If not for Peter Thomson’s British Open dominance the US PGA Championship might well be considered Australia’s Major of choice.
Since 1947 when Jim Ferrier became the first Australian to claim one of golf’s most coveted crowns in the US PGA Championship played at Plum Hollow Country Club in Michigan, our greatest number of champions have come at what has been historically the year’s final Major.
Ferrier, David Graham (1979), Wayne Grady (1990), Steve Elkington (1995) and Jason Day (2015) are in the elite company to call themselves PGA champions, Day headlining a five-strong Australian contingent this week at Bellerive Country Club in St Louis, Missouri.
Three years removed from his Major breakthrough at Whistling Straits, Day is joined in the field this week by Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Cameron Smith, US-based teaching professional Craig Hocknull as well as Kiwi Ryan Fox.
Given his performance in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week and his record at the PGA Championship since 2010 that also includes a runner-up finish at Baltusrol in 2016 and three further top 10s, Day represents Australia’s best chance at a course that has seen countrymen contend.
Measuring 7,547 yards (or 6,901m), Bellerive hosted the 1965 US Open that saw South African legend Gary Player edge Australian Kel Nagle in an 18-hole playoff.
The pair finished locked together at the top of the leaderboard at 2-over after four rounds with Player opening up an early lead in the playoff and going on to win by three shots to deny Nagle a second Major triumph.
In the 1992 US PGA Championship at Bellerive Greg Norman was the best of the Aussies, finishing tied for 15th, with Peter Senior tied for 11th in the Senior PGA Championship held in 2013.
Australia’s five previous US PGA Championship wins are second only to the host nation and these are the men with whom our hopes rest this week:
Jason Day (Queensland)
How he qualified: Former PGA Champion
Best PGA finish: Won at Whistling Straits (2015)
World ranking: 10
Round 1 tee time (AEST): 11:01pm with Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley
Formline: In the hunt at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week until stumbling home on the back of five dropped shots in the space of five holes. Day barely hit a third of all fairways in his final round but the softness of the turf at Bellerive should play into the hands of a player ranked 14th on tour in driving distance in 2018. Five straight top-15s in the PGA and top-20 finishes in each of his past three starts indicates Day is well positioned to contend on Sunday.
Marc Leishman (Victoria)
How he qualified: Top 15 at 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow
Best PGA finish: T12 at Kiawah Island (2013)
World ranking: 18
Round 1 tee time (AEST): 4.04am with Tommy Fleetwood and Satoshi Kodaira
Formline: Like Day, Leishman faded over the back nine at Firestone before finishing tied for 14th, his eighth top 15 result of 2018. Ninth at The Masters, Leishman is ranked 23rd with an average of 3.96 birdies per round going into a week where soft conditions are expected to yield low scores. He is also ranked 14th in shots gained around the green, a crucial category in which to excel if you want to win a Major championship.
Cameron Smith (Queensland)
How he qualified: Top 70 on moneylist through Bridgestone Invitational
Best PGA finish: T25 at Whistling Straits (2015)
World ranking: 49
Round 1 tee time (AEST): 11.18pm with Ryan Armour and Peter Uihlein
Formline: Fifth at the Masters, Smith has missed the cut in five of his past eight US PGA Tour events but showed encouraging signs last week where he closed with a 3-under 67 to finish tied for 23rd. The length of Bellerive will test the capacity of Smith’s driving which will place further emphasis on his putting where he ranks 12th on tour in putts per round.
Adam Scott (Queensland)
How he qualified: Special Invitations (Top 100 in World Ranking)
Best PGA finish: T3 at Medinah Country Club (2006)
World ranking: 79
Round 1 tee time (AEST): 3.53am with Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson
Plum Hollow Country ClubFormline: A brief flirtation with the top of the leaderboard at The Open was curtailed by a final round of 73 that led to a tie for 17th. There were some positives to be taken out of the Bridgestone Invitational and his unquestioned status as one of the best ball-strikers on the planet should come to the fore in a week where the field won’t be dramatically separated on the putting surfaces. Ranked 16th in shots gained tee-to-green, this could be the week where Scott re-establishes himself as one of the best golfers in the world.
Craig Hocknull (Arizona)
How he qualified: Top 20 PGA Professional Championship
Best PGA finish: N/A
World ranking: 2,043
Round 1 tee time (AEST): 10:01pm with Austin Cook and Alexander Bjork
Formline: Quite possibly the most interesting story at the year’s final Major. A member of the PGA of Australia, Hocknull has been based in America ever since attending Jackson State University out of Kooralbyn International. Possesses just the one US PGA Tour start to date – the 2017 Waste Management Phoenix Open – where he missed the cut but the 43-year-old is determined to use his Major debut to prove he belongs amongst the very best on the PGA Tour.
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