The month of May has always been a special month. The Kentucky Derby, the Cinco de Mayo celebrations, the Indy 500, and most important, Mother’s Day. And now we can add the PGA Championship to the list. This year it’s going to be played right in our backyard at Bethpage and on the most difficult course, The Black.
Bethpage has the reputation of being one of the toughest tests in all of golf, but the players can’t say they haven’t been warned as one of the most iconic signs greets them as they approach the first tee and clearly states in big, bold letters: “Warning: The Black Course is an Extremely Difficult Course which we recommend only for Highly Skilled Golfers.”
In my opinion, the 2019 Masters has already been filed in that exclusive category named “All-Time-Great,” so the PGA Championship next week will have a tough act to follow, but it did get me thinking about which PGA Championship could be called the best one.
Selecting the best out of the 100 that have been played is not easy and after careful consideration, I’ve concluded that, for me, the 2000 PGA at Valhalla, which was the last PGA Championship for Jack Nicklaus, was the best. It also marked the only time in major championships that Jack was paired with Tiger for the first two rounds, even though Jack and Tiger played in the same major championships 22 times.
I was fortunate enough to have broadcast Jack’s farewell round at the Master’s, the U.S. Open, and the Open Championship at St Andrews, and it was an honor to be at that final PGA Championship to witness Jack say goodbye. I clearly remember that I was standing just behind the 18th green and the scene was electric.
Bob Denny, the highly acclaimed historian of the PGA of America, posted this message on the giant scoreboard: “37 Golden Years, Thank You Bear.” Jack really played well and nearly holed out on his shot on the 18th, which would have gotten Jack into the weekend, and what a weekend it was. The tension was at a fever pitch when Tiger arrived at the 72nd hole only to face a very tricky downhill, side hill putt to force a playoff with Bob May. Standing just a few feet away, I knew what a tough putt he faced.
Tiger, in 2000, just did not miss the putts that he had to have, and he didn’t miss that one either. I couldn’t help feel a little bad for Bob May though. He was so close, yet so far. Unfortunately for May, he lost in the three-hole playoff and ended his career without ever winning on the PGA Tour. So, for many others, and me, that 2000 PGA Championship ranks as the all-time #1 in my book.
Speaking of the best, this past weekend I had the honor to spend some time with some of the greats of the game . . . Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam, and Pat Bradley plus Lee Trevino, Gary Player, and my good friend, Jack Nicklaus, who were all in Houston to participate in the 3M Greats of Golf. One superstar that was not there, of course, was the legendary Seve Ballesteros, who passed away in 2011 at only 54 years-old. Being in the company of these greats of the game was a thrill and honor for me the first time I had that opportunity many years ago. Guess what? It’s no less an honor this time around.
Sincere congratulations go out to Tiger Woods, who, on Monday, became the fourth golfer to receive the Presidential Medal of Honor. Tiger joins Charlie Sifford, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus in this elite club. The next honor that Wood will be seeking is the 2019 PGA Championship. With a victory at Bethpage Black, Tiger would tie Jack Nicklaus with five PGA Championships.
There’s no doubt that Bethpage Black will be a tough challenge, but as Tiger has shown in the past, at his best, he is even tougher.