Golf: Epic win for Europe is not on the cards

Andy Farrell explains why the USPGA, the workers' party after the three Lord Mayors' Shows, fails to command respect
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The Independent Online
NOT ALL American golfers are susceptible to the spoiled brat syndrome running through their ranks of late. Davis Love can usually be relied upon for thoughtful, rational analysis of any situation. It is also usually delivered in a quiet and calm demeanour but there is one recorded occasion of Love becoming positively testy.

This arose during the USPGA Championship at Winged Foot two years ago. Love had started the week in 10th place on the US Ryder Cup standings and was plagued with questions about whether he was going to secure his place in the team in what was the last qualifying event. At last, even the mild mannered Love broke. "The USPGA," Love seethed, "is not the `Q' school for the Ryder Cup."

The USPGA, which takes place for the 81st time at Medinah in Chicago this week, has always had a mild identity crisis but every two years is almost swamped by interest in the biennial transatlantic match between Europe and America. This week's tournament counts for both qualifying systems but while the Europeans have one last opportunity in Munich next week, this is it for the Americans.

Four years ago, Brad Faxon scored a final-round 63 at Riviera to make the team, while in 1997 Jeff Maggert closed with a 65 to sneak into the team. By winning at Winged Foot, Love also clinched his place on the team for Valderrama, but a first major championship title meant far more to the American.

That it was the USPGA added to the spice for such a golfing family as the Loves. Davis Love Jnr was a teaching pro who died in a plane crash in 1988. A rainbow emerged as Love III completed a five-stroke win over the then Open champion, Justin Leonard. "Who would have thought that the son of a PGA member would win the PGA Championship," he said. "Every day I play golf I think of my dad. I know that he would be extremely proud that I not only won a major, but the PGA."

As the fourth major, both chronologically and in importance, the USPGA is perhaps the workers' party following three Lord Mayors' Shows. The Masters is run by an elitist club and held in memory of the game's greatest amateur, Bobby Jones. Both the Opens of Britain and the United States are organised by bodies, in the Royal and Ancient and the US Golf Association, responsible for the rules for everyone playing the game and who also stage the major amateur competitions.

But the PGA of America, following the establishment of our own Professional Golfers' Association at The Belfry, was founded to look after the interests of the pros. The divorce between the club pros and the tournament professionals, as represented by the PGA Tour, is relatively recent. But as Love said, in connection with the current controversy about players being paid to play in the Ryder Cup: "There isn't a player out here [on tour] who has not been helped by the PGA of America at some point in their career."

The huge trophy on offer this week is named after Rodman Wanamaker, a department store magnate who invited 35 leading professionals to a lunch in New York on 16 January, 1916. Out of the meeting came the formation of the PGA of America and the idea that they should have their own tournament, held for the first time that summer before World War I intervened.

The Wanamaker trophy carries most of the great names of the game. Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus are on it five times, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead three times and Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Lee Trevino among those who appear twice. To his regret, it does not show the name of Arnold Palmer, a three-time runner-up.

What made the USPGA distinctive initially was its matchplay format. But, in the formative days of televising golf events, TV did not like the possibility of matches not reaching the closing holes or that the big names could be knocked out earlier in the week. From 1958, the tournament became a regular 72-hole strokeplay event and its status has been continually questioned ever since.

The traditional August date, in the dog days of the steamy American summer, does not help. Nor do some of the venues. In attempting to take the championship to new courses, the event swings between US Open type layouts, such as Winged Foot and Medinah, and being like a US Tour event, as at Valhalla in 1996 when a couple of journeymen pros, Mark Brooks and Kenny Perry, met in a play-off.

Aware of their image problem, the PGA of America has set about staging a first-class championship in the 90s. The change, some of the American Ryder Cup players might like to note, has come since the Ryder Cup started making a profit in the United States from the 1991 match at Kiawah Island.

That year's USPGA was won in extraordinary circumstances by John Daly, the ninth alternate who had driven all night to play at Crooked Stick, which was so long that David Feherty said you had to "take into account the curvature of the earth". In 1993, Greg Norman, who lost the '86 title when Bob Tway holed out of a bunker at the last, became the second player after Craig Wood to lose a play-off in all four majors as Paul Azinger won in extra time.

There was another play-off two years later at Riviera after Colin Montgomerie tied Steve Elkington by birdieing the last three holes. The Australian then birdied the 18th during the play-off and Montgomerie's hopes of winning that elusive major had been dashed again.

Europe's record in the USPGA is even worse than in the US Open, where our only winner in the last 80 years was Tony Jacklin in 1970. At least the first two USPGA champions, Jim Barnes in 1916 and 1919 and Jock Hutchison in 1920, were British-born pros who emigrated to the States.

Unfamiliar venues may not help, nor does the tendency for players to go out just for the week of the USPGA. Success at the Masters usually follows up to a month's visit to the US tour. At this time of year, the mind of European players is usually on other matters, such as the order of merit race. Montgomerie, the six-time European No 1, says the money list "only becomes a goal after the fourth major of the year I don't win".

But with his own commanding victory in Sweden yesterday the Scot has responded to the challenge of Lee Westwood's back-to-back wins. For the first time, the USPGA will count on the European order of merit.

Medinah's No 3 course, which was originally planned as a "sporty little course for women" at the 54-hole facility, should suit both Montgomerie and Westwood's ability to drive the ball long and straight. After a different type of major at Pinehurst, the USPGA will be more like the US Open is usually, a tree-lined course with narrow fairways and thick rough. The members did not like Hale Irwin winning the 1990 US Open at eight under par.

The "Monster of the Midwest", as Medinah is known, also has a monstrous clubhouse. Built by the Chicago Shriners - or, to give them their full title, the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine - it has been described as a "Moorish pleasuredome that is mostly Byzantine with Italianate flourishes, along with some Louis XIV and just a hint of early MGM". A European victory this week would be on the same epic proportions.