The PGA Championship (often called the USPGA Championship in the UK) is the second youngest (though still over 100 years old) of the four major championships in men’s golf. It is a tournament with a rich and varied history which has visited many of the best golf courses in America, occupied different slots on the golfing calendar and even been played with different formats, as it was a match play tournament from its inception in 1916 through to 1957.
In modern times, the PGA Championship has had a bit of a branding problem as the PGA of America seek to differentiate their flagship tournament from the other majors. The latest change to try and upgrade its profile was a move to May in 2019, making it the second major of the calendar year. Whether that will work or not remains to be seen but you can’t go too far wrong hosting the best golfers in the world at such a rich variety of golf courses in the quest for the Wanamaker Trophy.
2022: Justin Thomas
Golf can be a cruel sport. How, for example, can it be fair for one shot out of 276 to cost a player the chance to win their maiden major championship? That’s one of several questions that will be ringing around the head of Mito Pereira. The Chilean needed only a regulation par on his 72nd hole to win the 2022 PGA Championship but he got his drive ever so slightly wrong and having found a creek off the tee he couldn’t even do enough to get into a playoff.
While Pereira was licking his wounds (but impressively fronting up to the press) the stage was left to Justin Thomas and Will Zalatoris to battle it out in a three-hole playoff for the PGA Championship. Zalatoris once again showed an excellent ability to rise to the challenge of major championship golf and he matched Thomas’s birdie on the par five 13th hole. However, Thomas showed that extra bit of class and experience that saw him edge away on 17 and 18 as he won the PGA Championship for a second time.
Southern Hills proved, once again, that it is an excellent host of major championship golf. A whole host of players including Rory McIlroy got themselves into contention only to find Southern Hills too punishing at one stage or another. For a while it appeared that Thomas’s chances had also been ended by Southern Hills, however, he fought incredibly hard at the weekend just as he did on the first two days when coming through much the toughest side of the draw. In ending a five-year wait for major number two, Thomas sent out a marker that there are many more big wins in his future.
2021: Phil Mickelson
Bernhard Langer knows a thing or two about Kiawah Island but he also knows plenty about golfing longevity. He perennially competes with distinction at the Masters despite having been playing seniors golf for 13 years and said after the 2021 trip to Augusta National that he believed a player over the age of 50 would soon win a major. How prescient that prediction proved to be as, just a few weeks later, Phil Mickelson became the oldest major winner with a stunning performance at the 2021 PGA Championship.
Mickelson, who was 116th in the world rankings when he turned up to Kiawah Island and had been given what many viewed as a sympathy invite to the upcoming U.S. Open, proved that he retains the quality needed to compete with the very best in the game and the desire to improve. He clearly found something extra in his game as his approach play was on a totally different level to the rest of this season. Combined with his trademark bombs off the tee (which were less errant than usual) and Mickelson ended the week top of the rankings for strokes gained from tee to green.
Despite Lefty’s affinity with links golf and the history of the game, few felt Kiawah Island was a course that would suit his game. However, his guile, short game and strangely accurate performance off the tee proved perfect. It wasn’t a procession but this was a relatively comfortable win for the now six-time major winner.
Indeed, at one point on Saturday it looked as though Mickelson was going to run away with the tournament. That never quite happened but he was more than good enough to see off the challenges of Louis Oosthuizen and his final round playing partner Brooks Koepka. Padraig Harrington’s spirited charge to a share of fourth alongside Shane Lowry was further evidence that older players can continue to thrive, even though this was the longest course ever used for a major championship.
2020: Collin Morikawa
Winning a maiden major championship is always special. But some maiden wins are more special than others. Collin Morikawa’s 2020 PGA Championship victory was right at the top end of the specialness scale. Not only did he join Jack Nicklaus and Rory McIlroy as first time PGA Championship winners at the age of 23, not only did his success come in his home state of California, but he secured his victory with a shot that has already gone down in golfing history.
This was the biggest tournament since the resumption of golf and a whole host of players found themselves in contention on Sunday. At one point there were a remarkable seven players tied for the lead. That set the stage perfectly for Morikawa to steal the show (and the almost $2m winner’s cheque).
The repeated nervous looks up at the green of the 295 yard, par four 16th hole hinted that Morikawa knew this was a massive moment. With his heart pumping he took a deep breath and produced an incredible controlled drive which faded perfectly, pitched just before the green and tracked a course away from a bunker which was perilously close and towards the hole leaving a relatively easy eagle putt which he would convert en route to a stunning 64. That incredible final round saw him home for a two-shot victory, ahead of Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson who tied second.
2019: Brooks Koepka
The PGA Championship is a tournament that has struggled for its identity at times. That is to be expected as there is no set criteria that courses must fit in order to host the major, as there is with the Open Championship and U.S. Open. After a comparatively easy course in 2018, the PGA of America had very different ideas for the 2019 PGA Championship which took place at the infamous Bethpage Black.
Brooks Koepka initially made a mockery of suggestions that this would be the most difficult PGA Championship for many years with a stunning first two rounds of 63 and 65. Even he was eventually caught out on Sunday but such was the quality of his earlier play that Koepka was able to successfully defend his PGA Championship title despite a final round of +4.
Dustin Johnson was the only real threat to Koepka on the final day. Johnson did incredibly well to go round in -1 but that was only enough to reduce the gap to Koepka, not overtake him, so Koepka became the first player since Rory McIlroy to make it to four major championships and also defended the title he had won 12 months earlier.
2018: Brooks Koepka
Brooks Koepka arrived at Bellerive Country Club riding the crest of a wave after making a successful defence of his U.S. Open title earlier in the season. That achievement made him hugely popular among golf fans but he was cast in the role of party pooper during his 2018 PGA Championship win as he was the only man to finish above Tiger Woods, who came within two strokes of winning his first major championship since the 2008 U.S. Open.
For all that the galleries at Bellerive Country Club and the millions of fans watching on TV would have loved Woods to win another major, there was no argument that Koepka was fully deserving of the victory. His opening round of 69 was solid but from then on Koepka’s golf was nothing short of spectacular.
It was to Woods’ great credit that he was able to make things interesting on Sunday. He rolled back the years by shooting 64, putting himself three shots clear of third placed Adam Scott. That was truly peak Tiger. Koepka was a further two shots better off though and lifted his second major championship of the season and the third of his career.
2017: Justin Thomas
Quail Hollow Club is always one of the most popular stop offs of the PGA Tour season but the Ohio course saw a much stronger field than is normally assembled for the Wells Fargo Championship when it hosted the 2017 PGA Championship. A number of players with previous strong form at Quail Hollow featured prominently in the betting for the final major of the year but none of them could hang with Justin Thomas who won his fourth major.
Thomas arrived at Quail Hollow in rude health having already picked up three PGA Tour wins in the 2016/17 season. He had to warm to his task though as he was two shots the wrong side of par after his opening round. Thomas quickly put the wrongs of Thursday right on Friday with a round of 66 which he followed with a 69 on Saturday to move right into contention.
Still, Thomas went into Sunday two shots behind the leader Kevin Kisner and one behind both Hideki Matsuyama and Chris Stroud. While those three all went backwards on Sunday, Thomas used his experience and kept his cool. He gained ground with a closing 68 which saw him finish two strokes ahead of Louis Oosthuizen, Francesco Molinari and Patrick Reed.