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Hickok SportsThoughts

Sports historian and author Ralph Hickok of www.hickoksports.com sometimes meanders on about current happenings in sports and sometimes looks back in languor.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

How Many Majors Are There?

An interview with Nick Faldo caught my eye just before the British Open. Faldo said that Tiger Woods might eventually break Jack Nicklaus's record for most major championships won.
Not that it's far-fetched. But Faldo's statement was reported as if it were a brand-new idea that had just occurred to someone for the first time.
Actually, a couple of years or so ago, it was almost generally accepted that Tiger would break that record. Then he played in ten majors without winning a single one, and the thought seems to have been misplaced.
Now that he's won two of three this year, the record is being discussed again. But the question arises: What is the record?
The sources I saw agreed that Nicklaus won 18 majors and that Tiger now has 10. I don't think that's correct, though.
Let's go back a few years. . . to 1930, to be exact.
That was the year Bobby Jones won the four major championships of the time: the U. S. and British Amateur and Open championships.
George Trevor of the New York Sun called it "the impregnable quadrilateral of golf." That phrase didn't catch on, though.
"Grand slam" did. Borrowed from contract bridge, it was first used by O. B. Keeler of the Atlanta Journal and quickly entered the lexicon of sports, to be used later in baseball and tennis.
Jones announced his retirement a month after completing the Grand Slam. Gradually, his feat became a golden but distant memory.
Arnold Palmer came up with the idea of a new, professional grand slam in 1960. After winning the Masters and U. S. Open, he was flying to Scotland for the British Open with Bob Drum of the Pittsburgh Press. Palmer commented that, if he were to win the British Open and the PGA, it would constitute a new, professional grand slam.
Drum wrote about that idea and it stirred quite a bit of interest, even after Palmer lost in Scotland by one stroke. And Tiger Woods has refocused attention on the Grand Slam, especially after he won all four professional majors in succession in 2000 and 2001.
Between Palmer and Woods, there was Jack Nicklaus, who made no secret of his ambition to win more major championships than Bobby Jones had. Nicklaus credited Jones with 13, including the British and U. S. Amateurs. He also counted his own two victories in the U. S. Amateur.
By that reckoning, Nicklaus won 20 major championships. And Woods, with his three consecutive wins in the U. S. Amateur added to the majors he's won as a pro, has a total of 13. So he's a little bit closer to Nicklaus's record, in my book, than most of those other sources say.