Rickie Fowler’s performance in the fourth round of The 2015 Players Championship today was definitely one for the ages. He shot six under on the final six holes and beat out Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner in a playoff, sealing the deal with a beautiful shot off the tee and a short putt on the most iconic hole on the PGA tour: the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. The sports commentators immediately started to speculate whether this might be the performance that finally launched The Players into Major Championship status, and I cringed.
The obvious argument against a fifth major is that it would dilute the significance of the other four. Four is a sort of magic number long accepted in individual sports as the amount of events that are allowed to matter most. Five would mean that no one Major Championship is as important as a Grand Slam tournament in tennis. Five would make career grand slams even more difficult to obtain. Five would forever taint the man who finally breaks Jack’s 18.
But besides that, being golf’s fifth best tournament is part of what makes The Players special. Sports history is important in golf. You get a vision in your head of how you want that history to unfold, and it gives you an emotional connection to how individual players perform. I want to see Tiger get his game back. I want to see Phil and Rory thrive. I want to see Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson claim that elusive first major before their careers dwindle to a close. I get a sense of satisfaction watching Jim Furyk and knowing that he did pull it off. Everything ties back to those four majors. Once you win, you’re in the club of legends. I mean, no one is ever going to suggest that Shaun Micheel had a better career than Colin Montgomerie, but his feels more complete in a sense.
And that’s where The Players comes in. It’s the tournament that is almost a major. It is almost complete, but something is missing. It needs more, and the right names in the winners’ circle give it more… but never quite enough. If the majors make legends, legends make The Players. It’s one of the only tournaments where the event and the player can both benefit from each other’s prestige.
Saturday night, I had all but lost interest. In terms of seeing the tournament thrive, the top 10 was a ghost town. I felt a distant glimmer of hope that Sergio Garcia could pull something off (he nearly did). Otherwise, uh, go Bill Haas I guess. Then, Rickie Fowler surged up the leaderboard in the ultimate aura of almost. A nearly major champion who should have five or six wins on tour, his biggest career highlight was his streak of not quite winning scores in majors in 2014. He won the almost major championship in style, proving that he’s just as good as we didn’t quite believe he was. And he beat Kevin Kisner, a guy most of us were rooting against because this was the last tournament we wanted a no-name to win.
Everything about the 2015 Players Championship felt really good. A tournament in eternal need of more big name winners got one. A big name in need of career highlights got one. A guy with no highlights to speak of is now on our radar without having ultimately spoiled our fun. And Fowler’s performance was thrilling to watch besides all that. It’s no wonder the announcers were all talking Major Championship status, but it is exactly why The Players needs to stay right where it is. This year serves once again to show how well The Players fulfills its role as a “to be continued” event leading into the U.S. Open. If we made them equals, we might diminish them both.