Best 5 PGA Championships in Empire State

The PGA Championship can’t be accused of being only in a New
York state of mind.

At least not over the long haul.

True, the inaugural PGA Championship was held at Siwanoy Country
Club in Bronxville, N.Y. And yes, eight of the first 22
championships were held in the Empire State. But the PGA of America
moves its major around the country. It has been held in 26 states,
compared with 17 states for the U.S. Open. And while the U.S. Open
has gone to New York 18 times, Oak Hill marks the 12th time the PGA
Championship is in the Empire State.

Jim Barnes won at Siwanoy, 1 up over Jock Hutchison in 1916.
Barnes often gets left out of conversation on the back-to-back
winners of this major. He also won in 1919, after a two-year
absence brought on by World War I.

Even more impressive? The PGA Championship has been held at 10
golf courses in New York, compared with eight New York courses for
the U.S. Open. Oak Hill is the only New York course to hold the PGA
more than once. This will be the third time.

The tough part is figuring out the best five PGA Championships
played in New York. Here’s one offering:

5. JACK IS BACK

Jack Nicklaus never really went anywhere during his peak years.
In his first 20 years as a professional, his longest drought was 12
majors without winning – from the 1967 U.S. Open until the 1970
British Open, during which time his father died.

Even so, he turned 40 in 1980. Tom Watson was the top player.
Seve Ballesteros captured his second major at age 23 when he won
the Masters, leading by 10 shots on the back nine until settling
for a four-shot win.

Nicklaus picked up his 16th career major by winning the U.S.
Open at Baltusrol. But it was his 1980 PGA Championship win at Oak
Hill that summer that affirmed his place in the game. He became
only the second player, behind Ben Hogan in 1953, to win two majors
in his 40s. Mark O’Meara would join them in 1998.

Nicklaus shot 66 in the third round to take a three-shot lead,
and he wound up winning by seven. The margin of victory remained a
record for 33 years, until Rory McIlroy won by eight last year at
Kiawah Island. Nicklaus tied Walter Hagen with his fifth Wanamaker
Trophy.

4. THE SILVER SCOT

Tommy Armour was born in Scotland and took up U.S. citizenship
after World War I. He picked up his first major in 1927 at Oakmont
when he won the U.S. Open.

But the odds were against him in the 1930 PGA Championship at
Fresh Meadow Country Club, even though two-time champion Jim Barnes
and five-time winner Walter Hagen failed qualify for match play.
Armour faced Gene Sarazen, who not only was a three-time major
champion, but the head professional at Fresh Meadow.

Neither player led by more than two holes during the 36-hole
match. They were all square with nine holes to play, and remained
tied playing the 18th. Both hit their second shots into a greenside
bunker. Armour blasted out to 12 feet, and Sarazen was just inside
him.

Armour holed the putt for a birdie, forcing Sarazen to match
him. It would have been the first PGA Championship final to go
extra holes. But it wasn’t. Sarazen missed the putt, giving the
Silver Scot a 1-up win and his second major. Sarazen atoned for the
loss by winning a U.S. Open at Fresh Meadow two years later.

Of the three majors Armour won, he got the least amount of
attention for this one. It was overshadowed by Bobby Jones winning
the Grand Slam.

Armour remains the last player born in Britain to win the PGA
Championship.

3. LITTLE POISON AND THE BLOND BOMBER

Craig Wood was an impressive figure, known as the ”Blond
Bomber” because of his good looks and his ability to smash the
ball a long way. In the final match of the 1934 PGA Championship at
Park Club of Buffalo, he had his hands full against a man that
seemed half his size – Paul Runyan, who went by the nickname
”Little Poison.”

Wood built a 1-up lead in the morning round, and he regained the
lead in the afternoon with an eagle on the 29th hole. Runyan won
back-to-back holes to take the lead, only for Wood to square the
match by nearly holing his approach on the 35th hole. With the
title on the line, both made birdie putts on the 36th hole to force
overtime. Runyan beat him on the 38th hole by making an 8-foot par
putt.

It was the first of two PGA Championship titles for Runyan, and
it set the tone for Wood’s career. He went on to lose the Masters,
U.S. Open and British Open in extra holes. Greg Norman, another
blond bomber of sorts, joined him six decades later by losing all
four majors in a playoff in stroke play.

2. SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW

Davis Love III was considered the best player to have never won
a major when he arrived at Winged Foot for the 1997 PGA
Championship.

He was runner-up at the Masters in 1995 by one shot to Ben
Crenshaw, and his best shot at a major was a year later at Oakland
Hills in the U.S. Open when he three-putted the 18th and finished
one back of Steve Jones.

Love shot 66 in the third round and was tied for the 54-hole
lead with Justin Leonard, a good friend who had won his first major
a month earlier at the British Open. Love was always in control
over the final round in what became a two-man race, and he finally
pulled away late. It was fitting that Love’s major would be the PGA
Championship – his father was a popular club pro who died in a
plane crash nine years later.

It might not have been a coincidence, then, that when Love holed
an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole of a cloudy Sunday at
Winged Foot, the sun had just broken through and a massive rainbow
filled the sky. It rained tears that day.

1. THE SQUIRE AND THE HAIG

Gene Sarazen won the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in 1922, but
the latter might have carried as asterisk – the great Walter Hagen
didn’t play the 1922 PGA Championship because he had prior
engagements.

There was no doubting the Squire in the 1923 PGA Championship at
Pelham Golf Club.

Hagen crushed everyone in his path – he won his opening match 10
and 9, and beat George McLean in the semifinals, 12 and 11 – to set
up a championship match against Sarazen that lived up to its hype.
The match was all square after the morning session, and Sarazen was
2 up late in the match until Hagen won the 34th and 35th holes to
square the match again, setting up the first overtime in the PGA’s
short history.

On the second extra hole, Sarazen hooked a tee shot that was a
few feet from going out-of-bounds. Sarazen – whose birth name was
Eugenio Saraceni – later said Hagen complained there was spaghetti
sauce on the ball. ”He said the greens keeper lived there and was
eating spaghetti and threw the ball back out,” Sarazen said in a
1999 interview.

From deep rough, Sarazen slashed it onto the green to 2 feet
away. Hagen was in a bunker and nearly holed it. That left Sarazen
a short putt, which he made to win in 38 holes for his second
straight PGA title. A year later, Hagen began his run of four in a
row.