FERGUSON ON GOLF: PGA Championship could get a spark by moving to October

  • Article by: DOUG FERGUSON , Associated Press
  • Updated: August 6, 2013 - 6:53 AM
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Graeme McDowell

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PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Phil Mickelson was elated. Tiger Woods was frustrated. Lee Westwood was trying to pretend he wasn't disheartened.

That was the British Open. That was only 15 days ago.

Time to move on to the next major. Monday was the first official day of practice for the PGA Championship, which feels more like the next page than a new chapter.

"They come fast and quick once the U.S. Open hits," Graeme McDowell said.

No need explaining that to Ernie Els. He is playing for the seventh time in the last nine weeks, three of them major championships.

And no need complaining to Jack Nicklaus. He had it far worse.

In his second year as a professional, already a Masters and U.S. Open champion, Nicklaus had his first good shot at winning the British Open until he stumbled down the stretch at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and finished one shot behind Bob Charles.

Ten days later, he won his first PGA Championship.

"They used to have the British Open and the PGA back-to-back, which was really kind of silly," Nicklaus said. "I was fortunate to be able to get back."

He was equally fortunate to be 23 with a strong body and a clear mind. One week, Nicklaus was playing links golf with a small golf ball in temperatures in the mid-50s in the northwest of England. The next week he was playing the final American major at Dallas Athletic Club, where the temperatures topped 100.

"It was a big change," Nicklaus said. "I think a lot of the guys got back, and I think they were probably pretty tired from the British Open and I think they were pretty tired from ... the weather just absolutely beat them down. I guess I was a young guy and I handled those conditions pretty well."

That was 50 years ago. So maybe now, having a whole two weeks between majors, represents progress.

But the PGA Championship can do better — not only for the players, but for the marketing of a major that lags well behind the other three in popularity.

McDowell was trying to pay a compliment to the PGA Championship last year at Firestone when the truth got in the way. Asked about the final major of the year, he said, "There's not a guy standing on the range that wouldn't put it head-and-shoulders over any tournament in the world — apart from the other three major championships."

Perhaps that's because the other three majors have such a clear identity.

The British Open is links golf. The U.S. Open bills itself as the toughest test in golf. The Masters is played on the magical stage of Augusta National every year, making it the course golf fans know better than any other in the world. And the PGA Championship? Geoff Ogilvy once referred to it as "the other one."

How to fix that? Consider making less money from TV revenue and move it to October.

The Masters has loads of built-in advantages, and one that gets overlooked is the anticipation. After the Wanamaker Trophy is awarded Sunday at Oak Hill, golf fans have to wait eight months before the next major. The excitement for the Masters only builds when CBS starts airing promotions in the months leading to it.

There are roughly two months before the U.S. Open, and then a month before the British Open — and barely time for a nap before the PGA Championship.

"It is quick," Padraig Harrington said after the British Open. "You think of the guys who are going to play next week (in Canada) and that's four big tournaments in a row. It's a lot of golf. The great thing about being at the PGA and the U.S. Open is they tend to set the course up very uniformly. You can definitely go play these tournaments from a yardage book. ... We know what we're going to get."

To be clear, having these majors stacked on top of each other is not a great burden on the player. It's golf, not a triathlon.

It just keeps the PGA Championship from getting the buildup it deserves. And the PGA deserves better.

As much as the final major gets overlooked as "the other one," look back over the last five years and try to find anything dull about the PGA Championship. Rory McIlroy, the rising star with a record win at Kiawah. Keegan Bradley's remarkable recovery from a triple bogey to win in a playoff. Martin Kaymer's win and Dustin Johnson's fiasco in the bunker at Whistling Straits. Y.E. Yang taking down Tiger Woods at Hazeltine. Harrington ripping out Sergio Garcia's heart for the second straight year in a major.

Here's why October works.

In this global game, it fits the international schedule perfectly. A month after the British Open, the PGA Tour begins its lucrative FedEx Cup playoffs until the end of September. A month later, the European Tour begins its Race to Dubai with a series of tournaments in Asia.

In between would be the final major of the year — a real "Super Bowl" to end the U.S. season.

For those who care nothing about golf except for the majors — and it's a larger population than the PGA Tour wants to believe — this gives them one last event to anticipate in the fall. And in Ryder Cup years, the matches could be played in August instead of a month later. That could help avoid weather issues, particularly in Europe. The only concern is shrinking daylight, though the PGA could reduce the field. Even at 124 players, it would still be the strongest of the majors.

Here's why it probably won't happen.

"I assume these things are based on TV ratings, financials, things like that," Harrington said.

Correct.

The PGA Championship is not just the final major of the year. It's the final major before the American football season begins. The ratings wouldn't be quite as high. The revenue would not be as great. Then again, it's not as if the PGA of America would go broke by taking less money to elevate its major championship. One only has to look at the clothing budget for the Ryder Cup, or the party it throws in October at Bermuda called the Grand Slam of Golf.

"That's true. They don't look like they need (money) that week," Harrington said. "But it's all part of making a tournament prestigious. If they move it to October, could they make it a bigger tournament? Who knows? But it wouldn't be a bad thing for us."

It wouldn't be a bad thing for anyone who loves golf.

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