While the Players still isn’t a bona fide major, the area near TPC Sawgrass has been a hotbed for major champions

Despite the best efforts of the PGA Tour and a younger demographic of players and media who are keeping an open mind, The Players Championship still can’t crack the public consciousness of joining The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship in being considered a major championship.

The Players will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2024 so it’s had time. And the fact that it still isn’t widely recognized as a major has more to do with how entrenched the other four are.

Attitudes and history can change. When Bobby Jones was considered the best golf in the world in the 1920s and 1930s, he won 13 major championships. However, at the time, the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur were considered majors, along with the U.S. Open and British Open — largely because amateur golf was considered a higher level of competition since the professional game hadn’t yet blossomed and the Masters and the Augusta National Golf Club were still unrealized dreams by their founder — Jones.

Six of Jones’ majors were amateur events, five U.S, Opens and one British Open. And in 1930, when he won all four in one year, New York sportswriter George Trevor termed the feat, “the impregnable quadrilateral.”

Respect for Jones was so universal that gradually the Masters came to be thought of as a major, and when professionals such as Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson got into the prime of their careers, the PGA Championship also became more elevated.

Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus solidify the majors

The final piece of the puzzle in why the current four are accepted as majors was Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, whose powerful style of golf and charisma captured fans’ imagination. They especially cemented the Masters as perhaps the top dog of the grand slam events when they combined to win 10 times at Augusta.

Fast forward to the Tiger Woods Era. He had a poster of Jack Nicklaus on his wall at home as a young boy, with a list of Nicklaus’ 18 major championships. Woods dreamed of getting to that goal and he has 15, winning his last at the 2019 Masters — his fifth green jacket.

Woods followed the same script that Nicklaus and Palmer did: save his best for the majors, which only further served to keep their status at the top of the worldwide tournament food chain intact.

Majors history goes back nearly 160 years

Obviously, the majors have a rich history. The British Open is the oldest golf tournament in the world, having started in 1863. The U.S. Open launched in 1895, the PGA in 1916 and the Masters in 1934.

But the history of the world’s two main amateur events can’t be left in a dusty book. The U.S. Amateur began the same year as the U.S. Open and the British Amateur in 1885. Let’s just call them the amateur majors, which is both historically accurate and relevant to the modern game.

The history of those events also involves First Coast and South Georgia natives and those who have lived in the areas on a long-term basis. Six of those men have combined to win the four professional majors nine times. Six more have combined to win the amateur majors 11 times.

Here’s the roll call of players considered “local” to TPC Sawgrass and Ponte Vedra Beach who have won those 20 majors, listed on a chronological basis of when they won their first or only major:

PROFESSIONAL CHAMPIONS: Davis Love III

Davis Love III celebrates after winning the PGA Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., Sunday, August 17, 1997. Love finished at -11 through four rounds.

Local connection: Has lived in St. Simons Island, Ga., (less than two hours from Sawgrass) since he was 14 years old.

Major title: 1997 PGA Championship, Winged Foot Golf Club.

What happened: Love began with a first-round 66, slipped into a tie for second after his only round in the 70s the next day, then shot 66-66 on the weekend to turn aside Justin Leonard by five shots. Only one other player, Jeff Maggert at 4-under, finished within 10 shots of Love, who in the previous two years had suffered huge disappointments in not being able to close out the 1995 Masters and the 1996 U.S. Open.

Sports analytics expert Bill Barnwell rated Love’s victory as the second most dominant win of the modern era of golf (since 1960), only behind Tiger Woods’ 15-shot triumph at the 2000 U.S. Open.

Vijay Singh

Vijay Singh Masters
Vijay Singh Masters

Vijay Singh is presented with the green jacket by Jose Maria Olazabal after winning the 2000 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club. Photo by Chris Smith/Getty Images

Local connection: Ponte Vedra Beach resident.

Major titles: 1998 PGA at Sahalee, 2000 Masters, 2004 PGA at Whistling Straits.

