- There's been a concerted effort to market the Players as a major championship. It's a money grab, and golf fans shouldn't fall for it.
That there is a need to write this article means they’ve kind of already won.
“They” in the above sentence refers to the PGA Tour and Golf Channel, who have engaged in a regrettably effective campaign to brainwash us into believing that the Players might be a major championship. This week’s event at TPC Sawgrass used to be known as golf’s fifth major, but there’s clearly been a top-down, heavy-handed directive to drop the “fifth” and just refer to it as one of golf’s majors.
This is no coincidence, of course. Golf Channel and NBC own the rights to the Players Championship, so there is significant financial incentive for the network to convince that casual sports fan that, like the Masters and the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open and the British Open, this is can’t-miss television. It’s not hard to imagine the higher-ups explicitly telling their on-air talent to go all-in on this…cringe…five major hogwash.
Here’s David Duval discussing how Brooks Koepka should be more focused week-in, week-out, not just for the…cringe…five majors. It should also be noted that Duval is a Players champion himself, so his major championship total would double from one to two if the Players gained major status.
Zealots in the Players-Is-a-Major (we’ll call them PIAMers) camp tend to make the following arguments: It’s held at an iconic venue. It features a world-class field of competitors. It boasts a rich (if relatively brief, as the Players only started in 1974) history.
I can find holes in none of those statements. TPC Sawgrass is a wonderful test of golf—with arguably the world’s most famous hole, the island-green 17th—and its greatness should only be amplified by this move back from May to March. As far as strength-of-field goes, well, every single one of the top 50 players in the official world golf ranking is scheduled to tee it up. That nugget speaks for itself. And there have indeed been a number of TPC Sawgrass moments that stand out in golf’s collective memory, with Better Than Most and Be the Right Club Today being the two most salient examples.
This explains why the Players is a fantastic tournament and undoubtedly the fifth most prestigious title in the sport. That, of course is nothing to scoff at. This is an event worthy of celebration…but that doesn’t make it a major championship. Majors aren’t anointed via a checklist of what we think constitutes a great golf tournament. If that were the case, you could make similar arguments for the World Golf Championships or the Memorial or the Arnold Palmer Invitational or the Tour Championship. The majors are the majors because the golf world, for reasons historical and political and practical, have agreed to consider them majors. This isn’t an open-for-application ordeal; it’s an invitation-only party with only four seats, each of which is occupied by a worthy attendant.
You’ll also hear PIAMers talk about golf’s arbitrary history of defining major championships. This, too, is valid. The British Amateur, U.S. Amateur and Western Open were considered major championships until they weren’t. (Bobby Jones’ famous Grand Slam of 1930 consisted of victories in the British Amateur, British Open, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur). On the flip side, despite dating back to before World War I, the PGA Championship didn’t always enjoy a place among golf’s holy quartet. Contrast this major fluidity with tennis, which codified its four big ones in the 1920s and hasn’t wavered since, and you begin to understand why the powers that be at Big Golf sense an opportunity here.
But those previous changes in what is considered a major reflected a shifting dynamic within the sport. Until the 1940s, many of the best players in the world remained amateurs for their entire golfing lives, so the amateur events featured elite fields. And the Western Open was replaced as a major by an upstart tournament staged at Augusta National.
For better or for worse, majors are the main determinant in how we measure a golfer's career. Each tournament has significant historical context. They are landmark points of reference. This isn't like changing the NBA All-Star game format, where a tweak doesn't bring with it any significant ramifications. Giving the Players major status would give Jack Nicklaus three more majors and Tiger two more. Guys like Si-Woo Kim and Craig Perks would become overnight major winners. And while retroactively adding/taking away majors is not unprecedented, it was only done to accurately reflect a seismic shift in the golf power structure. Such an impactful change should be saved for cases of genuine necessity.
In reality, nothing has changed vis-à-vis the Players. It has long been one of the richest events in golf. It has always drawn an elite field. Its venue hasn’t changed. The only explanation for this recent PIAM push is a monetary decision by executives seeking to maximize profit.
They’re trying to shove this thing down our throats. It brings to mind an all-time line from an all-time movie (Mean Girls), in which Regina George yells at Gretchen Wieners: “Stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!”
Stop trying to make Player-Is-A-Major happen. It's not going to happen.