The USPGA Championship used to be a match play event - should it go back to that format? By Tom Ellis
Why The USPGA Championship Should Return To Match Play
63 years ago, Lionel Herbert won the USPGA Championship at Miami Valley Golf Club in Dayton, Ohio.
It was Herbert’s only Major, but it has yielded him a place in history, as the last man to win a match play Major Championship.
After Herbert’s 2&1 triumph over fellow American Dow Finsterwald in 1957, the USPGA scrapped the format and followed the other three Majors in using stroke play.
Match Play is unique.
Rather than playing just against the course, you have an actual opponent – in a winner-takes-all contest.
For instance, there are no ‘gimmies’ in stroke play – a ‘gimme’ is a shot that the other players/player agree can count automatically without being taken, this can be when a player has only a very short putt left to play.
Match play gets the best crowd reactions.
Some evidence of this comes from the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.
Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed produced one of the greatest singles Ryder Cup matches of the modern era.
Reed eventually won 1up in a duel where both players were at the pinnacle of their game.
All square heading into the back nine, after five birdies apiece on the way out.
Players like McIlroy and Reed thrive in match play, it allows more of an emotional and respectful side of the game we do not see in stroke play.
Another reason for a return to Major match play golf would be that it is such a common format seen in the amateur and club game.
Whether it’s social golf, club golf or elite amateur golf, match play is played up-and-down the country and around the world week-in, week-out.
Returning the USPGA Championship back into a match play Major would give it a much needed rebirth.
Some people, like myself, are of the opinion that it is the least prestigious of the four Majors.
A combination of things spoil the USPGA Championship for me:
- The fact it is not Match play
- The variety of venue – many USPGA setups resemble regular PGA Tour events
- The invitation of 20 non-tour professionals
- The number of one-time Major winners
- The winning score (easy course set-up)
There is not set list of venues like there is for The Open championship, this does not give the prestigious and special feel you get with the Open champion or US Open, which tends to rotate around a certain number of courses.
Inviting 20-non tour professionals means there are some very good tour players that end up missing out.
Granted, it is a nice initiative to have the non-tour players competing but they are not good enough to win or contend and instead take the places of quality players who could.
The list of maiden Major winners to break their duck at the USPGA championship is arguably not as strong as the other Majors.
For example, Jimmy Walker, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and YE Yang are all players that probably wont win another Major again.
Since 2000, seventeen of the nineteen winning scores have been -8 or lower. In twelve occasions the winning margin has been two shots or more.
This is too easy for the modern tour player.
The viewer will take more satisfaction from watching the world’s top players be better challenged and have to produce their best golf to win a career-defining trophy.
The lack of Match Play Tour Tournaments
There are simply not enough match play events across both tours.
We only have two match play tournaments on the schedule for the PGA and European Tours.
The closest we now get to a match play Major is the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas.
The tournament started in 1999 and has always been a World Golf Championship event.
64 players are invited to the WGC-Match Play – (The 64 highest-ranked players from 10 days before the start of the event). This year the event is scheduled for 25-29 March.
The upper echelon of match play players have all prevailed in this tournament, this includes the likes of Jason Day, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson.
The second is the GolfSixes, this year the GolfSixes Cascais is once again in Portugal.
This is now the European Tour’s answer to their annual match play tournament.
They previously had the Belgian Knockout (2018 & 2019) and the Paul Lawrie Match Play (2015-17).
The former World Match Play Championship, previously hosted at Wentworth, was a great event and has sadly disappeared off the schedule.
Would-be Major champions
Considered as one of the best players ever to not win a Major, Monty has an impressive record in this format of golf.
The Scot holds a win-lose-draw record of 20–9–7, earning him a total of 23.5 Ryder Cup points, this is only two points behind the all-time record held by Sergio García.
As well as that, he is undefeated in the singles at the Ryder Cup.
In the 1995 USPGA Championship, Montgomerie came close to capturing his first Major title, eventually losing in a playoff to Steve Elkington – I’m sure Monty would have preferred an 18-hole match.
Arguably the best match player of his generation, Ian Poulter has earned his nickname as ‘The Postman’.
A winner of the WGC-Match play in 2010, Poulter is known as ‘Mr Ryder Cup’ after only being on one losing Ryder Cup team out of his six appearances in the competition.
The Englishman has won 15 Ryder Cup points and has still shown signs of life.
He beat World No.1, Dustin Johnson 2up in singles, as Europe won at Le Golf National in 2018.
The Englishman is yet to get over the line in a Major but is undoubtedly one of the best players of his generation.
Would he have won a Major if the USPGA was match play? Quite possibly.
Westy, still to this day, is one of the best ball strikers in the game and, especially in his prime, does not give many holes away.
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