clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Players Championship 2014: Why the '5th major' moniker won't just die already

New, comment

The Players will conclude on Sunday and force the entire golf world into a fifth major frenzy. Should all that talk finally stop?

Andy Lyons

Some ideas are too grandiose and too feasible to simply go away, no matter how crazy they may actually be.

Such is the case with golf's The Players Championship (or THE PLAYERS) and the notion that it could actually squeeze its way onto golf's Mount Rushmore of major tournaments.

The PGA Tour's most prestigious non-major championship showcase is often dubbed The Fifth Major because of its prestige, recognizable venue, exorbitant prize money and world-class field of players.

But golf is a sport that rewards purity and embraces the old-school. Trevor Immelman of South Africa, who won the 2008 Masters, succinctly summed it up when speaking with the New York Times last year:

"I'm about upholding the traditions of the game. As an aspiring young golfer who grew up in a small town on the western Cape, I knew that there were four tournaments by which the best players were measured.

"I think using the term fifth major is ridiculous. There is no such thing."

It may be ridiculous to the old boys' network of professional golfers on the PGA Tour, but their LPGA counterparts elevated the Evian Championship to major status beginning in 2013, creating a real fifth major.

It's an intriguing and bold thought, one that sees popular culture and golf fans across the country label The Players as such while its participants and Tour pros almost unilaterally shun the notion.

The first question to ask is, "Why?" An event with humble beginnings which the PGA tour created in the middle of the schedule has now evolved into must-see action for the game.

It's not just about the money, which is substantial. This year's Players will feature a purse of $10 million, which is tied with the PGA Championship (the actual fourth major) for the highest on Tour in 2014. Even the World Golf Championship events -- which make up some of the stiffest competition outside of majors -- have fewer dollars at stake.

So again, why is The Players even in the conversation when it comes to majors?

The venue

There are few courses as recognizable in professional golf as Ponte Vedra Beach's TPC Sawgrass, and much like the Masters, it's a permanent fixture among the many stops on the schedule.

Pete Dye designed the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course in 1980, just two years before it became the new home of The Players. Dye is among the most well-known golf course designers on the planet, and his reputation as an architect is that of a brilliant sadist. He knows precisely how to infuriate and fluster the best players in the world.

It's a maddening affair for the players, but like a car wreck it is hard not to watch the somewhat-inevitable.

That's what the Stadium Course has become; a test of golf that makes Tour Players hate life. The field has been able to tame the layout in recent years bybeating up Old Man Par with scores in double digit red numbers, but it has that ability to smack the very best in the mouth with one mishit.


In addition, the 17th hole captures the very essence of Dye. It's a 137-yard par-3 that is beautifully laid out on a mini-peninsula with a green that's 78 feet long. Despite the modest length, it consistently provides as much drama and agony as any single hole in golf.

That's what makes Sawgrass and The Players both exciting and major-worthy.

Strength of the field

Two key exemptions give the The Players its elite level of competition. First, the top 50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are automatically entered into the event. Next, every major championship winner from the last five years is eligible.

While those two factors alone don't account for the strong field on their own, the prize money helps bolster the quality of the competition. So much so, in fact, that even poor condition of the greens hasn't discouraged the world's best from teeing it up in 2014 at the Stadium Course.

Great champions

Every real major has great past champions. The Players is no exception here as Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear himself, won the inaugural event in 1974 at Atlanta Country Club. The game's all-time great is the only player to have won the tournament three times.

The select few who've won it twice looks like a who's who of past and present stars. Fred Couples, Steve Elkington, Hal Sutton, Davis Love III and Tiger Woods have each done it.

Why it still can't be a major

The purists won't let it happen. The storied tourney at TPC Sawgrass won't officially earn its de facto title because the PGA Tour has diluted it by adding the FedExCup playoffs and World Golf Championships. Each of those events feature increased prize money and strong fields of their own.

It makes sense from a marketing standpoint. The tour wants to make every tournament matter and draw the best ratings possible. A simple way to do that is to label them as important. But prestige comes with an aura of exclusivity as well, and TPC Sawgrass will always have an element of that because it's so unique.

It's just not a major.