A question of prestige?

In May a golfer’s thoughts turn to the summer ahead and, if they have trainspotter tendencies, the age-old question of the prestige and status of the Players Championship.

The PGA tour, which runs the tournament and has its headquarters at TPC Sawgrass, where the event teed off on Thursday, likes nothing better than journalists posing the question: ”Is the Players golf’s fifth Major?”

It goes without saying, too, that it loves to read that the answer is yes. For one thing, the prestige that comes with Major championship status rubs off on the organisation that runs the tournament (how else would the world have heard of an unpleasantly exclusive little gentleman’s outfit in the back of beyond, Augusta?). Plus there is money to be made.

There is no shame in making money, of course, just as there is no shame in trying to make your tournament as good as it possibly can be. The PGA tour certainly does that in the case of the Players.

The golf course itself is spectacular, asking the right questions of those who seek to conquer it. Can they drive the ball straight? Can they shape their iron shots? Can they putt? Can they hold their nerve?

As 18-hole layouts go, it has the right mix of brutally difficult par-fours, enticing par-fives and eye-catching par-threes, most notably the infamous 17th hole.

Incidentally, there is a view, propagated by Tiger Woods, that the 17th, with its island green, might be too ”frivolous” to be the 17th hole of an important — never mind a Major — golf tournament. The argument is that no Major championship should ever come down to a player’s ability to hit an island green on the penultimate hole. Make it the eighth hole, argue the critics, or stick it where it does not play such a decisive role in determining the outcome of the tournament.

What errant rubbish. It is hard to think of many other holes that have captivated the golfing public over the years. To do anything to diminish the appeal of the 17th would be final proof that golf has lost its mind.

As I was saying, the course is great, and not just because it has some fine holes but also because it offers some excellent vantage points for the paying public. The field is top class too, not least because it draws mostly from the world rankings. There are a few too many PGA tour journeymen for my taste but it is their tournament, after all, and they should be allowed to play in it.

On the bright side, there are no crusty old former champions cluttering up the field, taking away places from players who have a chance of winning or at least making a name for themselves.

But does all this add up to Major championship status? Lee Westwood suggests not, Padraig Harrington argues maybe and Phil Mickelson says that when his career is over he will look back on his victory at Sawgrass last year with the same affection as he will look back on his Major championship victories. As for me, I’d argue that if you have to ask the question then the answer must surely be no. — Â

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