What happened: Singh outdueled Steve Stricker to win his first major at Sahalee, near Seattle. At Augusta National two years later, Singh and the rest of the field contended with weather delays but he shot 70-69 on the weekend and finished stop a stout leaderboard. He beat Ernie Els by three shots, David Duval by four and Woods by six.

Singh had to go overtime to win his third major at the course near Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. He led by one shot entering the final round and then shot 76. But with the wind whipping off the lake and the course playing difficult, that was good enough to get into a playoff with Leonard and Chris DiMarco. Singh made his first two birdies to start the three-hole playoff and Leonard and DiMarco never recovered.

David Duval

David Duval kisses the claret jug after winning the British Open Golf Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s golf course in England in this July 22, 2001 photo.

Local connection: Jacksonville native.

Major title: 2001 British Open, Royal Lytham and St. Annes.

What happened: Duval had chances to win the 1998, 2000 and 2001 Masters and the 1999 U.S. Open, and had to go across the pond to score his only major title.

He made a huge move in the third round with a 65, coming from seven strokes off the lead, and went into the final round in a four-way tie with past Masters champions Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam, and Alex Cejka. But Duval posted a 67 and beat four players by three shots to bring the Claret Jug back to Jacksonville.

Jim Furyk

Jim Furyk reacts after saving par on the second hole during the final round of the 103rd U.S. Open at the Olympia Fields Country Club on Sunday, June 15, 2003, in Olympia Fields, Ill.

Local connection: Jacksonville resident.

Major title: 2003 U.S. Open, Olympia Fields.

What happened: Despite a final-round score of 2-over 72, Furyk tied the U.S. Open record at the time for an overall score with a 272 (8-under), which wasn’t broken until Rory McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional. Furyk surged into contention with a second-round 66 and won by three shots over Stephen Leaney of Australia. No other player was within seven shots.

Zach Johnson

Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson
Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson

Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson at the 2007 Masters.

Local connection: St. Simons Island, Ga. resident.

Major titles: 2007 Masters, 2015 British Open at St. Andrews.

What happened: Johnson won at Augusta National when conditions were at their most difficult in a half-century. He closed with a 69 in windy and frigid conditions to win at 1-over 289, the highest score by a Masters champion since 1956. He executed a deft up-and-down from in front of the 18th green to finish two shots ahead of Woods, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini.

At St. Andrews, Johnson won a four-hole playoff by one shot against Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman. He birdied the 18th hole to get into the playoff, then birdied the first two holes of the aggregate playoff. Johnson became only the sixth player to win at Augusta National and St. Andrews. It also denied Jordan Spieth, who had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, the chance at a grand slam.

Cameron Smith

2022 Open Championship
2022 Open Championship

Cameron Smith celebrates after winning the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews Old Course. (Photo: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)

Local connection: Ponte Vedra Beach resident.

Major title: 2022 British Open.

What happened: Four months after winning The Players Championship, Smith fired a second-round 64, lost his lead with a 73 in the third round, then threw another 64 on the board at St. Andrews to win a battle of Camerons. His 20-under 268 topped Cameron Young by one shot and tied the major championship record for score in relation to par. It also was the lowest final-round score for a winner in an Open at St. Andrews.

AMATEUR CHAMPIONS: Billy Maxwell

Billy Maxwell
Billy Maxwell

Billy Maxwell in the 1987 Senior Players Championship at the Sawgrass Country Club. (Photo: Times-Union File)

Local connection: Jacksonville resident, passed away in 2021.

Major title: 1951 U.S. Amateur, Saucon Valley.

What happened: Maxwell was part of the most successful NCAA golf team in history, North Texas State, which won four national championships in a row from 1949-52. He made the top 16 in the 1950 U.S. Amateur, then won it the next year at the Bethlehem, Pa., course with a 4 and 3 victory in the championship match over Joe Gagliardi — who later became a New York State Supreme Court justice. Maxwell won his semifinal match against J.C. Benson 10 and 9.

