Commentary

Are changes on the horizon for the PGA?

Updated: August 7, 2007, 5:23 PM ET
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

TULSA, Okla. -- Excuse me, but … well … there's perspiration dripping onto my keyboard. It's so hot at Southern Hills, you could fry an egg on Boo Weekley's head. And it is supposed to get worse.

Temperatures are expected to hit 100 degrees for the rest of the week, with a heat index of more than 105. They're telling spectators to bring bottled water and plenty of sunscreen. And, oh, have fun melting in the grandstand at the 18th green.

Why are they playing the PGA Championship here again?

The weather is just part of the experience at the other major championships, so the year's fourth and final Grand Slam event is usually the only one criticized for it. Nobody is suggesting the Masters be moved because it was cold this year, and rain and wind are part of the charm of a British Open.

But you suffocate the PGA with this kind of heat and humidity, and it's natural to wonder why in the world we're not in, oh, Seattle -- or at least someplace a bit cooler.

Southern Hills' 18th green pin flag
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesIt will be so hot at Southern Hills this week, the flagsticks may melt into the ground.

Come to think of it, there are lots of questions that surround the PGA Championship. It is the major that has difficulty living up to the hype of the other three. As a writer in The Scotsman newspaper put it: "It is a long way adrift from the others. … If the USPGA Championship was a continent, it would be Antarctica, the one no one ever visits." Ah, for Antarctica. (Or even Carnoustie, where we all complained a few weeks ago about freezing to death.)

The PGA does get dwarfed by the other majors, as well as by other sports in the United States. Football camps are in full gear, and baseball's pennant races are, uh, heating up.

So what's the PGA to do?

Here are some oft-cited suggestions, along with the requisite disclaimer for each.

Change the format back to match play
This is the 50th year the PGA Championship is using the format used by the other majors -- stroke play. But from 1916 through 1957, the tournament was a match-play event, typically with a stroke-play qualifier. And the tournament had a slew of great champions, including Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan.

Match play is a format that is underused in the pro game, with just the World Golf Championship event and a European World Match Play Championship going that route. It would make the PGA unique among the majors and would bring heightened awareness to the early rounds when top-ranked players could be eliminated.

"Every now and then, people bring it up," Joe Steranka, CEO of the PGA of America, said when the topic was broached. "Sometimes, fans or television executives might ponder it, more because of the success of the Ryder Cup being a unique format attracting attention."

Reality: The PGA isn't going back to match play for the same reason it made the switch 50 years ago -- television. Even in the medium's infancy, it was apparent the tournament would be a bust if the name players did not survive until the final matches. At the recent match-play event on the LPGA Tour, the top nine seeds were eliminated after two days. That would be a disaster.

Get rid of the club pros
The PGA of America runs the PGA Championship. It is also the national organization for some 28,000 male and female professionals throughout the country, the backbone of the game in terms of teaching and growing golf. As a reward for the best players among the group, 20 of them get a spot in the PGA Championship.

The problem is, the club pros do not fare particularly well in the PGA Championship. If one or two make the cut, it is considered a big deal. The last time a club pro finished in the top 20 came in 1990. There has not been a top-five finish in 35 years, and even that comes with an asterisk: Snead tied for fourth in 1972. There is a thought among some that those spots should go to more deserving players.

"The 20 guys who are here, we need to play well," said Chip Sullivan, the head pro at Ashley Plantation in Daleville, Va., who won the PGA Professional National Championship in June. "We need to compete."

Reality: When the PGA was last played at Southern Hills, in 1994, there were 40 club pros in the field. Since then, it has been reduced to 20. To make it even fewer doesn't seem right -- not when you consider that the PGA has the strongest field of all the majors, with no qualifiers and no amateurs. This week, 98 of the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking are competing.

"Each and every year, it is the deepest field we play in all year," said defending champion Tiger Woods.

Move it to a cooler time of year
Since 1958, when the tournament went to match play, it always has been played in the dog days of summer -- July or August -- except for one year. In 1971, the PGA of America moved the tournament to February because it was being played in Florida at what was then the PGA's national course. Jack Nicklaus won, then didn't defend his title for nearly 18 months.

A move to February would mean many positives. It would be the first major of the year rather than the last. It would allow the British Open to complete the Grand Slam in July. For the PGA Tour, it could focus more attention on the season-ending FedEx Cup. And it would mean bringing the tournament to a warm-weather winter climate, not an oven.

Reality: "It was a different era in golf then," Steranka said. "There was more flexibility in the schedule. The tournament calendar wasn't as full then. … I wouldn't see the PGA being able to move. We like our spot as being the final major. And with that, you are going to have weather that goes along with it."

Bring it to better venues
This is a knock the PGA Championship has endured at times, but it is difficult to argue with recent courses. Atlanta Athletic Club (2001), Hazeltine (2002), Oak Hill (2003), Baltusrol (2005) and Medinah (2006) have also been U.S. Open venues. Whistling Straits (2004) was a unique place that gave the appearance of a links course in Ireland.

But you could argue that the PGA should look more to California, to places such as Pebble Beach, Riviera or the Olympic Club. Or what about Sahalee near Seattle, where Vijay Singh won in 1998? How about Colorado? Cherry Hills, perhaps?

Reality: The PGA has excellent venues. Next year, it is going to Oakland Hills, followed by Hazeltine, Whistling Straits, Atlanta Athletic Club and Kiawah Island, site of the 1991 Ryder Cup.

Then there's Southern Hills, smack dab in the middle of a sweltering Midwestern heat wave. Why are we here again? Oh, yeah. This has been the site of six previous majors and will host the PGA for a fourth time, a record.

"You'd have to search pretty far and wide to find a better golf course than this, with the conditions, with the way it's set up," said golfer Scott Verplank, an Oklahoma resident. "Obviously, it could be a little cooler with the weather. But the layout of the golf course, the condition it's in … I'd say it's second to none."

So it appears the PGA Championship will always have some hurdles to overcome and -- sort of like the heat and humidity hovering over Southern Hills -- they are not going anywhere.

But there is one thing to keep in mind amid all the soaking wet shirts this week: Whoever is holding the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday -- sweaty hands and all -- will count this major championship the same as any other.

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com