Each and every May, a debate rages as to whether the Players Championship is golf’s fifth major and, if not, whether the PGA Tour’s flagship event will ever evolve into a major championship.
This debate has been going on for decades and has become a spring tradition unlike any other…oh wait, that’s the Masters, which actually is a major championship.
While some casual fans might enjoy the Player Championship even more than the majors, due in large part to the annual carnage seen on the 17th hole, the Players Championship is not and most likely will never be a major championship for two main reasons:
1) The Golf Course
The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass contains some fun, fan-friendly holes, but at the end of the day, the course is simply a quirky, made-for-TV track constructed in the middle of a Florida swamp.
The course is fairly short by PGA Tour standards, which means that guys like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson can navigate their way around the course while taking a driver out of their bags no more than two-to-three times per round.
TPC Sawgrass has also not done the best job of identifying the best players in the game throughout the years.
Jack Nicklaus captured three Players Championship titles during the tournament’s early years, but that was prior to the tournament moving to TPC Sawgrass (the Players Championship did not move to TPC Sawgrass until 1982). The list of champions since 1982 looks more like a list you might expect to see at a high quality PGA Tour event or possibly even a World Golf Championship, but certainly not a major championship.
The 17th hole is fun and draws in some viewers that otherwise might not have tuned into weekend golf coverage, but could you ever imagine such a monstrosity of a hole appearing at places like Augusta National, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, Medinah, Merion, Baltusrol, Shinnecock Hills or Oakmont? On the Vegas Strip, yes, but at a major championship venue, no.
The 17th is a quirky gimmicky hole that has now become the face of the Players Championship, and although the hole may be popular amongst fans, it’s also one of the main reasons why the Players Championship will never be considered a major.
The other reason is history.
Tournaments have evolved into majors throughout the history of the game, but in each instance a tournament’s major championship evolution has been rather quick. The Open Championship was the first organized professional golf tournament ever created and has essentially been considered a major from its inception.
The U.S. Open was America’s national championship and was also considered a major more or less right from its inception.
The PGA Championship was created in 1916 by the PGA of America and was also almost immediately one of the biggest events in the world.
The Western Open was considered to be a major during the early part of the 20th century, but was eventually replaced by the Masters.
The Masters is the youngest of the four majors and wasn’t really considered a major right from the start. The tournament began in 1934, and it is debatable as to when it was truly considered to be a major championship. Most would say that the Masters was beginning to take on major status just prior to the start of World War II, but even at the very latest, the Masters would have been considered a major by the early 1950s, which is less than 20 years after the tournament was initially created.
The Players Championship has been around for 40 years and has been at TPC Sawgrass for 30 years, yet to this day it is still not considered to be a major championship.
If the Players did evolve into a major at some point, it would be the first time in history that a tournament became a major some 40 to 50 years after it was initially created, and at that point, what happens to all of the winners from the past 40 years?
Would Calvin Peete be a major champion through his 1985 Players Championship title?
How about Jodie Mudd, Craig Perks, Stephan Ames, Henrik Stenson, Tim Clark, K.J. Choi and many others—would they all be considered major champions if, sometime in the next 10-20 years, the Players Championship evolves into a major?
Bottom line is that the Players Championship is a big, fun, made-for-TV event that uses a quirky island green to draw in the crowds and hands out $1.71 million to the winner for having to endure this golf course equivalent of a Las Vegas Strip hotel.
So will the Players Championship ever be considered a major?
No. End of story…until next May, when we once again begin debating whether the Players Championship is golf’s fifth major.
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