Deane Beman

Members of the U.S. Walker Cup team stand together after their practice at Muirfield, Scotland, May 9, 1959. From left are, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Joe Patton, Deane Beman, Tommy Aaron, Ward Wettlaufer, Frank Taylor and Harvie Ward.

Local connection: Ponte Vedra Beach resident.

Major titles: 1959 British Amateur, Royal St. George’s; 1960 U.S. Amateur, St. Louis Country Club; 1963 U.S. Amateur, Wakonda Club.

What happened: Beman, who later won four PGA Tour events and then became the Tour commissioner, dominated amateur golf for a five-year period, highlighted by those three victories.

He started his run by beating William Hyndman 3 and 2 in the British Amateur to become the youngest American winner of that event ever. A year later he beat Bob Gardner 6 and 4 to win his first U.S. Amateur — after dispatching Hyndman in 19 holes in the quarterfinals on a 15-foot birdie putt — and in 1963 he downed two-time U.S. Public Links champion R.H. Sikes 2 and 1.

Beman, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, finished his amateur career with a 24-4 record in U.S. Amateurs and a 7-2-2 record in the Walker Cup.

Bob Dickson

Bob Dickson shoots out of a sand trap during the Ford Senior Players Championship at TPC at Michigan in Dearborn, Michigan. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport

Local connection: Ponte Vedra Beach resident.

Major titles: 1967 U.S. Amateur, Broadmoor; 1967 British Amateur, Formby.

What happened: Two years after finishing second to Bob Murphy at Southern Hills by one shot, Dickson defeated Vinny Giles by three at the Colorado club to win at 3-under 285 during the U.S. Amateur’s eight-year stroke-play era.

Three months before that, Dickson defeated Ron Cerrudo 2 and 1 at Formby, a links course in Liverpool, England, for his British Amateur title. He is the last player to win both amateur titles in the same year and one of only three to do that in history.

Steve Melnyk

A 22-year-old Steve Melnyk points to the scoring standard that tells the story of the 1969 U.S. Amateur at Oakmont. [Provided by the Florida State Golf Association]

Local connection: Brunswick, Georgia, native, Jacksonville resident.

Major titles: 1969 U.S. Amateur, Oakmont; 1971 British Amateur, Carnoustie.

What happened: Melnyk’s five-shot victory over Giles in 1969 was part of one of the most successful amateur seasons by anyone not named Bobby Jones. Counting five tournaments he won at the University of Florida, Melnyk won seven amateur events and finished among the top five in 12 consecutive starts.

Four years later, Melnyk defeated Jim Simons 3 and 2 to win the British Amateur, giving him victories on two of the most difficult courses on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Bubba Dickerson

Bubba Dickerson tees off the 14th hole during the first round of the 2006 Verizon Heritage Classic Thursday, April 13, 2006, at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Local connection: Jacksonville native.

Major title: 2001 U.S. Amateur, East Lake.

What happened: Dickerson was five holes down through 14 in the first 18 holes of the championship match, but clawed back and defeated Robert Hamilton 1-up. Dickerson won the last two holes to go from 1-down to 1-up. The victory capped a year in which he helped the Florida Gators win the national championship.

Doc Redman

Doc Redman poses with the trophy during the final round of match play of the 2017 U.S. Amateur at The Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, Calif. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Local connection: Ponte Vedra Beach resident

Major title: 2017 U.S. Amateur, Riviera.

What happened: In one of the most scintillating U.S. Amateur championship matches in history, Redman, a Clemson sophomore at the time, came from two holes down with two to play, and then beat Doug Ghim with a par on the 37th hole. The two players combined to shoot 9-under on the first 18 holes (Redman 66, Ghim 67 on the par-71 course in Los Angeles) but Ghim started pulling away.

But with Ghim looking at a short birdie attempt to win the championship, Redman made a 60-foot eagle putt at No. 17 to cut the lead to 1-down, then made a 10-foot birdie putt at the last to force the playoff.

 

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek