March 8, 2024 8:00am

Major Players

Of the many damages caused by the ongoing rift in the men’s professional game, the biggest victim might be the campaign of the Players Championship and the PGA Tour’s long-held desire to have its flagship event be considered the fifth major championship.

Photo of Scott Michaux
By Scott Michaux
Golf Correspondent

Of the many damages caused by the ongoing rift in the men’s professional game, the biggest victim might be the campaign of the Players Championship and the PGA Tour’s long-held desire to have its flagship event be considered the fifth major championship.

The Players Championship will be contested for the 50th time next week. The occasion might have been a natural place for everyone to finally agree that the Players now had the history, tradition of excellence and stature to be anointed the “fifth major’ on par with the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and Open Championship. However, the PGA Tour’s exclusion of golfers who joined the LIV Golf league diminishes what was once the Players strongest argument – that it had the best top-to-bottom field in professional golf.

The majority of the voters in this month’s golf Power Poll agree that the exclusion of a good chunk of the best players in the world is disqualifying of the Players’ major chances.

“The Players mighta been inching towards major status but with LIV players missing, it’s over,” said Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle. “Major derailment.”

Sean Fairholm of MyGolfSpy agrees: “You might have picked the single-worst time in the past 20 years to ask this question. This year’s Players Championship will be the worst field we’ve had at Sawgrass in recent memory. No event has been hurt more by LIV than the Players. Forget calling it a major -- the PGA Tour will just be praying for a decent winner.”

The Players has consistently delivered high drama on a memorable course for what is now the richest purse in golf. Even though the LPGA Tour and the senior PGA Tour Champions each count five major championships on their annual calendars, 58.5 percent (69 of 118) of our Power Poll respondents don’t feel like the men’s game needs a fifth major and 61 percent don’t think the Players warrants major status.

“The Players is a really good tournament. All the fifth major talk only distracts from the quality of the event,” said Nicholas Heidelberger, editor of GolfLink.

What former commissioner Deane Beman started in 1974 at Atlanta Country Club in Marietta, Georgia, and shuffled to Texas (Colonial CC) and Florida (Inverrary and Sawgrass CC) has become a spring fixture at its permanent home since 1982 at Pete Dye’s Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

With a stable of winners that includes Hall of Famers such as Jack Nicklaus (3 times), Lee Trevino, Ray Floyd, Fred Couples (2), Davis Love III (2), Nick Price, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods (twice) and Phil Mickelson as well as modern major-winners Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Scottie Scheffler, the Players does not lack for star quality.

Only 11 of the previous 49 Players have NOT been won by players with major championship wins on their résumés. The other 38 have been won by 30 players with at least one major victory, two with career slams and three more players one shy of career slams.

Here’s a closer look at this month’s Power Poll questions.

QUESTION 1: Does men’s professional golf have room for five official “majors?”

The concept of “grand slam” major events is itself a media construct. It has evolved from when Atlanta newspaper writer O.B. Keeler used the term to label Bobby Jones’ achievement of winning the U.S. and British Opens and Amateurs in 1930 as the “Grand Slam.” It wasn’t until 1960, when Arnold Palmer was heading to the Open Championship at St. Andrews after winning the Masters and U.S. Open that year, that the modern professional “grand slam” was drummed up with Palmer’s Pittsburgh (Pa.) newspaperman Bob Drum defining it as the Masters, U.S. Open, PGA Championship and British Open.

“Arnold and my dad created the Pro Grand Slam because they both knew it was no longer an amateur sport, and what Jones did would never happen again,” said Kevin Drum, the son of the late golf writer Bob Drum. “The four tournaments they chose to recreate the Pro Grand Slam were not as obvious as it looks today. The Western Open was important; so was the Canadian Open; Augusta was an invitational; and the PGA had just turned from Match Play to stroke play. But they did pick those four, and it united the game with the past by players today pursuing the Pro Grand Slam…

“For the record, my dad felt the Players undoubtedly feels like a major.”

Most of our pollsters feel like four is enough and the game doesn’t need to deviate any further from its established major rhythm.

“Can we keep something that’s traditional in golf these days? And tradition says the Players is not a major,” said Winston-Salem Journal writer John Dell.

