This last week saw the staging of the Players
Championship – the PGA Tour’s flagship event – held at their headquarters in
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Staged on the iconic TPC Sawgrass course, the
event is talked up by many in US golf media as the world’s 5th
major, and according to the PGA Tour it should be.
The PGA Tour, not to be confused with the PGA of America,
is the organiser of the main professional golf tour played by men in North
America. It also runs the Champions Tour (for golfers over 50), as well as
the Web.com Tour, the PGA Tour Canada, PGA Tour Latin America and PGA Tour
Originally established by the Professional Golfers’
Association of America (PGA of America), the PGA Tour was spun off in 1968
into a separate organisation for tour players. The split was such that
relationships between the two organisations have ranged from strained to
something less than cordial, to this day.
Whereas the PGA of America has some 27,000 members –
mostly club pros – the PGA Tour caters to that small number of golfers who
are good enough to earn their living playing golf – the elite.
In terms of size of organisation, the PGA Tour is small.
In terms of the influence they have on the game, they are big, and want to
get bigger. Establishing PGA Tour China is evidence of their ambition. Tour
Commissioner Tim Finchem is arguably the most quoted administrator in golf.
His anti USGA stance on the anchoring debate was typical of his promotion of
the PGA Tour as the organisation that knows what is best for the game.
That Commissioner Finchem knows what is best for golf is
doubtful. What is not is that few know more about getting dollars into the
pockets of touring pros, and that is his primary focus.
In spite of their high profile, the PGA Tour lacks one
important asset that others have, and they covet – a major!
The Masters is run by Augusta National, the US Open by
the USGA, the Open Championship by the R&A, and the PGA Championship by the
PGA of America.
The next biggest thing in golf is the Ryder Cup, which is
jointly run by the PGA of America and the PGA European Tour. Yes, that is
right – the PGA Tour has nothing to do with the Ryder Cup.
So what did they do about this?
In 1994 they set up the President’s Cup – a series of
golf matches between a team representing the United States and the rest of
the world minus Europe. It runs in alternate years to the Ryder Cup. It
struggles for recognition, ratings and relevance.
Women’s golf is the province of the LPGA.
That leaves the remaining 40-plus events run
week-to-week, including the FedEx Cup events, and of course this most
important of events – the Players Championship.
In attempting to justify the label of “fifth major” the
PGA Tour ensured that the prize fund was the highest in tournament golf.
Other rewards associated with winning the Players Championship include: 80
world ranking points (10 more than normal), a five-year exemption on the PGA
Tour (a normal win gives two-years), a three-year invitation to the Masters
Tournament, same for the US Open and The Open Championship, and 600 FedEx
Cup points (100 more than normal).
Notice what’s missing? The PGA Championship, the world’s
fourth major and the one run by the PGA of America, allows the Players
winner just the one exemption – for that year’s PGA Tournament run in
August. So that may suggest how the PGA of America rates it (note; the
winner of the PGA Tournament receives a five-year exemption to all other
majors and the Players Championship).
Also, unlike the three major championships staged in the
United States, the Players Championship is not considered an official event
on the European Tour.
So, in summary, the Players Championship, according to
its promoters, should be considered the fifth major due to its prestige, its
considerably larger purse, and the “fact” that it is always “the best field
in golf,” as was often mentioned by on-course broadcasters genuflecting to
the PGA Tour.
Problems with this argument include the fact that the
winner is not recognised as a major champion and never will be, and there is
something presumptuous about such a claim, especially when the field does
not include two golfers ranked in the top-ten, including the world’s number
Oh, and congratulations to this year’s winner, Martin
Kaymer from Germany, whose winning score was 13-under par.
The fifth major? I don’t think so.