Gene Sarazen won the Masters Tournament long before it was considered a major championship. First played in 1934 and originally called the Augusta National Invitation Tournament, it was years later that the event became established among the four biggest in the men’s game.
When it was finally recognized as a major championship, prior winners were decreed major champions. That included Sarazen, who won in ’35 with his famed albatross. If Sarazen’s victory wasn’t grandfathered in, he wouldn’t be one of only five players in the men's professional game to have won the career Grand Slam.
Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Inbee Park each won the Amundi Evian Championship prior to it becoming a major. How might consideration of their wins as major triumphs, like it eventually was for Sarazen, impact not only their legacy, but golf history?
Park would have the most to gain in having her Evian victory considered a major. Her win came in 2012, the year prior to the event assuming major status after Evian Resort Golf Club underwent an extensive (and required) renovation. When Park won in ’12, those changes were already taking place and she competed for the same $3.25 million purse that was on offer in ’13.
The South Korean legend officially has seven majors on her resume, including in each of the four others. What’s lacking – officially – is a major win at the Evian, which would complete the Super Career Grand Slam.
Webb won in Evian in 2006, when it was a regular co-sanctioned event on the LET and LPGA. The World Golf Hall of Fame member has won five different majors, having also claimed the no-longer-considered du Maurier Classic. Should her win in France count as a major as well, the Aussie would have an unprecedented six different major titles.
Sorenstam twice won twice in France, in 2000 and 2002. If those two victories counted as majors, the Swede would leapfrog Louise Suggs and move to third in all-time major victories with 12, behind only Patty Berg (15) and Mickey Wright (13).
Helen Alfredsson won the Evian three times, Ai Miyazato twice, and Juli Inkster once, as well. What would those unrealized majors mean to their legacies?
The Amundi Evian Championship has often been considered the outlier among the LPGA Tour’s other, more long-established major championships. Without a storied venue or the beloved traditions that have come to define the other four majors, the fifth major has struggled to find its identity within the women’s game. Thursday, the Tour’s youngest major celebrates just its ninth edition, but there is a rich history with the overall event.
The championship’s website touts “almost 30 years of history,” but it doesn’t call out the victorious players of the past. Instead, if focuses on the handful of champions since the tournament was deemed a major.
The LPGA’s other four majors – the Chevron Championship, U.S. Women’s Open, KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the AIG Women’s Open – combine for more than two centuries' worth of women’s golf history. The Amundi Evian’s nine-year past dwarfs in comparison. And unnecessarily. Celebrating what happened before 2013 would be nothing but beneficial.
Between 1994-99, the Evian Masters, as it was originally known, was staged on the Ladies European Tour. It became co-sanctioned with LPGA in 2000 and for 12 years the event hosted a limited field of the top players from both tours. Reportedly, the tournament organizers spent years negotiating to become a major and when Mike Whan became LPGA commissioner, he made that a reality. Amundi was added as title sponsor in 2021.
Just as Evian winners prior to it receiving major status aren’t recognized as major champions, the same practice holds for the AIG Women’s Open. It was held for 19 years on the LET and LPGA Tour before being considered a major in 2001. The Women’s British Open, as it was originally known, still uses its website to recognize winners of its championship dating back to the first playing in 1976.
The LPGA and its players have celebrated the strides made by the Amundi Evian to grow into its role as the fifth major. Tournament organizers have shown their commitment to being one of the biggest events in the women’s game by making extensive changes to increase the course's challenge and upped its purse to $6.5 million, which ranks fourth among the five majors.
But the Amundi Evian Championship also has a strong history that should be celebrated – first and foremost by the event itself. The winners prior to 2013 may never be considered major champs, but they should be celebrated as Evian champions. This would help give the championship a deeper identity among the game’s elite events, and a chance to celebrate the women whose victories helped elevate the event to the major status it enjoys today.