“A fifth major only provides opportunity for more golfers to have ‘major champion’ on their résumé. It just starts to mean less,” said Peter Georgiady, executive director of The Golf Heritage Society.

“No fifth major until baseball adds a fifth base. As in Grand Slam,” said veteran writer Herb Gould.

Still, a comfortable 41 percent of our pollsters are more flexible.

“The nature of the game is change. The past 180 years have witnessed all manner of change in equipment and course design. Why should it hold the line at four majors?” said GWAA member James Davis.

QUESTION 2: Has the Players earned a place as one of golf’s major championships?

While Herb Gould believes four majors is enough, he considers the Players major-ish.

“The Players is an elite tournament, just outside the top tier, along with the Memorial. And maybe a couple of others,” Gould said.

For the majority of our poll panel, the Players remains outside the realm of golf’s big four – even more so now that LIV has siphoned off some of the talent that used to be fixtures in the field at Sawgrass.

“Wasn’t it just a week ago that Paul Azinger lamented that the PGA Tour has become a qualifying tour for LIV Golf?” said co-founder Joe Logan. “Maybe it’s not the best time to be revisiting the ‘fifth major’ debate.”

Steve Habel, publisher, agrees: “I would be all in with the Players as a fifth major if the golfers who are a part of LIV Golf would be allowed to participate. The current four majors are already excluding those players – why add another event where the best aren’t playing against the best?”

Said Terry Moore, founding editor of Michigan Golfer: “Timing is everything with this poll. The Players definitely earned its claim to be deemed as a fifth major but that was before the emergence of LIV and it siphoning off high caliber players. Despite the contested matter of World Ranking points, only the current four majors now have fields representative of the game’s best players.”

Radio host Keith Jones has a different take on why the Players doesn’t qualify as a major.

“While the PC has had a lengthy run and a lot of great champions, I’m not sure that it should be deemed a major championship. Unless, of course, one thinks that the PGA Tour has earned the right to have one of its own tournaments officially called ‘a major.’ That has always seemed quite self-serving in my mind.”

Some poll members, however, believe the Players has earned its major chops.

“The Players certainly checks all the boxes to be christened the fifth major – elite field, tremendous purse, highly challenging golf course/venue, compelling history and tradition,” said

J. Roger Graves, editor/writer PGA Magazine. “Plus, golf at large and golf in the United States needs another major to shine a brighter spotlight on the sport earlier in the calendar year. … The Players already meets all criteria of a major, so why not make it official?”

Timothy R. Branco of New England Publishing thinks only the Masters and its coveted status as the season’s first major keeps the Players from be regarded as such. “The Players Championship quite frankly is one of the most coveted championships for the very best players in the game today. It fits perfectly into an early season slot for potential of making it ‘Golf's 5th Major,’” Graves said.

QUESTION 3: Three of the four current majors are based in the U.S. If there a fifth major is added to the rotation, should it be based in the U.S. or abroad?

A small majority (54.4 percent) of mostly U.S.-based Power Poll responders don’t have any issues with America being the predominant venue for golf’s professional majors and think it’s it ever did add a fifth major it should be in the U.S.

But several among the 45.6 percent who think beyond U.S. borders felt strongly enough to comment on behalf of the rest of the world.

“Thankfully, golf is growing globally outside of the U.S.,” said freelance writer Susanne Kemper. “For another major it should be considered in Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa or Latin America where the game is growing and there are many historically great courses plus key tournaments."

“For the game to grow it needs inclusion and to grow outside the domination of the PGA Tour’s controls.”

“If you add a fifth it needs to be outside U.S. – this is a GLOBAL game and moving that way more so every year,” said Dove Jones, senior sales consultant for Premier Golf.

Even Drum, whose father helped codify the professional grand slam, agrees.

“(Bobby) Jones won two international events in his slam, and he also won the Walker Cup that year, another international competition,” Drum said. “It’s my opinion that if another major were added, it should be tilted toward an international event.”

QUESTION 4: Who will win next week at Sawgrass?

Not surprisingly, most pollsters (41 percent) would take the field over a handful of betting favorites. But of the favored contenders, reigning FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland (20 votes) and former Players champ Rory McIlroy (17) got the most votes.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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