Why the traditionalist in me resists calls for a fifth major.
I’m doing this column on the Tuesday of the Players Championship, an event they like to call ‘the unofficial fifth major’. A few people are keen to make it more official, but I don’t buy into the fact that there should be a fifth major championship. The four existing majors have a century of history (or 84 years in the case of the Masters) and that’s the hard thing to replicate. There’s no doubt that there are gaps for special events, as we’ve seen with the World Golf Championships, but I’m a traditionalist in every sense of the word. I feel four majors is enough. Those are the events that have the history and our performance in them is how we weigh up our careers against the greatest players who’ve ever played. If there were five or more majors, then it becomes more confusing and it’s more difficult to rate players.
If you take the Players as an example, we just don’t know how much of a focus it was for players 20 or 30 years ago versus now. These days it’s a tournament that everyone wants to prepare for and win, but how many would Jack Nicklaus have won if he’d really put his mind to it, for example. So it’s really hard to then judge careers head to head when you change the script halfway through.
One of the criticisms that gets levelled at the four majors as they stand is that three of them are in America. I definitely think there’s a case for having more big events spread around the world, but that’s a role the WGCs can fulfil. Historically, three out of four of those have been in America and I think that’s a bit unfair. The nature of them being world events means they should be spread out and that’s started to happen with one moving to Mexico recently, as well as having the HSBC Champions in China.
The major championships are what they are for a reason, and they’ve been created throughout history. The Masters is the Masters and no one would ever suggest moving that. The US Open has its own special niche and the Open Championship is amazing and we all know about the challenge of links golf. The PGA Championship is the one that maybe doesn’t have such a strong identity, but it’s the strongest field every year.
Rory raised a few eyebrows recently when he said the Masters has become bigger than the US Open and Open. His viewpoint is certainly skewed towards the Grand Slam now, and I get that. But the Masters does have something incredibly special – it’s the first major of the year and winning it means you’re part of something that you come back to every year for life. It’s great to see past champions every year at Augusta. Whereas if you win the Open, of course you’ve got the Claret Jug for life but the venue that you won at might only be seen once every seven to ten years.
The fact the PGA is played in August, not long after the Open and straight after a WGC event, means there’s no time to put any individual preparation into it as we do for the Masters, US Open and Open. You have to treat it more like an event in a run of events. Obviously, you hope that your game lines up and it feels like a major when you get there, but it’s the one that just kind of happens in your schedule and you can’t target it as well as the others.
It’s going to be very interesting when it moves to the second major in May next year. The Masters was always out by itself in April but now you’ll have majors in April, May, June and July so ‘major season’ and how you prepare for that and build your schedule is going to be incredibly important. It could be a real identity shift for it not to be the last major of the year.
I really like the way the schedule is lining up for 2019 and I think some other tournaments are going to benefit from the changes, as well. For example, I really like the BMW PGA Championship in September and it’s going to be lovely to play golf at Wentworth at that time of year. I like that the PGA Tour season is finishing earlier because once the FedEx Cup is out the way, you can reset and focus on the Race to Dubai. It’s going to create more opportunity for big name players to focus their schedule around the European Tour from September onwards.