Does The Players Championship Deserve to Be Called a Major?

The Players Championship, played every year at the TPC Sawgrass with its famous island-green No. 17, is called by some golf's "unofficial fifth major."

But there are also some people who believe The Players Championship should officially be recognized as the fifth major, joining The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship as major championships.

As Phil Mickelson said in 2005, "We obviously have strong fields at the majors but, player-for-player, this is the best field we have all year, the biggest purse we have and one of the toughest tests of golf we have."

Others disagree, however. In 2003, Ernie Els said this: "The four majors are the most important. Obviously the Players Championship is our championship. The tour runs it. ... But it's not a major. Never will be."

What every member of the PGA Tour agrees on is that The Players Championship is the most important tournament outside of the four majors. And the PGA Tour itself has been pushing the idea for some time that The Players Championship deserves major status.

Has this tournament's importance grown to the point where it will become known as a major itself? Let's take a closer look.

Background on the Debate

For years, the PGA Tour has been making statements to push the idea of The Players Championship as the fifth major. Some people even used to say that The Players Championship should replace the PGA Championship as a major (although that kind of talk is much harder to find these days).

The reason the Tour and its members (the golfers) are so committed to The Players Championship is because it's their tournament. The USGA runs the U.S. Open; the R&A runs the British Open; the PGA of America runs the PGA Championship; Augusta National runs The Masters.

But the PGA Tour runs The Players Championship. "It's our tournament," you hear PGA Tour players say.

The Players Championship was born in 1974 (Jack Nicklaus won the first one), when it was known as the Tournament Players Championship, around the time the PGA Tour was breaking away from the PGA of America.

The PGA of America had always run the professional tour events. But over time, the tour players started demanding more of the PGA's attention (and more money and better conditions). The PGA created a "Tournament Players Division" to keep the tour players happy. It worked for a while, but then in the early 1970s the touring pros finally broke away completely, forming the PGA Tour organization.

And when the PGA Tour was formed as a separate organization from the PGA of America, the PGA Tour started its own tournament - The Players Championship. It was only natural for touring pros to consider it an event of great importance. And with golf's other governing bodies (plus Augusta) staging their own majors, the PGA Tour wants one, too.

What the Supporters Say

Those who believe The Players Championship deserves major championship status make the following points:

• It should be considered a major simply because it is, by acclamation, that important as a tournament.

• It's the biggest event staged by the PGA Tour. As a major, it would join majors staged by the USGA, R&A, PGA of America and Augusta National.

• The PGA Tour deserves to have it's "own" major.

• The Players Championship typically has the best field of any tournament played during the year, and it offers the biggest purse of any tournament played. The best field playing for the most money equals major championship.

• The number of and identity of the majors on the Champions Tour and LPGA Tour have changed through the years, and those tours survived the changes just fine. Adding a fifth major to the PGA Tour won't hurt anything.

• The Players Championship deserves official status as a major because increasing numbers of players, fans and media treat it as a major.

What the Detractors Say

Those who oppose the idea of officially recognizing The Players Championship as a major make the following points:

• Golf is a game of traditions, and one of the most important traditions is having four majors, not five.

• Not every tournament can be called a major. Just because there are four majors doesn't mean that the fifth-best tournament - the most important tournament outside of the four majors - deserves to be bumped up in category.

• If The Players Championship becomes the fifth major, then how long will it be before another tournament starts clamoring to be the sixth major? If there can be five majors, then why not six? Or seven or eight?

• Adding a fifth major throws out of whack all the historical stats, such as major championships won, and changes how players of today and yesterday are judged.

• If The Players Championship is a major, then how are past champions dealt with? Is the winner from 1977 or 1983 now considered a major champion? Or only those winners of the event after it has achieved "official" status as a major?

• Declaring a fifth major simply opens up too many cans of worms, detractors say, and tampers with time-honored traditions of golf.

Where It Stands

For years, momentum has seemed to be pushing The Players Championship in the direction of becoming a major. The PGA Tour's broadcasting partners devote more and more airtime to the event, and do the same "extras" (such as on-site studio shows) for the Players as they do for the four majors. Many PGA Tour members continue talking up the importance of the event. The Tour itself always pushes the idea (sometimes subtly) that the Players deserves major status.

The momentum seemed to be slow a bit as the decade of the 2000s turned into the 2010s. In 2011, Lee Westwood - then ranked No. 1 in the world - skipped the Players. So did fellow Top 10 player Rory McIlroy. Westwood and McIlroy were not PGA Tour members at the time, and they clearly were making a statement that given their limited PGA Tour playing options, they were not automatically choosing the Players as one of the events they most wanted to play.

But a change the tour made prior to the 2014 tournament shows the tour still pushing the Players-as-a-major idea forward: they switched from a sudden-death playoff format to a 3-hole, cumulative score format. That's a very major-y thing to do.

I believe it's not a question of "if," but "when" The Players Championship finally is called a major.