Is The Players Championship a major? I refuse to answer that question, and I borderline refuse to even acknowledge its existence. There will be people — many people — who will try and convince you this week that The Players is “the first major” or part of “championship season” or whatever song and dance we’re doing this time around.
This will happen because it’s always easy for stuff like this to happen when change takes place. There’s no fire without friction, and a move from May to March has provided all the friction this event needs to rebrand itself into something greater than it was before.
We’ve been here before. We’re here every year, it seems, and certainly every time there’s a large-scale change to this tournament. All of it is asinine most notably because the entire idea of a series of four-round golf events that matter more than all the other golf events is an arbitrary construct from the 1960s. It’s all made up, but it stuck because it involved one of the most famous golfers of all time (Arnold Palmer) in conjunction with one of us, a lowly scribe named Bob Drum.
Before that? In the post-Bobby Jones era where amateur events mattered, it was just a bunch of important tournaments which all earned their prestige by what kind of fields they collected.
“I promise you the pros didn’t talk much about majors back then,” the late Dan Jenkins once told the Wall Street Journal. “I think it was [golf writer] Herbert Warren Wind who starting using the term. He said golfers had to be judged by the major tournaments they won, but it’s not like there was any set number of major tournaments.”
What frustrates me when we talk about major championships in the way that we talk about them in this modern era is that they aren’t all created equal. The very idea of something getting the “major” label slapped on it and then viewing this roped off area as more important than all the other roped off areas is ridiculous.
If you’re ranking which tournaments professional golfers would most want to win and the Masters is a 10.0 on a 1-10 scale, then the U.S. Open and Open Championship are 9.7s, 9.3s or 8.9s — depending on the golfer — just behind it. The problem here is that the gap between those three events and any other big tournament, such as the PGA Championship, is much wider than the gap between the Masters and the Opens. Then you have The Players, not branded a major, which is right up next to the PGA Championship. For example, if the PGA is a 7.3 then the Players is a 7.1 or something like that. And yet we draw the line of what constitutes a “major” from 7.2 to 10.0. It’s actually kind of absurd when you start breaking it down.
What happens when we overvalue all majors is that we devalue wins at great venues with terrific fields. We talk as if there’s the same chasm between the careers of all major winners and all non-major winners even though, as I noted above, not all majors are created equal.
The way we talk about Jimmy Walker (arbitrary major winner) and Rickie Fowler (arbitrary not major winner) is ridiculous! There is no good way to do this of course because nobody wants to ascribe numerical ratings to different tournaments like a cheap, subjective version of the Official World Golf Rankings and argue about how many Ascribed Big Tournament points Fowler racked up in 2016. It’s certainly more fun to holler about things like grit and stones and clutch putting.
The disappointing part is that The Players has a chance to be its own thing, become its own championship and play like one with firm, fast greens and fairways and a tough test. Instead? The course looks like I let my toddlers loose with green sharpies on a blank whiteboard.
Perhaps the PGA Tour’s organizers have looked at the BMW PGA Championship’s decline on the European Tour and thought, “Well, that’s not a road we want to go down.” But the reason the BMW PGA Championship had deteriorated is because the PGA Tour exists. That’s where all of its players have gone. You don’t need validation by claiming yourself to be the top chemical element. You already have validation.
All of it is nonsense. Winning a Players is no easier or more difficult than winning a PGA Championship and often it’s not really any easier than winning a WGC event. The same top 50 players in the world are all playing the same eight events.
So when we put The Players in its proper place and remove the ridiculous “major” terminology from everything altogether, it creates a more interesting — but less media-friendly — golf world in which winning PGA Championships and U.S. Opens matters more than winning Players Championships but doesn’t matter as much more as everyone involved — both voluntarily and involuntarily — would like you to believe.