The Meaning of a Major

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A few years back the question was posed to 1991 PGA champion and 95 British Open winner John Daly: Whose career would you rather have - yours or Phil Mickelsons?
 
He answered without hesitation. And he suspects that Mickelson would answer the same.
 
Personally, I'd rather have my two majors than his 20 wins,' Daly said at the time. And I think he feels the same way.
 
Exactly. Why? Why are they so major? Can we over-emphasize their importance when evaluating a players career?
 
I dont think ENOUGH emphasis is put on the majors, frankly, said Jack Nicklaus, who holds the record with 18 professional majors won. Majors are the hardest things to win, they are the most lasting things to win, they are the most important things to win.
 
I heard (Tiger Woods) on television the other night where he said he is playing every tournament now preparing for Augusta. I mean, whats he thinking about? Same thing I did when I was his age ' I was thinking about Augusta. Thats all I thought about all year long, preparing for that first major. No, I dont think you put too much emphasis on it.
 
Ever hear Tiger say that he was trying to peak his game for Bay Hill? For that matter, how about even The Players Championship or a WGC event?
 
Seventy-three or 18? Which number pops into your mind when you hear Jack Nicklaus? Most golf fans couldnt tell you that Nicklaus won 73 PGA Tour events. Bet your bottom dollar most of those could tell you he won 18 professional majors.
 
Sam Snead won 83 tour titles ' more than anyone else in the history of the PGA Tour. But thats not as revered a number as Jacks 18. And Snead is more famous for not winning the U.S. Open than for all the other regular tournaments he won.
 
Not winning a major can be as defining as winning one ' just ask Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer, both of who never won the PGA Championship.
 
And Phil Mickelson.
 
Whereas the name Nicklaus is synonymous with major success, the name Mickelson is the Merriam-Webster contrast.
 
Only two men (Harry Cooper with 31; Macdonald Smith, 24) have won more PGA Tour events without a major than Unfulfilled Phil.
 
Hes won 22 times on tour, could be the greatest left-handed player ever ' certainly one of the greatest amateurs of all time.
 
But when you hear his name, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?
 
Is it all of his success? Or is it his 46 major failures?
 
And more importantly: If its the latter, is that fair? Is it fair to a player of such obvious talent and accomplishment to be thought of in such a negative connotation?
 
Youve got to have a balance between the two, Mickelson said when asked the proper way to evaluate a players career.
 
(Majors) are of great importance, and consistency week in and week out is important, too. There are guys that have won two majors that havent followed it up in their career. And theres guys that havent won any majors and have won a lot of tournaments [points to himself]. That doesnt look great either. So there has to be a balance.
 
But even Mickelson knows that the scales will never be tipped in his favor until he can complement all of those Bob Hope and Greater Hartford Open titles with at least one Masters, U.S. Open, British Open or PGA Championship.
 
I think that you need to win a major to show credibility that you can play in the toughest conditions, he said.
 
Of course, different players have different levels of expectation.
 
'If you're at the level of winning majors, you judge everything by winning majors. Or if you're at a level where you're a good pro, you win a couple of tour events, that's excellent, as well,' said Padraig Harrington, who has four top-5 finishes in major championships without a win.
 
'Everybody has different standards. And once you get in the standard of majors, yes, everything is judged by it.'
 
Gary Player once said that a player can never be considered great unless he wins a major.
 
It might be difficult to classify players of Mickelsons or Colin Montgomeries ilk as anything less than great, but even their peers have a hard time pulling the trigger on that word in describing them.
 
I think a very good player, Ernie Els said with an uncomfortable smile when asked if such a player should be considered great. Its hard to answer that.
 
The word great gets thrown around pretty loosely, said 1998 Masters and British Open champion Mark OMeara, who readily admits he wouldnt even classify himself as great, and certainly agrees that winning a major doesnt automatically exempt you into the realm of Greatness.
 
To win one or two major championships, thats very, very nice. Thats a wonderful career, he said. But so, is that great and then the guy who wins 15 (tour events and no majors) isnt great? You cant really compare the two.
 
Lets say a guy wins 20 tournaments on the PGA Tour but doesnt win a major ' wouldnt you classify him as having a wonderful career? Thats pretty impressive.
 
But not great.
 
So maybe its as Jack said. Maybe we cant emphasize ENOUGH the importance of winning major championships.
 
From Ben Hogan to Ben Curtis, weve all ' all of us ' always been told that the majors matter the most.
 
The reasons?
 
They only come around ever-so-often: The hardest thing about them is theres only four a year, said 1997 PGA champion Davis Love III.
 
They are contested under the most emotional duress: You have to overcome a lot of mental gremlins, if you want to put it that way, to win a major championship, said two-time PGA champion and British Open winner Nick Price.
 
They each have a history only comparable to one another: The players grow up knowing that those are the tournaments that are most watched ' the ones that people look up to the most, the guys who play the best in them, said two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen.
 
Woods centers each season ' not to mention his entire legacy ' on these four events. He is almost singularly driven by the prospect of winning majors.
 
There are a lot of tour events, but there are only four majors, Woods has said. Those are the type of tournaments that will define your career.
 
Ernie Els and Vijay Singh place their priority on completing the final two legs of the Grand Slam (winning all four majors in a career).
 
Annika Sorenstam wants only to win all four in the same season.
 
Majors (are) where the history is, and a lot of people look at somebody's career, depending on how they do in the majors, said Sorenstam, a six-time major winner on the LPGA Tour.
 
These are the modern day Great Ones. Why? Because they have won, not just one, but multiple major titles.
 
You go ask the guys, Els said, what is most important. I think they all will tell you: winning a major championship. Thats what we all want at the end of the day.
 
In talking with his peers, he couldnt be more right.
 
When a writer or reporter wants an honest answer, he or she can always ask Price the question. Hes affable, objective, rarely reserved, and tells you exactly what he believes. And when he says something, you also tend to believe it to be true.
 
And believe it when he says this: Major championships are everything.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs at mbaggs@golfchannel.com
 
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