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  • Alistair Tait

Will the PGA champion be a one major wonder?

If this week’s PGA Championship at Harding Park produces a first-time major winner then the champion should celebrate long and hard.

There’s a strong chance it might be his only major victory.

The PGA Championship has more single time champions in the modern era than any other major. What does that tell us about the tournament taking place at Harding Park, San Francisco?

Is it the easiest major to win?

In the 100 PGA Championships since Jim Barnes won the first in 1916, there have been thirty seven champions, 37%, who have never won another major (at least at this point in time). That figure compares to 37.3% for U.S. Open champions who never won another major, 27.3% for the Open Championship and 23.2% for the Masters.

However, if you compare the majors since the PGA Championship became a stroke play event in 1958, then the PGA of America’s blue-chip tournament is streets ahead of the other three majors for single time major winners. Indeed, Dow Finsterwald’s 1958 victory was his only major victory. Here are the facts thanks to Alun Evans’ The Golf Majors Book 2020. (If you haven’t got a copy, I’d advise you to do so. It’s got almost everything you need to know about the men’s majors.)

  • The PGA has produced 27 single time major champions in 61 tournaments since 1958, which works out at 45.9%

  • The Open Championship and U.S. Open have each witnessed 19 players since 1958 who would never go on to win another major, a figure of 31.2%

  • The Masters has seen 17 players don the green jacket since 1958, 23.2%, who never went on to win another major

The PGA seems to produce more Rich Beems, Shaun Micheels, Wayne Gradys, Jeff Slumans and Bob Tways than the Open throws up Todd Hamiltons and Ben Curtises.

Recent PGA Champions can obviously still add to their major trophy cabinets. It would be unfair to peg 2016 champion Jimmy Walker (pictured) at this point as someone who will only win one major. Although, like 2011 PGA winner Keegan Bradley, his form has dropped off significantly since that victory. It would also be unfair to cast 2017 champion Justin Thomas as a one-major wonder.

Nevertheless, as I’ve said often, we never know what’s going to happen in this crazy game. Jason Day set a major championship record for lowest winning total against par with a 20-under 268 at Whistling Straits in the 2015 PGA Championship. Who’d have thought five years later he’d still be looking for his second major victory?

Of course, the same could be said about Adam Scott’s 2013 Masters win, or Justin Rose’s U.S. Open victory at Merion that year, or Henrik Stenson’s 2016 Open win when he matched Day’s 20-under-par record. It’s just that the PGA Championship has a proclivity for producing more single time major winners in the modern era.

Lewis at last

Seems a long time since Tom Lewis created a buzz at the 2011 Open Championship with an opening 65, setting a record for lowest round by an amateur. Lewis shared the 18-hole lead with Thomas Bjorn, and took the silver medal as low amateur when he finished T30.

He turned professional after helping Great Britain & Ireland win the Walker Cup and promptly won the European Tour’s Portugal Masters

Cue England’s next star stories.

It didn’t help that young Tom came from Welwyn Garden City, the same home town as Nick Faldo, arguably England’s most successful player, albeit Harry Vardon fans will have something to say about that.

Lewis didn’t take the world by storm. He had to go to the Qualifying School in 2016 to regain his playing rights. He had to wait eight years for his second European Tour victory, taking the Portugal Masters for a second time with his win last year.

The 2009 Boys Amateur champion seems to have found his mojo since earning his PGA Tour card by winning last year’s Korn Ferry Championship. His T2 finish in last week’s WGC–FedEx St Jude Invitational moved him into the world top 50 for the first time, where many feel he belongs.

He's in contention at Harding Park after a bogey-free, 3-under-par 67.

Lewis probably won’t come close to matching Faldo’s CV, but at 29 he still has a lot of years to give it a bloody good try. Let’s hope he finds the success in his 30s that never came in his 20s.

#JustSaying: “I don’t care what anybody says: the first tournament isn’t the hardest to win. It’s always the second.” John Daly

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