When Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters at age 46, we know it was for his sixth green jacket. What we don't know -- or at least can't seem to agree upon -- is whether the win was Nicklaus' 18th or 20th in a major championship. *
The gray area has to do with whether you count Nicklaus' two wins in the U.S. Amateur as a major, an argument that has even greater relevance these days since Tiger Woods has three U.S. Am wins of his own (putting his career major total at either 14 or 17 depending on your definition). *
So should the Amateur be considered a major, counting as much as the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, or the PGA Championship? Two of our writers, Ryan Herrington and Alex Myers, square off in one of golf's great debates.*
COUNT IT AS A MAJOR
To apply the label of major championship to a golf tournament is a subjective task, but it is one that can be done using objective truths. A "major" is a tournament that has the mortar of history providing its foundation. It annually assembles the best available competitors, all of whom aspire to win the championship above most any other title. It provides a superior challenge inside the ropes, one that separates the sensational from the standard and identifies the best player for that week.
Set against these measures, the U.S. Amateur Championship wears the label of "major" quite well. For 112 years the USGA has given out the Havemeyer Trophy, longer than any U.S. organization has been naming a winner of any golf tournament. The names that appear on that hardware have defined the game for generations.
The event is taken to the country's best courses, set up under conditions as demanding as any event in the world. (I might remind you that it wasn't until the participants at the 2005 U.S. Amateur were sufficiently stymied by Merion GC did the USGA decide to bring another U.S. Open to the course). There isn't a golfer alive who is eligible to play who wouldn't accept a spot in the 310-player field and longingly hope to obtain the spoils of victory at week's end.
There is one thing that the U.S. Amateur doesn't have that the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship possess: professional golfers. Some will consider that a deficiency. For me, it's hardly a major problem.
-- Ryan Herrington
DON'T COUNT IT AS A MAJOR
Even the casual golf fan knows that Bobby Jones' "Grand Slam" in 1930 included the U.S. and British Amateurs. And while at the time those events were considered majors, guess what? Times change.
The U.S. Amateur remains a big event, but it doesn't have the prestige it once had and isn't nearly the stepping stone to a golfer's career it once was. Unlike in the days of Jones, today's amateur events, even the pinnacle of the amateur golf calendar, cannot be compared to professional tournaments due to the obvious disparity in talent. The U.S. Amateur has a terrific field of talented prospects, but it consists mainly of American golfers who aren't old enough to drink yet.
Also, today's best amateurs don't stay amateurs for long, giving them only a small window to win the event. Yet for some reason, despite the wide gap in competition, keeping amateur and professional accomplishments separate is more of a sticking point in golf than in other sports. Take basketball, where Michael Jordan's six rings with the Chicago Bulls aren't grouped with the NCAA title he won at UNC.
And if we are to include the U.S. Amateur when counting a golfer's major championships, where do we draw the line? Wouldn't the British Amateur count as well since it did for Jones? If so, then congratulations, Sergio Garcia! You have won a major!
No, let's continue to count the professional majors separately, meaning Jack Nicklaus has 18, Tiger Woods has 14, Jones has seven and Garcia (sorry!) has zero. Keeping score in this game is hard enough as is.
-- Alex Myers