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GAJTKA: Birdie Barrage at PGA Championship? Let’s Just Enjoy It



Over the past two years, most accomplishments in men’s pro golf have come with a caveat.

“Yeah, that was great, but he didn’t do it against all of the best golfers in the world.”

It’s been noted many times in many forums, but the four majors really are the only elevated, signature events. And they will continue to be so with the PGA Tour and LIV likely to continue their standoff for at least another year or two.

That’s obviously a hit to the week-to-week relevance of the two feuding tours, but it certainly raises the level of the Masters, the two Opens and the PGA Championship.

Notice how I listed the PGA last. While it’s no longer literally the last major on the calendar, it’s still very much the fourth in terms of prestige.

Or, maybe, to put it another way, it’s the one that’s the hardest to pin down when we think about identity.

The (British) Open is the one that embraces golf’s origins and traditions in the purest way.

The Masters is the one on the most famous course, which is the platonic ideal of the sport for some.

The U.S. Open is usually the challenging one, with a reputation for punishing the top players the most ruthlessly.

So what’s the PGA? For a while, early last century, it was the match-play one. (I still think that could be an option going forward!)

For the previous few years, though, it seemed the PGA of America was leaning into a U.S. Open Lite type of feel, with penalizing setups at imposing tracks like Bethpage Black and Oak Hill.

This year at Valhalla in Louisville was anything but brutal. A combination of an outmoded design and recent wet weather made the 2024 PGA Championship an absolute birdie barrage.

Some might point to Xander Schauffele’s major-record score of 21 under as the biggest indictment of the ease of the challenge. I might gesture toward this fact dug up by Justin Ray: The entire field shot a cumulative 214 under par, the lowest in tournament history by … 254 shots!

Yet, I found myself enjoying this particular horse race in Kentucky — sorry, couldn’t help it — more than most recent PGAs.

Admittedly, I’m an appreciator of Bryson DeChambeau’s approach to the sport, so watching him charge to the cusp of a playoff helped lift my entertainment quotient. Apparently I wasn’t alone in that, either.

More than that, though, I was happy to see the best in the men’s game, all on one golf course, all encouraged to go draw as many circles on their scorecards as they could. Sometimes, you’ve got to let the thoroughbreds gallop — OK, I’m really done now — to appreciate the upper limits of what they can do.

Maybe in a previous unified era of men’s pro golf, a defenseless Valhalla would’ve seemed more redundant, interchangeable with a Quail Hollow or Firestone. But you can miss me with all the critiques of this course’s major worthiness, justified and well-written as they might be.

I completely understand that this wasn’t the purest form of championship golf ever perpetrated on God’s green Earth.

Guess what? I’m good with it!

Put a mental asterisk on this one if you like, but we all agreed a major championship was on the line over the weekend, and Schauffele and Co. made major runs at it. It doesn’t all have to be gourmet. It’s fine to admit you enjoyed eating a Baconator.

Here are the facts. We know we only get to see elite men’s golfers truly come together four times a year. We know that might be the state of the sport for the foreseeable future. So why can’t the PGA be the one that gives us some red meat?

An added benefit of a wide-open tournament like this one is that it usually means no one can run away from the pack. That means there’s an added probability of a photo finish — dammit, I can’t help myself — like we saw Sunday evening.

(Also, traumatizing the world’s undisputed best golfer prior to one of his rounds can only help add parity. Maybe the boys and girls at the PGA of America are craftier than we thought.)

So, for one time of year, give me late-stage drama. Give me low scores. Don’t just give me another major, give me an arms race.

Not only could it be good for the sport, it could be best for the PGA Championship. Find your niche and own it.

A 15-year veteran of sports media, Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) is the founding editor of PGN. Matt is a lifelong golfer with a passion for all aspects of the sport, from technique to courses to competition. His experience ranges from reporting on Pittsburgh's major-league beats, to broadcasting a variety of sports, to public relations, multimedia production and social media.

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