The Players Championship is a major. To paraphrase Ron Swanson, I think you thought I said, “The Players Championship should be a major.” No, it’s a capital ‘M’ Major. It is the premier event of the most influential governing body in golf with the strongest field and second largest purse. Yet, it is not officially recognized as a Major by anyone, including the organization that puts it on- the PGA TOUR.
To be fair, there is no singular governing body in golf. There are five major organizations: the RNA, USGA, PGA, Augusta National Country Club, and the PGA TOUR. Each has their own premiere tournament, but only the TOUR’s is not considered a Major.
This has to do with how golf evolved. Not long after golf was invented, the RNA organized and then held to championships, the Open and the Amateur. The USGA followed suit in the States. Those represented the importance of amateurism in golf culture, and all four tournaments were considered Majors as evidenced by Bobby Jones winning all four in 1930 and it being declared a Grand Slam.
By 1916, professional golf was a big enough industry, the PGA was organized and within a year created their own Championship, making it a Major Championship for professionals to try and obtain.
In the 30’s touring professionals, like Byron Nelson, considered the Western, North and South, and National Opens to be Majors. In 1934, Jones organized Augusta National Golf Club and crated the Masters- immediately making it a Major Championship for all golfers to try and win.
Majors were nebulous and fluid depending on which camp of golf a player kept a foot in.
The Modern Majors evolved out of Arnie’s trip to the Open Championship in 1960. He had won the Masters and US Open months before and declared he would try and win a Grand Slam of his own by capturing the Open Championship. He finished second, but returned in ’61 & ’62 to win back to back. From that point forward, the Modern Majors were determined by touring professionals.
Enter the PGA TOUR. In 1968, the touring PGA members wanted a larger cut of the money they were bringing in, so they created the TOUR, an autonomous organization sharing a few board members and a namesake. In 1974, the Players Championship was created.
From that point forward, the PGA TOUR became an increasingly influential and important governing body in golf, to where they now own TOURs in Canada, Latin America, China, the Champions Tour, the Web Tour, and Q-School- the qualifying barrier to become a member of the TOUR. The only important tour that it does not own is the European Tour.
So if things continue to evolve in golf and with Majors the way they have in the past, the Players should be considered an official Major by the TOUR. It attracts the top 144 players golf their ball against each other for the second largest purse at $11m, just behind the US Open’s $12m. Whereas the Masters has a limited field, the US Open reserves spots for sectional qualifiers and amateurs (same with the Open), and the PGA holds 20 places for club professionals, diluting their respective fields ever so slightly.
Touring pros think of it as a major. Ricky Fowler told cnn.com “I feel I look at this event as basically like a major. It has the major feel, obviously one of the best fields we play all year, on a tough golf course.”
Geoff Ogilvy, a progressive golfing thinker and touring pro, said, “The PGA TOUR in the US, whether right or not, is generally the overseeing body of all golf— they have the most influence —- so their tournament at their course, which keeps getting won by the best players in the world, at some point may be recognized as one of the most important tournaments in golf.”
Even venerable Golf Writer Dan Jenkins said,
Sure, the PGA TOUR is late to the party in regards to its inception, but organized and evolved with the needs of golf like the other important governing bodies.
Yes, the Players Championship host course, the Stadium Course at Sawgrass, is overly penal resulting in less than interesting golf- minus the 17th which is the most exciting hole on the schedule.
The host city, Ponte Vedra Beach, is not a metropolis- it may not even be an -opolis. It is no less interesting than Augusta or the small towns the US Open and PGA run rough shod through annually. Rather, it has beautiful white sand beaches and laid back locals with easy access by road and air.
And yes, the Players is put on by the TOUR and the TOUR is run by the players, so it has the optics of self-congratulating protectionism. It feels like industrialized golf- Big GOLF- with conglomerates colluding together to keep out up and comers. But hasn’t ANGC been doing that for decades?
Maybe the issue is that we, golf fans, fail to see that the tradition we love has evolved to that point rather than been created whole cloth. That the Players meets every metric: field, purse, premier tournament, and player recognition.
This year, the Players has moved to March, kicking off Major Season. It will be the First Major on the First Coast.