One of the surest bets in golf comes when posing the question “Can you name the four major championships in golf’s Grand Slam?”
Of course, the answer is next week’s U.S. Open, the Masters, the PGA Championship and the Open Championship.
The correct answer is the U.S. Open, the British Open, the U.S. Amateur and the British Amateur, all won in 1930 by Bobby Jones, the only person to accomplish it.
Had I asked what the four major championship of the modern Grand Slam are, the answer would be different.
There is debate about whether a Grand Slam has to be won in one calendar year. Tiger Woods won all four in a 12-month period, but apparently that’s too easy to do because his doesn’t count in the eyes of many.
Tiger even did his with the winter hiatus in between the PGA Championship in August and the Masters in April, but, so what. The mystery person who makes these rules says it doesn’t count.
The next bar room debate is what constitutes a major championship and should the Players Championship be considered as the fifth major?
Oddly enough, only a few short years ago, the Canadian Open was deemed to be the fifth major by some and now it’s not. The reason is because someone who makes the rules said so.
In comparing The Players to other majors you have to try to compare as many apples to apples as you can. Since the U.S. Open, the PGA and the Open Championship all move from course to course, the only fair comparison is to the Masters.
Furthermore, all four majors have held consistent dates for years, which adds to their credibility and continuing history, but since the Players has moved a few times using the time of year as a defining factor doesn’t apply, but there is more to becoming a major than a date on a calendar.
For example, there are several tour events who are supported, endorsed or promoted in some way by a high profile professional golfer. Muirfield has Nicklaus and Bay Hill had Arnie, but nobody can replicate the influence or credibility of Bobby Jones.
TPC Sawgrass, near Jacksonville, has an opulent monster clubhouse while Augusta National presents a structure that is elegant, but it isn’t much more than a cottage, albeit one that exudes southern hospitality and comfort – the drive up the driveway has taken the breath away from some of the most travelled people in the world.
The locker room is the first place a contestant realizes something is different in his initial foray.
Yes, there is a champions’ locker room at TPC Sawgrass (above), but the one at Augusta National comes with sharing a locker with some of the greatest champions of all time and a seat at the table of the past champions dinner is one the every golfer or golf observer would love to occupy. In fact, many of us would sacrifice a lot just to wait tables.
The Practice Range at TPC is absolutely wonderful with fabulous turf, target greens, bunkers, pitching greens and putting greens, but the practice area at Augusta National is a botanic dream.
Not only do they have the same amenities as the TPC, the contestants can practice with the ball of choice from the manufacturer of choice. The balls are hit, picked up, cleaned and sorted so a player can return and reuse the same brand and model.
The Players’ field is the strongest in golf with 48 of the top 50 in the world rankings this year. The Masters field is the weakest of the major championships.
Victory at the Players earns the Champion a very classy, Waterford crystal vase and even though it’s not often shown, every golfer alive knows the Masters trophy is a magnificent, sterling silver replica of the clubhouse.
A strange difference occurs between the two venues when referring to the spectators. At the Players, the viewers are called the gallery. At the Masters, they are patrons and there is no running at August National.
Noteworthy is the fact that TPC is a pay-as-you play golf course, with cart paths everywhere, many extremely close to playing surfaces. At Augusta National, there are no cart paths and no carts – walking only.
Players’ caddies wear shorts and bibs. Augusta National’s caddies wear immaculate white coveralls. The course at TPC offers immediate termination for wayward shots, while Augusta provides a more subtle torture for those who go astray. TPC has a back nine. Augusta has Amen Corner.
Goofy music, gardens of incredible splendor and limited commercials add to the character of the Masters, but aren’t the defining difference makers in building a major.
I can watch the Phoenix Open or the Bear Trap if I want to hear beer talking. Admittedly, in those environs, I actually enjoy it, but not at a major.
When I heard a fan yell “Go” when Si Woo Kim hit his ball long at #13 in the final round, I thought it was disgusting. I felt the same when I heard chants of “USA! USA! USA!” bleated by fans on 17 mixed with numerous “baba booeys.”
Sure, the 17th begs emotion from players and fans, but we are talking about one of the main criteria required for acceptance into golf’s Holy Grail and that is respect.
Adding to the reverence of the atmosphere of the Masters is the exceptional distance between what occurs in Butler Cabin and the presentation ceremony of the Players and ultimately the inclusion of the Players into the exclusive club that include major championships.
Somehow, the two presentations speak volumes for the respective events.
I truly enjoy both golf championships and have attended both. I’ve played the TPC Sawgrass many times and like you, I can only dream of the emotions I’d have to endure if invited to play at Augusta National, but the subject matter is what would it take for the Players to classified as the fifth major?
In my opinion, a lot!