Posted on Jan 11, 2014 in Business & careers, Sports & fitness
I hear the term “the majors” once in a while in the sports highlights, but I have no idea what they’re referring to. When it comes to golf, what are “the majors”?
As spring rolls around and golf season kicks off (outside of the southwest, where it’s always golf season) you start to hear more and more about the PGA Tour events — and specifically something called “the majors.” But what exactly are the majors?
The majors, also known as the Major Championships — specifically referring to the men’s major golf championships — are the four biggest, most prestigious, and most famous and sought after annual tournaments. We’ll look at them in more detail in a moment, but in order of playing date they are: The Masters Tournament, the U.S. Open Championship, The Open Championship (commonly called the British Open), and the PGA Championship.
Though the tournaments that comprise the Major Championships have changed over the years (the British and U.S. Amateur championships were once considered majors), the use of the term in referring to the current lineup dates to about 1960. In that year, the legendary Arnold Palmer won both the Masters and the U.S. Open to start the season, remarking it was possible he could complete the “grand slam,” winning all four majors in one year — a feat the great Bobby Jones did in 1930, with a different set of major tournaments.
It’s worth noting that no one has ever pulled off the professional (or modern, if you prefer) grand slam — though two men have won three in a season: Ben Hogan in 1953, who won the Masters, U.S. Open, and British Open. Also, Tiger Woods finished 5th in the 2000 Masters, then went on to win the other three that year — and won the 2001 Masters, thus winning four majors in a row, but not in one calendar year.
Let’s take a brief look at each tournament, when it began, when and where it’s played, and what makes it special.
The Masters Tournament
Kicking off the major tournament season, the Masters is always played on the weekend ending on the 2nd Sunday in April. First played in 1934, every single edition of the Masters has been played at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.
Originally the tournament was an invitational field comprised of Bobby Jones’ close associates, and the event is still an invitation-only event to this day, with the entries being selected by criteria established by the Augusta National Golf Club.
The Masters champion is awarded the legendary green jacket of the Augusta National members — and, of course, a sizable payday. Jack Nicklaus has won more Masters than any other player with a total of six. Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods have both won four times.
The United States Open Championship
Commonly known as the U.S. Open, this tournament is played on the weekend ending in the 3rd Sunday in June every year — Father’s Day. First played in 1895, the national championship of the United States plays at a different course each year — though there is a bit of an unofficial “rotation” of courses that host every couple of years. In 2012, for example, The Olympic Club in San Francisco will host the tournament for the 5th time in 57 years.
The U.S. Open is staged by the United States Golf Association (USGA) and is a true “open” championship — any professional or amateur player with a USGA handicap not exceeding 1.4 may compete in a series of qualifiers to make the 156 player field. About half of the 156 slots are spoken for through exemptions every year — mainly pros, so they don’t need to take time off from paying tournaments to play their way in. Qualifying for the Open goes through two stages and is considered almost as tough a test as the tournament itself.
The U.S. Open is notable for its generally difficult course conditions, super fast greens, narrow fairways, and tall rough. Summer heat adds another level of difficulty. Four players have won the U.S. Open four times: Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, and Jack Nicklaus. Hale Irwin and Tiger Woods have both won it three times.
The Open Championship
Also called simply The Open, and commonly referred to on this side of the pond as the British Open, this is the grandaddy of all the majors, first being staged in 1860. The Open is played on the weekend containing the third Friday in July every year, rotating between nine different courses in Scotland or England. The 2012 edition will be played at the Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire, England.
The Open Championship is staged by the R&A, an offshoot of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, which is the ruling authority for all golf played outside of the U.S. and Mexico. Much like the U.S. Open, the Open Championship is a true “open” — anyone may attempt to play their way into the tournament through a series of qualifying events. Also like its U.S. counterpart, the field is set at 156 players, however exemptions tend to take up about two thirds of the 156 slots, leaving little room for qualifiers.
The Open is played on “links” courses, the oldest type of golf course. Generally near the sea, these courses feature a minimum of landscaping, at times brutal winds, and copious amounts of rolling hills, making for a punishing test of player skills — vastly different from most courses pros and amateurs alike play on worldwide. The winner is awarded the famous Claret Jug, and only one man has won it six times: Harry Vardon. James Braid, John Henry Taylor, Peter Thomson, and Tom Watson have each won it five times.
The PGA Championship
The PGA Championship, abbreviated as The PGA and sometimes nicknamed “Glory’s Last Shot,” as it is the final major championship of the year, has been played since 1916 at a variety of courses, some of which are in an unofficial rotation. The 2012 edition will be played at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina on its traditional date — the fourth weekend after the Open Championship.
The tournament is staged by the Professional Golfers Association of America (PGA) — which is not to be confused with the PGA Tour, a completely separate entity. As a result, the PGA is the one major that generally has no amateurs in the field, since the only viable way for an amateur to qualify for the tournament is to win one of the other majors — a highly unlikely feat in this day and age. Like the two open championships, the field is set at 156. Unlike the two open championships, the field is determined exclusively by the PGA, except for 20 slots that are reserved for club professionals (the guy that teaches lessons at your local course) which are determined by the club pro championship, held in June. Also of note, while all of the current majors are stroke play championships, from its inception in 1916 until 1957, the PGA was a match play tournament.
The winner of the PGA Championship hoists the Wanamaker Trophy, and usually does so at a course in the eastern half of the U.S. — of the 93 PGA Championships played to date, only 10 times has it been played west of the Mississippi. Walter Hagen won the tournament five times, all in the match play era. Jack Nicklaus has won the tournament five times as well, but all in the stroke play era. Tiger Woods has won it four times — all in the stroke play era also.
The Champions Tour (formerly the Senior PGA Tour) has five majors in its season, the LPGA Tour has four, and professional tennis for both men and women has four major championships as well, though those are most often referred to as slams — as in the grand slam tournaments.
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