What Are The Four Majors in Golf

What are golfs four majors
Masters Par-3 pocketwiley, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Introduction

The four majors in men`s golf are:

  • the Masters Tournament in April
  • the US PGA Championship in May
  • the US Open Championship in June
  • the Open Championship in July

These championships are held in the highest regard by players, media and fans. They are the yardstick by which a player’s career will be judged.

Winners of multiple majors are considered the greatest players in the history of golf.

Let`s take a look at each of them in order of age.

Walter Hagen 1922 open championship
Walter Hagen – 1922 Open Championship – Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Open Championship

In the US this is usually referred to as the British Open to distinguish it from their own Open Championship. The event is run by the R&A (Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews)

The Championship was first played in 1860 which makes it the oldest of the four men`s majors.

It was originally organized in an attempt to identify the “best golfer in the world” following the death of Allan Robertson. He was widely regarded as the best player of the era and was the first to shoot under 80 on the Old Course at. St Andrews.

The eight players vying for the first championship at Prestwick Golf club would win the Challenge Belt. Made from Moroccan leather and adorned with silver panels decorated with golfing scenes.

Tom Morris Sr. was the favorite but he was beaten in the end by Willie Park Sr. after falling foul of several bunkers during his final round.

At the time Prestwick consisted of only 12 holes, golf had not yet standardized on 18 holes. The competition took place over 3, 12-hole rounds.

Prestwick went on to host the championship on another 23 occasions which makes it the most popular venue after the Old Course at St. Andrews.

In 1871 no championship was held because Tom Morris Jr had won on three consecutive occasions. He received the Championship Belt outright.

The following year was the first when the iconic Claret Jug was played for. However it wasn’t awarded till the following year as it hadn’t been finished yet!

The First and Second World Wars caused the Championship to be canceled on 11 occasions. A further cancellation occurred in 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic.

In the modern era, the championship is a 72 hole strokeplay event with a 36 hole cut.

A number of exemption routes are made available to enable top players to gain entry to the tournament.

In addition, a number of qualifying events are run which allows players who are not exempt to gain entry. Amateur golfers with a handicap of scratch or better are able to enter the qualifying tournament. This is why it is called an ‘Open’ Championship since entry is open to any that meet the qualifying standard.

Since 1949 a silver medal has been awarded to the leading amateur presuming they managed to make the 36 hole cut. So far only Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have managed to win both the silver medal and the championship proper.

The R&A always stage the Championship on one of the top links courses.

The winner is announced as “the champion golfer of the year”. The winner in 2021 was Collin Morikawa.

Players with Most Open Championship Wins

NameChampionship WinsTotal Number of Wins
Harry Vardon1896, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911, 19146
James Braid1901, 1905, 1906, 1908, 19105
JH Taylor1894, 1895, 1900, 1909, 19135
Peter Thomson1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 19655
Tom Watson1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 19835
JohnMcDermottTrophy1913
John J McDermott – “Hazard” of American Golfer, Inc., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

US Open Championship

Organized by the United States Golf Association the first US Open was played on 4th October 1895 in Newport, Rhode Island.

In the early years of the competition, it was dominated by British players. The first American-born winner was John J McDermott in 1911.

America’s national open has traditionally been held at some of the more prestigious clubs in the northeast of the United States. The second most popular destination has been the mid-West. In recent years some more modern venues have been used such as Erin Hills and Chambers Bay.

The 1913 championship was among the most famous. Francis Ouimet, a local amateur, managed to defeat the British contingent of Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. (strictly speaking, they were both from Jersey).

The USGA prefers to set up the course to be a severe test for even the greatest golfers. They will endeavor to have firm greens and firm, narrow fairways with thick rough. They consider par to be something to be strived for rather than beaten.

The course par will sometimes be reduced to 70 by taking one or two short par-5s and making them par-4s.

This can often make for less than compelling viewing with players often having to chip out sideways with a wedge.

As with the Open Championship, some of the earliest courses used are no longer suitable. Either they don’t have sufficient length for modern players or they don’t have space for all the infrastructure that is required.

Jon Rahm of Spain was successful in 2021.

Players with Most US Open Championship Wins

NameChampionship WinsTotal Number of Wins
Willie Anderson1901, 1903, 1904, 19054
Bobby Jones1923, 1926, 1929, 19304
Ben Hogan1948, 1950, 1951, 19534
Jack Nicklaus1962, 1967, 1972, 19804

US PGA Championship

The first US PGA championship was held in October 1916 just a few months after the formation of the US PGA. As the name would suggest this is the only major tournament exclusively for professional golfers.

The winner of the event receives the Rodman Wanamaker trophy. This was donated by the eponymous department store owner involved in the formation of the Association.

Jim Barnes was the first winner and received $500 and a diamond-studded gold medal donated by Mr. Wanamaker.

The championship began life as a matchplay event but in 1957 it actually managed to lose money. This in combination with pressure from TV networks resulted in a change of format to 72 hole strokeplay starting in 1958.

It has tended to move around the calendar and at times has either been played very close to the Open Championship. Sometimes making it impossible for competitors to compete in both. For example, when Ben Hogan won three majors in 1953 he was unable to compete in the PGA championship.

Starting in the late 60s it moved to August where it remained for roughly 50 years. From 2019 the Championship has been moved to May to help accommodate the FedEx Cup play-offs and avoid them clashing with the start of the NFL season.

Phil Mickelson prevailed at Kiawah island in 2021.

Players with Most US PGA Championship Wins

NameTotal Number of WinsChampionship Wins
Walter Hagen1921, 1924, 1925, 1926, 19275
Jack Nicklaus1963, 1971, 1973, 1975, 19805
Tiger Woods1999, 2000, 2006, 20074
Gene Sarazen1922, 1923, 19333
Sam Snead1942, 1949, 19513
Augusta National
Augusta National – pocketwiley, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Masters Tournament

The baby amongst golf’s men’s major championships having only started in 1934.

It is also unique as the only one of the four golf majors to be played at the same venue every year.

The Tournament is hosted at the Augusta National Golf club which was designed by Bobby Jones and Alistair Mackenzie.

Jones of course was a multiple major champion while still being an amateur. Along with Clifford Roberts he created one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world. The course he created in conjunction with the renowned architect Alistair Mackenzie is top of most players’ bucket lists.

The course at Augusta National is always presented in impeccable condition for the tournament. That is one reason why it captures the public’s imagination. Golfers in the UK for example would consider the Masters represents the start of the golfing season.

Probably because of Bobby Jones’s amateur status the tournament has always offered spaces to leading amateur golfers. It also affords them a unique opportunity to lodge in the “Crows Nest”.

In addition to being played on the same course, the Masters also has several other traditions that have grown up then the years. Tournament winners are presented with the green jacket and are made honorary members of the club. However, you don’t get multiple jackets if you win the tournament multiple times!

The Masters is unique in having a pre-tournament competition played around the nine-hole par-3 course on the property. Famously no one has won both the par-3 and the main competition in the same year. This means many players will deliberately hit balls into the water on the last couple of holes if they fear winning the par-3 challenge.

Since 1952 there is also been an annual dinner which all past champions are invited to attend. The menu is selected by the winner from the previous year.

Until relatively recently players were not allowed to bring their regular caddies to the event and had to use caddies employed by the club. Caddies are also expected to wear the unique boiler suits through the week adorned with a number. Numbers are assigned based on the order in which the player has registered for the event. Although the defending champion always receives number one.

Hideki Matsuyama became the first male Japanese golfer to win a major in 2021.

Players with Most Masters Wins

NameTotal Number of WinsTournament Wins
Jack Nicklaus1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975, 19866
Tiger Woods1997, 2001, 2002, 2005, 20195
Arnold Palmer1958, 1960, 1962, 19644
Jimmy Demaret1940, 1947, 19503
Sam Snead1949, 1952, 19543
Gary Player1961, 1974, 19783
Nick Faldo1989, 1990, 19963
Phil Mickelson2004, 2006, 20103

Why Are There Only Four?

Despite many attempts to introduce new events to the schedule none have managed to elevate themselves to the level of a major championship. Despite many having much higher prize money.

Unfortunately, you can’t fake history. Who knows whether in another 30 or 40 years, the Players or FedEx cup will be considered as equals to the four men’s major championships.

What is the Grand Slam?

The grand slam is winning all four majors in one season. No one has yet managed this although Tiger Woods did complete the “Tiger Slam” when he managed to win four consecutive majors in 2000/2001.

To date, only five golfers have managed the career grand slam.

  • Gene Sarazen
  • Ben Hogan
  • Jack Nicklaus
  • Gary Player
  • Tiger Woods
Bobby Jones ticker tape parade 1930

Bobby Jones also completed what was called the “impregnable quadrilateral” in 1930. He managed to win the four “majors” that were available to him, the Open and Amateur Championships of both Britain and the United States.

Big Three Photo
Golf’s Big 3 – Abdura99, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Most Major Championship Wins

NameTotal Wins
Jack Nicklaus18
Tiger Woods15
Walter Hagen11
Ben Hogan, Gary Player9
Tom Watson8
Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones, Harry Vardon7

What Are The Four Majors in Golf: Conclusion

Hopefully, this has piqued your interest sufficiently to research a little more into the majors.

Resources:

The Open Championship

Wikipedia eg. US Open, US PGA Champions

The Masters

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