Bellerive course provides good omen for Champion Golfers
The centennial edition of the PGA Championship sees the world's best players reconvene in Missouri this weekend for the year's fourth and final major at Bellerive Country Club.
It is only the third major championship hosted by the course, having initially burst into the public consciousness back in 1965 when it hosted the US Open.
Three-time Champion Golfer of the Year Gary Player emerged triumphant that year, completing the career Grand Slam six years after lifting his first Claret Jug at Muirfield.
Bellerive had to wait another 27 years before hosting its next major, the 1992 PGA Championship, which saw Nick Price win the first of his three major titles.
And with Price also going on to win The Open, both previous winners at the course are former Champion Golfers – a good omen for those in the field who have lifted the Claret Jug.
Bellerive Golf Course will provide a completely new test for most of the field of 156 players on its return to the major spotlight, 26 years after last hosting the PGA Championship.
Only three players in this year’s field – including former Champion Golfer of the Year John Daly – contested the championship the last time it was played at the St Louis course.
Daly went into the tournament as defending champion after winning his debut major at Crooked Stick in 1991, before going on to win The Open four years later at St Andrews.
The course presents plenty of danger for the Champion Golfers looking to emulate Player and Price, most notably the formidable 6th – one of the most imposing par-3s in golf.
With its long and narrow green guarded by a pond and two bunkers, it produced a stroke average over four back in 1965 and was the third most difficult back in 1992.
Not only will the course make history by holding the 100th PGA Championship, it will also host the last scheduled to be played in August before the major moves to May next year.
St. Louis crowds are 💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/y2CAojAY9O— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) August 9, 2018
Player holds his nerve
While Bellerive’s golf heritage is not extensive, the scale of Gary Player’s achievement at the US Open in 1965 ensured the course will forever be part of his legend.
The South African favourite, who had won the Masters the year beforehand, shot a level par 70 in his opening round to leave himself two shots off the lead held by Kel Nagle.
Another 70 in the second round saw him hit the front for the first time, before he increased his advantage over Nagle and Frank Beard to two shots with a one-over third round.
Player appeared to be in control on Sunday and held a three-stroke lead with three holes to play, but double-bogeyed the par-3 16th as Nagle birdied the 17th to level the scores.
Despite not being able to get the job done over 72 holes, Player returned for the 18-hole play-off between the two players on Monday and held his nerve to win by three shots.
His victory meant he became only the third golfer to complete the career Grand Slam, joining Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan, before going on to win The Open twice more in 1968 and 1974.
Price hits his peak
Nick Price demonstrated he was a major contender after finishing second behind Seve Ballesteros at The 117th Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
He lived up to that potential by breaking his major duck at Bellerive four years later, signalling the start of a period where he was regarded as the best player in the world.
The South African-born Zimbabwean was far from a front-runner, though, opening the championship with a pair of 70s to leave himself four shots back.
Price moved into contention with a 68 in the third round, with Gene Sauers leading the way on seven-under, but his consistency paid dividends on Sunday.
A third 70 of the tournament saw him surge to victory by three shots, finishing ahead of a four-way tie for second including three-time Champion Golfer of the Year Nick Faldo.
Price went on to lift The 123rd Open at Turnberry two years later, before reclaiming the PGA Championship at Southern Hills to win back-to-back majors.