The 2024 PGA Championship is here, just when golf needed it most

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The PGA Championship spent a good half-century holding down an August spot on the calendar. From 1969 to 2018 — with a couple one-year exceptions — the championship was an awkward appendix to the major season. The PGA lacked the elegant elitism of the Masters, the muscular brawn of the U.S. Open or the historical gravitas of the Open Championship, so it’s had to scope out other ways to separate itself from its three major brethren.

Some of its attempted slogans were awkward, like “Glory’s Last Shot,” which obviously no longer applies. Others were, well, simply factual — “The strongest field in golf” is in fact true, when you invite more than 150 of the world’s best, that’ll outdo all smaller fields.

Now, the PGA Championship has assumed a new identity: Golf’s Casablanca. Like Humphrey Bogart’s cafe in the movie of the same name, the PGA Championship is opening its field to all of golf’s best, regardless of which tour claims them. Several LIV Golf players who would not have otherwise qualified for a major — like Talor Gooch, the 2023 LIV individual champion — received invitations to play in Valhalla this week, a sign that at least one of the majors is moving past golf’s great schism.

It’s a welcome change. Enough tough-golf-guy posturing, enough “disruption,” enough talk about committees, enough woe-is-we talk while cashing million-dollar checks, enough dithering. Get everybody who’s anybody in the game right now out there on the same course, straight up, and let’s play some damn golf.

Golf tends to provide big moments exactly when the sport needs them most, and man, could we use a few right now. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of notable storylines rolling into this week:

Scottie Scheffler is looking to continue the ridiculous heater he’s on: four wins and a T2 in his last five tournaments, including the Masters. Along with Rory McIlroy, he’s the odds-on favorite to win, and if he does, we’ll be talking about the first-ever golf Grand Slam until at least the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy won his fourth major at Valhalla, site of this year’s PGA Championship, 10 years ago … and hasn’t won a single one since. If you’d told someone back then that McIlroy would go a decade (or more) without winning a major, they’d assume that he pulled a Barry Sanders and retired at the top of his game. Instead, McIlroy has remained among golf’s best — he has at least two top-10 finishes in majors every year save one since then — but just hasn’t been able to close the deal.

• Speaking of stars who’ve had trouble bagging majors — Jordan Spieth is still a PGA Championship away from claiming a career grand slam. This will be his eighth attempt since winning the 2017 Open Championship. He’s not anywhere near championship form right now — just three top-10s, and no wins, in 11 events this season — but if he’s anywhere near the top of the leaderboard, he’ll be one to watch.

• On the other end of the spectrum stands Brooks Koepka, who won his first major just weeks before Spieth won his most recent. Koepka now has five majors, more than any active player other than Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, with three of those coming at the PGA. A win at Valhalla would tie Koepka with Woods on the career PGA Championship victories list, just one behind all-time leaders Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen. That’s some fine company, and with a win last week in Singapore, Koepka is coming in hot.

• One of Koepka’s LIV-mates and would-be rivals, Jon Rahm, has struggled a bit ever since making the jump to LIV Golf. A reliable competitor at most majors, Rahm was off his game at the Masters, and hasn’t yet won on the LIV tour. Maybe he’s experiencing a bit of buyer’s remorse in defecting from the PGA Tour, or maybe he’s just going through a lull. This week will give us a read on how his career is arcing.

• Local hero Justin Thomas has two PGA titles of his own, but he’s searching for his form these days, too. JT can be both a polarizing and an inspiring figure, and if he’s in the hunt on the weekend, the Louisville galleries are going to roar for their own.

• Oh, and then there’s Tiger Woods. Enjoy him for as long as he lasts, whether it’s Friday morning or Sunday afternoon.

That’s an embarrassment of narrative riches, and something neither the PGA Tour nor LIV Golf can come close to matching on their own.

ROCHESTER, NEW YORK - MAY 21: Brooks Koepka smiles with the Wanamaker Trophy following his two stroke victory in the final round of the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club on May 21, 2023, in Rochester, New York. (Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)ROCHESTER, NEW YORK - MAY 21: Brooks Koepka smiles with the Wanamaker Trophy following his two stroke victory in the final round of the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club on May 21, 2023, in Rochester, New York. (Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Brooks Koepka smiles with the Wanamaker Trophy following his two-stroke victory in the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Still, looming over all this is a sense of despair, if not outright fatalism. The PGA Tour and LIV Golf can’t seem to figure out if they want to work together or destroy each other, and as a result, fans are abandoning the sport. It’s always dangerous to ascribe too much weight to ratings, but if the PGA Championship’s numbers are down to the same extent that the Masters’ were, that ought to pop the bubbles of even the most insulated executives and players.

It’s now clear that the majors hold all the power in golf right now, with their ability to appeal to players’ sense of both history and greed … sorry, “financial interests.” The majors can rise above petty slapfights and middle-school text-chain backstabbing and look toward the game’s future. All the money in the PIF’s vaults, and all the decades of charity, tradition and goodwill built up by the PGA Tour — they still can’t compare with the generational weight of a major championship. The majors know this, and they’re moving forward, whether or not the Tour and the PIF — the Saudi investment fund that backs LIV Golf — want to get their acts together.

Two decades from now, golf may or may not bear any resemblance to its current form. The PGA Tour might be the dominant force in the sport … or it might not even exist. The PIF could be controlling the game’s entire financial structure … or it could abandon golf entirely.

No matter what golf looks like in 2044, we know this: Whoever wins this week will have the title major winner, and all the honors and privileges that title brings. That alone makes this week worth watching … and that’s more of the spirit that the rest of golf needs to try to harness.