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Column: The PGA Championship offers the strongest field for the majors

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FILE – Lanto Griffin hits from a bunker on the 17th fairway during the first round of play at the Players Championship golf tournament, Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Griffin’s final round Sunday, May 8, 2022, at the Wells Fargo Championship secured him a spot in the PGA Championship next week. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

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Even though Lanto Griffin was only thinking about the next shot, his 32 over the final nine holes of the Wells Fargo Championship made him the last man to qualify for the PGA Championship.

Perhaps.

It’s hard to tell with the PGA of America, which lacks the transparency of other majors but makes amends by delivering the strongest champ every year.

When the final draw was announced on Monday — one of 156 spots is reserved for AT&T winner Byron Nelson if he’s not already eligible — the PGA Championship was guaranteed to have the 100 best players in the world, provided they all play.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson is still on the roster, although this isn’t breaking news. Although he has been out of the public eye since successfully offending the PGA Tour and the Saudi-funded rival league he promotes, there has been no official word on whether Lefty will be in Southern Hills next week.

More promising are the prospects for Tiger Woods, the last winner at Southern Hills. And still listed somewhere between “doubtful” and “doubtful” if golf had an injury report is Bryson DeChambeau, who just last week had stitches removed after surgery on his left hand.

No one doubts the PGA Championship has the strongest field, even with three former champions tied for last in the world rankings and 20 professionals who spend more hours managing their golf clubs than playing their short games. .

It is how he arrives at his domain that remains a mystery.

The objective is to have the world top 100. It just doesn’t say that anywhere in the criteria.

There are spots for great champions, last year’s top PGA Championship finishers, last year’s PGA Tour winners, recent Ryder Cup players still in the top 100 and a list of PGA Tour money from the last 12 months.

And then there are the “special exemptions”.

One of these days the PGA of America will start calling it what it is: a category to fill the field with the top 100 players in the world who aren’t already there.

Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America’s chief championships officer, swung his hand last year when 99 of the top 100 – Matthew Wolff was absent – played at Kiawah Island.

“It’s something we pride ourselves on at the PGA Championship, that we have the strongest field as measured by the Official World Golf Rankings,” Haigh said.

The special exemptions do not only concern the world ranking. Henrik Stenson and Zach Johnson received byes, as did current Ryder Cup captains before them. Billy Horschel was among those given a bye before the PGA points list (money list) was finalized.

This brings us back to Griffin.

He was 82nd on the PGA points list (top 70 qualifiers) and No. 107 in the world rankings a week ago. Griffin was in a five-for-19 tie heading into the final round on Sunday and shot 67 to tie three-for-sixth. That propelled him to No. 96 in the world, and the $193,140 difference put him at No. 74 in PGA points.

Depending on the final category, the PGA points list is used to populate the field. Griffin was first in line for that, while also being in the top 100 in the standings. Without that 67, he would have been off both lists.

The curious thing about the use of “special exemptions” this year is that the PGA of America went way beyond the top 100 in the world. It was to protect against someone breaking into the top 100 after this week.

Added are Daniel van Tonder (103) and Justin Harding (104) from South Africa, Ryan Fox (106) from New Zealand, Laurie Canter (107) and Sam Horsfield (110) from England and Kazuki Higa (112) from Japan. All but Harding and Canter are playing their respective tours this week and would have a shot at making the top 100.

Taking them meant passing players past 70 on the PGA points list – Brendan Steele, Beau Hossler, Kramer Hickok, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Schenk, Russell Knox and Scott Stallings.

Again, as members of the PGA Tour, they had ample opportunity to qualify.

The surprise was jumping in the world rankings Adrian Meronk (113) — he would have been the first Polish player in PGA Championship history — and Joel Dahmen (114) to offer a bye to Bio Kim, who won the week last on the Asian Tour.

It was Kim’s first win since the Korea Golf Association suspended him for a year (down from the original three-year ban) for knocking down the crowd after a phone camera broke. triggered during his swing in the last round of a tournament he won.

For those who missed, the ball was still in their hands, as it was for Griffin. No one ever shows up at a major tournament and notices who didn’t qualify. All the good players are there, even if some American fans don’t know them well.

Maybe that’s right.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the PGA Championship was like a closed store for international players. Sam Torrance has won 14 times on the European Tour and played in five Ryder Cups before his first appearance in the PGA Championship. Mark James won 13 times and played in four Ryder Cups before entering the PGA.

“No problem with that. That’s how it is,” Torrance said Monday night in a text message.

A decade ago, the PGA Championship briefly considered the idea of ​​being played overseas. Now the world is coming to the PGA, just like the other majors.

Twenty-five players are not members of the PGA Tour. Throw in the club pros and the Americans are around 46% of the field. That’s probably how it should be, although the PGA Championship doesn’t specify how it gets to this point.

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