December 21, 2014
Showtime at The Players
The Players, the PGA Tour’s flagship championship, already star-billed as the game’s richest prize, is incrementally edging towards the status it most wants — golf’s fifth major. All that’s now required is public acceptance, the hardest part of the decades-long campaign.
Voices in favour not only point to the enormous 10 million dollar purse, where the winner’s share of 1.8m is greater than any of the long-established major championships, but the victor receives 600 FedEx points, the same valuation as the other four top titles (WGC events pull 550, regular Tour-stops 500).
Additionally when the World Golf Hall of Fame recently announced that future nominees must have 15 or more official victories on approved tours or at least, “two victories among approved major events,” you’d guess correctly that oddly-constructed wording was expressly to include, and only include, The Players. Clarity obliges noting the WGHOF as a PGA Tour-managed organization.
In any case the voices say, it’s no big deal. The LPGA has five majors, so does the Champions Tour. By adding The Players, golf would have a major title in each month from April to August, after which the Tour has its FedEx Cup playoffs and Tour Championship— all neat and tidy.
Let’s face it, despite what traditionalists may argue, there never has been any hard and fast rules about what constitutes a professional major.
In his recently published autobiography His Ownself Dan Jenkins reminds us that the North and South Open was a major from 1902 but started losing status after 1946. The Western Open was also a certified major from 1899 to around post-WWII, Jenkins recalling that a player received the same Ryder Cup points for winning the Western as the US Open and the PGA. Somewhere around the mid-fifties, “when the Masters went on national TV and the Western didn’t,” was when our current four top title lineup took its current shape, says golf’s master-writer and historian.
The debate will continue long after this week’s championship, where the ground staff is currently pressing hard to bring the course up to normal pristine condition after heavy rainstorms. The weather for the rest of the week looks considerably more predictable than Sunday’s winner.
A recent series of unlikely Tour winners provides few clues: powerful J.B. Holmes, despite overcoming Quail Hollow’s dreaded “Green Mile” and two brain surgeries hardly proposes back-to-back victories. Others, including Russell Henley, Chesson Hadley, John Senden, Matt Every, Steven Bowditch, Matt Jones seem improbable contenders while Rory McIlroy is still trying to find consistency and three-time winner Jimmy Walker missed the cut at Charlotte.
Bubba Watson hasn’t played since his Masters win so hard to judge his form. Matt Kuchar broke through at Hilton Head, has a win, a second and eight top-10s in 11 starts, surely a valid contender. But pay close attention to Jim Furyk. His steely closing 65 at the Wells Fargo was in large part due to a new putter with a counterbalanced grip. Last time he found one he really liked, Furyk won the Tour Championship.