What Is a Golf Major?

SWC75

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Well, Tiger Woods has now won his 15th major and the chase to catch Jack is back on. Jack Nicklaus won 18 majors in his career and Tiger, at age 43 still has a chance to catch him. But this brings up an old problem most people are unaware of or don’t care about but which I think is important.

Jack had broken the record of Bobby Jones back in the 70’s. Jones had won 13 major tournaments in just 8 seasons, (1923-30), retiring after winning all four majors in the same year, something never done before or since. The thing is, Jones never won the PGA: he was a career amateur. He never won the masters, which he founded after he retired. His total of 13 includes 6 amateur tournaments: 5 US Amateurs and 1 British Amateur. Jack Nicklaus won the US Amateur in `1959 and 1961. Tiger Woods won it in 1994, 1995 and 1996. Shouldn’t Jack’s total be 20 majors rather than 18? Isn’t Tiger’s total 18 rather than 15?

It’s argued that the amateur tournaments are no longer majors. These days they are essential triple A: the winners are looking to become professionals and their win will give them a leg up. But Nicklaus has bene quoted as saying that he considers his amateur wins majors. I remember looking up articles in Sports Illustrated from its first year of 1954, when a young man named Arnold Palmer won the US Amateur. Their coverage of that tournament was what you’d expect of a major tournament: the history of the even and diagrams of every hole on the course. So when did the US Amateur cease to be a major? It doesn’t seem to be between Jones’ last win in 1930 and Jack’s wins in 1959 and 1961. It may be between Jack’s 1961 win and Tiger’s first win in 1994. But is it fair to count Jack’s US Amateurs as majors but not Tiger’s?

But it’s even more complicated than that. Have a look at this Wikipedia article on “Men’s Major Golf Championships”: Men's major golf championships - Wikipedia
It makes several interesting points:
- The modern concept of the “majors” or the “Grand Slam” really dates from 1960 when Arnold Palmer had won the Masters and the US Open and declared his intention to win the British Open and the PGA as well to match the level of achievement of Bobby Jones in 1930.
- The previous generation of golfers didn’t even think in terms of “majors” or a “Grand Slam”. American golfers no longer considered the British Open a major because of the paltry prize money. The PGA was actually played the same weekend as the British Open. To the British and players from other European and Commonwealth countries, “The Open” never lost its status.
- Several other tournaments of that era were regarded as the equivalent of modern majors, even if that term was not used: The Western Open, the North and South Open, The British PGA Match-Play Championship.
- There was a “World Championship” tournament from 1946-57 which attracted all of the top players because the prize money was ten times that of any other tournament. Currently there are four tournaments which in combination are supposed to determine a “World Championship” and it pays more than the current majors.
- It took a while for the US tournaments: the Open, the Amateur and the PGA to achieve “major” status as the sport grew here and the concept of professionalism came to be accepted. The Masters seems to have achieved that status immediately because of Jones’ prominence and it had a select field of players who had won other tournaments.
- Two other tournaments with select fields are the Tournament of Champions, which invited all the winners of the previous year’s tournament and the World Series of Golf, which originally was a foursome of the major tournament winners but later expanded to 20 tournament winners. If the Masters is a major, shouldn’t they be?
- They say that if there is going to be a 5th major, it will be the Player’s Championship, which also pays more than the current majors and is played on wheat has become an iconic course.
- The DP World Tour Championship, Dubai is also mentioned has having all the top players in it each year. Does that make it a major?
- What about the Fed-Ex Cup. Is that title as coveted as a major championship?
- What about being the leading money winner on the PGA Tour. That used to be the measure of a golfer’s season, back in the days before Palmer re-defined the majors.
- What about the European Tour and the Asian Tour? The sport has become international now. Isn’t winning the most money on those tours as big an accomplishment as winning a major?

Tiger and Jack have both won the Western open twice. Neither won the North and South Open, the World Championship of Golf, (both of which were before their time) or the British PGA Match Play or Amateur tournaments. Tiger has won the Player’s twice, Jack 3 times. Tiger has won the Tournament of Champions twice, Jack 5 times. The World Series of Golf went out of business when Tiger was first starting and Jack’s won it 5 times. The current World Golf Championship started up in 1999, too late for Jack to be competitive. It consists of four tournaments that Tiger has won a total of 18 times. For some reason, there isn’t an over-all champion. There’s no combined standings. Neither has won the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai. Tiger Woods has won the Fed-Ex Cup, which began in 2007, twice. Tiger has been the PGA leading money winner 10 times, Jack 8. Neither has been the leading money winner on the Euro or Asian tours. Add all that up and Tiger is ahead of Jack 54-43. Or is he?

