The PGA Championship appears to be in a state of flux. It makes predicting contenders very interesting.


There are arguments as to suggest it is both the easiest and most difficult major in which to make predictions.


Initially, it would appear that the PGA is the most unpredictable major in which younger players and one-shot wonders can make a splash. Recent history reminds us of champions Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Y.E. Yang and Keegan Bradley.


However, in contrast, the last ten years of majors has shown that a player in the top 10 in the World Rankings has won the PGA Championship with greater frequency than any other major (70% of the time for the PGA compared to 63% for the Masters, 54% for the US Open and only 36% for The Open Championship).


So which is it?


There is the added complication in that the PGA Championship probably has a greater variety of courses than the other majors. Although the U.S. Open and Open Championship also rotate courses, the USGA and R&A in those championships attempt a certain consistency compared to the courses of the PGA Championship. The PGA has varied from classic courses like Baltusrol and Medinah to more modern resort courses like Kiawah and Whistling Straights. Hell, this year they are even letting fans pick hole locations (terrible idea).


It does not mean we should simply throw our hands in the air and then darts at a flights of stairs (in this confusion, I may have mixed metaphors).


There are a couple of interesting trends to consider.





The PGA Championship has been on the dance-card for the younger generation of late.


Consider the last three PGA Championships have had the youngest 3 winners in all of major championship golf going back 50 majors. True, Rory romped to a win at a younger age in the 2011 U.S. Open, but he’s also on the list for his PGA win last year, i.e. it’s the same guy.


Consider the six youngest winners of the last 50 major championships played (since the 2001 US Open): 

Youngest Major Championship Winners Over The Past 50 Majors
Youngest Major Championship Winners Over The Past 50 Majors

There are several potential reasons that come to mind:


  • More Foregiving Course Set-up: The PGA Championship simply does not put as much as a premium on patience and maturity under pressure than the other majors. This is true in terms of both historical pressure and the golf course set-up itself. Experience is not as big a factor. This will be explored a bit further below in terms of average scoring of all the majors over the past 50 years.
  • It’s A Tiring Time of Year for Older Players: Since 2007, the schedule has changed somewhat to make it a little bit harder for the older players. They may be a little more physically tired than in the past. Up until 2007, there was always a reasonable break between the Open Championship and the PGA Championship. That has changed.
    • Proximity to the Open: The PGA Championship and the Open Championship are played closer together than in the past. Before 2007 there was typically 4 weeks (3 tournaments) between the Open and the PGA. Since 2007, this year with be the 5th time in those 7 years that the PGA has been only 3 weeks (2 intervening weekends) after the Open Championship.
    • More Important Tournaments between the Open and the PGA: Before 2007, there were typically somewhat lesser tournaments between the Open in mid-July and the PGA in the second week of August. Typically it was the events like the Buick Open in Michigan, the John Deere Classic and the International in Colorado. While these were or are fine events, the schedule is now become: The Open Championship, The Canadian Open, The WGC Bridgestone and then the PGA Championship. While The Canadian Open may be a lesser event in the eyes of the PGA Tour, the fact that RBC now sponsors both the Canadian Open and such a large number of elite players has helped the field (FedEx champion Brandt Snedeker won this year holding off Dutsin Johnson and Matt Kuchar and of course Hunter Mahan was leading when he left for the birth of his daughter. Note all but Johnson are on the RBC payroll). As we have mentioned here before, these four weeks create perhaps the most historic four weeks in golf
      • The Open Championship - founded 1860
      • The Canadian Open - founded 1904
      • WGC Bridgestone - founded 1976
      • The PGA Championship - founded 1916


The main point is that it is simple biology that someone in their mid-twenties can handle this type of physical and mental schedule better than someone in their late 30s or early forties.





Another issue on the side of youth is course set-up. Generally, the PGA Championship has been set up to not be as punishing as the U.S. Open or the Open Championship. This likely allows younger less-experienced players to compete.


We charted the winning score for all four majors since 1958 (the year the PGA Championship went from match play to stroke play.


Masters Winning Score [click to enlarge]
Masters Winning Score [click to enlarge]
Open Winning Score [click to enlarge]
Open Winning Score [click to enlarge]
U.S. Open Winning Score [click to enlarge]
U.S. Open Winning Score [click to enlarge]
PGA Winning Score [click to enlarge]
PGA Winning Score [click to enlarge]



The downard trend for the winning PGA score is obvious compared to the other majors.


We also charted the 10 year winning score averages to try to smooth out the trend somewhat and it is equally evident.

Masters 10 Year Average Winning Score [click to enlarge]
Masters 10 Year Average Winning Score [click to enlarge]
Open 10 Year Average Winning Score [click to enlarge]
Open 10 Year Average Winning Score [click to enlarge]
U.S. Open 10 Year Average Winning Score [click to enlarge]
U.S. Open 10 Year Average Winning Score [click to enlarge]
PGA Championship 10 Year Average Winning Score [click to enlarge]
PGA Championship 10 Year Average Winning Score [click to enlarge]


It is clear that the other majors essentially are maintaining their winning scores (the Open has the greatest variation but the overall average seems consistent). The PGA Championship appears to have no problem letting the scores go down.





The obvious choices are Tiger and Phil again and we would love to see them together in the final group on Sunday.


That said, the youth movement over the past 3 years at the PGA Championship appears to be more than a blip. In both the U.S. Open and the Open Championship, it was always wise to put a premium on experience. The recent changes to the schedule and the course set-up suggest for that for the last major of the year, youth cannot be ignored.


Let's keep an eye on guys like Harris English, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and although he's a bit young, even a guy like Hideki Matsuyama who is in great form of late. This is the major for these young guys to break on the scene.



Douglas Han



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