x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Major revamp needed to reflect international golf's image

Golf has taken on a more international flavour in the past five years so perhaps it is time that golf's four greatest tournaments, known as the 'majors', change to reflect that.

Graeme McDowell says his victory at the 110th US Open at Pebble Beach, California, was 'amazing'.
Graeme McDowell says his victory at the 110th US Open at Pebble Beach, California, was 'amazing'.

People seldom can agree on much of anything, so it should have come as a historic shock that the general public have spent the past half-century in consensus on the identity of the four major tournaments in men's golf.

If ever there were a subject for petty, banal, eccentric argument, this could have been it. Yet if anyone has protested the established quartet of the Masters, the US Open, the British Open and the US PGA Championship, that person or people has gone unnoticed and perhaps even stashed away in some attic by concerned family members.

Even as another US Open begins today, the Northern Irishman who doubles as the defending champion extols the mystique. "I still pinch myself," Graeme McDowell said. "I still don't feel my name belongs there, but it's there now, so whatever. Amazing."

So you would hate to tinker with such rare consensus, except that ...

Well, except that as the game has grown and sprawled and spread its beauty and its misery to all the nooks and corners of the globe, it has seemed increasingly oblong that three of the four majors all get crammed into one country while the other 194 countries combine for one.

In the 21st century, it might be time to start thinking about considering some kind of alteration.

Back in the ancient golf history of the 1920s through to the 1950s, people did run around with varying ideas as to the identity of the four majors. When Bobby Jones won the British Open, the British Amateur, the US Open and the US Amateur in 1930, predating the birth of the Masters by four years, many people considered those four paramount.

Along the way, some Americans cited the Western Open, and it is not known if these people suffered any social stigma or outright ostracising, but by today those Western Open titles of yore do not count as major championships.

You can argue all night about whether that constitutes snobbery or, preferably, you cannot.

There also came the World Championship of Golf, played in Illinois in the 1940s and 1950s and known for its out-sized purse, but finally in 1960, the familiar four began congealing.

Most historians agree this happened when Arnold Palmer, having won both the Masters and the US Open, discussed the idea of a "Grand Slam" with a member of that noblest form of humanity, that rare subspecies that knows all and never errs: a sportswriter.

Palmer and the Pittsburgh scribe Bob Drum cited the four, ascendant ever since.

By now, they tower so that it seems almost wretched to suggest any tinkering. When people have spoken of replacing any, they have spoken usually of the PGA Championship, the least exalted of the four. Other times, the Masters has had turns as an American social disgrace.

Still, rather than replacing any of the entrenched, it might update the game to add one, perhaps floating somewhere around the southern hemisphere among South Africa, Australia and South America. Perhaps Asia.

And while the Americans certainly deserved the 75 per cent ratio for thinking up the concept, nurturing it to riches and televising it, the worldliness of the game shouts for something fresh.

At the moment, the four major titles rest in the hands of two South Africans, one German and one Northern Irishman. The top 10 at the Masters this year featured three Australians, one South Afri can, one Argentinian, one South Korean, one Englishman and three Americans. Here in mid-2011 we find a juncture with the talent spread to such lengths that two previously anonymous South Africans sit around discussing their major titles.

Referring to the British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen this week, the Masters champion Charl Schwartzel said: "Sometimes we sit back and - we share a lot of accommodations, houses together, when we're out here. A few times we've sat back and just said, 'You know, you actually see what we've done, where we came from.' We are very proud of it."

In an accepted oddity of the game, these and others play all their majors as veritable visiting teams, fattening the impressiveness of their feats. Of course many have played in university programmes in the United States and frequented the United States, but their prowess helps define the game's new-found world.

Tennis, for one, lucked into something superior. Its majors came along organically in a four-country sprinkling across the world. Maybe golf approaches a time when the United States could take the creation it borrowed and perfected and magnified, and share it further. Parents always did say it was good to share.

 

cculpepper@thenational.ae

US Open, s8-9