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Why majors define a player's stature

Iain Carter | 20:45 UK time, Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Sitting listening to the statesmanlike tones of Greg Norman ahead of the Masters it was hard to believe he's only won two majors in his illustrious career.

The Australian occupies an elevated place in the game that seems at odds with the number of the biggies he has managed to win.

Norman's major haul (two Opens) is the same as Lee Janzen's. He has won fewer than Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els.

But he was so dominant elsewhere and came so close in so many majors only Tiger Woods has spent more time as a world number one.

gregnorman595.jpgThis had me wondering whether we invest too much credence in the majors? Do they provide the ultimate barometer by which we should rate a player?

Of course there has to be room for shades here - this is not a black and white issue.

Has Paul Lawrie had a more successful career than Colin Montgomerie by virtue of his 1999 Open victory? Monty's major cupboard is bare but he is Britain's most prolific winner on the European tour with 31 titles.

Clearly not, but Lawrie has a trophy on his mantelpiece that his fellow Scot would dearly love to own.

In many respects Norman is defined by his near misses. "Of course I would have loved to have won the golf tournament," Norman says of the Masters.

"I didn't win but my name seems to be spoken about a lot of times when the Masters comes up, which is a good thing as much as a bad thing sometimes."

And the Great White Shark offers a fascinating take on how he dealt with blowing his six stroke lead over Nick Faldo in 1996.

"No one expected me to come in here," Norman said pointing to the interview room. "I think I took it the way I'm supposed to. It was the game of golf.

"It wasn't a great experience but you had to face the music and do what you had to do. It taught me a lot and taught a lot of players a lot about how you conduct yourself."

Norman gave one of the great press conferences after what could have been construed as a humiliating defeat at Faldo's hands.

"It's how you conduct yourself with a defeat is what makes you inside. I felt pretty darned good about myself when I left the press room. I felt like I won the golf tournament," Norman added.

Of course he didn't, but that wasn't the point. And it's one of the reasons why the 54- year-old occupies his the place he does in the game's history.

So there are other ways of measuring a player's stature. But ultimately it is the tournaments that they win that determine their place in history and those events have to be the majors.

It's why Jack Nicklaus and his 18 victories sets the target for Tiger Woods to shoot at - it's the main reason why he lets his clubs do the talking.

Not wanting to reopen the arguments put in the thread that followed yesterday's blog - but I'd like to point out that Woods is perfectly entitled to take the limited line that he does in the media centre.

Equally, it is a shame that he doesn't feel able to reveal the full extent of his wit during what amounts to the only occasions we are able to hear from arguably the world's greatest sportsman.

Anyway, I digress. Where Woods is ultimately absolutely right is in his desire to win majors and to be defined by those major victories.

And the major season is about to start. This is the moment that each and every one of the contenders here has been working towards since their invitation to play at Augusta slipped through their letter box.

They all know the rules. Win the Masters, the US Open, the Open or US PGA and you automatically elevate yourself.

If you don't you need to do pretty special stuff elsewhere - which is what Norman and Montgomerie have done.

But would they trade handfuls of victories elsewhere for individual major wins? Bet your life they would.


  • Comment number 1.

    Good points Iain, and I still believe you were spot on regarding Tiger's press relations.

  • Comment number 2.

    Ever since the GQ magazine article where it was reported about a racial joke Tiger told during a photo shoot for them ( and thyey said he was just like any college kid ) ...he went "mum" with media except for the standard bs answer. Personally, I like the fact we don't know him and there is a mystique about that. You will never hear him give a personal, thoughtful, in-detail interview like Paddy, but that's OK. People want more of Tiger...I understand, but Tiger has never really been comfortable with his fame that his talent has wrought. He is enormously wealthy with worldwide fame, but as he has said in the past...during high school and college he was a "NERD" whose nickname in school was "ERKLE" ( a nerdy character on an old TV comedy ). People forget during high school that Eldrick wore very thick corrective eye glasses and was "rail" thin. No girlfriends, didn't date,...his PGA career has seen a total physical makeover and he has had Lasiks surgery twice for his vision.

  • Comment number 3.

    It's an interesting subject and one that you could go around and around for hours.

