Established some 48 years ago, the Players Championship - formally known as the Tournament Players Championship - has for many years been dubbed the “fifth major”, and often been regarded as the next-most prestigious tournament in golf.
The status of the tournament is an annual talking point in the world of golf as the iconic early-season event shares many similarities with its ‘Major’ counterparts, which includes the Masters, The Open, U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.
The richest game in golf
Much like the Masters, the Players Championship is contested at a single iconic host course. In the case of the Players, the venue is the world-famous TPC Sawgrass located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. The tournament is hosted annually and currently offers the highest prize fund of any tournament in golf. In recent years, this is typically around the staggering $20 million mark - significantly higher than the next best-funded tournament, the U.S. Open, which offers $12.5 million.
The staggering purse on offer at the Players Championship has made it the richest tournament in golf. When compared with the four majors, the purse on offer at the Players is significantly higher, and in some cases almost double, only increasing the tournament’s claim as a genuine challenger to the four established Major events.
A formidable field and iconic location
More than any other event in the golfing calendar, the Players Championship truly shares similar characteristics to all four of the signature Major competitions. The flawless field makes it a must-watch event. Unlike many other events on the PGA Tour, the Players is renowned for including the top 50 players in the world rankings, making the standard of golf on show unlike any other.
As well as the large purse, this event which takes place at the renowned TPC Sawgrass is home to the worldwide iconic par 3 hole, the 17th, which features a marvellous island green. Arguably one of the most famous and picturesque holes in golf, the atmosphere generated by the hole on the final stretch is nothing short of electric, adding another string the event’s bow.
Does the Players Championship have enough history?
On the flip side of the argument, the Players Championship is still a relatively new tournament in comparison to the four current Majors. This means that it still doesn’t have the enormous history of other Majors and so raising the event’s pedigree into a golden five would potentially undermine the longstanding historical integrity of the sport.
The Open (or British Open for our American readers) is the oldest of the majors having been introduced in 1860, 162 years ago. The U.S. Open followed next in 1985, 127 years ago. Moving into the twentieth century, the PGA Championships was formed in 1916, 106 years ago and then the latest Major tournament, the Masters, was introduced in 1934, 87 years ago. With only 48 years of history attached to the Players Championship, it can be argued that it’s simply too soon for this competition’s profile to be raised and given an equal status to the recognised big four events in golf.
Is Sawgrass tough enough?
It can also be argued that the signature host course, TPC Sawgrass, isn’t tough enough to be included in the regular Major lineup, and may ultimately prevent the Players Championship from being elevated to ‘Major’ status. In the last 14 years, and 12 times that the Players Championship has been played, the winning score has all been with double digit figures under part.
Scoring is typically lot a tougher at the established Major events. It was only three British Open’s ago when Francesco Molinari’s eight under par proved to be enough to take the Claret Jug on UK soil. The last two U.S. Opens have seen the eventual winner finish the tournament at six under par, and even as recently as 2018, Brooks Koepka’s follow up win was performed in one of the toughest Major course set ups ever, as his overall one over par was enough to seal the deal.
The most recent PGA Championship won by the left-handed magician Phil Mickelson was also below the double digit mark as his total of six under gave him the US PGA title with a two shot lead over joint runners up Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen. Hideki Matsuyama’s emphatic Master’s victory last year sat right on the border of 10 under par before five championships ago, Sergio Garcia picked up the Green Jacket at one shot shy of Matsuyama’s final score.
Fundamentally, despite the Players Championship being a unique and prestigious tournament recognised by golfers all over the world, the event still doesn’t warrant being granted Major status. The world of golf has been built and shaped on the basis of legacy, history and heritage within the sport. Without this, the significance of the four Major competitions could not command the respect they enjoy today.
The four Majors are backed up not only by the prize money, but by history and heritage - something the Players Championship lacks. However, years down the line, once the acquired history has been developed, the calls to establish the event as fifth Major will only grow stronger. For now, golf will continue with its quartet of Majors - but the status quo may not last forever.