The 100th PGA Championship is here in St. Louis this week, and it’s a different animal than the one that came to town and visited Bellerive in 1992.
The course is different. Bellerive played at 7,024 yards and par was 71 when Nick Price prevailed in ’92. This year, it’ll play at 7,317 yards and par will be 70. The younger, stronger PGA player is a part of the reason for the difference, but the biggest difference is the equipment. In 1992, metal woods were just coming into existence. Now, golf club manufactures are teaming up with NASA to develop the lightest and bounciest metal for drivers. Clubs are better, balls are better, and athletes are stronger and in better condition, so the need for longer courses is obvious. In a story the Golf Digest did two years ago, it was pointed out that John Daly led the PGA tour in driving distance in 1996 at 286.6 yards. Right now, Daniel Summerhays is 182nd on tour averaging 286.5, with leader Trey Mullinax averaging 319.7 yards per drive.
Of course, the thing that changed golf the most over the period of time since STL last hosted the PGA Championship was Tiger Woods. When Tiger won his first major…The Masters in 1997…he was 21 years old. Over the course of his dominance between then and 2008, lots of youngsters that otherwise would not have taken an interest in golf did. Among the top thirteen players that will play at Bellerive, eleven were between the ages of three and thirteen when Tiger won that Masters…and grew up watching his dominance. Now that group; Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Bryson De Chambeau, Francisco Molinari, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Webb Simpson, Patton Kizzire and Brooks Koepka, is winning majors and beating Tiger. Nine of the last fifteen winners of major tournaments would have watched Tiger as a youngster.
What has Tiger done for golf? First of all, he made it popular. He increased the sponsorships, TV ratings and, ultimately, the money. In the year Price won the PGA at Bellerive, the purse was $1.6 million, and his winners take was $280,000. Last year, the PGA Championship purse was $10.5 million and winner Justin Thomas took home $1.89 million. Fred Couples led the 1992 tour in earnings at $1,344,188. This year, Dustin Johnson leads with earnings of $6,715,752. Couples’ TOTAL earnings 26 years ago would rank 81st so far this year, right behind number 80 James Hahn, who has earned $1,344,732. The business of golf has boomed since Tiger became dominant.
This week will enhance an already impressive golf history for St. Louis. In addition to the 1965 and 1992 PGA Championships and the 2013 Senior PGA at Bellerive, our town was the last U.S. city to host an Olympic Golf competition (1904), at Glen Echo. It was the last city to host a PGA Championship where Ben Hogan competed in the match-play format (1948 at Norwood Hills), and won. And of course, the 2001 World Golf Championships-American Express Championship was scheduled to be held here the week of the September 11th attacks.
The benefits to the community are great; $102 million is expected to be delivered to the area’s economy because of the tournament. St. Louis will be the center of the golf universe, as 500 million people worldwide are expected to watch at least a portion on TV. We have a chance to show off our best.
And perhaps for sports fans, the most important thing will be that Tiger will play here. He didn’t turn pro until four years after St. Louis hosted the 1992 PGA, and he was scheduled to play here while at the peak of his powers in 2001. That week, he grabbed a Buick courtesy car (he was a Buick spokesman at the time), and…because all flights were grounded…drove home to Florida after the tournament was cancelled.
Since then, St. Louis hasn’t hosted an event, so this will be our chance…perhaps our only one…to see Tiger in person. With the gap between majors in town at 26 years, it’s unlikely we’ll see the now-42-year-old as a PGA player in St. Louis ever again.
We’ve been lucky to see many of the best in sports play here. Serena Williams, Albert Pujols, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner and Brett Hull all performed here. We saw an NHL All-Star game that featured Wayne Gretzky captaining the West squad and Mario Lemieux the East. But we’ve never seen Woods play an entire round in person.
That’s what I’m looking forward to most. I love the fact that the tour is so different than the one we saw in 1992, and that all the young guns that are products of Woods’ greatness are going to be here. But the big thing…bigger than how great this is for St. Louis and bigger than whatever the competition might deliver…is that arguably the greatest golfer ever is going to test himself at Bellerive in 2018.