Greatest USPGA Performances of All Time
Of the four major US tournaments in men’s golf, the PGA Championship stands out for several reasons. Most importantly, only professionals are eligible – this isn’t an “open” event like the US Open – and until 1958, this tournament used the match play format instead of stroke play. Having this context in your back pocket is a must when you’re looking at the greatest USPGA performances of all time.
How do you compare, say, the five championships that Walter Hagen won in the 1920s to the five that Jack Nicklaus won between 1963 and 1980? They were playing a very different kind of golf, from the formats all the way down to the equipment itself.
There’s one simple solution: Don’t compare them at all. For our top five list here at Bodog Sportsbook, we’re going to look at five different generations of PGA Championship rivalries, comebacks and memorable moments, with Hagen featuring heavily in our first entry.
1923: Gene Sarazen
While the rivalry between Hagen and Jim Barnes (who won the first two USPGAs in 1916 and 1919) was notable, the 1923 tournament at Pelham Country Club in New York is the one that golf historians point to with pride, and would be moist displeased if it didn’t feature on our greatest USPGA performances of all time.
Gene Sarazen won the 1922 PGA Championship after Hagen, the defending winner, decided not to play. The two would meet in the 1923 championship match, where Sarazen was 2-up with three holes to play before Hagen forced a playoff. Both gentlemen birdied the 37th, then Hagen drove into the bunker at No. 38, and that was that.
Hagen went on to win the next four USPGAs, while Sarazen would have to wait almost a decade before his next major victory at the 1932 US Open, but their rivalry helped make professional golf what it is today. Meanwhile, thanks to the format change, Sarazen’s record for most holes played at a single PGA event (194) is almost certain to remain unbroken.
1942: Sam Snead
World War II put the golfing world on pause, but not until Slammin’ Sammy Snead won the first of his seven lifetime majors at the 1942 PGA Championship. Snead defeated Jim Turnesa 2 & 1 in the final at Seaview Country Club in New Jersey, then reported for duty the next day with the US Navy.
Aside from the war, this was a pivotal moment in Snead’s career. He was a Vardon Trophy winner in 1938, the same year he led the PGA in prize money, but it wasn’t until the 1942 USPGA that Snead was able to bag his first major – and it took a 60-foot birdie chip on the 35th hole to put away Turnesa, himself a corporal in the US Army (he would eventually win this event in 1952).
After receiving a medical discharge in 1944, Snead put together arguably the greatest career in golf history, winning six more majors including the 1949 and 1951 USPGAs. Technically, Snead is tied with Tiger Woods for most PGA Tour victories at 82, but Snead won an additional 12 “medallions” on tour, and added another three Vardon Trophies to his collection, the last in 1955.
1963: Jack Nicklaus
The first of the Golden Bear’s five USPGA titles came in 1963 on the Blue Course at the Dallas Athletic Club, and it all started the day before the tournament when Nicklaus won the long drive contest, breaking the record with a 341-yard blast. His prize: a gold money clip that he started using as a good-luck charm.
It worked. Despite the sweltering heat, and having just played in the British Open the week before (the USPGA has since been scheduled at different times of the year), Nicklaus came back from a three-stroke deficit on the final day to defeat Dave Ragan by two.
While Nicklaus would eventually tie Hagen’s record with five PGA Championships, he also holds the record with four second-place finishes, including the next two tournaments in 1964 (to Bobby Nichols) and 1965 (to Dave Marr). All told, you could easily make the argument that Nicklaus is the greatest golfer in the history of the USPGA.
1991: John Daly
Nicklaus didn’t have the single greatest USPGA performance, though. That honour probably goes to Daly, who came from virtually nowhere in the golf betting to win the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Indiana.
Daly wasn’t even expected to make the field; he was the ninth and final alternate, having just earned his PGA Tour card, and only got to play because several golfers dropped out – including expectant father Nick Price, whose caddy Jeff Medlin ended up working with Daly that week.
Once he got the news he was playing, Daly drove nearly eight hours from Memphis and didn’t even have time to get a practice round in at Crooked Stick, but he shot a 69 on the first day, then 67-69-71 to finish three strokes ahead of Bruce Lietzke. A legend was born.
2000: Tiger Woods
And then you have Tiger, who was never in any danger of missing out on our greatest USPGA performances of all time. Still the most popular golfer on the Tour in his rare appearances, Woods earned the second of his four USPGA victories at the Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky, beating Bob May in an epic three-hole playoff.
You couldn’t have written a better script. Each golfer sank a birdie putt on 18, then May nearly chipped in at the first playoff hole before Woods drained yet another long birdie to take the lead. Woods then escaped jeopardy on the second hole after driving onto a cart path and subsequently finding a bunker, somehow saving par while May just barely missed a long birdie of his own.
Will this year’s winner at the Oak Hill Country Club in New York join our esteemed list? Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler are tied at +800 on the golf odds board at Bodog as we go to press. Keep checking in for the latest lines, and enjoy what should be an amazing week at the USPGA.
Think we’ve missed anyone out from our list of the greatest USPGA performances of all time? Let us know on Twitter, we’re happy to be proven wrong! Finally, if you’re into your golf as much as we are, you’ll love our top five holes-in-one of all time countdown. There are some beauties in there!