Golf

Valhalla has knack for producing dramatic moments

Kentuckians Kenny Perry, center, and J.B. Holmes, right, showed their colors after the U.S. won the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla. "That was really special," Valhalla GM Keith Reese said.
Kentuckians Kenny Perry, center, and J.B. Holmes, right, showed their colors after the U.S. won the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla. "That was really special," Valhalla GM Keith Reese said.

Valhalla Golf Club may not have the history and allure of The Old Course at St. Andrews, Augusta National, Pebble Beach or Pinehurst.

But if what's past is prologue, there will be plenty of drama and excitement when Valhalla hosts the 96th PGA Championship this week.

The Jack Nicklaus-designed course is 4-for-4 in producing memorable major championships since 1996, and that's not counting the United States' rousing Ryder Cup victory in 2008.

"It's happened too many times now to be a fluke," said Keith Reese, formerly Valhalla's club pro who is now its general manager. "I think the golf course does lend itself to all of these exciting finishes."

In 1996, Kentuckian Kenny Perry appeared on his way to the PGA title before a bogey on No. 18 allowed Mark Brooks to tie him with a final-hole birdie. Despite 30,000 partisan fans rooting for Perry, Brooks won the sudden-death playoff.

In 2000, Tiger Woods, only 24 and in the early stages of his dominance, outdueled Bob May in a three-hole playoff to win his second straight PGA and fifth major overall.

Hale Irwin and Tom Watson won Senior PGA titles in dramatic fashion at Valhalla in 2004 and 2011.

And there was the Ryder Cup in 2008, with Kentuckians Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes helping the Americans rout the Europeans. U.S. captain Paul Azinger credited the raucous crowd at Valhalla for playing a pivotal role.

"The Tiger-Bob May PGA was awesome," Reese said. "But of all the moments we've had at Valhalla, that celebration on the back balcony after the U.S. won the Ryder Cup, that's the highlight. That was really special."

This week's PGA, replete with story lines, has the promise of something special.

Can Rory McIlroy, fresh off his impressive victory at British Open, win his fourth major?

Can Tiger Woods end his drought in major championships? He hasn't won one since the 2008 U.S. Open and is stuck on 14 majors in pursuit of Nicklaus' record of 18.

Can Phil Mickleson salvage a disappointing year by winning his sixth major?

Can Sergio Garcia, who played terrific golf in finishing second at the British Open, finally break through and win his first major?

Can Masters champs Adam Scott or Bubba Watson add a PGA title to their résumés?

Can home-state favorite Holmes ride a wave of fan enthusiasm and be in contention Sunday afternoon?

The PGA field, the strongest in golf, will find Valhalla playing different than it did in 2000 when Woods and May each shot 18-under par to set a tournament record.

Nicklaus has tweaked every hole on the course. The second hole used to be a par 5; now it's a par 4, with a more receptive green.

Asked on a conference call last week how Valhalla will stand up to McIlroy and Woods, Nicklaus conceded that if they're at the top of their game, the course won't offer much defense.

"(Valhalla) will be certainly challenging enough," Nicklaus said. "But if they're playing their game, there's not a golf course in the world that doesn't set up well for them."

Reese would love to see Valhalla stage another riveting championship.

"When you sit down and think about it, it's amazing all the neat things that have happened here in a relative short time frame," he said. "I'd love to see something like that again.

"But my main goal is, I want it to be a beautiful week. I hope the weather cooperates and the fans get to have a great experience."

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