The quality of the field year after year, the difficulty of the course, the history of the competition, the place on the yearly PGA Tour schedule–all point to serious consideration of the tournament being called the “Fifth Men’s Professional Golf Major”.
By Herschel Caldwell
The subject of The Players becoming the fifth major comes up annually and fervently. However, many top professionals look on The Players as a uniquely private “professional players only” experience with narrow entry and minimized participation (not owing to the open championships where anyone has a chance to qualify regardless of status or professional achievement. The exception to this, of course, is the Masters, whose requirements are even more restrictive.) This year, the total purse for the Players was $20 million (up five million over last year) —currently the largest purse of any PGA event. At the close of Monday’s play, Cameron Smith came out on top, taking home a hard-earned $3,600,000 and a five-year exemption on the PGA tour, three invitations to play the Masters, and three-year exemptions for the Open and the U.S. Open. Justin Thomas, the defending Players Champion, tied with eight others for 33rd place and pocketed $100,000. This year’s tournament featured the largest number of Players of Color than at any other time in The Players history. African American PGA golfer Harold Varner finished sixth, tied with two other players to win $675,000 apiece. Varner’s 6th place finish vaulted him to #48 in OWGR and a invite to this year’s Masters.
The world-class Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, the site of The Players Championship since 1982, was built specifically to host this event. One of the most challenging courses in the world, TPC Sawgrass spans 7,215 yards and features the famous par-3, the 132-yard hole at No. 17, dubbed the “Island Green.” This year, due to high winds and heavy rain, that hole had claimed 50 initial balls lost in the water by the end of play on Saturday.
Qualification for Entry into the Players Championship
Much like the PGA Championship, entry is restricted to PGA members only. After that, it gets complicated. The top 125 players in PGA Tour earnings from the previous full season automatically qualify for The Players Championship and the top 50 players in the current year’s Official World Golf Ranking. The top 30 players from the previous full season’s PGA Tour FedEx Cup standings are added to the list, and the top 10 players on the current season’s FedEx Cup points list. Still, others invited include the winners of the past five Players Championship and any winners of a World Golf Championship (WGC) event* during the past three years.
PGA Tour Membership
With few exceptions, participants must be PGA Tour players to compete in The Players Championship. Any non-PGA Tour player who otherwise qualifies for the event was likely a Tour player in the recent past or had played well in at least one or more Tour events. The previous year’s winner, who automatically earns an invitation, would be the most likely non-PGA Tour player to compete in The Players Championship.
Additional Historical Points of Note:
The Players Championship—initially called the Tournament Players Championship and now referred to at times as “The Players”—began in 1974. It has been played at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, since 1982. Unlike regular PGA Tour events that local organizations oversee, The Players is run by the PGA Tour and its players. It has been played in May for the past several years. Given to recent changes to the PGA Tour schedule, the tournament was moved to early March.
Four other world-class courses played host to the Players Championship: the Atlanta Country Club, Marietta, Ga. (1974); the Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas (1975); the Inverrary Golf and Country Club, Lauderhill, Fla. (1976); and the Sawgrass Country Club, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (1977-81)
PGA Tour Players Championship Trivia:
- Calvin Peete was the first African American to win the Players (1985).
- Tiger Woods won the Players in 2001 and again in 2013.
- Jack Nicklaus won the first Players tournament in 1974, winning again in 1976 and 1978.
- Jerry Pate (1982) was the first winner at TPC Sawgrass.
- Two-time champions include Fred Couples (1984, 1996); Hal Sutton (1983, 2000);
- Davis Love (1992, 2003); Steve Elkington (1991, 1997) and Tiger Woods (2001, 2013) The Players Championship has never had back-to-back winners.
- Fuzzy Zoeller posted the second-lowest 72-hole total (268) in tournament history (1994); however, that same year Greg Norman posted the lowest total overall (264).
- Arnold Palmer made the cut in 1985 when he was 55 years, 172 days old. However, Julius Boros made the cut in 1975 at age 55 years, 174 days – two days older than Palmer.
- The tournament switched from a sudden-death playoff format to a 3-hole (16, 17, and 18) aggregate-score format in 2014.
- Paul Azinger is the only golfer to have birdied the island-green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass in all four rounds (1987).
- In 2005, Bob Tway shot the highest score ever on No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass (12).
- Robert Gamez previously held #17’s highest score record, shooting 11 in 1990.
Memorable quotes from the Players:
“Be the right stick today!” (Hal Sutton in his victory over Tiger Woods (2000)
“Better than most, better than most, better than most…!” (Gary Koch to Johnny Miller, describing Tiger Wood’s “miraculous” putt in high winds and down a steep slope on #17 (2016).