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PGA Championship eyes likely July date in 2016

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With last week's PGA Championship at Oak Hill now consigned to the record books, organizers are preparing for the prospect of a July date when the 2016 edition of the year's final major is staged.

The PGA Championship usually takes place in early August but, with golf reappearing as an Olympic sport at the 2016 Games after an absence of more than a century, the schedule for the four majors that year is almost certain to be revamped.

Although the competition schedule has yet to announced for the August 5-21 Games in Rio de Janeiro, the golfing component is expected to make up two weeks, leaving the PGA Championship with very little room to manouevre during a hectic late summer.

"I don't see how we can do anything other than move it (the PGA Championship) up earlier," PGA of America president Ted Bishop told Reuters.

"2016 is also a Ryder Cup year and I know the PGA of America wants the PGA Championship to figure in on who makes the United States Ryder Cup team.

"So for us to go after the Olympics with the scheduling of the (PGA Tour's) FedExCup (playoffs), I don't see how that could happen."

The British Open, the third major championship of the season, is generally held in mid-July but Bishop was not at all concerned that the PGA Championship might lose some of its luster if it was held so soon afterwards in 2016.

"I have no doubt about the tradition of all four majors, they are going to keep their place in golf in 2016," the silver-haired Bishop said.

"The bigger question is going to be, when 2016 is over with, is the impact of the Olympics really worth the strain that it puts on the scheduling for the four majors in golf?"

'HOLY GRAIL'

With the four major titles long established as the 'Holy Grail' for professional golfers, many have questioned whether the return of the sport to the Olympics should perhaps have featured amateur players only.

"I have been kind of a traditionalist with the Olympics from day one," said Bishop. "I always enjoyed basketball in the Olympics, from a United States standpoint, when it was our best college players who were amateurs not professionals.

"The interesting question would be to ask one of the top PGA Tour players or European Tour players, 'Would you rather win a major championship or would you rather win a gold medal in the Olympics?'

"But until the format is a lot clearer to people on exactly what it is going to be in the 2016 Olympics, it's very hard to say what the impact of the Games is going to be on professional golf."

A playing format of 72 holes of individual strokeplay has been proposed by golf to maximize the number of countries capable of competing and winning a medal at the Games, with one week designated for the men and another for the women.

However, the International Olympic Committee does not plan on finalizing the competition schedule for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro until next year.

First held in 1916, the PGA Championship adopted a matchplay format until it switched to strokeplay for the 1958 edition won by American Don Finsterwald.

Though there have been a few suggestions in recent years for the PGA Championship to revert back to matchplay to give it more of a unique identity, Bishop does see any need for change.

"Year-in and year-out, the PGA Championship is the strongest field in major championship golf," he said. "It's the only all-professional field among the four major championships.

"We have produced a lot of drama in the last decade. Our championship totally stands on its merits. I think everybody enjoys seeing players have some risk-reward opportunities with the way we set the golf courses up."

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Steve Keating)

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