What a harmless, inoffensive affair the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek in Birmingham turned out to be. There were no marches, no bomb threats. No redneck governors blocked the clubhouse door. Highway vendors offered SOUL CREEK COUNTRY CLUB T-shirts, and that's about as deep as the social commentary went. Voices were raised, to be sure, but most of them belonged to gallery show-offs, who are a growing irritant at televised golf tournaments.
A 33-year-old Australian won the trophy, and that was good too. Wayne Grady has toiled too long in the shadow of countryman Greg Norman. On Sunday he tied Norman's career total for wins in majors—one—and crept closer to the Shark in overall wins, trailing now by a mere 63 ( Norman, 68; Grady, 5). By shooting par or better for four days on a course judged by most of the field to be the harshest PGA setup in two decades, Grady also accomplished two more feats:
Number one, he gave non-American golfers a three-out-of-four-series victory in this year's majors, the first time that has ever happened. Number two, he silenced the tiresome drone of pros who complained all week that deep rough made Shoal Creek unplayable.
Not that Grady didn't harbor a few antirough sentiments of his own. "It's not fun having to hack it out sideways every time you go a few feet off line," he told the press after Sunday's round. "You guys should try it."
How deep was the rough at Shoal Creek? Hard to say; Bermuda grass doesn't square its shoulders and stand up straight. PGA of America president Pat Rielly said 3� inches, but the grass was deep enough in spots to hide a golfer's shoes and soak his pant cuffs with dew.
"I'd like him to take a ruler out there and measure it," said defending PGA champ Payne Stewart, who was outspoken in his criticism.
"There's nothing to practice," said the Tour's alltime leading money winner, Tom Kite. "You just grab a sand wedge and chunk it out onto the fairway."
This is what passes for controversy at most golf tournaments, and in other years tournament officials might have been annoyed. This year the gripes and whines fell like birdsong on ears toughened by weeks of controversy.
Shoal Creek founder Hall Thompson touched off a national debate in June with his remarks about the private club's no-blacks-allowed membership practices. In the face of TV sponsor boycotts and threatened picketing by civil rights groups, the club relented the week before the tournament and extended honorary membership to black Birmingham businessman Louis J. Willie.
The PGA of America jumped on board last week with a new site selection policy. "The PGA," the new clause reads, "requires that prospective host courses which are clubs rather than public facilities have demonstrably open membership policies and practices prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin or gender, and that the maintenance of such open membership policies be contractually guaranteed."