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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What Is a Grand Slam, Anyway?

It seems that I've been doing more opinion posts lately. Perhaps that's because I feel some simple things are either getting overlooked or simply being blown out of proportion.

Inbee lifts US Women's Open trophyOne of those things is the debate over whether an Inbee Park win at the RICOH Women's British Open -- giving her 4 majors in a row in the same calendar year -- constitutes a "Grand Slam." After all, there are 5 majors in the women's game this year, as the Evian Championship becomes the fifth this September.

Apparently the whole argument revolves around the dictionary definition of a grand slam, as in The Oxford Dictionary:
"the winning of each of a group of major championships or matches in a particular sport in the same year, in particular in tennis or golf."
But I think this overlooks the real question: Regardless of what the dictionary says -- bear in mind that the term was originally lifted from the game of bridge in the 19th century (you can read that at the dictionary page) -- has the term "Grand Slam" become directly associated with the number FOUR?

I think I can make a sound case that it has.

First, aside from the original bridge game (with its 13 tricks to be taken), what number is most commonly associated with a grand slam of any kind? The dictionary definition page I referenced above mentions baseball:
Baseball: a home run hit when each of the three bases is occupied by a runner, thus scoring four runs.
It also mentions tennis, which has four majors -- the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.

Moving to Wikipedia we find some other Grand Slams listed. Here is a sampling of those for sporting events with specific numbers of events listed:
  • Rugby Union: The winner of the Six Nations Championship (5 wins) has a grand slam. This is a fairly recent change, however; previous to 2000 there were only 5 members, making 4 wins the Grand Slam.
  • Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (from 1986): Award for one registered person's finishing the four specified annual 100-mile footraces in the U.S.
  • Grand Slam (shinty) (from 1947): One club's winning four specific annual shinty trophies. (Shinty is a predecessor of ice hockey.)
Ironically, there is a Grand Slam of Hollywood show business (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards) and of Beauty Pageants (Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Earth, and Miss International).

And of course, there are other types of Grand Slams listed which are different -- for example, the Explorers Grand Slam involves reaching the North Pole, South Pole, and all of the Seven Summits for a total of 9 accomplishments.

However, the number 4 shows up more often than any other. Four is the most common number of anything in a Grand Slam.

But I think we could make an equally solid argument from golf itself. So the dictionary says that a Grand Slam means you won ALL the majors in a single calendar year? Very well then, we'll need to amend our history books because...
  • Babe Didrikson Zaharias won the Grand Slam in 1950, as there were only three majors in existence.
We also need to add:
  • Sandra Haynie (1974)
because there were only two majors that year and she won them both -- hence, the Grand Slam. But wait, there's more! Add these women as well:
  • Lee Mida (1930)
  • June Bebbe (1931, 1933)
  • Jane Weiller (1932)
  • Marian McDougall (1934)
  • Opal Hill (1935, 1936)
  • Patty Berg (1943)
  • and Babe Didrickson Zaharias adds 1944 and 1945, for a total of THREE Grand Slams!
You see, there was only one major in each of those years so, if we're going by the dictionary definition, those winners all get credit for a Grand Slam.

If we move to the men's game, the list gets MUCH longer. While Bobby Jones captured the original "Impregnable Quadrilateral," he was an amateur and two of those events were amateur events. Since professionals weren't eligible for those events, they don't count toward a professional Grand Slam. Indeed, the number of professional men's majors has varied wildly over the years:
  • From 1860 to 1894, the only professional event was the Open Championship (British Open). It was held every year except 1871, so any professionals who won during that time have Grand Slams.
  • From 1895 to 1919 there were no more than 2 pro majors (and some of the war years had none), but nobody won both of them during that time so there were no Grand Slams.
  • We should note that Bobby Jones gets the Grand Slam on a technicality. You see, he didn't play in the PGA Championship that year since he wasn't eligible for it, so it doesn't count against his total. Nevertheless, the PGA Championship has been played all but 3 years since 1916 and would count for any pro.
  • Finally, both Bob Hamilton (1944) and Byron Nelson (1945) get credit for Grand Slams since there was only one major held each of those years.
And since the British Amateur wasn't started until 1885 nor the US Amateur until 1895, any amateurs who won the Open Championship before 1885 also have Grand Slams. (If Jones counts, so do they.)

Which means that winning a Grand Slam is no big deal after all, SINCE DOZENS OF PLAYERS HAVE WON AT LEAST ONE.

At least, according to the dictionary they have.

Tell me this, people: Do we really want to open this can of worms? I don't think so.

The women probably have the best solution to this problem. Because of the nature of their majors -- they've not only had various numbers of majors each year, but they weren't always the same majors (8 different ones total, in case you're interested) -- and because no one has ever won four majors in one year, they speak of career slams (all 4 majors) and "Super Slams" (5 different majors, with the duMaurier Classic or the RICOH Women's British Open being the fifth, depending on which was the fourth one when your career started). I think this is the best way to think of this now.

If Inbee Park wins the RICOH, I say she has the Grand Slam; if she also wins the Evian, she gets the single year Super Slam. (By my definition, a player who didn't win the first major of the year -- the Kraft Nabisco Championship -- but won the following four would just have a single year slam. And yes, there might be a valid debate over whether you need to win the first major of the year to have a Grand Slam.)

Otherwise, we're going to have to rewrite golf history... and personally, I think I'll leave that to Inbee Park.

The photo came from this USAToday page.


  1. Mike,

    Good post and I'll try to remember you when I write about Park's pursuit of the slam again.

    I wrote a post at Mostly Harmless about Park's win on Sunday and put it in perspective historically. One thing I forgot was senior tour major championship history.

    Over 1987 and 88, Gary Player did a Tiger 12 years before Tiger. He won the Senior Players, The US Open, and the Senior PGA in a row, the only 3 senior majors at the time so he held all the titles till Billy Casper won the 88 Senior Players.

    In 1991 there were 4 Senior Majors. The Tradition had joined the fold. Jack Nicklaus won 3 that year, only missing out at the US Senior Open. Jim Albus won the Senior Open in 1991.

    The Champions Tour beat the LPGA to 5 majors in 2003 when they added the Senior British Open.

    Something not being mentioned- The possible reason for the Evian being added. Kraft Nabisco is pulling out as sponsor of the LPGA's first major of the year after 2014. What is that tournament's future?

  2. Another thing- Are Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb now without career grand slams since they will be playing golf in a year with 5 LPGA majors? The other career LPGA career slam holders- Suggs, Wright, Sorenstam, and Bradley are all retired.

  3. Bill, I saw the Inbee post you did and liked it -- I think I linked to it in the Around the Wider World of Golf section of Monday's post.

    I've mentioned that KNC problem a few times before in posts. I think that's a BIG part of the reason Whan went for a 5th major -- to make sure there were always at least 4. The Evian was a logical add, since it was already considered a LET major.

    A second consideration is the eventual need for a major based in Asia. They could have two in Europe, two in America, and one that moved around Asia and maybe Australia. (I'm betting the LPGA Championship might become the Asian major, perhaps renamed the LPGA/LET Championship. It comes with decades of history, as well as being the only major with a Chinese champion.)

    As for Inkster and Webb... good question! It could also affect Annika if she chose to come out of retirement. And since Karrie already has a career Super Slam (5 majors), what would they call a 6-major career slam?