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December 10, 2017
Friday, May 19, 2017

The making of a major

Last year’s winner Jason Day hands the trophy over to Si Woo Kim after winning The Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass
By David Mackintosh / Golfing Traveller

Familiar questions about The Players Championship still abound

Every year the same discussion — someone trying to persuade us The Players Championship has become a major championship.

Some argue that playing the PGA Tour’s highlight event at the same venue annually, similar to the Masters at Augusta National, is at least part of that dynamic. Well, it’s certainly true that parallel to ANGC’s penchant for annual incremental improvements, each year TPC Sawgrass tends to feature significant makeovers.

This time, competitors faced a startling new lake between the sixth and seventh fairways, the 12th reduced to an in-vogue drivable par-four and with all greens entirely re-laid, subtle changes in putting lines and speeds that for the experienced added unforeseen complications. Yet without doubt, a great golf course doth not a major make.

Nor spectator appreciation. True, the punitive island green 17th, the terrifying 18th and many other Sawgrass holes are becoming as familiar to viewers as Amen Corner, but one can easily say the same of Pebble Beach. Useful component, not more.

Clearly, if your tournament attracts a field made up of the best players in the world, you’re talking elite status. That’s also true of the World Golf Championships. Before these, back some decades, the Australian and Canadian Opens were must-plays, but never mentioned as major-contenders.

Players screaming for redefinition might do it, one supposes, but so far, and we’re now at the 44th edition of the tournament, that hasn’t been a factor.

So how does a tournament ascend to major status? Simply put, there is no formula. Never has been. For many years, The Open Championship (1860) and the US Open (1895) plus the Amateur Championship (1885) and US Amateur (1895) were “The Majors” and still were in 1930 when Bobby Jones completed golf’s Grand Slam.

The PGA Championship, established 1917, was a match-play event until 1958, and thus for those many years the professional equivalent of the match-play format of the amateur championships. The Masters was absolutely not a major when first played in 1934. And when Gene Sarazen won the following year, the event was still the Augusta National Invitational, a convivial gathering of Bobby Jones’ golf friends at the Georgia club he’d recently founded.

It would be a couple of decades forward before Sarazen would find himself anointed as the first pro-Grand Slammer, when Arnold Palmer, after winning the Masters and US Open, decided to set his sights on what he and Pittsburgh Post golf writer Bob Drum coined “the Professional Grand Slam.”

And herein the biggest dilemma. If you didn’t experience the complete pressures of winning a major, from the sleepless nights and elevated adrenaline to that excruciating nerve-jangling final putt, are you really entitled to the enhanced value of victory?

Personally, I won’t quibble about Sarazen, one of my all-time heroes who prior to winning the 1922 US Open and the PGA Championship at age 20 worked as a nighttime hospital mortuary attendant: but if we’re going to contemplate adding The Players to the majors, we’re going to have to deal with retrospectivity.

Example, we saw Sergio Garcia’s exquisite torture and effervescent elation after his first major earlier this year. Does he now have two, by including his 2008 Players? Should we simply award 44 retrospective majors, like battlefield honours?

Twenty-one-year old Si-Woo Kim is a valiant winner of The Players 2017, fully deserving all the additional perks and long-term exemptions that come with the US$1.85-million top prize. But don’t call it a major win — at least not in my book.

Oh by the way, retrospection would add three more professional majors to Jack Nicklaus’ total, so 21 in all. Good luck catching that!

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Edition No. 5055 - This publication is a property of NEFIR S.A. -RNPI Nº 5343955 - Issn 1852 - 9224 - Te. 4349-1500 - San Juan 141 , (C1063ACY) CABA - Director Perdiodístico: Ricardo Daloia