Imagine, if you will, the year is 1970. Break out those long-forgotten bell bottoms and midi skirts. And settle in to watch the 52nd PGA Championship, taking place in Southern Hills for the first time in club history. And that’s why we leaf through the official tournament program, its 210 pages.
We recently picked up a copy on eBay for just over the official $1 sale price. As far as reads go, it’s interesting, entertaining, and sometimes frowning. It reflects, of course, the era in which it was published, both good and bad. What was acceptable and the norm more than five decades ago may be head-shaking today, as we fast forward to a year where the PGA of America holds the 104th PGA Championship and plays the men’s major in Tulsa, Okla. ., Course for a fifth time. Exclusive country clubs around 1970 were far from enlightened and/or diverse, as the sea of white/male/middle-aged faces on the various committees shows all too clearly.
Other comparisons between then and now are everywhere. But before getting there, it must be said that this championship has surely been one of the nicest ever recorded. The first pages of the program are littered with “welcomes” from an eclectic group of clearly terribly important people.
That’s quite a list. Oklahoma Governor Dewey F. Bartlett is first, followed by Tulsa Mayor Robert J. LaFortune. Next, “General Co-Chairs” Harold G. Lewis and FG McClintock have their say, followed by George H. Galloway, Chairman of the Southern Hills Board of Governors. All in front of a gallery of PGA officials (one of whom was named Jack Nicklaus) leads us into two pages of “committee chairmen”. There are 38 of them, only two of them women and all white. A large cross-section of society, this was not the case.
Wait a minute, we’re not done yet. Members of the “PGA of America Tournament Players Division, tournament policy board” appear. Nicklaus is back. The same goes for commissioner Joe Dey and former US Open and Masters champion Billy Casper. Standing innocently in the back is Deane Beman, chairman of the Young Players Advisory Council. Looking back: who knows what this lot could become in the next two years? And where could all this lead?
Many are the advertisements within the program. Julius Boros urges us to “play astroturf tees. They remain in league condition all season. Lee Trevino was a big fan of the ‘no-fault’ ball. There was so much to do too. The tests proved that he could not “move, not get out of balance”. He played “straighter”. It was “more accurate”. It was “truer on the greens”. And it was “almost impossible to cut”. Quite a combination, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Indeed, several golf ball manufacturers decided it was money well spent to advertise in the official PGA program. The marketing around them was entertaining in some of its silliness. A sample:
Titleist claimed to be “the silver ball”, the one whose “K2 construction” consistently gives you extra distance. Wait though. “Warning #1,” reads another ad. “The Ben Hogan ball outperforms you and drives consistently farther with greater accuracy and tighter spread patterns than any other ball tested.”
According to a Uniroyal advertisement, “there is no regulation ball made that will go faster than this one”. The proudly boasted “Royal” is available “only at professional golf stores”.
Then there’s the Wilson Staff, with its ad identifying “Lady Luck” as “fickle.” We are therefore urged to “turn the ball around. What have you got to lose? Or, look at it another way – what do you have to gain? »
And finally, we are told “the PGA looks like any other ball. Until you hit him. Apparently, he was making the loudest sound in golf. “Reason – Sonic-Winding. It’s the sound of distance. Play the PGA. For the sound and fury of it.
I mean, what was a golfer supposed to do in the midst of such confusion?
The list of tour money winners for 1969 appears. Frank Beard was in the lead with winnings of $175,224. That would have put Frank somewhere outside the top 400 on the world prize list for 2021, just $11,087,424 behind first-place Collin Morikawa. Or, to put it another way, Beard’s season earnings were about $5,000 less than last month’s 21st Masters. At least for the current generation of Tour players, inflation might not be such a terrible thing.
Southern Hills Host Professional Dean Adkisson tells us how he thinks the course will handle what he calls a “thinking man’s golf course.” Although it is not a description, it applies to the opening hole. It will be a “bullet” for the “power belters”, according to Adkisson. The second, however, is a “dandy”. And the 12th, according to Ben Hogan, is “the greatest par-4 12th hole in the United States”. On the 16th, “negligence” can lead to balls “landing in a lake short of the green”. And the 18 is “culminated by a demanding putting green”. Breathtaking stuff to be sure.
1969 champ Ray Floyd is featured in colorful language. From the first paragraph, Floyd is variously described as a “bon vivant” and a “baseball player”. Shortly after, the 27-year-old’s lifestyle is described: “When he’s not on the golf course or the dance floor, Ray can be spotted in a baseball uniform. Indeed, the $35,000 check from last year’s win over NCR at Dayton “helped pay for the many parties the top swinger on the tour can throw anytime.”
How, one wonders, are parties “thrown up?” Unfortunately, this question remains unanswered.
Another comparison: This year, Southern Hills will be 7,481 yards in length, 519 yards longer than 1970 and an increase of almost 7%. But even then, the course fails to keep up with today’s power hitters. If we assume that the longest rider in the 1970 peloton threw balls in the region of 275 yards – 46 yards behind Cameron Champ, the leader on tour so far this year – then the percentage increase between then and now is 16.75%. Obviously, the technology exceeds the capacity of the various committees to build new tees.
Yet, in at least one respect, today’s PGA Championship is far more enlightened than its 1970 ancestor. The 2022 field will surely do a better job of identifying the best players in the world, regardless of nationality. Indeed, a look back in time reveals a depressing and insular reality.
The 10 exemption categories in 1970:
Not exactly an international set of criteria. Even the defending Open champion didn’t necessarily deserve a spot at Southern Hills. Neither did the Great Britain and Ireland side who drew against the Americans in the last Ryder Cup. Times, of course, have changed.