What Is the Grand Slam in Golf?

Bobby Jones cropped from Goudey trading card

When golfers refer to the "grand slam," they are talking about winning all of the professional major championships in a single calendar year. But the meaning of "grand slam" has changed in the course of golf history, and there are other permutations of the term, too.

When 'Grand Slam' Entered the Golf Lexicon

The golf meaning of grand slam traces it origins to the first third of the 1900s. The British Open was established in 1865 and the U.S. Open in 1895. There wasn't another professional major until 1916, when the PGA Championship started, and The Masters didn't join the golf world until 1934. (Those are the four professional majors that make up the grand slam today.)

But the concept of "major championships," and their identities as the four pro majors, took a while longer to coalesce. In the early 1900s, the amateur championships — the British Amateur and U.S. Amateur — were huge events, on par with the British and U.S. opens.

When Bobby Jones (pictured above) won the British Open, British Amateur, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur championships in 1930, those were considered by most observers the four biggest tournaments in golf. The Masters didn't even exist yet, and the PGA Championship hadn't yet gained the importance it has today.

As Jones was chasing that feat (winning the two national opens and two national amateurs) in 1930, a sportswriter dubbed those four tournaments "the impregnable quadrilateral." It had never been done before.

But Bobby Jones did it in 1930, and soon his achievement was being referred to as "the grand slam of golf." No golfer other than Jones ever won those four tournaments in the same year. And even after the identity of the grand slam tournaments changed (see below), no golfer has done it since. Jones stands alone as the only single-season grand slam winner in men's golf history.

How Arnold Palmer Established the Modern Meaning of 'Grand Slam'

Today, we define the grand slam of golf as winning all the professional major championships in a single season. In men's golf, which is where the term originated and where the grand slam is best-known, that means The Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship.

Those four tournaments making up the grand slam is something that didn't become established firmly established until 1960. And Arnold Palmer played a big role in that.

Palmer was on fire at the start of that PGA Tour season, which included winning the 1960 Masters in April and the 1960 U.S. Open in June. Next up was the British Open, which, to that point, Palmer had never played. But he entered this time, and when asked by reporters why, he replied that he was chasing the grand slam. He wanted to win all four majors in the same year. He had won the first two, now he was chasing the next two: the British Open and PGA Championship. An article under Palmer's byline even appeared in Life magazine explaining that rationale. It was a big deal at the time that Palmer was going to Britain in pursuit of the grand slam (at a time when it was very unusual for American golfers to play the British Open — or for British golfers to play the U.S. Open).

And that is what finally, firmly established the definition of grand slam as what we know today: winning The Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship in the same year.

Palmer didn't do it. He finished second in that 1960 British Open. Nobody else has ever done it in men's golf either, and only Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods have managed to win three of the men's majors in the same year.

Grand Slams in Women's, Senior Golf

The LPGA Tour has its own grand slam, and so does the Champions Tour. In both cases, those tours today have five major championships. So any golfer who wants to win an LPGA or Champions Tour grand slam has to win five majors in the same year. No golfer has done that on either tour.

The number of majors on the LPGA Tour has changed multiple times over the years, however. At different times there have been only two majors in a year, three, four or five on the LPGA Tour. And two LPGA golfers have won all the majors played in a given year: Babe Didrikson Zaharias won all three LPGA majors in 1950, and Sandra Haynie won the only two LPGA majors played in 1974.

On the LPGA Tour, the five majors that make up the grand slam today are the ANA Inspiration, U.S. Women's Open, Women's PGA Championship, The Evian Championship and the Women's British Open.

The senior grand slam is currently comprised of these five majors: The Tradition, Senior PGA Championship, Senior Players Championship, U.S. Senior Open and Senior British Open.

Other Types of Grand Slams in Golf

What we've talked about so far is what is also sometimes called the "single-season grand slam": winning all the majors in a single year. And, as we've seen, it's incredibly rare. So rare that no PGA Tour golfer has managed to do it under its current definition (winning the professional majors).

But there's also the "career grand slam," which means winning all those majors over the course of a full career, as opposed to all in one year. That's easier to do, but is still a rare achievement.

And then there is the "Tiger slam," named after Tiger Woods, of course. In the year 2000, after finishing fifth in The Masters, Woods then won the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. Then he won the first major of the following year, the 2001 Masters. That meant he held all four major championship titles simultaneously. It wasn't a single-season grand slam, but it was something no other golfer had ever done. And it has come to be called the Tiger slam.

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