Everything you need to know about the US PGA Championship, the year’s second men’s golf major, at Kiawah Island.
Today’s Golfer’s 2021 Major coverage is brought to you in association with TaylorMade.
Wind. Squalls. Wind. Hard bounces. Wind. Pot bunkers. Wind… Championship golf on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is as close to playing at Carnoustie as you’ll ever get in South Carolina.
In 2012, Rory McIlroy captured the Wanamaker Trophy by a record eight shots from England’s David Lynn (remember him?). This week, the world’s best will return to Kiawah for the 2021 US PGA Championship.
Designed by Alice and Pete Dye to host the 1991 Ryder Cup – infamously dubbed the ‘War on the Shore’ – the Ocean Course winds naturally through windswept dunes along the Atlantic coast.
With up to 10,000 fans allowed in each day, watching a stellar field said to be the strongest in golf on a course that, like an Open Championship demands control and creativity, it’s shaping up to be a must-watch.
So, let us get you in the mood…
Fans will be back at the PGA Championship
Unlike last August when the tournament was held behind-closed-doors, the PGA of America are planning to welcome up to 10,000 spectators per day. All four days will be aired live on Sky Sports, from May 20-23.
Kiawah Island has plenty of history
Despite only opening in 1991, the Ocean Course was built specifically for the Ryder Cup that year, which was famously dubbed the ‘War on the Shore’.
Played at the height of the Gulf War, patriotism was high (Corey Pavin donned a Desert Storm cap), the partisan crowd got behind ‘their boys’ by cheering every European missed putt and the drama was maintained right until the very last shot when a missed putt by Bernhard Langer handed the US victory, after consecutive losses to Europe in 1985 and 1987 and a tie in 1989.
Since then the course has played host to a World Cup of Golf and the 2007 US Senior PGA – in addition to the 2012 US PGA.
The Ocean Course can stretch close to 8,000 yards!
Bryson DeChambeau is probably rubbing his hands with glee, but don’t be fooled into thinking Kiawah Island is just another bomber’s alley.
Though there is virtually no rough on the course, it has often been likened to a Scottish links because of the native areas, the abundance of fescue-lined pot bunkers and the absence of trees which leave every hole exposed to the elements. It might also explain why five Brits finished in the top 10 in 2012 – and why many consider it to be the most difficult course in America.
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Rangefinders are allowed for the first time
The US PGA Championship will see caddies and players allowed to use distance measuring devices (DMDs), or rangefinders, for the first time in professional tournament play.
The PGA of America announced the decision to allow rangefinders at the PGA Championship, Senior PGA and the KPMG Women’s PGA in February with the aim of speeding up play.
But what do the players who will battle it out at Kiawah Island make of the decision?
“Will you see pace of play improve like 10 or 15 minutes? I don’t think so,” defending champion Collin Morikawa said. “But will it help certain players pick up speed? I think it’ll be tremendous in that sense.”
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Jordan Spieth, aiming to complete the Career Grand Slam this week, is less sure of the benefits.
“I have a hard time seeing it speeding things up, unless you get it way offline or you’re out of contention.
“We’ll plan on using it, but I think it will be more confirmation than anything. It’s not going to be we just step up, shoot it, and go. I mean, these pins get tucked and the wind’s blowing and you got to figure out a few more things than just the number to the hole.”
Webb Simpson, 2011 US Open champion, agreed.
“This is a fact: it’s not going to speed up play because everybody I know and have talked to, we still want front numbers, and the range finder, you can’t always get the accurate front number.
“So you’ll probably have the player shoot the pin, the caddie will walk off the number because I’m going to want what’s front. I haven’t read the reasoning behind it or their desire to test it out that week, but I don’t think it will really make a difference.”
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Kiawah Island is a happy hunting ground for Rory McIlroy
Rory will be returning to the scene of one of his greatest-ever victories and, following his victory in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, is the favourite to win with the bookies.
The last time Kiawah Island hosted the PGA in 2012, McIlroy became the youngest-ever winner of the tournament after romping to a record-breaking eight-shot victory.
A repeat performance would see him end a seven-year winless streak in Majors, and who would bet against it?
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Dustin Johnson fancies his chances at Kiawah…
Four wins in his last 15 starts makes DJ one of the favourites and he probably thinks the PGA owes him something since he’s finished runner-up in the last two events.
This year the World No.1 has the added benefit of home advantage as a South Carolina boy, plus he lists the Ocean Course as one of his favourite layouts.
Jordan Spieth could complete the career grand slam
Former World No.1 and in-form Jordan Spieth has the chance to complete the career grand slam at the US PGA Championship and join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as players who have won all four Majors across their career.
It’s Spieth’s fourth opportunity to complete the feat having won The Open in 2017 and arguably his best opportunity to date. In form and as a player who loves the challenge of links-style golf, bookies have him at third favourtie alongside Ryder Cup teammates DJ, Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau.
Spieth’s best finish at the US PGA Championship came in 2015. Having already won that year’s Masters and US Open, the Texan finished runner-up to Jason Day at Whistling Straits.
If the wind blows, Kiawah could be carnage
Scoring was so high during the second round in 2012 that it still ranks as the toughest since 1956, with the average round being over 78.
From one day to the next, it’s not uncommon to get two different wind directions and up to an eight-club difference on holes.
A ‘breeze’ off the Atlantic can range from a manageable 8-12mph to 50-60mph, which might explain why Dye put up to six tees on each hole. According to him, there’s no other golf course in the Northern Hemisphere that has as many seaside holes, with 10 running along the Atlantic and the other eight running parallel.
It has arguable the strongest field of the year
While many believe The Players Championship to have the strongest field, the US PGA Championship routinely has the highest “strength of field rating” of the year according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
A number of qualification criteria are used to determine the field, which includes past PGA champions, recent major winners, top finishers in the previous year’s PGA Championship, Ryder Cup players, tournament and leading money winners on the PGA Tour, and 20 PGA club or teaching professionals.
The US PGA has a big purse and the biggest trophy…
The winner of the US PGA Championship receives the Wanamaker Trophy and a cheque for $1.98 million out of the tournament’s total $11 million purse.
The Wanamaker ttrophy stands at 28 inches high and weighs 27lb, making it the biggest in Major Championship golf.
The PGA of America named it after Rodman Wanamaker, a Philadelphia native and department store owner who was instrumental in the formation of the PGA of America in 1916.
Walter Hagen lost the original in 1925, blaming a taxi driver he’d asked to take it back to his hotel. It turned up in 1930, in a crate, and now resides at PGA HQ.
US PGA champions are automatically invited to play in the other three men’s Majors and The Players Championship for the next five years, and are eligible for the PGA Championship for life. They receive membership on the PGA Tour for the following five seasons and on the European Tour for seven seasons.
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Morikawa’s chances of defending his title are slim
Collin Morikawa has spent much of his short career making history, so it’s perhaps foolish to rule out the 24-year-old’s chances of defending his maiden Major title around the Ocean Course.
However, only two players have ever retained the US PGA in its strokeplay era (Tiger Woods, 1999-2000 & 2006-2007, and Brooks Koepka, 2018 & 2019).
This is only the second May playing
The tournament used to be played in August and was the final men’s Major of the year, but it was moved to be played in May in 2019. The Covid-19 global health pandemic saw 2020’s event at TPC Harding Park moved to August. It has primarily been played in the eastern half of the United States, only venturing west on 11 occasions.
The player who has won the most PGA Championships is…
Jack Nicklaus, who won five times between 1963 and 1980, followed by Tiger Woods, who won his first Wanamaker trophy in 1999 and has four victories to date.