Sheboygan, WI—The tagline “best player never to have won a major” is a moniker few professional golfers wish to have associated with them for any bit of time. For Jason Day, the supremely talented Australian golfer, that association is now the burden of others as he garnered the first of what could be more majors to come in winning the 97th PGA Championship at The Straits Course at Whistling Straits.
Day started the final round in unfamiliar territory—with the lead going into the final round of a major. That two-shot margin would necessitate nothing less than stellar play in order to lay claim to the famed Wannamaker Trophy. The 27-year-old Aussie did that and much more as he fired a 4th round five-under-par 67 good for a 268 total and three shot winning margin.
The runner-up is a name who has cemented itself into the minds of golf fans globally—Jordan Spieth.
The 22-year-old Texan, won the first two majors this year and was nearly in the playoff at The Open which Zach Johnson won. Spieth chased Day throughout the final round, finishing with a four-under-par 68 and 271 total. Spieth did not come away empty handed totally. He finished the year with a record cumulative -54 for all of the major championships—surpassing the former record held by Tiger Woods by one stroke. And, more importantly, Spieth moved Rory McIlroy off the pedestal as the world’s number one player—a position the Texan is sure to work hard to keep given the range of super talented young players all pushing hard as a new generation of players has now clearly elevated itself to the highest of levels.
Day becomes the fifth Australian to win the PGA Championship and comes on top of a most recent win in the Canadian Open. He also becomes the first man to finish a major championship at -20.
In 2013, Day began to elevate his stature and name in the majors by nearly becoming the first Aussie to win The Masters. That honor went to countryman Adam Scott.
In 2015 Day was in the mix in the two previous majors—at Chambers Bay for the U.S. Open and The Old Course at St. Andrews for The Open. But on both occasions Day was unable to fashion a final round push to take the top spot. Such was not the case at all during the final round Sunday. Day played a solid tee game throughout, with only two small errors: a pushed tee shot at the 8th which led to bogey and an overdrawn tee shot at #15 which led to a second blemish on the card. Nonetheless, on a day in which one brilliant shot followed another during the outward half of holes, Day showed all competitors that he was not going to sit back. Day finished the front nine with a solid three-under-par 33 which included three consecutive birdies starting at the 5th. But it was his par at the 9th—coupled with a sloppy double-bogey by his closest chaser at the time, Brandan Grace of South Africa who trailed by just two at that point—that showed Day was here for keeps. The Aussie blistered a long and straight tee shot on the final hole on the outward half, but laid the sod over his wedge from 130 yards. Leaving him wondering what had happened, Day recovered with a solid pitch and dropped the 7-foot par putt.
To Day’s credit there was no real weak play in the final series of holes, something The Straits Course can quickly inflict on the timid or careless with the likes of the long par-3 17th—which runs parallel to the coastline of Lake Michigan and the long challenging par-4 18th which proved to be the week’s most demanding hole.
Amazingly, the Aussie win marks the continuation of a streak in which no American has won any of the previous PGAs played here. In ’04 Fijan Vijay Singh was the victor, in ’10 the German Martin Kaymer claimed the top spot. In five years, The Straits will once again return to the spotlight when its hosts The Ryder Cup Matches. The Straits was also set-up brilliantly by PGA of America’s Chief Championships Officer Kerry Haigh, permitting low scoring but only when the finest of shots were executed.
Day is well respected by his peers and winning the final major event of the ’15 season will likely mean even more epic contests with the likes of Spieth and others such as McIlroy who made a return to competition for the first time since this year’s U.S. Open. The Ulsterman finished 17th with a -9 total.
The ’15 major season has clearly turned the page from the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. That trio provided many scintillating golf moments but the book of golf has new names working feverishly to have their moments in the sun. At Whistling Straits, Jason Day elevated himself to a new status in the game—major champion. Truly, that day was long in coming. Jason admitted as much from the time he started to play as a young 12-year-old searching for direction and guidance when his dad unexpectedly passed away, leaving his Mom alone to help with his personal and golf development.
Those who have wondered about golf’s future have little to fear. Jason Day is a noteworthy champion and one can expect him to fully realize his considerable talents in the years to come. The Masters is eight months away and can’t come soon enough.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.