Golf needs a 'Triple Crown,' not an impossible 'Grand Slam'

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Patrick Reed fielded 16 questions at his pre-U.S. Open press conference Tuesday. None of them pertained to trying to win golf’s Grand Slam.

The Masters champion is the only guy in 2018 with a chance of winning all four majors, yet nobody bothered asking. Because Reed really has no chance at all, and everyone knows it.

Golf’s calendar-year Grand Slam is all but impossible. It’s been accomplished one time, by Bobby Jones in 1930, when the slam consisted of the U.S. Open and Amateur and the British Open and Amateur. Golf at the time consisted of a few Americans and western Europeans playing in neckties.

Still, Jones’ feat prompted this geyser of flowery prose from George Trevor of the New York Sun: “This victory, the fourth major title in the same season and in the space of four months, had now and for all time entrenched Bobby Jones safely within the ‘Impregnable Quadrilateral of Golf,’ that granite fortress that he alone could take by escalade, and that others may attack in vain, forever.”

Turns out ol’ George was right.

Tiger Woods accomplished the non-calendar Grand Slam, winning the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA in 2000 and the Masters in ’01 to hold all four titles at the same time. That’s the only other time the slam has been completed, and it was the greatest stretch in golf history. But it didn’t happen in the same year.

Thus the very concept of a single-year Grand Slam is basically useless. It’s been done in tennis – three times by men (1938, ’62, ’69) and three times by women (1953, ’70, ’88) – but not in golf since the wooden shaft days. It will never again be done, as currently constructed, in that sport.

But quests for legendary greatness are fun. I just finished covering Justify winning the thoroughbred racing Triple Crown, and it dramatically enhanced interest in that sport – as it did when American Pharoah won the Crown in 2015. And just having the possibility of a Triple Crown heading into the last leg spikes the interest of casual fans.

So here’s a modest proposal to alter golf’s major-championship terrain: turn the Grand Slam into a Triple Crown. Demote the PGA Championship to regular tour event status. Make a sweep of major events at least marginally more attainable.

I’ll pause now to allow the golf purists to howl in outrage, rend their logo-festooned garments and gnash their capped teeth.

(And to phone in another rules violation on a Tour player that they spotted on TV from their couch.)

Look, the PGA has always been the fourth wheel of major golf. It’s OK to say it out loud.

The Masters is its own institution – an iconic, fixed location that is cherished in part for its continuity and familiarity. The azaleas and dogwoods and Amen Corner and Hogan’s Bridge and on and on … it is the Sistine Chapel of sports.

When Tiger Woods won the 2002 Masters, he held all four major championships. But he did not win them in the same calendar year. (Getty)
When Tiger Woods won the 2002 Masters, he held all four major championships. But he did not win them in the same calendar year. (Getty)

The U.S. Open is 118 years of tradition built upon the broken backs of the world’s best golfers. It is most often merciless, an event where the course is king, where the competitors must play with a patience and humility that is rarely called upon during regular Tour play.

The British Open is golf’s Holy Land, the place where it all began, where the game has to be played and thought differently than in any other major.

The PGA? It has no real niche. It moves around like the Opens, but not often to courses that captivate. If the sport knew what to do with it, they’d know where to put the PGA on the calendar. It’s being relocated from August to May next year, a tacit admission that the event is of lesser status.

You sure don’t see anyone in golf suggesting moving the Masters out of April, the U.S. Open out of June or the British Open out of July, do you? The PGA is movable, which means it’s disposable. So let’s dispose of it and downsize golf’s Grand Slam to its own Triple Crown.

It’s better than adding The Players Championship as the fifth major, which some have been agitating to do for years. Fewer majors is the way to go, not more.

So, could the golf Triple Crown be attainable?

Mathematically, there is a 25 percent better chance. Looking at history, Ben Hogan did it in 1953 – and it was, in fact, referred to as the “Triple Crown” of golf at the time. There was no way of completing the Grand Slam at the time because the PGA and British Open overlapped in July.

While Hogan is the only one who has won the Masters and both Opens in the same year, others have had their chances. And, again, part of the allure of a Triple Crown is having someone in contention for it after two legs. There would have been plenty of those over the years.

Craig Wood could have attempted the triple in 1941, but World War II canceled the British Open. Hogan won the Masters and U.S. Opens in 1951 and did not compete in the British. In 1960, Arnold Palmer won the first two majors and finished second by a stroke at St. Andrews. Jack Nicklaus also came up a stroke short of the Triple Crown in the British in 1972, shooting a Sunday 66 at Muirfield but losing to Lee Trevino. In 2002, a third-round 81 at Muirfield doomed Woods’ chances for the triple.

And most recently, Jordan Spieth had his shot in 2015. After winning the Masters and the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, Spieth missed a playoff at the British by a stroke.

There’s your modest proposal for giving golf a better multi-major seasonal goal. This is less about accepting a lower standard and more about embracing what’s possible – while still being incredibly hard to do.

In with the Triple Crown of golf. Out with the Grand Slam. The Impregnable Quadrilateral of Golf has been attacked in vain long enough.

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