There are only two Majors

Ivan Morris

Jack Nicklaus raises his club during the 1986 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 13th, 1986 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

The Grand Slam was invented in 1960 during a casual conversation on an airplane between Arnold Palmer and the journalist, Bob Drum. The conversation between the two close pals ‘grew legs’ when they were considering Arnold’s prospects of winning the centenary Open at St. Andrews, after Arnolds’ wins in The Masters and US Open that year. But, to my way of thinking, I’m satisfied that there are only two professional golf majors: The R&A Open and the USGA Open.

The Masters is an ‘invitational’ with a limited field that is more about excitement and drama than ‘pure golf’. Augusta National co-founder and former-chairman, Clifford Roberts said as much:

“It has been proven, at least to our own satisfaction, that those who patronize the Masters, get more pleasure and excitement watching the great players make birdies than bogeys. It would be easy to set up Augusta National so that no one could break 80 on it. But, if this were done, we doubt if the players would like it. And we are certain such a policy would be unpopular with the patrons…most assuredly Mackenzie and Jones would have been disappointed if good scores by capable players had not been forthcoming.”


That doesn’t sound like a proper major to me.

The PGA Championship may, arguably’ have the best entry year-on-year because it is selected almost completely off the Official World Rankings but, really, it is ‘just another tournament’. To even attempt to classify the Olympics as a golf major is a joke.

It has been suggested that Jack Nicklaus would have won 37-majors if he had scored a mere one-quarter of a shot lower in each major round he played. Not correct! Jack may have finished in second place nineteen times but that doesn’t mean he would have won all of them if he had finished two strokes better. Jack lost five majors by one shot and seven others by two shots, which means he might have won or tied in 30-majors, if only 2-stokes better. That’s quite a difference compared to winning 37. If he won four out of seven of those possible play-offs his running total would be 27.

Whether you use the ‘quarter-shot per round theory’ or not, Nicklaus has no close rivals and, even if you were to include (R&A and USGA) amateur majors, Bob Jones would not be close enough to trouble the Nicklaus record. Bob Jones ‘won’ 7 professional (USGA, 4 and R&A, 3) majors and 6 (USGA, 5 and R&A,1) amateur majors. Jones also finished second in four US Opens; losing two of them in play-offs and another by one stroke. So, by the quarter-shot per round criteria you could say Jones ‘won’ 16-majors whereas Nicklaus sees his haul creeping up to 29.

But, then you must consider that Jones was a part-time amateur who retired at 28 having won 11 of the last 13-majors (amateur and professional) he played in. Bob Jones conceived and co-founded the Masters but he only played in it as a ceremonial golfer with the unusual status of non-amateur. Jones was never eligible to play in the PGA Championship. He won three (British) Opens; never finished second but only played in four. The first time he travelled to St. Andrews in 1921 for The Open, he famously forfeited third round in Hill Bunker (11th), Sid Mathew, author and expert in all things concerning Jones says: Bob asked his scorekeeper for his card which he tore to shreds and threw into the Eden River. He then requisitioned his driver from his caddy and drove off the 12th tee and finished the round. The next day the R&A (very strangely) allowed him to play the final round and he still would have finished second low amateur to Roger Wethered but for his inglorious withdrawal the day prior.

Tiger Woods has won 6 USGA and R&A Opens. Tiger finished second in two USGA Opens; one by one stroke and the other by two strokes so, with the help of that priceless quarter shot and conceding him victory in both, he would still be lagging far behind Nicklaus with 11-wins including the three USGA Amateurs to his credit.

Only nineteen golfers in history have won both the US Open and The Open; a mere six won both of them more than once: Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. There is no doubt, in my mind, that this is the ‘real’ pecking order.

USGA & R&A Roll of Honour: Harry Vardon 7-(USO-1900; BO-1896, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911, 1914); Bobby Jones 7-(USO-1923, 1926, 1929, 1930; BO-1926, 1927, 1930); Jack Nicklaus 7-(USO-1963, 1967, 1972, 1980; BO-1966, 1970, 1978); Walter Hagen 6-(USO-1914, 1919; BO-1922, 1924, 1928, 1929); Tom Watson 6-(USO-1982; BO-1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983); Tiger Woods 6-(USO-2000, 2002, 2008; BO-2000, 2005, 2006); Ben Hogan 5-(USO-1948, 1950, 1951, 1953; BO-1953); Gary Player 4-(USO-1965; BO-1959, 1968, 1974); Lee Trevino 4-(USO-1968, 1971; BO-1971, 1972); Ernie Els 4-(USO-1994, 1997; B.O-2002, 2012); Gene Sarazen 3-(USO-1922, 1932; BO-1932); Arnold Palmer 3-(USO-1960; BO-1961, 1962); Ted Ray 2-(USO-1920; BO-1912); Jim Barnes 2-(USO-1921; BO-1925); Tommy Armour 2-(USO-1927; BO-1931); Tony Jacklin 2-(USO-1970; BO-1969); Johnny Miller 2-(USO-1973; BO-1976); Rory McIlroy 2-(USO-2011; BO-2014); Jordan Spieth 2-(USO-2015; BO-2017);

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