Call it what you want, but at the very least, the Players at TPC Sawgrass kicks off what is the most important window in professional golf, the championship season.

Every year, an imaginary debate rages over whether the Players Championship should be considered a major. No one really argues for the affirmative and the negative, it’s more a consensus that the Players shouldn’t be a major.

But in Australia, the anticipation is up their with golf’s four biggest events. More than just hardcore golfers Down under will know it’s on, that it’s played at TPC Sawgrass, that the par-3 17th is or isn’t an island green but is still iconic, and that if one of the five Australians in the field wins, the back pages of daily metro newspapers will at least have a pointer to their coverage of it.

Former Players champions Adam Scott (2004) and Jason Day (2016) will be joined by Min Woo Lee, who played in the final group last year with eventual winner Scottie Scheffler and tied for sixth, as well as Cam Davis and Aaron Baddeley. I’m tipping Lee, who was runner up at the recent PGA Tour event in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, to be the top Australian.

The tee times for the Australian contingent are as follows:


11.02PM: Min Woo Lee

11.13pm: Jason Day

11.46pm Adam Scott

4:07 AM: Cam Davis

5.24am: Aaron Baddeley

Should the Players be a major? I’m in the camp that thinks it should be, and as an editor’s note I wrote in 2021 that it should be. I even called for it to happen this year, for the 50th anniversary of the event. It feels like adding the Players to the four majors would feel like a step into the modern game.

From 2021:

The memory is so vivid it feels like it happened yesterday. I had just finished up a late afternoon game at San Jose Country Club, a classic Donald Ross-designed golf course located an hour west of TPC Sawgrass in Florida.

Playing San Jose on Wednesday afternoon of Players Championship week had become an annual tradition for a few golf writers, facilitated by my friend Mark Cannizzaro. Cannizzaro is a celebrated, veteran golf and NFL football writer for the New York Post.

On Wednesday of last year’s Players Championship, the world changed forever. As Cannizzaro and I sat down to dinner after that round with our friends and respected golf writers Jason Sobel, Ben Everill and Will Gray, this ‘coronavirus’ – which had become more concerning by the week – seemingly erupted.

When we ordered our first round of beers, the world was somewhat normal. We were even watching the NBA game on TV between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder. What we didn’t know was that the NBA had recorded a positive test for COVID-19 from a Jazz player just before tip-off. Within 90 minutes, that game had been cancelled and the NBA had suspended the season indefinitely. Major sporting leagues around the world followed, putting their seasons on hiatus, and just like that the world stopped spinning on its axis. 

Within 12 hours, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced there’d be no fans for the second round of the Players Championship. Another 12 hours later, the Players was cancelled and the tour was suspended for 90 days.

Frankly, it hasn’t been the same since.

The pandemic offered a chance to reset and re-evaluate. Golf is no different. Including the majors.

Why? First and foremost, golf is at a pivotal moment in its historical timeline where it can adapt and thrive or remain stagnant and get left behind.

Through social media and more extensive broadcast coverage, the powers that be have discovered there is a community of sports fans willing to engage in golf and potentially even take it up. Adding a fifth Major only enhances the annual window in which golf has to capture their imagination before it turns to American football in the US, football in Europe and various codes in Australia. More opportunities for golf to be shown in mainstream media is a good thing.

Importantly, the Players is the best field assembled anywhere in the world of golf. Among the categories used to fill its 144-man field, the Players invites the top 50 golfers on the world ranking, winners of PGA Tour events since the previous Players, the top 125 from the previous season’s FedEx Cup points list as well as Players champions and Major championship winners from the past five years. The calibre of golfers is undeniable. [Editor’s note: The banning of golfers who joined LIV changed the context of this paragraph, although it remains among the strongest fields in golf].

And not that money is everything, but it is something. Whether it’s right or wrong, money adds prestige to an event. The Players purse, at $US15 million with $US2.7 million for the winner, is the biggest in golf. That is bigger than all four Majors. [The 2024 purse is $US25 million with $US4.5 million to the winner].

But let’s look at the real reasons why many golf fans, understandably, don’t think the Players should be a Major.

The biggest obstacle for the Players is history. At 47 years of age, it is obviously dwarfed by the history of the Open Championship (which began in 1860), the US Open (1895), the PGA Championship (1916) and the Masters (1934). But as a collective – as the four Majors – they were not considered golf’s Grand Slam until 1965, if we’re being honest. 

As the legend goes, Arnold Palmer created the concept of four professional Majors in 1960 when he and a Pittsburgh sports writer were on a flight to the UK, where Palmer would play in his first Open Championship. Before that, golf’s ‘Majors’ were considered to be the US Open and US Amateur and the British Open and British Amateur. Some even considered the Western Open on the PGA Tour to be a Major. Palmer wanted four professional championships to be the pinnacle for tour professionals.

