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PGA Championship 101: History, qualifications and this year at Valhalla Golf Club

More faith in McIlroy, Scheffler or Koepka at PGA?
Rex Hoggard and Ryan Lavner discuss which golfer they have the most faith in ahead of the PGA Championship, debating between Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, and defending champion Brooks Koepka.

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about the PGA Championship:

Still holding down the second spot?

Correct. The PGA Championship moved from the major finale in August to the second of the season in May, in 2019. Then 2020 came and the golf calendar was reorganized because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The PGA was contested again in August, after the U.S. Open and ahead of the Masters. Things returned to order in ’21 and, for the foreseeable future, the PGA of America’s crown jewel sits in its spring spot.

Wait, isn’t this the championship of the PGA Tour?

Sigh. No, this is not the championship of the PGA Tour. That would be considered The Players Championship. This is the championship of the PGA of America.

Why the need to designate “of America”? What else would it be the PGA of Timbuktu?

Obviously we need a history lesson here. We’ll keep it as brief as possible. There used to be one PGA – the “of America” one, which was founded in 1916. In 1968, action was begun that resulted in an eventual split into the PGA of America and the PGA Tour.

Why the split?

The original golf pros were the people who work at golf clubs. You know, the ones who sell us logoed ball markers and take our green fees when they’re not trying to cure our slices by giving us lessons. The better players among them also played the national tournament circuit.

As golf grew in popularity and tournaments became more lucrative, a class of pros evolved who were tournament players first and foremost. If they held a club job, it was often ceremonial.

Over time, more of these pros discarded the idea of working at a club at all, instead devoting full time to tournament play.

OK, I follow you so far.

So now you had one organization, the PGA of America, trying to represent the interests of two entirely different types of “golf pros.” No surprise that the root of the dispute was money, specifically what to do with what was becoming a windfall in rights fees from the TV networks. The tournament players, a group that included Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, wanted that money to go to increased tournament purses, while the club pros wanted it to go into the PGA’s general fund. Eventually the touring pros broke off on their own. The PGA of America remained in place, representing the traditional “club” pros.

If the PGA of America was no longer going to represent the interests of tournament players, why does it still have a championship? And why is it a major?

It wanted to keep the PGA Championship alive for many reasons, not the least of which is that it generates considerable revenue. As for your second question, that is a big ol’ can of worms for another day. We will say this, however. For most of the PGA Championship’s existence, it has had a justifiable status as a major. Whether that will ever change, whether it will ever be replaced in the major rotation by The Players Championship is anyone’s guess. But golf is a game that respects – and clings to – tradition.

Anything else about its history that sets it apart?

The most obvious thing is that from its inception in 1916 through 1957, the PGA was a match-play tournament. It has been periodically suggested that it return to match play, but that is not considered likely. Prior to the shift to May in 2019, it was previously held during this month in 1949, when Sam Snead won.

All of the PGA Championship winners since the men’s major first began in 1916.

We get the May thing, but why no longer match play?

Worst-case scenario – all the highly seeded “name” players get eliminated before the final. If you’re a TV network that has spent big bucks to televise this event, do you want two guys you’re never heard of in the final?

Speaking of the final, what’s the name of the winner’s trophy?

It’s called the Wanamaker Trophy, and it was named after Rodman Wanamaker, a department store magnate who was influential in the formation of the PGA.

How does a player qualify for this major?

These are the ways, based on the PGA’s 2024 qualifying criteria (click here for the field):

  • 1. All former winners of the PGA Championship;
  • 2. Winners of the last five Masters (2020-24);
  • 3. Winners of the last five U.S. Opens (2019-23);
  • 4. Winners of the last five Open Championships (2018-23). [Note: canceled in 2020];
  • 5. Winners of the last three Players Championships (2022-24);
  • 6. Top three on the International Federation Official World Golf Ranking List as of April 29
  • 7. Winner of 2023 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship;
  • 8. The top 15 finishers and ties from the 2023 PGA Championship;
  • 9. The top 20 finishers from the 2024 PGA Professional Championship;
  • 10. The top 70 players who are eligible and have earned the most PGA Championship points* from the 2023 Charles Schwab Challenge through the 2024 CJ Cup Byron Nelson (ending May 5);
  • 11. Playing members of the last named U.S. and European Ryder Cup teams (2023), provided they remain in the top 100 on the Official World Golf Ranking as of May 6;
  • 12. Winners of PGA Tour co-sponsored or approved tournaments whose victories are considered official, from the 2023 Charles Schwab Challenge through the 2024 Wells Fargo Championship and Myrtle Beach Classic (ending May 12);
  • 13. The PGA of America reserves the right to invite additional players not included in the categories listed above (note: the PGA has traditionally invited the top 100 from the Official World Golf Ranking as of the week before the championship);
  • 14. If necessary to complete the field, those players beyond the top 70 players who are eligible and who have earned the most PGA Championship points* through same time period as criteria No. 10, in order of their position on such a list.

*Note: PGA Championship points are based on official PGA Tour earnings.

Are LIV Golf players eligible?

Yes, as long as they meet the above criteria.

I probably should have asked this a lot earlier, but what does PGA stand for?

Professional Golfers’ Association. Remember, in the early years of the 20th century, pros were looked down upon. It was only natural that they band together under one umbrella organization.

Let’s get to the tournament itself. The Masters has Jack Nicklaus winning at age 46 in 1986 and Tiger Woods’ remarkable turns in ’97 and ’19. The U.S. Open has 20-year-old Francis Ouimet upsetting two of the top British pros in 1913 and Arnold Palmer’s charge in 1960. The Open Championship has the Duel in the Sun in 1977 and Woods destroying the field in 2000. So, what have been the most memorable PGAs?

It would be hard to beat a then-unknown John Daly winning in 1991. He got into the tournament as ninth – ninth! – alternate, then torched the course with a combination of absurdly long driving and incredible touch around the greens. Then there was Bob Tway holing a final-hole bunker shot to beat Greg Norman in 1986 – something we didn’t yet know would become a trend. And who could have predicted that the player who would give Woods his toughest test would be one of his former junior-golf rivals, Bob May, who did everything except beat him in 2000? And, of course, there was 2021, when Phil Mickelson, at age 51, became the oldest-ever major champion.

What happened last year?

Brooks Koepka won his third Wanamaker trophy at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, New York. The LIV Golf player shot 72-66-66-67 to win by two shots over Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler.

Who has won the most PGA Championships?

Nicklaus and Walter Hagen have each won five times. Woods has won four times. Woods has twice won back-to-back in this major, in 1999-2000 and 2006-07.

A recap of some of the biggest events Valhalla Golf Club has hosted.

Where are they playing?

Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. The venue is owned by the PGA of America and has hosted three PGA Championships. Mark Brooks won in a playoff over Kenny Perry in 1996. Tiger Woods prevailed in a playoff over Bob May in 2000. And, Rory McIlroy beat Phil Mickelson by a stroke in 2014. Valhalla also hosted the 2008 Ryder Cup, won by the U.S.