Golfnutter: Players Championship – the fifth major


Every year around this time the PGA Tour hosts its own Tournament Players Championship, at TPC Sawgrass.  This Pete Dye designed course located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida – the home of the Tour’s Headquarters – was built specifically to host the Players Championship.  The design incorporates the stadium concept whereby up to 36,000 fans sit in “stands” comprised of raised grass mounds that surround the 16th, 17th and 18th holes.

Many PGA Tour-centric types claim this event should be a “major”.  Arguments supporting this notion include the claim that this is golf’s strongest field (top 125 finishers from previous PGA Tour season), amount of prize money on offer and the most FedEx Cup points to the winner.

TPC Sawgrass’ famous island hole.TPC Sawgrass’ famous island hole.

I recently watched Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, David Duval and Frank Nobilo debate this issue.  They all supported the view that The Players Championship is deserving of major status and that they couldn’t see any reason for it not being so.  These guys obviously know their golf, but they appear to lack understanding of who and what truly rules the game.

During the debate, David Duval, a former world number one and winner of both a major and a Players Championship, stated, “This is the PGA Tour’s biggest tournament.  As the most influential body in world golf, the Tour should have its own major.”  There is his mistake, right where he said “The most influential body in world golf.”  As neither of his fellow analysts saw fit to correct him, perhaps they too believed it to be true?

In terms of world golf, the PGA Tour has little influence on the game or its major issues.  The PGA Tour was formed some 40 plus years ago when a small number of players, wanting a bigger share of what the PGA earned from running tournaments, ceded from the parent body – the PGA of America – and formed the Tournament Players Division, the forerunner to what today is known as the PGA Tour.

The PGA of America represents the 27,000-odd professional golfers who ply their trade at golf clubs across the USA.  The PGA Tour represents the relatively small number of golfers who make their living playing golf.  Neither the PGA of America nor the PGA Tour has responsibility for golf administration in the US; that comes under the auspices of the United States Golf Association – the USGA.

The USGA has overall responsibility for golf in the US and Mexico, only.  The rest of world golf comes under the control of the St Andrews-based R&A.  Between them the R&A and the USGA administer world golf.  They and only they control the game, despite occasional posturing of the PGA of America and the PGA Tour suggesting the contrary – remember their respective stances opposing the new rule banning anchoring a putter to the body?

The fundamental role of the R&A and the USGA is to promote the game of golf.  The fundamental role of the PGA of America is to safeguard the interests of its 27,000 members.  The fundamental role of the PGA Tour is to increase the wealth of the few hundred or so professional golfers who play on their tours.  Most US-based professional golfers regard the PGA Tour as their employer, and rightfully so.  What the Tour wants, they tend to want also.  If the Tour wants its own “major” then many pros, particularly the less well-known, would likely support the notion.  Conversely, two golfers with a stronger view of tradition, who have won both the Players Championship and multiple majors, and who have held the Official World Golf Ranking number one status, Tiger Woods and Martin Kaymer, would not.

The biggest events in US golf are owned by Augusta National (The Masters), the USGA (US Open) and the PGA of America (PGA Tournament and half of the Ryder Cup).  The PGA Tour, in an attempt to increase its share of the big ones, invented the Presidents Cup; a biennial match-play event held in non-Ryder Cup years.  Unlike the Ryder Cup, the rules in this one-sided event are designed to favour Team USA.  The tournament is one big yawn, so much so that it has become a non-event as far as TV rating wars are concerned.

That leaves the PGA Tour wanting its own major, thus its fawning over the Players Championship where prize money exceeds anything else on the Tour.  The Tour also grants the winner an additional 100 FedEx points – making it the same as that given to a major winner – towards its end of season FedEx Cup playoffs.

From some player’s perspective, the strength of the field may mean it warrants major status, but it simply won’t happen, not while it is owned by the PGA Tour.

Certain things in golf won’t and shouldn’t change.  Having just four men’s majors is one of them.