Not All Heroes Wear Capes
How one golf writer/hero saved Wikipedia's list of men's major winners from extinction
One of the best resources for a golf fan or a golf writer on the internet—maybe the best?—is Wikipedia's chronological list of men's major winners. You can see that chart at the top of this page. It's a lovely creation at one of the world's most handy websites, with the four majors making up the vertical columns, and the rows populated by the yearly winners, complete with a flag next to each player's name and the total majors each won in his career. A sample, for those who don't want to click away (the "MUOP" column is the order in which the majors were played that year, which has changed over time—they truly think of everything):
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It is, in my opinion, a perfectly conceived resource, and though I don't visit it every single day, I'd say I make 20 trips per month at minimum. Granted, I spend many hours writing about golf, so I'm not exactly a representative sample of the population, but even before working for Golf Digest, I was on this site all the time as a fan, both of golf and history. Same goes for the tennis charts. It's a snapshot of history, absolutely chock-full of information but also, critically, easy to read and digest. When it comes to pure utility, nothing online comes close; this is the gold standard.
And then they tried to take it away.
This came to my attention Saturday morning, when I was trying to write a trivia question. (I can't reveal the question because it's an in-process competition, but here's another one made with the aid of the Wiki list: There are seven players who own the one and only Masters title for their home nation. With apologies to the greater U.K., Sandy Lyle (Scotland) and Ian Woosnam (Wales) are two of them. Who were the rest? Incidentally, these five one-time titles were all won after 2000.) But when I went to the list of men's major championship golfers, it was gone.
In its place was a fundamentally useless chart that listed every major winner by totals, then chronologically, in a sloppy bit of presentation that is a pain to navigate. If you want to know who won the 1984 Masters, for instance, you're completely at sea. On the other chart, it takes two seconds to figure out that it was Ben Crenshaw.
In a panic (almost literally), I searched other pages to see if it had been moved. Nothing came up. I complained bitterly on Twitter, and other fans and golf writers responded to that thread and on DMs with their own form of panic. ("Assange playing hardball now," said Digest's Stephen Hennessey, while Alex Myers offered, "omg! And I just recently (finally) donated!")
Why on earth would they take this away? None of it made sense, and flush with emotion, I concluded it had to be the work of the petty power-starved narcissists who, in my experience, account for about 85 percent of message-board moderators. I had to solve the mystery, and after a few minutes of fruitless searching, I finally landed on the "talk" page at the men's majors site. That's where moderators can discuss how they edit each page (and when I say "discuss," I mean "argue"), and here I found a section titled "Removal of Yearly Winners." The first message was from an anonymous poster who shared my frustration, and seemed to be the creator of the missing chart. He wrote:
[Name redacted] has reverted the table I added over 5 months ago. See here and here Claims I added it without consensus; consensus is not required to add content. See Wikipedia:Be bold. The table is linked to from Men's major golf championships (and is thus currently broken) and follows the style established on List of Grand Slam men's singles champions which has stood the test of time. Claims the table is "far too big and not necessary" - I disagree, this is a list of the men's major championships winning golfers - listing by year is extremely useful.
At last, I had the name of my enemy. A long discussion followed, with almost everyone agreeing that it needed to be added back somewhere. (Though a few of them obsessed about background colors that weren't standard, or something—again, classic Internet s***.) Luckily, everyone involved, including the target of my scorn, more or less agreed that the table needed to be included somewhere.
However, they didn't do a damn thing about it. Their discussion concluded on Dec. 3. It was now Dec. 11, and absolutely nothing had been done. The precious chart was still missing. At that point, not thinking calmly, I found the code from the original chart from the message above, and added it back to the article. I know almost nothing about coding, but somehow, my rudimentary copy-paste job worked. I wrote a message on the talk page, asking for them to leave it up since it was far more useful than anything else, and then asking anyone who had inside knowledge of this travesty to email me if it was taken down again so I could write about it here. (An implied threat; I'm not proud.)
Almost immediately, it was taken down again. "I've still reverted it," wrote a moderator. "This is a featured article and the table is nonconforming to the manual of style."
Clearly, this went all the way to the top. I laughed at this tweet from Joel Beall, but also, in that moment, completely believed him:
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I had one last move to play—the talk from before seemed to favor moving the chart to a different page. I found that stupid, but at least it would mean it existed somewhere. Still, there had been a week of inaction, the holidays were coming, and who knew how long we'd go before this precious resource was restored. In an attempt to force the issue, I went to "Chronological List of Men's Major Champions" and added the chart.
"At the suggestion of moderators on the List of men's major championships winning golfers page," I wrote, "I've added the far superior table of winners by year to the top of this article. There has been some discussion (pedantic, in my view, but never mind) of background colors. If changes need to be made to the colors, please leave the current version up as a resource until such changes are made."
Looking back, do I love the vaguely insulting tone I used in some of these exchanges? I don't, but I was in the middle of being sick, and the willy-nilly murder of my precious chart had me in a bad mood. One way or another, the chart was left up, and sanity was restored.
Wikipedia is a gift from the internet gods. I donate a few bucks every year, and I encourage you to do the same if you use it regularly. In the end, if anything, this is a story about how well the community works. But let's not lose sight of the most important conclusion to draw: the villains of golf internet struck a terrible blow in the dead of night, and it took the emergence of a fearless hero to defeat them in digital battle. If not for me, we might have had to wait three, perhaps even four days for the chart to return. And in that time, what would have happened if you wanted to know exactly what year Bob Goalby won the Masters? You'd have to visit a different page, perhaps two, and God knows we only have so many clicks in this life.