The 10 Most Unexpected PGA Champions
While some of the biggest names in golf have put their hands on the iconic Wanamaker Trophy some winners of the PGA Championship have etched their names in history somewhat unexpectedly.
Take your pick of the game’s all-time greats – Woods, Nicklaus, Player, Snead, Hogan – or modern-day heroes – Thomas, Koepka, Morikawa, McIlroy – and they’ve all won this prestigious championship.
But golf’s democratic. You get into the field of the PGA Championship and who knows – maybe it will be your week.
Here are the 10 most unexpected PGA Championship winners of all time. A fun walk down memory lane and a reminder that at any point, every player in the field could be the champion.
Keegan Bradley – nephew of six-time major winner, including the 1986 Women’s PGA Championship, Pat Bradley, and son of Mark Bradley, a 26-year PGA member – captured the 2011 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in his first-ever major championship appearance.
While Bradley won on the PGA Tour just three months prior (and has won four times on Tour overall) it’s a rare fea to win your major debut.
Bradley backed up his victory by finishing tie for third the following year at Kiawah Island.
This victory is perhaps less unexpected than most, as Jimmy Walker had notched three top-10 finishes at majors in 2014 and had won five times on Tour prior to his victory at Baltusrol in 2016. But Walker’s win came at the expense of the world’s hottest player at the time, Jason Day, who was defending his 2015 title.
Walker’s PGA Championship win in 2016 was his last major-championship top 10 and last win on the PGA Tour.
Arnold Palmer was trying to win his third major of 1960 after capturing both the Masters and U.S. Open earlier in the year (he was also runner-up at the Open Championship), but was undone by a triple bogey late Saturday at Firestone Country Club.
So, it was Jay Hebert, who had never won a major before, who ended up topping the field that week.
Fun fact: He and brother Lionel Hebert are the only siblings to win the PGA Championship. Lionel won three years prior.
Again at Firestone, the 1966 PGA Championship had an early tie between Al Geiberger and the legend himself: Sam Snead.
But Geiberger, who at the time at missed more cuts at majors than he had top-10’s registered, had a four-shot lead heading into the final round. He bogeyed three of his first four holes Sunday but righted the ship late and won by four.
It was his only major championship win.
The 1965 PGA Championship was held at Laurel Valley Golf Club and won by Dave Marr, who managed to hold off Billy Casper and Jack Nicklaus and win by two shots.
Marr had played 14 major championships prior to the 1965 PGA Championship but had missed six cuts. His win was a breakthrough of sorts and was his lone major triumph.
At Oak Tree Golf Club it was the 5-foot-7, 140-pound Jeff Sluman who took down some of the titans of the game through the 1980s to win his first major championship – and first title on the PGA Tour overall.
Sluman topped Paul Azinger by three shots with names like Faldo, Kite, Floyd, O’Meara, Norman, and Stewart all in the top 10.
Sluman would go on to win five more times on the PGA Tour, but his next win wouldn’t come for nine years.
Although Rich Beem had already broke through earlier in 2002 to win on the PGA Tour (three years after his maiden Tour title), his PGA Championship win came at the height of Tiger-Mania. His one-shot win over Woods at Hazeltine National Golf Club came after Woods birdied each of his final four holes.
Despite winning three times in three years on Tour, it made Beem’s story no less impressive – his PGA Championship win came just seven years after he was selling stereo equipment and cell phones to try to make ends meet.
Y.E. Yang’s 2009 triumph also came at Hazeltine and also came over Tiger Woods.
It was a shocking victory, less so for Yang’s excellent play on Sunday – highlighted by a gentle hybrid approach on the 72nd hole that landed just a few feet from the cup – but more so because it marked the first time Woods ever lost a 54-hole lead at a major.
Shaun Micheel had made just two previous starts in majors and came into the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club ranked 169th in the world. But Micheel stayed steady throughout the week and topped Chad Campbell by two shots. He, Campbell, and Tim Clark were the only golfers to finish under-par for the week.
Micheel’s PGA Championship win remains his only PGA Tour victory.
John Daly wasn’t even supposed to be in the field in 1991 at Crooked Stick, starting the week as the ninth alternate.
But as more and more people pulled out of the Championship, Daly drove through the night to get to the course in time to tee it up. He opened with a 69 – despite not playing a practice round at the course – and ended up winning by three shots.
It was Daly’s first major win, his first Tour win, and it came in the most unexpected of ways.