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The Majors


In the moments after Horace Rawlins won the fi rst U.S. Open in 1895, no one pounded him on the back and said,


“Congrats on your fi rst major, old boy.” It takes time and tra- dition for a tournament to reach the rarifi ed status of a major championship, and the defi nition of what is and isn’t one has continued to change and evolve over the last century. Up un- til the early 1920s the Western Open was a bigger deal than the U.S. Open. Bobby Jones changed the perception of both tournaments; he rarely played the Western but elevated our national championship to its exalted place with four victories in eight years, beginning in 1923.


I


t was in 1930 that Jones’ victory at the Open capped what his hyperbolic


biographer O.B. Keeler called the “Impregnable Quadrilateral.” But this Grand Slam was very different than the modern ver- sion: Jones’ was also comprised of the U.S. Amateur, Brit- ish Amateur and British Open. The Masters, which Jones would create in retirement, was still four years away from its inauguration. Because of the celeb-


rity of its founder and the wondrous course he sculpted alongside Dr. Alister MacKenzie, the Masters quickly became one of golf ’s more impor- tant tournaments, with a big assist from Gene Sarazen’s famous double eagle in 1935. A tourna-


Adam Scott (opposite page) celebrates winning the 2013 Masters. Arnold Palmer (right) won the U.S. Open in 1960.


ment is often defi ned by its champions, and the Masters went to another level when Sam Snead and Ben Hogan won a combined


fi ve green jackets in


six years beginning in 1949. But when did the Masters become a majorly big deal? Maybe it was 1956, with the fi rst telecast, or maybe it was 1958, when the Masters was won by a strapping lad the camera loved, Arnold Palmer. The King’s army of


admirers really began to march in 1960, galvanized by his birdie-birdie fi nish to steal a second green jacket, and then a myth-making comeback victory at the U.S. Open two months later. By then, television and the golf addiction of Presi- dent Dwight Eisenhower were bringing more atten- tion and sponsorship money into the professional game, inspiring the best players to turn pro at an earlier age. Thus the U.S. and Brit- ish Amateurs lost much of their luster, and the idea of a career-amateur like Bobby


SUMMER 2013 / NCGA.ORG / 27


Jones became as antiquated as a mashie niblick. In the heady aftermath of Palmer’s 1960 U.S. Open victory a new idea immediately took hold: he was halfway to a modern Grand Slam, with the British Open and PGA Championship awaiting. (The PGA Championship, founded in 1916, almost immediately became a big deal because Walter Hagen


won fi ve of the fi rst ten, with Sarazen nabbing two others.) Palmer was duly inspired to make his fi rst pilgrimage to the British Open, which, fortuitously, was being played at the Old Course. Palmer dazzled the stodgy Scots with his swashbuckling style but ultimately fi nished sec- ond by a shot to Kel Nagle, what he has called the most bitter defeat in a career full of heartbreak. But the King returned to win the oldest tournament in the world in 1961 and ’62, and just like that the British Open went from an event routinely skipped by top Americans to a must-play for any pro who cared about his legacy. As it turns out, another major in 1962 is a watershed event for golf: it was at the U.S. Open that Jack Nicklaus defeated Palmer for his fi rst professional victory. Nicklaus, more than any


other player, would entrench the idea that major cham-


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