    There is no doubting that Major's are the biggest motivators for the top pro's (especially now that so many set up there schedules totally with the Majors in mind) and in a lot of ways they are the easiest way to place a player in the history of golf, but i've always thought that too many punters see them as the only thing that matters and are quick to dismiss anyone that hasn't done well in them.

    There are a number of Major winners who would never be put in amongst the top 4 or 5 tiers of golfers (Lawrie as you mention, Hamilton, Beem, Micheel etc, etc) yet have that ultimate of golfing accolades. There are also players who have achieved a great deal in golf, and for golf, but never managed to win on that elusive week, sometimes through bottle, sometimes through bad luck, sometimes because although they played well one other top player played that little bit better. Some other golfers, like Norman, have won but seem to have a paltry return of Majors for their ability and impact on golf.

    A continual subject on the golf board is the positioning of the Majors, namely 3 out of 4 being held in America. For many players they just didn't seem to do as well in America as they did elsewhere and there are obviously a huge number of reasons for this from conditions to atmosphere to the style of golf (and no I don't just mean Monty). Of course, the other Major is the Open Championship and as much as I love this, and links golf in general, it is a bit strange that it is one of only two or so tournaments in the season that is played over links golf - it must be kind of like tennis being played on clay courts all year, then popping onto a grass court for one tournament and going straight back to clay.

    Essentially I don't believe that Majors should be seen as the be all and end all of someone's golfing achievements, but the fact is that they will always be seen as such.

  • Comment number 4.

    What you have done for the "game" over your lifetime is the most improtant criteria for the HOF. Monty has never won a major, never won a PGA tour event, but what he has done for game worldwide is impressive and guarantees his admittance in a few years. Davis Love III, has 20 PGA tour wins and 1 major but I personaaly believe that his playing record borderlines on admittance ( he'll get in), but his activities on the PGA players board for many years is equally impressive. Great teaching pro's, golf course designers, commissioners, and and others who have been instrumental in advancing and improving the game should also be eligible.

  • Comment number 5.

    Quickly on Woods, I think there is an extent to which the media is its own worst enemy. It plays a 'gotcha' game with people like Tiger Woods, and then wonders why people like that treat them with contempt. I think in part the distance that there is between the major figures of today, and the media today, as compared for instance to the situation maybe 30 or 40 years ago, is due to a breakdown in trust, to which the media is at least partly responsible.

    As for the Majors- its all about the history. Its the only way to compare players across the generations. Ben Hogan, Arnie Palmer, Tony Jacklin, Peter Thompson didn't have most the PGA tour events to play in. They did have the majors. It would be interesting to speculate on which players from 50 years ago we might have heard more of if they had the chance to play on tour in the way Greg Norman or Tom Kite did. But there is no concrete way to do that. You can point to Nick Faldo's 6 majors and make a case for him being the best modern British Golfer. You can see pictures of Niklaus and Hogan and Bobby Jones holding the claret jug and understand what that means.

    They are the be all and end all of golf. They are the events were I don't suppose many players worry about the paycheck. The glory of winning is what matters at the majors, and that is when sport is at its purest and most glorious.

  • Comment number 6.

    Monty's overall record of tournament wins plus his orders of merit constitute a far greater level of achievement than some who have won one, or even more, majors - Andy North, for example. However, majors are what define great, as opposed to very good players and that's why Norman will not be remembered as an all time great. I recall a press conference years ago when Norman was questioned on this subject & he said that "some great players haven't won any majors" and when asked to name a few, could not.

  • Comment number 7.

    Majors are clearly a massively important measure in a golfer's career but you miss out one other measure by which a golfer can elevate himself:

    The Ryder Cup

  • Comment number 8.

    6. But Norman has won two majors , so surely he should be remembered as
    a great. There are good players who've never won a major, granted.
    It would be interesting to look at those who've won both a British
    open and an American major to see if that produces a list of 'greats'
    rather than 'one-off' winners

    Having said which , a golfer who'se won a major has achieved what
    they set out to do. Ask Ian Woosnam what his 1991 win meant to him
    and his future earnings.

    An analogy is politics, PGA tour events are opinion polls.
    Majors are elections.