I think a committee of golf historians should be appointed to determine what the definition of a golf major tournament is and what tournaments or other achievements should be considered “majors”. Then let’s add everything up and see who is ahead.
 

jncuse

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You are making it much more complicated than it is. Historians have already had committees on this. No one is changing the accepted format on what is a major now. There is a reason for the World Golf Rankings and why they are always tweaked. It's because they determine the field for majors
 

SWC75

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You are making it much more complicated than it is. Historians have already had committees on this. No one is changing the accepted format on what is a major now. There is a reason for the World Golf Rankings and why they are always tweaked. It's because they determine the field for majors

But what was a major then? And they seem to be about to change what is a major now with the re-positioning of the Player's Championship and moving the PGA to May so they can have one a month for 5 months. The point is, it's changed over the years and a stat that totals who has won the most majors over the years has to account for that. Not recognizing that a tournament was considered a major at the time it was played or was no longer considered a major at some point would be the change.

The Wikipedia article contains no mention of any committees who have studies these problems. When were they created? Who created them? Who was on them? What did they decide about the US Amateur: should Jack be credited with his two wins? Should Tiger get credit for his three? What did they have to say about the World Championship, the Western Open, the North and South, the British PGA?
 
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jncuse

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But what was a major then? And they seem to be about to change what is a major now with the re-positioning of the Player's Championship and moving the PGA to May so they can have one a month for 5 months. The point is, it's changed over the years and a stat that totals who has won the most majors over the years has to account for that. Not recognizing that a tournament was considered a major at the time it was played or was no longer considered a major at some point would be the change.

The Wikipedia article contains no mention of any committees who have studies these problems. When were they created? Who created them? Who was on them? What did they decide about the US Amateur: should Jack be credited with his two wins? Should Tiger get credit for his three? What did they have to say about the World Championship, the Western Open, the North and South, the British PGA?
I certainly concede there are issues in the past and that it is hard to measure pre 1960.

But as of now there are certainly no issues with the majors. They are all well understood and allow the best from all over the world to qualify. Fed Ex is a money grab available only to regular PGA Tour Players. The WGC are events to get the best players in the world together, but are small field, overly exclusive events.
 

SWC75

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I certainly concede there are issues in the past and that it is hard to measure pre 1960.

But as of now there are certainly no issues with the majors. They are all well understood and allow the best from all over the world to qualify. Fed Ex is a money grab available only to regular PGA Tour Players. The WGC are events to get the best players in the world together, but are small field, overly exclusive events.

I'd still like to know the answer to this: Jones is credited with 13 majors, r of which were US Amateurs. jack won two US Amateurs. Tiger won three of them. Is Jack's total 18 or 20? Is Tiger's total 15 or 18? Do you count the US amateurs for one but not the other two? two but not the third?
 

SWC75

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I don't see this as being a major issue.

It's about the majors. :cool:

If you are going to keep track of who has won the most majors, you've got to decide what was a major and what wasn't. The Steelers and Patriots have won the most Super Bowls but they haven't won the most NFL championships. Do the Browns have 4 championships or 8? Do their AAFC titles count? You've got to look at the whole record.
 

MSOrange

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I don't see this as being a major issue.
Agree. Not sure what we are debating here. Pre-Masters era, it was the US Amateur, US Open, British Open and British Amateur. Masters era, it is the current majors - Masters, PGA, US Open British Open.

You count whatever was considered a major in the era you played. I know SWC likes to discuss things, but not sure what the discussion is here.
 

SWC75

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Agree. Not sure what we are debating here. Pre-Masters era, it was the US Amateur, US Open, British Open and British Amateur. Masters era, it is the current majors - Masters, PGA, US Open British Open.

You count whatever was considered a major in the era you played. I know SWC likes to discuss things, but not sure what the discussion is here.
Which means we need to know what was considered a major in what years. That is the discussion.

The US Amateur was considered a major when Bobby Jones played. Jack considered it a major when he played in it, (and won it twice and so did others, (there were top lifetime amateurs through the 1960's). It's not considered a major now but when did that change? Should we count Jack's two US Amateurs and not Tiger's three?

Consider Lawson Little, who won bot the US and British Amateurs in 1934 and 1935:
Lawson Little - Wikipedia
As the article said, those were still considered major championships and Little won the Sullivan Award as the outstanding amateur athlete that year because he won them. The masters has started in 1934 but that didn't immediately reduce the Amateur tournaments to below major status.

How do we treat the Western Open, the North and South Open the World Championship of Golf and the British PGA Match Play? if the Players is about to a fifth major, will that have any retro-activity?

The World Golf Rankings began in 1986 and they don't rank amateur tournaments so they aren't much help with the historical perspective and an "all-time leader" requires historical perspective. And I prefer to use to scalpel rather than a meat cleaver, to dissect history.
 
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