PGA Championship Basics: Facts and History of the Event

By Todd Mrowice

Collin Morikawa with Wanamaker Trophy

The PGA Championship is one of the most unique championships in golf, with what it boasts is the strongest field in the game. Some of the game's most legendary players have won the PGA Championship, and the PGA has been the stage of some of golf's most iconic moments. Let's take a look at the history of the PGA Championship and what makes the tournament truly unique.

An Idea is Born

The idea for the PGA Championship was conceived during a meeting in January 1916. That day, 35 golf professionals met to discuss their ideas for building an organization that became The PGA of America. Those attendees decided a national golf championship should be held each year.

The Wanamaker Trophy

The host of that 1916 meeting, a golfer and businessman named Rodman Wanamaker, provided the trophy for the PGA Championship. Now, well over 100 years later, the Wanamaker Trophy is still handed to the winner of the PGA Championship.

Early Days of the PGA Championship

The first PGA Championship was held in 1916 and the tournament was a match-play event from the beginning through 1958, when it changed to stroke play. Jim Barnes of England won the inaugural event, as well as the second championship, held at the Engineers Country Club in Roslyn Harbor, New York. The winner's share was $500 from 1916 until 1923 when it doubled to $1,000.

There was no PGA Championship during World War I in 1917 or 1918. The first time the PGA Championship was held outside of New York was in 1920, when it was played at the Flossmoor Country Club in Flossmoor, Illinois.

All Professional Field

The PGA of America, an organization made up primarily of club and teaching professionals, runs the PGA Championship. The organization created the event to provide a high-profile tournament specifically for professional golfers, not amateurs. As a result, the golfers who compete each year in the PGA Championship are all professionals. Leading amateurs never have been invited to participate in the PGA Championship, and the only way they can gain an invitation is by winning the Masters, British Open, or U.S. Open.

Host Courses

Since the inaugural PGA Championship in 1916, only 17 courses have hosted the event multiple times. The course that's hosted to most is Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has hosted the event four times (1970, 1982, 1994, and 2007).

The PGA Championship has predominantly been held at courses located in the midwest and eastern U.S. It does, however, rotate out to the western U.S. as it did in 2020 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, Calif.

Champions

The list of PGA Championship winners is a "who's who" of legendary golfers. Nicklaus, Hogan, Woods, Trevino, Player, and many more of the game's greats have hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy.

Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen share the record for most PGA Championship victories with five. Nicklaus won in 1963, 1971, 1973, 1975, and 1980, while Hagen triumphed in 1921, 1924, 1925, 1926, and 1927, capping an incredible run of four in a row.

One legend that you won't find on the list of PGA Championship winners is Arnold Palmer. While Palmer won seven major championships in his career, "The King" finished second at the PGA Championship three times but never won.

Memorable Moments

The PGA Championship might not have the prestige of the Masters, but the event has produced some of golf's memorable moments.

In 1991, PGA Tour rookie John Daly entered the PGA Championship as the ninth alternate. He would go on the win the event by three strokes at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind.

In 2000, Tiger Woods sealed his third straight major at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky. His famous six-footer to force a playoff against Bob May is a moment seen in every Tiger highlight package.

Y.E. Yang avoided being added to the list of players to succumb to Tiger Woods in 2009. With a surging Woods on the leaderboard, Yang knocked in a chip for eagle on the 14th hole at Hazeltine National to propel him to victory.

2021 was the year of Phil Mickelson. "Lefty" became the oldest major championship winner ever by overcoming the field at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course and winning by two shots.

About the Author

Todd Mrowice is a Staff Writer for GolfLink. He has been writing about golf for over 10 years including a long tenure at GOLFChicago Magazine. Todd has covered all aspects of the game including travel, products, business, and professional tours.