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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Some Thoughts on the Majors Debate

Let me say this upfront: I'm not suggesting that this post will settle the debate. But I thought it might help to at least get all the facts out front.

Of course, the debate is whether Inbee Park's Open win on Sunday gives her a "career Grand Slam" or not. There have been a variety of voices speaking up and I just wanted to outline where the problems lie. You can find a lot of the info I'm using in these Wikipedia articles on men's majors and women's majors. Wikipedia isn't always the final word but the info in these articles does seem to match the facts I've gathered from a variety of other sources... and it's a heck of a lot easier to reference two articles rather than a dozen!


First of all, there's a faulty belief that the men's major rota is set in stone. It hasn't always been so.

As a general rule, most trace the "Grand Slam" to a discussion between Arnold Palmer and (I believe) reporter Bob Drum in 1960. This discussion named the Masters, US Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship as the "Big 4." In time the major labels were made retroactive so, for example, Horton Smith's win at the original Augusta National Invitational is now considered a Masters win.

In fact, Horton is credited with two majors but both are ANI victories in 1934 and 1936. Do you want to argue that they're on a par with Jordan Spieth's two majors this year? Clearly all majors are not created equal, whether they're "slammed" or not.

Likewise, there were other events that were considered "majors" but are no longer counted as such. The Western Open (which was the third oldest tournament after the Open Championship and US Open, now known as the BMW Championship) and the North and South Open in America, and the British PGA Matchplay Championship in the UK are three that once claimed that title.

And just to muddy the waters, bear in mind that players such as Harry Vardon, who won the Open Championship six times and the US Open once, had pretty much run the course of his career before the PGA Championship or Masters were even created, yet he isn't credited with a career Grand Slam. And Willie Park Sr. won four Opens when that was the only game around, but he isn't considered a career slammer either.


The LPGA at least recognizes the events which were originally majors. Two which you may not be aware of are the Women's Western Open and the original Titleholders Championship, both of which were no longer being played by the early 1970s. But there were periods of LPGA history when there were only two or three majors, and players in these times -- as with the PGA -- are not recognized as having career slams.

Karrie Webb is the player whose career began the confusion. There were four majors during the early part of Karrie's career -- the Dinah Shore (now the ANA Inspiration), the US Women's Open, the LPGA Championship (now the KPMG PGA Women's Championship) and the du Maurier Classic. The du Maurier ceased to be a major in 2000 due to sponsor problems; that event continues as the Canadian Women's Open and is no longer a major. The Women's British Open replaced the du Maurier in 2001... but there were still only four women's majors.

As a result, Karrie's du Maurier win was given the same weight as the British Open that replaced it. Karrie had won the British Open before it became an LPGA major; that win wasn't counted retroactively. However, Karrie won the British again in 2002 after it had become a major. Since she had won both the original major and its replacement, it was dubbed the Super Career Slam. That seems fair to me, since the total number of majors available at any given time hadn't changed.


When the Kraft Nabisco (aka the Dinah) was in danger of being lost, Michael Whan took preparatory action to make sure the LPGA still had four majors -- hence, the deal with Evian. Evian would have become the new fourth major, beginning the year after the Kraft sponsorship contract ran out. However, because of Whan's amazing turnaround of the LPGA and his determination to save a long-running major, ANA agreed to become the new sponsor. As a result we now have five LPGA majors... and a problem.


For one thing, there's a fairness issue. Is it fair to say Karrie Webb now needs to win Evian as a major to have a career slam? Tacking on a new major late in an established player's career after they've won all the majors that were available during the meat of their career simply isn't right.

Then we also have to consider that the women's game is definitely global now, with several tours. What, for example, do we do with the JLPGA which has -- depending on who you ask -- four majors of its own?
  • World Ladies Championship Salonpas Cup
  • Japan LPGA Championship Konica Minolta Cup
  • Japan Women's Open Golf Championship
  • Japan LPGA Tour Championship Ricoh Cup
We should also note that both the Women's British Open and the Evian were considered majors on the LET long before they were recognized by the LPGA.


One possibility is to label a slam by its region -- for example, Inbee Park has the American Career Slam but not the European or Japanese versions.

The Wikipedia article referenced above breaks the LPGA's major history into four eras, although these don't help much when a player's career overlaps two or more.

At this point in time we might be best served to focus on a "Traditional Career Slam" (TCS), basing the LPGA majors on the PGA majors. There is a reasonable correlation:
  • The ANA Inspiration is a good counterpart to the Masters, being based on a single golfing personality (Dinah Shore was as important to women's golf as Bobby Jones was to the men's) and held on the same course each year.
  • The US Women's Open is obviously the USGA counterpart to the men's US Open.
  • The RICOH Women's British Open is likewise comparable to the Open Championship.
  • The KPMG PGA Women's Championship is the PGA of America's counterpart to the PGA Championship.
By this measure Inbee Park would have a TCS. Laura Davies, whose last major win was in 1996 (when the du Maurier was in place, and which the LPGA has established as equal to the British because of Karrie) would achieve the TCS with a win at the ANA. (Laura already has a US Open, a du Maurier, and two Women's PGAs.) And major winners from previous eras when there were no more than four majors at any time would have a TCS if they won all four of the majors available during their career.

Yeah, I know it's not a perfect system but at least it's easy to understand. Besides, Inbee will likely win the Evian as a major in the next few years (or months!) and then this won't even be an issue anymore.

BTW, if Karrie wins Evian as a major, I vote for calling it the MegaSlam.

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