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The 95th PGA Championship - A Newsworthy American Sporting Event
Some random thoughts about the PGA Championship came rolling in from over the years as I strolled to Rochester, New York's World Wide News, on St. Paul near Mortimer, an earthy, aromatic establishment where you can get most any newspaper or magazine you want and some you don't want, and where that guy in the scuzzy trench coat is either a CIA agent or Anthony Weiner.
Anyway, back to musings of the 2013 PGA:
• Jason Dufner, impassive as a statue, played solidly, even brilliantly much of the way, had a rough finish but took the title he let slip so grotesquely two years ago. It was his first major and a memorable one. The 36-year-old tied the major record with a 63 in the second round, was rolling nicely along in the fourth, and lurched to bogeys over the last two holes, matching Jim Furyk, the guy chasing him, to win by two at 10 under 270. What else will stamp the 2013 PGA was the futility of Tiger Woods, the world's No. 1 golfer, who did not get his 15th major, and Phil Mickelson, winner of the recent British Open, who barely survived Oak Hill. He tied for 72nd out of 75 finishers.
• Is Sergio Garcia destined to remain forever frozen in time, as that 19-year-old kid leaping wildly up the fairway after that great shot from against a tree at Medinah in 1999? It would seem so. He finished second to Tiger Woods that electric day, but is 33 now and hasn't done much since, unless he smelled a Ryder Cup. At the end, in this PGA at Oak Hill, he closed with a 76, dropped 27 spots and tied for 61st.
• Arnold Palmer never won the PGA. The stars were against him. They were lined up against him in a sinister Jupiter Effect. Take the 1960 PGA at Firestone, when Arnold the Conqueror challenged the unreachable 625-yard monster 16th and ended up in a ditch and took an 8.
Then in 1965, at his home course, Laurel Valley, he was dead as soon as he started. At No. 1 in the first round, he was in rough near the green, on the other side of a little gully. The railing of a temporary wooden footbridge was in his line. A zealous and rules-ignorant marshal decided to help Palmer by tearing down the offending railing. Palmer, drawing a blank on the rules, waited for the guy to complete the job, then wedged on beautifully and saved par. Later, Palmer was reminded that it was against the rules to have that railing torn down, and so he got a two-shot penalty. The final stab: The guy who tore down the bridge railing? His name was Span.
Then in the second round, Palmer double-bogeyed the par-5 11th, heroically, out of a bunch of rocks. He summoned a rules official and informed him that he'd nicked a rock on his backswing. His 7 was changed to a 9. Before the adoring home crowd, he tied for 33rd. The gods would continue to taunt him. He tied for second three times but would never win a Wanamaker Trophy, the one piece of hardware missing from his Hall of Fame career.
• The stars lined up in the other direction for John Daly in 1991. He was a rookie on the PGA Tour that year and had missed 11 cuts in 23 starts. He drove all night from his home in Memphis to Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind., to arrive in time for the first round. But the Arkansan with the mullet didn't even know he'd be playing. He was the ninth alternate. One by one, the spots opened, and finally, Nick Price withdrew to await the arrival of his first child, and that birth was also the dawning of Daly. He stunned the field with his huge, dipping backswing, grip-it-and-rip-it power, flowing blond mane, and what-the-hell attitude. He won by three. Not very long before this astounding performance, Daly was playing the Sunshine Tour in South Africa, rolling jeeps as well as putts.
• The PGA of America is the organization of club pros, and is not the same thing as the PGA Tour which, by definition, is the organization of touring pros. Amazing how many people can't grasp that distinction. The PGA Championship began in 1916 as golf's flagship pro tournament (there was no PGA Tour at the time). It was contested in match play until 1958, when it was changed to 72 holes of stroke play. The reason was same-old, same-old - money. Match play didn't play on TV, and it's not good box office to have the stars knocked out before the final act because then you could have some guy named Joe Schmoe winning the biggest prize. Does it surprise anyone that the 1958 event was the first televised PGA?
• In the 1977 PGA at Pebble Beach, Gene Littler, age 47 and a cancer survivor, was leading by four shots going into the final round. "Is that lead safe?" he was asked. (Try that kind of question with a baseball or football player near you.) "It will be safe," Littler said evenly, "when I have it standing on the 18th green." That was a grim prophecy. Littler stumbled on the back nine, shot 76 and was tied by Lanny Wadkins, who then beat him on the third hole of what became the first major decided in sudden-death. Before that, majors were determined by 18-hole playoffs, which do not fit well with TV. The U.S. Open is the only Grand Slam event sticking with the 18-holer.
• Bob Tway became the first of the "Shark Killers" when he holed out a bunker shot on the final hole to beat Greg Norman - the Great White Shark, of course - at Inverness in 1986. Lost in the blaze was the fact that Norman led by four at the turn, double-bogeyed twice and shot 76. That was the first of several sudden losses for Norman. Others to zing him with dramatic hole-outs were Larry Mize (1987 Masters), Robert Gamez and David Frost.
• For pure chills, few PGAs or any majors can match the 1997 PGA. As Davis Love III stepped onto the final green at Winged Foot to wrap up a five-shot win, a vivid rainbow arced across a gloomy sky. It was, as the poets and mystics would say, a salute from Love's beloved father, who years earlier had died in a plane crash.
• In the 2012 PGA, Rory McIroy launched his myth by saying he'd win by eight. The Northern Ireland whiz kid called the shot at the final hole, holing a long birdie putt. Earlier in the round he'd saved par out of a tree. Since then, Rory changed equipment and has been treading water. Though playing some of his best golf of the year - with rounds of 67 and 70 at Oak Hill, the 24-year-old finished eighth, seven behind Dufner.
So where does the 2013 PGA fit in history? One could get all kinds of accounts of this one.
They're all there in the racks at the World Wide News, on St. Paul near Mortimer.
Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional honors. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.