Chip Shots

Spieth Chasing History

Golfer tries to enter “Career Grand Slam Club.”

As unbelievable as it may seem, we are sitting on the doorstep of the fourth and final Major of the year, the PGA Championship. Prior to the first Major this year, the Masters, the anticipation and expectations were off the charts.

At the start of the year, there were three different golfers that possibly could be extended invitations into a most exclusive club, the Career Grand Slam Club, a club that only grants admission to those players who have won all four Major titles in the course of their careers. To date, only five players in history have reached that elusive mountaintop. Gene Sarazen was the first to do so. The last being Tiger Woods. The other three are some of the most iconic players in the game . . . Gary Player, Ben Hogan, and Jack Nicklaus.

This year at the Masters, it was Rory McIlroy who had the opportunity for membership but failed to gain entry. At the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson, who has chalked up six second place U.S. Open finishes didn’t even look like he was knocking on the door. At 48 years old, his window of opportunity seems to be closing.

The third potential member trying to gain entry is Jordan Spieth. With a victory at this week at the PGA Championship, Spieth would become member number six and would be forever in the history books alongside the game’s ultra-elite.

To put that accomplishment in perspective, just consider that the “King” himself, Arnold Palmer, never danced in the winner’s circle at the PGA. Other superstars from years past just one major shy of the Career Grand Slam membership are iconic names like Sam Sneed, Byron Nelson, and Tom Watson. When one takes note of those players that have won three of the four majors, it brings into focus what a great achievement it is to win all four — the Masters, the U.S. Open, the Open Championship, and the PGA Championship — really is.

This PGA Championship celebrates the 100th playing of this event. The first-ever PGA was held in October of 1916 at the Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, NY. The state of New York has hosted the PGA Championship 12 times more than any other state, but Ohio has a solid hold on second place with 11.

Next year, when this event moves to a May date, it will be played at Bethpage Black, often referred to as the toughest public course in the country. Jim Barnes won the first PGA Championship and earned a whopping $500 first-place check. This week, that check will be in the $2 million range.

Bellerive Country Club, which sits in the shadow of the famous St. Louis landmark, the Gateway Arch, is the host club for this PGA Championship. Just in case you’re a big fan of “Jeopardy” like my family is, knowing that the architect of this iconic landmark is Eero Saarinen might just come in handy someday. The Gateway Arch is a 630-foot structure clad in stainless steel. Interesting to note, it is the world’s tallest arch and the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere.

Speaking of a tall order, that is exactly what is confronting Jordan Spieth in his quest for victory. Spieth has played in the PGA Championship six times with only one top 10 finish to his credit. To make matters worse, Jordan’s play last week in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational left a lot to be desired with a five-over par 60th place finish and 20 shots behind the Champion, Justin Thomas.

So, who do I like this week, you ask despite the fact I hesitate to put my choice in writing? My pick is Ricky Fowler to win. I am much better at picking winners when on the radio because people tend to forget whereas when it’s in writing, it becomes rather permanent.

Best of luck to the PGA of America and its 29,000 plus members. Always remember, your club professionals are truly the backbone of the game.