GET INTO GOLF: Players chase the Wanamaker in year’s final Major | TheUnion.com

GET INTO GOLF: Players chase the Wanamaker in year’s final Major

John Renslow
Golf Columnist

What in the world is a Wanamaker Trophy?

More than 100 years ago (1916) a group of golf professionals gathered to develop what is now known as the Professional Golfer's Association of America. From that meeting was also born the concept of a national championship, the opportunity for the country's golf pros to compete and determine who was best. A department store magnate, Rodman Wanamaker, hosted the meeting, provided the trophy and purse ($2,500) for the event. Thus, the Wanamaker Trophy.

Today, the PGA Championship is one of golf's four major tournaments. These "majors" evolved over time to become what they are today. Back when the tour was in its adolescence, "every tournament was a major," as golf great Sam Snead would say. Now, there are significantly different benefits to winning one of the big four (the Master's, U.S. Open, British Open and the PGA Championship).

First, the purse (amount of money paid to the field of players) is larger. Last month's British Open winner walked away with nearly $1,890,000. Not bad for a week's wages. Of course, there are years of preparation for that opportunity.

In addition to big money, the Tour awards an exemption from qualifying for future events. Normally, a Tour event win will bestow a two-year exemption. For the majors, the winner receives a five or 10-year exemption. This means that for at least the next five years, the champion can play in virtually any tournament of their choosing. Not only is this an increased probability of on-course income, but if you are a vendor looking for a tour player to endorse your product, how about someone you know will be there for the next 10 years.

This year's PGA Championship is being played this week at the Bellerive Country Club in Town and Country, Missouri (near St. Louis). It has been 15 years since Bellerive CC has hosted a major tournament. Yet, this small town with a population just over 10,000, also hosted a U.S. Open in 1965.

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It was 1918 when the inaugural PGA Championship was held. With some quick math, that makes this year's championship the 100th anniversary. An interesting note is the change in tournament format exactly sixty years ago.

Match play was the accepted format for tournament play at that time. Rather than the aggregate stroke play that we see almost every week, pairs of professionals played matches with the winner going on to face a different opponent.

Still enjoyed daily by millions of amateur players, match play is decided hole by hole. The player with the lower score on a given hole wins that hole. A tally (net of holes won or lost) for the number of holes won is kept. A match is won when one player leads by a number of holes greater than the number remaining to be played.

This is a fun, entertaining format. Unfortunately, television has greatly reduced the number of match play events. Here is why. Everyone (primarily the golf companies that support the players) wants to see their favorite professional play the game, but in match play the round rarely sees all 18 holes.

Let's say Phil has a great match play round, he has won six holes and there are only five left to play. Match over. Phil is happy, but the people who pay him to wear their stuff and the companies who purchase commercial time are not. Exit the match play format.

So, in 1958, the event changed to stroke play (in which the players simply have a total number of strokes). The predictable consistency of completing an entire round makes the vendors and television producers happy.

We get to see eight hours of play each day this weekend. It starts on TNT and moves on to CBS. Now, you too can be happy.

John Renslow is a PGA Class A Professional and Instructor at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at jrenslow@yahoo.com.

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