There’s no denying that the Players Championship has all the markings of a major. The elite field, eight-figure purse, gripping drama, and prestige of past champions make it one of the most high-profile tournaments of the season.
It is for all of these reasons, however, that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan should cringe every time somebody refers to the Players as the fifth major. Instead, Monahan and the PGA should be touting the Players as the example of why fans should pay attention to the non-majors.
Twenty four of the world’s top 25 players will be teeing it up at the famous TPC Sawgrass this week. The top-notch field brings as many storylines as any of the grand slam events. Can Dustin Johnson continue his dominant 2017? Will Rory McIlroy come back from his wedding, honeymoon, and birthday celebrations focused? Can Jon Rahm add a signature win to his epic rookie season? Or, will a dark horse steal the show?
If the star-studded field doesn’t raise some eyebrows, what they’re playing for certainly should. The Players Championship offers a $10.5 million purse. That haul is tied for the second largest of the season and is greater than what’s on the line at the Masters ($10M), British Open ($8.45M), and each of the four playoff events ($8.75M). Only the U.S. Open offers more, with a $12 million purse, while the PGA Championship matches the $10.5 million at stake at the Players.
Adding to the drama is the fact that with TPC Sawgrass’ risk-reward layout, no lead is safe during Players week. The Players is known for the 137-yard par-3 17th hole with an island green, where the Sunday pin placement can punish even the slightest mis-hit. However, those who survive the 17th must still negotiate the 462-yard par 4 18th with water up the left side before breathing easy. Needless to say, anything can happen.
The list of past Players champions only adds to the tournament’s prestige. You only have to go back 10 years to find Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Martin Kaymer, Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia and Henrick Stenson among the past champions.
Indeed, the Players Championship is worthy of the fifth-major hype. But lumping it in with the majors, even unofficially, only diminishes the perception of what a regular tournament on the PGA Tour event can offer, while diluting the major schedule. Instead, perhaps we should raise our expectations for what the rest of the non-majors can deliver.