The problem was, The Open used to be held the week before the PGA Championship, making it near impossible for players to tee it up in both. In 1965, the PGA Championship moved to August and thus the four Majors as we know them became a monolithic idea that sits, deservingly, above anything else in men’s professional golf.

The Players Championship was first played in 1974, only nine years after the Majors became a collective, which is not a lot of time in the annals of history. It would be fitting that, perhaps starting with the 2024 edition of the Players, its 50th anniversary, it becomes a Major. 

Another gigantic obstacle for the Players is golf’s resistance to change. One of the best traits of golf is that it preserves traditions, sometimes for better but sometimes to its detriment. It wasn’t until 1999 that the Masters invited the top 50 in the world to Augusta National. It wasn’t until 1979 that the Ryder Cup, controlled by the PGA of America, allowed Europeans to compete. A young lad called Seve Ballesteros became eligible and it is now one of the biggest events in world sport, not just golf.

So why, then, can we not allow a fifth championship, which has all the hallmarks of a Major, to become one? Is it because we are obsessed with the idea of symmetry? Of having four big titles? It’s neat, but it does little for anyone. The reason that number was deemed important is actually an American idea rooted in the sport of baseball. A grand slam is a play within baseball when a batter hits a home run with three teammates on base, therefore achieving four runs at once. 

Having four Majors, in my opinion, was only reasonable when the idea of a golfer winning all of them in the same calendar year seemed plausible. Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer who has ever lived, was not even able to achieve that feat in his absolute prime. He won four in a row through to the 2001 Masters, but if the greatest golfer ever was not able to pull it off, it’s unlikely any player ever will.

The pandemic has taught us that the Majors can be tweaked without compromising the sanctity of golf’s biggest stage. If we can hold a lacklustre US Open with no fans, and a very subdued Masters in November, then surely the Players can be introduced into the fraternity. Let us not forget that the PGA of America allows 20 club pros to tee up annually at the PGA Championship. No disrespect to them, they can seriously play, but a majority of those blokes struggle to break 80 and invariably miss the cut.

If the Players did become a Major, past victories should not be counted as Major wins. It’s too confusing to retrospectively award Majors. In the women’s game, the Women’s British Open became a Major in 2001 and the Evian Championship became a Major in 2011. Karrie Webb was a multiple winner of the Women’s British Open before it was elevated and none of the victories count to her incredible career tally of seven. Nobody complains, even though we’d love our Karrie to have a few more (or fellow Australian and Women’s British Open champion Karen Lunn).

I have other ‘conditions’ that I would want to see. Firstly, the Players would have to move (again) back to the May date it held from 2007 to 2019. It is currently held in March, but it could not be the first Major of the year. That is a sentimental slot for the Masters and Augusta National has earned the right to call that its month. That would mean reverting the PGA Championship to August (again) and I don’t hate that idea. I was on hand to cover the 2019 PGA Championship at New York’s Bethpage Black in May and that time of year did not add to the event, rather worsened it to a degree. Some of the venues the PGA of America uses across the US are not conducive to good weather. The 2023 PGA Championship will be played at Oak Hill in Rochester in upstate New York, just inland from Lake Ontario that borders Canada. It would not be out of the realms of possibility for the event to be snowed on in 2023, even though May is late spring for the US. [The 2023 PGA has a frost delay to start the event.]

For fans of 15-time Major winner Woods, the move to May has also essentially ruled him out of winning it ever again with cold weather a kryptonite for his ailing back. In August, though, in the thick of summer, he is always a chance as we saw at Bellerive in 2018 when he finished second to Brooks Koepka. TPC Sawgrass is also a more level playing field in May due to a firm, fast course versus big bombers thriving in March.

Another condition I have for the Players becoming a Major is that they assemble a team of Majors specialists from the R&A, which controls the Open Championship, and Augusta National to at least consult in the running of the event. The Players is currently controlled by a subdivision of the PGA Tour called ‘Championship Management’ and they do a wonderful job. The Players really is a fantastic sporting event, but I feel adding a couple of gurus from the two biggest Majors would add prestige and put traditionalists’ minds at ease while also boosting the Players.

My final condition is that TPC Sawgrass, the venue of the Players Championship, drops its green fee by a decent amount from the high-season rate of $US550 [it’s up to $US900 in 2024]. Golfers wanting to experience the famous course, particularly the par-3 17th, could do without being stung that kind of cash. Particularly when the world’s No.1-ranked course, Northern Ireland’s Royal County Down, is around the $US400 mark in its peak season.

The Players Championship becoming a Major could be a positive to come out of COVID-19. And we could all do with something to look forward to.