison, played their way into the final before Barnes won it 1-up.

The First World War saw the championship suspended for the next two years, but when it was played again in 1919 at the Engineers Country Club in Roslyn, New York, Barnes once again emerged as the champion, this time whipping Fred McLeod, 6 and 5.

But Hutchison was working hard at his game and in 1920 bounced back to avenge his defeat in the inaugural Championship with a 1-up win over Douglas Edgar.

Hutchison’s victory would end, for at least a decade, the domination of foreign-born professionals, for an outstanding American duo of ‘Roaring Forties’ golfing stars was next to hit the golfing scene and promptly fasten an iron grip on the PGA Championship.

They were the suave, party-loving Hagen and a little golfing dynamo called Gene Sarazen.

During that era Hagen made the PGA final six times and won the title five times, four of them back-to-back between 1924-1927.

During this stunning streak, “The Haig” won 22 consecutive matches before fellow American Leo Diegel captured the title in 1928.

Sarazen, in the meantime, was only 20 when he became the youngest PGA Champion in history after beating Emmett French, 4 and 3, but it was his heroics in the 1922 PGA finals that turned him into a household name in America.

Sarazen was able to successfully defend his title, but not before having to fight off Hagen over 38 holes in what is still regarded as one of the greatest of all PGA match play finals.

Even Sarazen’s closing approach shot was sensational. ‘The Squire’, as he was known, hit the ball out of some ugly, deep rough and put it a mere two feet from the hole to make the winning putt a formality.

Sarazen went on to chalk up one of the most remarkable records in PGA Championship history.

In all he played in 82 match-play contests and had 57 victories and 25 defeats.

When the Championship switched from match play to stroke play in 1968, he competed in four more PGA tournaments before retiring after a final appearance in 1972 that enabled him to claim to be the both the Championship’s youngest winner (20) as well as its oldest participant (70)

Denny Shute won consecutive PGA Championships in 1936-37, a feat that lasted until Tiger Woods repeated the feat in 1999 and 2000.

Byron Nelson was the next man to stand out from the crowd at the PGA.

A finals loser in extra holes in 1939, Nelson hit back with a vengeance one year later to spark what would become one of the most amazing periods in golfing history.

Nelson won the 1940 PGA Championship with a 1-up victory over Sam Snead.

He made it into the finals for a third straight time in 1941, but lost to Vic Ghezzi in an extra-hole battle.

World War II saw the field reduced to 32 players in 1942 yet Snead called his triumph in that year, the first of the seven major title he would win, his “biggest thrill in golf”. He beat Jim Turnesa, 2 and 1, in the finale.

Golf took a back seat to the War in 1943, and the PGA Championship was canceled. When the event resumed in 1944, underdog Bob Hamilton, 28, upset Byron Nelson, 1-up.

Nelson had appeared in four finals but had won only once. The following year, Nelson defeated Sam Byrd 4 and 3 in the finals during an amazing winning spree that saw him win 11 consecutive PGA Tour events to set a startling Tour record that might never be broken.