News & Opinion

In adding majors, it’s best to count ’em all

Welcome to The Great Depression. That’s how I feel, anyway. We’re just dipping our toes into August and golf’s professional major season is … over!

Welcome to The Great Depression. That’s how I feel, anyway. We’re just dipping our toes into August and golf’s professional major season is … over!

I’m not ready for that. In the wake of Shane Lowry’s Shamrock Shake at the British Open in Northern Ireland, followed by back-to-back LPGA majors in France and England, I want more. And a smorgasbord of national amateur events and the FedEx Cup non-playoffs aren’t the answer.

We have seen the last of the 14 majors played on the PGA, Champions and LPGA tours in 2019. They often felt sandwiched together like a Tuesday special at Subway.

We can debate the weight and the worthiness of the LPGA and Champions tours’ designated majors another time. All right, they’ve decreed five majors each. Let’s not be politicians. We’ve got enough national squabbling. Let’s just go with it for now.

Though there are no majors left to watch, I’ll settle for reimagining the majors we already have. The U.S. women’s soccer team wants equal pay, so let’s be enlightened and level the major-championship scorekeeping playing field. Why not mix and match all of the majors on one universal list and see how the game’s greats stack up? It’s a nice break from the usual rerun: Nicklaus 18, Woods, 15.

I didn’t rewrite history for this. I simply counted all of the currently-accepted major championships, plus the Women’s British Opens that were played before the LPGA decreed it to be an official major. Ditto for the men’s Senior British Opens, which weren’t initially counted.

I also included the men’s and women’s U.S. and British Amateurs and the boys and girls U.S. and British Junior Amateurs. Why the juniors? They’re national championships and just as difficult to win as the U.S. Amateur. To not count them would be age discrimination. Hey, I don’t want to cause rioting.

I did not go back in time and discern which tournaments maybe were majors in their day, such as the Western Open in the early 20th century. Fanatic golf historians, you are free to riot about that.

This is all about fun and equal opportunity and some different totals. Here’s my Ultimate List of Major Champions, in order of total victories:

28: Jack Nicklaus. Ten more majors for the Golden Bear? Surely you didn’t forget his eight senior majors and his two U.S. Amateurs? I bet he doesn’t.

Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin
Jack Nicklaus (left), speaking with Hale Irwin and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Memorial, would have a bigger lead in major championships than golf historians thought if his senior majors and amateur national titles were included.

© GOLFFILE/BRIAN SPURLOCK (2018 FILE)
Jack Nicklaus (left), speaking with Hale Irwin and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Memorial, would have a bigger lead in major championships than golf historians thought if his senior majors and amateur national titles were included.

21: Tiger Woods. Sorry, T-Dub, but the Chase to Jack just got tougher. Yeah, you lost ground on this list, but it would’ve been worse if you hadn’t snagged three consecutive U.S. Amateurs and three consecutive U.S. Junior Ams. Heck of an effort there. You’ve still got plenty of time to pass Nicklaus. All you’ve got to do is hold your back together with baling wire and mop up a slew of senior major wins … if the senior circuit is still in business by 2026.

18: Gary Player. Nine regular majors and nine senior majors bump the energetic South African up to No. 3 on this list. Well played, sir. My next sit-up will be in your honor.

16: Patty Berg. The highest-ranking major woman gets extra credit for winning a U.S. Women’s Amateur. She also deserves extra credit for amassing 15 professional major titles in an era when there originally were only two a year.

14: Tom Watson, Mickey Wright. Aye, ’tis a sad day when the five-time British Open champion announces that he’s done playing in the U.S. and British Opens. Eight of his 14 major wins came in the U.K. Wright, owner of perhaps the best swing in history, captured 13 LPGA majors and a U.S. Junior crown.

13: Bobby Jones, Bernhard Langer, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Louise Suggs. The newest member of this fivesome might surprise you. Langer recently snagged his fourth Senior British Open, his record 11th senior major title, to add to two Masters victories and join this elite company. Jones won the U.S. Amateur five times and the British Amateur once. Suggs was a powerhouse as an amateur, winning national amateur championships on each side of the Atlantic.

12: Babe Zaharias. The Babe’s brilliant run included U.S. and British Amateur victories in 1946 and 1947, respectively, a year before Suggs matched the feat.

11: Walter Hagen. If the early Western Opens counted as official major victories (and possibly should), Hagen would have five more.

10: Juli Inkster, Hale Irwin, Annika Sorenstam, Lee Trevino. Inkster jumps higher on this roll call with three U.S. Amateur titles. Irwin, the all-time winner on the Champions Tour, tacked on seven senior majors to three U.S. Opens. Sorenstam is the winningest player in women’s golf, with 90 total international victories. Trevino won six regular majors and four more senior majors, dueling with Nicklaus on both circuits.

What about the Players Championship? It never has been accepted as a major, so it doesn’t count here, either. Although a large personal check from the PGA Tour, payable to me, could change my mind, nudge, nudge.

Counting the Players wouldn’t change the standings much except at the top. Nicklaus won it three times, and Woods won it twice.

The revised score would be Nicklaus 31, Woods 23.

I may start a players’ poll on whether the Players should count as a major on this list. I’m putting Nicklaus down for a “Yes” vote.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle