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The Players Championship Should not be Regarded as a Major Test

By: | Tue 15 May 2018 | Comments

Many insists upon billing The Players Championship as golf’s “fifth major” and while you cannot possibly take anything away from the quality of the field, there are several reasons why it can never have such status conferred upon it.

The latest edition, won in such wonderful fashion by former US Open champion Webb Simpson, featured every member of the world’s top 50, so the quality of golf on display was guaranteed, and it did not disappoint  Apart from Simpson’s sensational play, we also saw some wondrous bursts of scoring from the likes of Brooks Koepka, now restored to full fitness, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

We also witnessed a series of disasters at the par-three 17th hole, the world-famous island hole. Hideki Matsuyama somehow contrived to take eight shots on the hole, which measures around 130 yards, Aphibarnrat took seven blows on the same hole when seemingly on the way to a round in the low 60s and even Woods ran up a double-bogey five in the final round.

You can describe it as drama if you like, but the bottom line is that in this correspondent’s view, one of the chief reasons that TPC Sawgrass could never host a major is because it is a stadium course, built first and foremost with spectators in mind. I am not suggesting that is a bad thing - far from it. But the courses that host the US Open and The Open Championship are natural. They make the most of their surroundings.  The challenge they present changes daily - in truth, the challenges presented by some changes hourly.

The Players Championship is played in glorious weather, with next to no wind on a course that measures barely 7,200 yards. And when the conditions are as benign as they were for the 2018 edition, just about anybody in the field is capable of shooting a 62 or a 63. In other words, it doesn’t really sort the men from the boys; it doesn’t identify the best players.

Sawgrass was carved out of a swamp, and it has to be said that Pete Dye did a fine job. But the 17th is an abomination. Yes, it has witnessed some incredible scenes over the years, with players throwing the title away after finding the water, or others coming through and winning after making birdie there. But a classic golf hole? I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy into that view. Water also plays its part on the 16th and again on the 18th. Man-made water.

Majors should move from course to course. The exception is, of course, Augusta National, home to The Masters. Unlike Sawgrass, Augusta is a thing of glorious natural beauty, full of undulations, sloping greens, all framed by magnificent pine trees. It has been allowed to evolve into the magnificent challenge that it now is. Sawgrass is manufactured.

And why on earth should the United States of America, which already hosts three of golf’s four majors, be allowed to host another? There is a case for a fifth major - a good case. But all common sense dictates that it should be staged in Australia or Asia and in the period between November and January, when the weather is good and the courses in that part of the world are at their very best, and when all golf fans are pining for another major.

Let’s take nothing away from The Players Championship. It is a great tournament and, as Webb Simpson will attest, the rewards for winning it can be life changing. He earned almost $2m for his efforts, along with a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour. But remember, too, that this is an event that has been won by the likes of Craig Perks, Tim Clark and Fred Funk. They were all fine golfers, but major champions? Never.

So let’s end the discussion right here and now. Golf may need a fifth major, but it is not and never can be The Players Championship.

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Tags: PGA Tour FedEx Cup

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