Explaining 'the Fifth Major' in Golf

"The fifth major" is an expression sometimes used by golfers, golf media, golf fans. What does it mean? The phrase has two meanings — one very specific, and also a more general usage.

In its specific usage, "the fifth major" refers to The Players Championship on the PGA Tour. In its general usage, "the fifth major" can be applied to any professional golf tournament that is not a major championship but that is considered just a smidge below that level in importance or prestige. Or, to put it another way, "the fifth major" refers to the next-most-important tournament after the four actual majors, in the estimation of the person using the phrase.

There are four major championships in men's professional golf, a number that has held steady since 1934. The PGA Tour's four majors is what makes that number — four — so closely associated with major championships.

'The 5th Major' in Men's Pro Golf

The four major championships of men's professional golf are the British Open, U.S. Open, PGA Championship and The Masters. Those four tournaments have something in common: None were founded by or are run by the PGA Tour.

In the early 1970s, the PGA Tour decided to create its own flagship tournament, one it would own and run. The Players Championship, now played every year at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, was that tournament, and it debuted in 1974.

From the very start, the PGA Tour pushed the idea that The Players Championship was "the fifth major," or that, at minimum, it was a major-championship-caliber tournament that, some day, would deserve to be called a major.

In a 1974 newspaper article published before the first Players Championship teed off, then-PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman is quoted saying, "The players are determined to make this tournament the fifth major championship." (Not everyone was buying it. Two years later, Jack Nicklaus was asked if he thought The Players was a major. "No," he replied, "but I think I'll win it anyway just in case." Then he did win it.)

Today, The Players Championship is still considered an extremely important tournament to win, a tournament just a smidge below the four established majors in importance. It is still considered the next-most-important tournament outside the majors — it is still, in other words, called "the fifth major."

'Fifth Majors' Outside the PGA Tour

Four majors is the norm in men's professional golf, but the number of major championships isn't always four elsewhere. Currently, both the LPGA Tour and Champions Tour have five majors. So the expression on those tours about the next-most-important tournament, outside of those majors, is "the sixth major."

In the early 1970s, for several years, the LPGA Tour had only two majors. In 1972, the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner's Circle tournament was created, and it was sometimes referred to as "the third major." (The Dinah Shore eventually became, officially, an LPGA major, and remains so today although under a different name.)

After the LPGA got back to four majors, there were several tournaments that were sometimes called "the fifth major." One was the Sprint Titleholders, which was played from 1990-99 and for many of those years was the richest tournament in women's golf history. Another was the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill during its initial run (2003-09), another high-dollar tournament and one of the players' favorites.

And The Evian Championship in France later had the term "the fifth major" applied to it, before, beginning in 2015, actually becoming the LPGA Tour's fifth major championship.

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