FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — If there is water dripping from foreheads, golf caps or any other garb at the PGA Championship this week, it will almost certainly be in the form of rain, not sweat.
No extra shirts at the ready for Tiger Woods, who last August in St. Louis would several times duck into portable restrooms to change Nike shirts, perspiration a pesky and unwelcome reminder of just how unforgiving a Midwestern summer could be on a golf course.
Gone is the heat and humidity, and in its place this week at Bethpage Black is rain that dominated the early practice rounds and the promise of cool temperatures throughout the weekend.
It is the most obvious of differences as the PGA Championship has moved from a traditional date in August to May as part of an overhaul of the professional golf schedule.
But the move means many things for the PGA of America, which immediately reaps the benefits of Woods having won the Masters last month and coming to the 101st PGA Championship as the most recent major winner.
“It’s the moon landing, right?” said Seth Waugh, the CEO of the PGA of America. “We’d rather be lucky than good. We were close to being sold out on the weekend [prior to the Masters] but it’s blown up. The inquiries, the traffic, the conversation. I texted Tiger to congratulate him and he said, ‘You’re welcome.’
“It’s such a great story, and everyone is going to remember where they were that day.”
That story is a big part of the conversation this week, and adds to the credence of having major championships a month apart.
For the PGA, the move was part of a broader plan to help the PGA Tour conclude its season earlier, thus avoiding playing its now three-tournament playoff format during the start of football season.
For the first time in 2019, the FedEx Cup playoffs will conclude in August. That necessitated the PGA to move earlier in the schedule. With the PGA Tour moving its Players Championship back to March, there was room to slot the PGA into May — five weeks after the Masters and four weeks prior to the U.S. Open.
“We think the cadence of the major championships is much better — as is the golf season, as is being defined by the tour,” Waugh said. “Particularly if you move Ryders Cups and Presidents Cups and the Olympics in there.
“In terms of us personally, we love being in the second slot now. The momentum we all feel after the Masters, no matter who wins — there is always a lift. This is the time of year when people are getting the jones to play. And then you had this two-month wait between the Masters and the U.S. Open. It was too long.
“It helps our mission of growing the game and helping people learn how to play and helping with equipment. It is a great thing for us.”
Bethpage Black was already scheduled for 2019 prior to the decision announced two years ago to change the schedule.
It will be the first playing of the PGA in May since 1949 and the first time the order of the Masters, U.S. Open, The Open and the PGA will be altered since 1971, when the PGA was played at PGA National in February in order to avoid the Florida summer.
From 1953 through last year (except 1971), the PGA’s dates fell in either July or August, with the Masters and U.S. Open being the first two majors.
“I do believe the PGA have taken one for the team with it,” said Padraig Harrington, the 2008 PGA champion and 2020 European Ryder Cup team captain. “I do believe to facilitate the world of golf, they have switched from what was probably a better date for them in August, but it’s better for golf to have this event in May. I think the golfers appreciate it. We like the run of things. It suits the game of golf, it suits the FedEx Cup. It suits the Ryder Cup. Everything about it gives a nice spacing to golf.”
Bubba Watson is among those who believe that getting the PGA Tour season concluded prior to football taking over the majority of sports fans’ interests is part of the benefit.
“I love it. I think this is great, and I think it’s very smart,” Watson said. “When you’re looking at revamping the schedule and looking at pro football and college football … I’m a fan. I’m a golfer, but I am also going to try to get done right away on Saturday and watch football because I’m watching my teams and I’m watching the sport. You have to figure out ways to get the viewership and everything up. So the condensed schedule makes sense. On paper it makes sense. How it turns out? We’ll wait and see.”
The risk for the PGA is weather. Several of the venues picked for future PGAs were locked up with an August date in mind, including Bethpage.
While Bethpage appears fine even with a shorter growing season to get ready, the substantial rain and cold temperatures earlier this week — while unseasonal — are always a possibility in certain climates in May.
And it means a long golf course -7,459 yards, par-70 — will play even longer.
“This is not only a big golf course, but this is going to be a long week the way the golf course is set up and potentially could play,” Woods said. “This could be a hell of a championship.”
Perhaps the biggest positive for the PGA of America is ridding itself of the stigma of the fourth major not only being last, but least. It is a perception the tournament has fought, particularly since there had often been so little time following The Open to the start of the PGA Championship.
With the U.S. Open and Open in secure positions no matter what order they are played, the PGA now benefits from the momentum of the Masters and serves as a perfect bridge into the remaining majors.
And maybe with a slight jab at the U.S. Open, Waugh sees another benefit.
“We create winners,” he said. “People don’t lose our tournament, they win it. In 23 of the last 25 years, someone has stepped up to win it. We believe that’s due to the course set up, the courses we choose, how our philosophy is to make it a challenge but also to offer up a chance for birdies.
“We’re thrilled with the date. We were excited about it before, but it’s obviously drop-the-mic time right now.”
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