There was a glaring omission from the 2022 Players Championship and it’s incredible how low it flew under the radar.

Maybe it was the looming threat of a rival golf league’s announcement, the biggest tournament purse in golf’s history, weather delays, a chaotic Saturday during which the world’s best golfers were blown away at a windy TPC Sawgrass or a captivating Monday finish, but there was no annual debate about whether the Players Championship is a Major.

Is it a Major? Or does it just look like a Major but without the same history and allure?

Well, it certainly felt like one. And I’m not talking about the outrageous hotel prices in the Jacksonville, Florida area, or the shortage of Uber drivers and lack of tables at bars and restaurants. 

I’m talking about the buzz around the TPC Sawgrass and the must-watch feel to the TV broadcast during the final round, which was played on Monday due to weather delays. It was more palpable than some of the sleepier Majors I’ve covered as a reporter for Australian Golf Digest. No offence to Brooks Koepka and his 2017 US Open win at Erin Hills, or Justin Thomas’ PGA Championship win at Quail Hollow that same year, but give me the 2022 Players Championship over those two events every day of the week.

I had a good mate, a New York-based Australian, and his girlfriend fly down to Florida to watch the weekend rounds of the Players. This friend, who had played college golf in the US, had been to the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills, the 2012 US Open at Olympic Club and the 2019 PGA at Bethpage as a fan. But watching the Saturday play at TPC Sawgrass was the most entertaining day of golf he said he had seen in person.

Within 30 minutes of arriving, he witnessed Collin Morikawa and Koepka – both multiple Major winners, mind you – as well as the in-form Scottie Scheffler, all rinse their tee shots at the 120-metre, par-3 17th. With wind gusts of up to 65km/h, golfers had to flight and shape their shots and it was brilliant to watch.

Smith stuck it close on the 17th to set up a birdie.

Of course, I’ll declare some bias given Australia’s Cameron Smith went on to win with a brilliant closing 66 but the nerves we were all feeling as Australian golf fans were up there with when one of our stars has a chance to win a Major.

At least that’s how it felt for Smith himself.

“I’m happy to say it is a Major now, put it on my tally,” Smith tells Australian Golf Digest with a big laugh on Wednesday. Smith sits in his home office at his Ponte Vedra, Florida house with the newly-minted Players Championship ‘Gold Boy’ trophy visible in the background. 

Smith gets serious, though. “Mate, it’s the best field in golf … hands down. The course is the perfect course for a huge event. There is no other trio of finishing holes like that in golf. Anything can happen. I just think it’s unreal.”

Smith was referring to two things. The 144 players who start the Players Championship represent the most potent field in golf. The field pulls from the top 125 from the previous season’s FedEx Cup tally, the top 50 in the world rankings, Major winners from the past five years and a few other categories.  The holes he was referring to were the par-5 16th, par-3 17th and par-4 18th. Smith had to fight to save par on 16, hit one of the most memorable tee shots from a Players Champion on 17 and punched a tree shot into the water on 18, where he made a gutsy bogey to win by one.

I don’t know about you, but that reads like a Major finale to me.

Although it isn’t a Major, yet, this edition convinced me it will only be a matter of time. The naysayers point out the Players lacks the history of the Masters, the PGA Championship, the US Open and the Open Championship. While true, the Players is 48 years old and since moving to TPC Sawgrass in 1982 it has contributed some special moments in golf – see Tiger Woods’ triple-breaking putt for birdie at No.17 during the third round in 2001.

The older golf fans and golf media who, for good reason, don’t consider the Players a Major will be replaced eventually by younger fans who have grown up with it being one of the biggest events of the year. It feels inevitable there will be five Majors, even if that’s 20 years from now when the Players will be almost 70 years old.

“Yeah I think it’s absolutely going to happen for sure,” Smith says. “I think it has to. It’s the best field in golf, why wouldn’t it be (a Major)?”

The 2022 Players also signalled the biggest tournament purse in golf’s history – $US20 million ($A27 million) of which Smith, the winner, received $US3.6 million ($A5 million).

Don’t ask the 28-year-old how he’ll spend it, though.

“I have no idea, but it is mum’s birthday next month so there’ll be something in store for mum,” he said of his mother, Sharon, who along with his sister, Mel, travelled to the US for the first time since COVID-19 began in 2020. Good timing.

“Getting my family something is my main priority; Mum and dad have given up so much through their lives so I want to give back.”

The new Players Championship trophy.

Before I wrapped up with Smith, I had to ask about his thoughts on the new Players Championship trophy sitting behind him. The PGA Tour created a sterling silver, 24k gold trophy which features a player standing atop the par-3 17th green, swinging a club. Blended into its design are characteristics from the swings of the 38 different Players winners, from Jack Nicklaus to Webb Simpson and Tiger Woods.

Social media was calling it ‘Gold Boy’.

“Yeah I like him; it’s the heaviest trophy I have,” said Smith, who has four other PGA Tour wins. “There are so many great names on that trophy. It’s the coolest one by far.”

Will they redo next year’s trophy to add Smith’s mullet?

“I don’t think so,” he says with a belly laugh.