Tiger, Rory, Ryder Cup headline Valhalla’s tales of triumph and heartbreak

Golfer Tiger Woods of the US hugs Bob May (L) on the 18th hole after their playoff 20 August, 2000 in the 82nd PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, KY. Woods won a three hole playoff with Bob May to win his third major tournament of the year.   (ELECTRONIC IMAGE)  AFP PHOTO/Jeff HAYNES (Photo by JEFF HAYNES / AFP) (Photo by JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)
Tiger Woods hugs Bob May after Woods won the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in a three-hole playoff. (JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)

Valhalla Golf Club opened the same year Jack Nicklaus won his last Masters, which makes the club a relative youngster compared to many of golf’s classic courses. But in its relatively short major history, the club has hosted three memorable PGA Championships and one legendary Ryder Cup. Saddle up for a gallop through history.

Better to get hot or stay hot? Kentucky’s own Kenny Perry posted a -11 finish to take the clubhouse lead on Sunday afternoon, but then made a curious, and fateful, decision. Instead of going to the range to stay warm for a potential playoff, Perry joined the broadcast booth for 20 minutes or so to watch the final groups come in. Steve Elkington, Tommy Tolles and Vijay Singh all failed in their attempts to match Perry, but Mark Brooks birdied the final hole to finish at -11. Perry was hustled from the booth right back to the par-5 18th tee, and his tee shot promptly landed in the left rough. Brooks, still hot, reached the green in two and birdied the hole, and Perry couldn’t even reach the green with his fourth shot. It was the first of two heartbreaking major playoff losses for Perry.

The majors’ next stop at Valhalla came in the Era of Prime Tiger, and Woods added to his already-growing legend. Woods, the defending champion, and Bob May battled to a playoff, and, well … you know what happened. Woods created a career highlight when he chased a 25-foot putt into the cup on the first playoff hole, pointing all the way. He was the beneficiary of a fortuitous — and, to some, suspicious — bounce on the 18th. And when it was over, Woods had won his second PGA, and fifth major, by a single stroke — his third major in a calendar year. He would close off the Tiger Slam at the next year’s Masters.

Coming into the 2008 Ryder Cup, the United States hadn’t won the biennial matchup with Europe in this millennium. But Paul Azinger brought new life and new ideas to the U.S. team, and the result was a thorough domination across the board. From Anthony Kim’s singles domination of Sergio Garcia to Boo Weekley’s riding-the-horse driver gallop, this was a complete and total U.S. victory.

The last time Valhalla hosted the PGA Championship, golf was in the era of Rory McIlroy. Coming off a win in the Open Championship, McIlroy took control of the lead on Friday, lost it early on Sunday, and then battled back in near-complete darkness to finish out the victory. Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, playing in the pairing ahead of McIlroy, actually waved him up onto the green at 18, and McIlroy managed to par the hole for a one-shot win. That victory marked McIlroy’s fourth major … and 10 years later, he’s still stuck on four.

With its dramatic finishing hole and a stacked field, the odds are good that the 2024 PGA Championship will end in drama. This year’s version has a high standard to match.