  • Comment number 9.

    kwiniaskagolfer takes a stand against Woods.... AGAIN. How predictable!!

  • Comment number 10.

    One of the great things about Sport, is that you can take great inspiration from players who participate.

    I've always thought "when a Man meets pressure, you meet the Man".

    The Masters is a fabulous, fabulous Golf Tournament. One that epitomises everything that Sport is about. A Sporting Showpiece. Bring it On !

  • Comment number 11.

    So many stories in this tournament, there's usually one or two but here we have tiger's comeback, the paddy slam, big phil chasing No.1 status, Rory, Player's last hurrah, Norman's return AND Sandy Lyle storming around moaning about not being Ryder Cup captain, again...

    It's a cracker before it's even started!

  • Comment number 12.

    Hmm, Sandy,' not in touch with the modern player but the only Scot playing the masters and makes the cut despite being rejected by the dubai mafia', Lyle. You see, his problem, according to European Tour mouthpiece Carter, is that he, well, just wasn't the right guy. Lets gloss over his charachter, record, etc, and focus on what a decent chap Monty is and what a obvious choice he was for Captain, because Sandy walked off at the open and wasn't really made of the right stuff and, well, whatever.As long as we stop talking about it. Focus on his negative,and what a good chap Monty is. Good with the sponsers etc.. But wait a minute. That no mark Lyle, him with the dodgey character and cold hands, can play a bit. Wait a minute further, he is playing in a b tournament that our Captain can't play in, despite him being in touch with the players and all that, because, well, hell, he is not a double major winner. Hell. What about that good chap Woosenam, or what ever. You know him that can't count his clubs, Obvious choice, him being Welsh and all that. And, hell, he has won the cup in,eh, Irealnd. Yes. Ireland. What do you mean he didn't make the cut? Bet he is really in touch with the modern player. Heck, he is pals with that good chap Botham. He knows a thing or to about beating the Colonialists. poop. He didnt make the cut too? Hell. Still that Lyle chappy. Not made of the right stuff. Walking off and all that. Poor show. Believe he stays in Scotland now, not Virgina Waters. What the hell does he think he knows about the modern game. Not in touch with the modern player, see. Now as for Monty. Obvious choice. 7 iron in hand. Winged Foot. Nappy on.Leader of men, let alone a Continent. Lyle. 7 iron in hand. Just plays about the greatest shot in the history of the game, and, bloomin hell, wins. He wins. That doest make him a winner. That doest make him in touch with the modern player. Unlike those chaps Torrance, James and Wosenam who all know what it takes to be a winner. And be a bloomin good chap, well in Surrey, anyway. Ian Carter.What a talent. Where does the BBC, find such free thinking, objective,intelligent guys like you. Guy we can turn to. To find out exactly what those bloomin good guys of the European Tour want us to know..
    Monty, the obvious choice because someone told you so..
    Lyle. The perminant stain on the conscious of modern day European golf...
    You see. It is all about communication and respect. I am talking about Carter, not Monty or Lyle. The sooner the BBC wake up and look at those who follow the game and look at who they pay to report it the better. You see, we live in a world of global communications. We can find things out ourselves and not huddle round the wireless hanging on to ever word that comes out. Ian Carter. Please. I would rather have George W. Bush reporting. Least he knows something about the game..

  • Comment number 13.

    Take it all back Ian. BBC inteview Lyle. There, that wasn't so bad. Good you mentioned Lawrie, Montogmerie(not playing again ever) but no mention of Lyle. Understandable mistake. Him being a previous winner and all that. Or should we just forget that. Please tell us....

  • Comment number 14.

    Years ago in rugby, points scored with the boot were invalid unless the team had scored at least one try. This is how it is with Major victories. Achievements elsewhere do count in establishing greatness, but only if you've won a Major. However, getting a single Major title doesn't necessarily make you a great player.

    Monty is by far the best player not to have a Major to his name, but his bottle on the biggest stage of all has been shown to be lacking. Of course, he is younger than Kenny Perry...

    By the way, thechildrensreporter, I very much enjoyed the off-topic, rambling, incoherent, one-eyed rant. I think every blog needs one.



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