Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
The Players Championship may not be an “official” major but everything about it screams major championship. The purse is $15 million; Thomas got $2.7 million for the win; while Westwood got $1.635 for second, which is more than the winner’s cheque at most regular Tour events. The event has the strongest field of the year and no player skips it for any reason other than injury. The PGA Tour positions it on the schedule like a major and winning the Players Championship can be the tipping point to make a Ryder Cup team or get into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Where do you rank the Players against the current four majors?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I’ve ranked The Players #3 in my personal list of Must Watch Tournaments, for several years… WAY ahead of the PGA, and slightly ahead of the US Open. The Masters is always numero uno for me, followed by The Open Championship. I find the US Open a painful slugfest, and hard to watch, but it’s obviously an important event. But The Players beats it, because I know and love the golf course, and those last three holes are SO pivotal… if you don’t birdie 16, you’re probably toast, but if you can birdie 17 or 18, you might well pull off the win. It’s almost always a nail-biter right down to the final putt. I felt so sorry for Lee Westwood, but what an incredible fortnight he had!
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I don’t want to hear anything about the unofficial 5th Major, etc., that’s just nonsense. There are Four Majors in Men’s Professional Golf, full stop. That said, The Players Championship is awesome, and it didn’t disappoint with another great finish and leaderboard littered with stories and movement. I’ve never heard a fan or player say they enjoy watching the Players over any of the Majors, but the PGA Tour has done a great job bringing it to its current stature as the best golf event that is not a Major. That’s where it is for me, and I’ll continue to enjoy watching it every year with deep fields and interesting finishes.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I have long been a proponent of the Players being a major. It has the respect of the players; it is played on the same outstanding course and the course has its own Amen Corner. One of the biggest reasons it doesn’t qualify as a major is the winner only gets a 3-year invitation to the Masters where the PGA Champion the US Open Champion and The Champion Golfer of the Year get 5 years. Currently, it rates behind the ‘big’ four in Hall of Fame criteria but that is a mess that takes pages to explain.
TJ Rule, GolfAwayTours (@GolfAwayTJ): I rank it even with the PGA Championship. It does have a stronger field, but I like the fact that the PGA moves around the country. Sure, Sawgrass provides drama, particularly in the last 3 holes, but I wouldn’t want to watch a major there every year. It’s a distance T-4 in my list of the top 5 tourneys.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I’ve clung to the idea that golf has four majors for quite some time. No particular reason that I can think of other than tradition. However, when you analyze the definition of a major, the Players Championship ticks all the same boxes. The Masters existed for 34 years until it was called a major; the Players has been around at least that long. It’s long past time we call it what it is – the fifth Major. For me, it ranks T2 with the US Open and the Open Championship, a rung below the Masters.
Dustin Johnson is getting some heat for his announcement that he will not play in the Olympics in July, citing the hassles of international travel and a desire to focus on the PGA Tour. This despite skipping PGA Tour events earlier this year to take an appearance fee to play in Saudi Arabia. What’s your take on DJ’s position?
Deeks: Munny, munny, munny. And I doubt he could even find Tokyo on the map anyway.
Loughry: It just tells me DJ doesn’t care about the Olympics at all. I wish it were different, but that’s DJ for you, and I bet quite a few other top players too. I’d actually like to see a poll of the top 50 players and see what their answer to this question is. It would be really interesting to see if attending the Olympics is of interest or not. It is clear that athletes from other countries put a premium on attending and participating, American players not so much. Their premium is on the Majors.
Schurman: DJ has played the tour for 12 years, has won +$70M plus endorsements, been the #1 in the world, won majors, holds the longest win streak for the number of consecutive years with a victory and he is 37 years old. I’m disappointed he isn’t going to the Olympics but using travel restrictions as an excuse is a pretty good one. At some point, he has to slow down. Maybe this is the beginning of it.
Rule: It’s all about the money, isn’t it? Which is crazy to think since he has all the money anyone could ever need. But somehow money still talks. It’s sad really because almost anyone would give their left arm to get a chance at being an Olympian. I can’t imagine a more spine-tingling moment than walking into the opening ceremonies wearing Canada’s colours.
Mumford: It lacks perspective. DJ probably thinks he’s making a wise decision for 2021 but some day he may look back and wish he’d chosen to play in the Olympics. The world showcases its best athletes once every four years. Invitations are rare. Declining the honour says a lot about the person – and not in a positive way.
Lee Westwood is playing some of the best golf of his life at the age of 47 and having a lot of fun doing it. Two runner-up finishes in the last two weeks could easily have gone in his favour with a short putt here and a short putt there. Typically, he has fared pretty well at Augusta in the past too. Is he a legitimate contender to win the Masters in three weeks?
Deeks: I sure hope he’s a contender at Augusta, but something tells me he peaked over the last two weeks and won’t find magic again. I really hope I’m wrong. It was great seeing him right in the mix, and very disappointing that he couldn’t have succeeded in either event — especially since he really didn’t blow either chance with a bad final round. The sight of him and his lovely fiancée on the bag was very heart-warming. He looked a lot like Darren Clarke, another UK player that I’ve always admired.
Loughry: I think you have to take Westy as a favourite at Augusta based on recent play and past performance at The Masters. Although it was some freaky ball striking early on that I think cost him, his putter wasn’t exactly the best. And that’s the club I see hurting his chances in Georgia, the greens are just diabolical at Augusta National.
Schurman: Lee Westwood has always had the game to play anywhere, anytime. Two things have changed. He is making short putts when it counts most and Helen. Wait until they drive up Magnolia Lane and she can see for herself why he has been talking about it with her. Wait until she walks the course and experiences the beauty. Wait until she sees her ‘man’ enjoy everything life has to offer. You bet he has a chance; he has someone to share it with!
Rule: I somehow can’t imagine him keeping the hot streak going for that long, but I really hope he does. If he wins Augusta, it will rank up there with Jack and Tiger’s late career victories, and he deserves his major. It’s just great seeing him enjoying golf so much, he’s living the dream. I just hope nobody pinches him to wake him until sometime in mid April.
Mumford: There’s no reason why he can’t contend. He’s playing really well right now and certainly knows the course better than most. Westwood’s problem is that he’s a regular on the leaderboard for the first three rounds, then fades on Sunday. Maybe he should change his Saturday night routine.