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USPGA just wants to be loved

Padraig Harrington with the Wanamaker Trophy
Padraig Harrington won the USPGA Championship for the first time last year

By Mark Orlovac

It can't be easy being an overlooked member of a super group. Just ask Ringo Starr.

Every year, just as Open memories begin to fade, golf's attention turns to the USPGA Championship - the least-revered of the four majors.

To put it bluntly, the tournament - nicknamed Glory's Last Shot - has had a bit of an image problem.

It cannot claim to have the azaleas, green jackets and Amen Corner of the Masters, the tradition and the barren links of the Open, or the sheer brutality of the US Open.

[The USPGA] is still an event that every player who plays as a professional would like to win

Ken Brown

It has suffered by being scheduled in the heat of mid-summer and in the past has been accused of taking place at uninspiring venues.

Ask any regular golf fan about where the tournament is placed compared to the others and the answer will probably be the same as its position in the golfing calendar. Last.

But in recent times, the USPGA seems to have regained some of its mojo in its bid to be regarded as more than simply the odd one out in golf's exclusive quartet.

It certainly has a proud history, with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino all winning the Wanamaker Trophy, while in recent years victors such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington have shown that the game's elite take more than just a passing interest.

The USPGA's cause has also been helped by some exciting finishes of late, including Woods's win over Garcia in 1999 and Harrington's third major victory last year.

606: DEBATE

The entry list for this year's event at Hazeltine, Minnesota - the longest ever major course at 7,674 yards - is a who's who of world golf, with only one player in the top 100 missing out. The 156-player field boasts 28 major champions.

For BBC golf commentator Ken Brown, there is no doubt as to how the USPGA should be viewed.

"It is a fantastic event, I don't see the USPGA as the ugly duckling of the majors," he told BBC Sport.

"It stands right up there with the other three. It's still an event that every player who plays as a professional would like to win."

The choice of venues has also been an issue over the years with accusations that the event's organisers, the PGA of America, has not selected the best available.

The tournament of 1987 in Palm Springs and 1995 at Riviera, which were marred by bad greens and poor crowds, are often cited as examples of how not to do it.

But over the last 10 years, prestigious US Open venues such as Medinah, Oakland Hills, Southern Hills and now Hazeltine have played host.

Lee Trevino in 1984
Lee Trevino won the USPGA Championship in 1974 and 1984

"Going back, you would think 'that's just another event on the PGA Tour'," Brown added. "But in recent years it has gone to some superb courses and they have set it up very nicely.

"They set it up a bit more player friendly than the US Open which sometimes can be very harsh.

"Generally, the fairways tend to be a little bit wider and the rough does not tend to be quite as brutal. The greens are always are up to a very fast standard. It's got a cross section of the major championships.

"The USPGA is trying to make it a tremendous test but without sending the players away in tears."

Depending on your point of view, the USPGA's reputation for being an 'anyone can win it' major either gives the event a real sense of unpredictability or makes it seem a game of chance.

Since 1958, when it switched from a matchplay to a strokeplay event, the USPGA has had a host of unheralded winners such as Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Mark Brooks, Steve Elkington and Wayne Grady.

In fact, over the last 50 years there have been 22 players who can count the USPGA as their only major.

But the Open, the Masters and the US Open have all joined in the unpredictable party of late while the last five USPGA winners - Harrington, Woods (twice), Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh - have shown that the event is not just a place for the journeyman.

Maybe one of the reasons why the USPGA had failed to make a dent on the European consciousness was the lack of a winner from this continent.

But Ireland's Padraig Harrington took home the trophy last year to become the first winner from Europe since the Scottish-born Tommy Armour in 1930.

The majors have always got a story to tell, the player who wins has had all the trials and tribulations of battling a tough course and then holding his nerve at the end

BBC golf commentator Ken Brown

And this year, the likes of England's world number three Paul Casey, compatriot Lee Westwood and Spain's Sergio Garcia are all in with a realistic chance.

"In years gone by, an August date for the overseas players was always tough because most of them weren't playing on the PGA Tour, they had to fly over and get over jetlag," said Brown.

"It was a much harder major to prepare for than the Masters. But we are starting to get more and more players that are potential winners and that is adding to our expectations.

"The PGA Tour has made it a little easier for the top 50 players to play on their circuit and it has totally revolutionised the opportunity for the leading European players.

"They don't arrive in the locker room thinking 'I'm not sure I fit in here'. They know they do. Most of them have contended and some of them have won on the PGA Tour so that makes a huge difference."

So when the world's stars tee it up this week in Minnesota, you can be certain that they will not be thinking about where the USPGA fits in the general scheme of things - it will be about whether they can add a major to their CV.

"The majors have grown in stature as the game has grown because money is much less of a factor now for the leading players," concludes Brown. "The players want their place in history and to win one of those four majors is absolutely critical.

"The majors have always got a story to tell. The player who wins has had all the trials and tribulations of battling a tough course and then holding his nerve at the end. There's nothing like it."



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see also
Golf on the BBC
01 Jul 11 |  Golf
Cink dashes Watson's Open dreams
19 Jul 09 |  Golf
Glover grabs dramatic US Open win
22 Jun 09 |  Golf
Cabrera in Masters play-off win
10 Apr 09 |  Golf
Superb Harrington clinches USPGA
10 Aug 08 |  Golf


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