BETHPAGE, USA (AFP) – Shifting the PGA Championship to May in time to be the first major after Tiger Woods snapped an 11-year major win drought was brilliant timing.
An electric atmosphere is expected to greet the 15-time major winner next week at the 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black with huge numbers of casual television golf fans likely to lift ratings to record levels.
But the PGA of America also hopes Woods winning the Masters last month at age 43 and chasing a 16th major title can boost lagging participation numbers the way his first major win did at the 1997 Masters.
“Obviously Tiger has impact, sort of the moon landing — it’s not golf, it’s ‘Where were you when?’ kind of stuff,” said PGA of America chief executive Seth Waugh. “We absolutely know the fan base will be cranked up.
“We hope it will have the same effect that he had his first go-around on participation as well. Hopefully we can ride not only the wave and excitement about watching him play, but others wanting to play. Hopefully that knock-on effect has a long-term effect.”
The decision to shift the PGA came two years ago as part of a revamp of the global golf calendar, when Woods was still recovering from the spinal fusion surgery that would end his nagging back injuries and allow him to return to elite golf success.
His dramatic breakthrough victory at the Masters brought his first major title since the 2008 US Open and made it a good year to stage a major in May.
“We were very excited about the May change before Tiger made his fireworks in Georgia,” Waugh said. “We thought it was smart. It looks brilliant now.
“I don’t know if we could count on him forever, but that momentum from the Masters into the PGA is extraordinary.”
Tickets sold out for the weekend. Volunteer helpers grew.
“So we really expect to have an amazing championship at an amazing place. Couldn’t be a better kind of story. I think Bethpage is one of those kind of amazing miracles.”
Waugh said some of the mistakes that followed golf growth in the wake of “Tigermania” in 1997 will not be repeated the second time around.
“We’ll be sort of more cautious,” Waugh said. “We hope and we expect that we’ll get a participation bump here, which we’ve been waiting for for a while, and hopefully we can ride it into something beyond him and do it in a prudent but a growth way.
“We hope this will turbocharge it a little bit.”
The PGA will have slightly more daylight time than in August and less heat, but the grass is still growing in May and that could make rough management to 3.5 to 4 inches tricky, said PGA of America chief championships officer Kerry Haigh.
“I think the golf course will be in just outstanding condition,” he said. “The cool season grasses should be a lot healthier. They will be sort of improving, as opposed to in the August date we were sort of more on a hanging-on, keeping-the-grass-alive mode. “But also more likely possibly have more chance of wind and probably tougher playing conditions.”