The beauty of sports lies in its escapism. In its ability to lift spirits and make souls soar even amid the most trying times.
That escapism is among the many things the coronavirus pandemic has robbed of us over the past few months. Title chases and milestones were put on hold as we as a society were given our own championship moment.
One we as a country did not meet.
Asked to socially distance and mask up to stamp out a once-in-a-generation public health crisis, we instead allowed our political divisions to exacerbate the threat, leaving us with no option but to desperately wait for a vaccine to arrive and return us to normalcy.
While that biological white knight has yet to arrive, we were given a gift this past week, a welcome break from the daily anxiety-filled slog of fighting an invisible foe.
After 13 months away, major championship golf returned with the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park as the first championship event of the COVID-19 era.
For decades, golf’s majors have been used to mark the passage of time. Like everything else, that tradition was scrapped this year as the coronavirus ravaged the world.
The Masters, an annual ceremony to welcome spring, will now take place in November to signal the end of Autumn. The U.S. Open, a Father’s Day tradition, won't arrive until well past Labor Day.
The British Open, golf’s oldest major, was canceled outright.
Time is yet another aspect of normal life that has been rendered almost meaningless by this global pandemic.
Since the American sports world shut down March 12 and our struggle began, time has been both paused and accelerated. One day has bled into the next as we’re left with only simple daily edicts to follow, making life mundane and deflating as the lives we knew creep farther away from recent memory.
For years, the PGA Championship was golf’s forgotten major. “Glory’s Last Chance” had no identity except as the final hurrah of the golf season. It moved from August to May last year, in an effort to elevate to the same level as its peers.
But the 2020 PGA Championship, which 23-year-old Collin Morikawa won by outdueling the world’s best on Lake Merced, forever will be linked to this moment in history.
For the dazzling display of golf, no doubt. But more for the reprieve it delivered to a country lost adrift in a crisis it lacks the unity, leadership and fortitude to triumph over.
The first major of 2020, which kicks off a string of seven major championships in 11 months, had an odd feel. It was eerie to not hear thunderous applause welcome Tiger Woods to the tee box, and unnatural that roars did not echo off the cypress trees as Morikawa, a Cal alum, made his back-nine charge into the history books.
It was jarring and strange at first, we should expect nothing else in a time characterized by never-before-seen challenges. But it also undoubtedly was a major championship, one that gave everyone sitting at home crowded around their televisions something they desperately had been searching for. Something to, at least momentarily, make our fears and problems melt away.
The tension at Harding Park was palpable from the opening tee shot Thursday. It was welcome tension. The kind that comes not from a daily existential dread while fighting to keep an invisible foe at bay, but the pressure that comes from watching golf’s best tested both mentally and physically with their legacies on the line.
The week was stuffed with storylines and loaded with high drama. TPC Harding Park a perfect host to welcome back major championship golf.
But at the end of the day, the 2020 PGA Championship gave us more than the return of major championship golf.
It gave our exasperated minds the opportunity to look toward the future, to see a path forward. It was a reminder that this too will pass. That crowds will once again flock to watch Woods stock major championships and marvel as Rory McIlory pummels drives at golf's most iconic theaters. The major moments we can witness in person no longer will be taken for granted because we will remember the time we were unable to take in San Francisco's municipal jewel as it tormented the best in the world.
The PGA Championship finally joined its counterparts as a major attached to meaning, with the 2020 edition serving as a defining moment of this era and a building block that, at least in some way, made us a little more whole.
It gave fresh meaning to tomorrow, presenting us with four days to view our next 24 hours not with anxiety and heartache, but with excitement, anticipation and hope.
Major championship golf arrived in one of our darkest hours, and it delivered a much-needed gift for our weary souls as a light in the darkest of times.