The men's major golf championships, commonly known as the Major Championships, and often referred to simply as the majors, are the four most prestigious annual tournaments in professional golf. In order of play date, they are:
- United States
- United Kingdom Ireland
- Distinctive characteristics of majors
- Major championship winners
- Major champions by nationality
- Scoring records aggregate
- Scoring records to par
- Single round records
- Player of the Year in major championships
- Consecutive victories at a major championship
- Wire to wire major victories
- Top ten finishes in all four modern majors in one season
- Masters and US Open
- Masters and Open Championship
- Masters and PGA Championship
- US Open and Open Championship
- US Open and PGA Championship
- Open Championship and PGA Championship
- Most runner up finishes in major championships
- Players with most runner up finishes but no major victories
Alongside the biennial Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team competitions, the majors are golf's marquee events. Elite players from all over the world participate in them, and the reputations of the greatest players in golf history are largely based on the number and variety of major championship victories they accumulate. The top prizes are not actually the largest in golf, being surpassed by The Players Championship, three of the four World Golf Championships events (the HSBC Champions, promoted to WGC status in 2009, has a top prize comparable to that of the majors), and some other invitational events. However, winning a major boosts a player's career far more than winning any other tournament. If he is already a leading player, he will probably receive large bonuses from his sponsors and may be able to negotiate better contracts. If he is an unknown, he will immediately be signed up. Perhaps more importantly, he will receive an exemption from the need to annually re-qualify for a tour card on his home tour, thus giving a tournament golfer some security in an unstable profession. Currently, the PGA Tour gives a five-year exemption to all major winners, while the European Tour gives a seven-year exemption.
Three of the four majors take place in the United States. The Masters is played at the same course, Augusta National Golf Club, every year, while the other three rotate courses (the Open Championship, however, is always played on a links course). Each of the majors has a distinct history, and they are run by four different golf organizations, but their special status is recognized worldwide. Major championship winners receive the maximum possible allocation of 100 points from the Official World Golf Ranking, which is endorsed by all of the main tours, and major championship prize money is official on the three richest regular (i.e. under-50) golf tours, the PGA Tour, European Tour and Japan Golf Tour.
Although the majors are considered prestigious due to their history and traditions, there are still other non-"major" tournaments which prominently feature top players competing for purses meeting or exceeding those of the four traditional majors, such as the World Golf Championships, the European Tour's DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, and the PGA Tour's Players Championship. As The Players has the largest prize fund of any golf event, and is promoted as the tour's flagship tournament, it is frequently considered to be an unofficial "fifth major" by players and critics. After the announcement that the Evian Masters would be recognized as the fifth women's major by the LPGA Tour, players shared objections to the concept of having a fifth men's major, owing to the long-standing traditions that the existing four have established.
The majors originally consisted of two British tournaments, The Open Championship and The Amateur Championship, and two American tournaments, the U.S. Open and the U.S. Amateur. With the introduction of the Masters Tournament in 1934, and the rise of professional golf in the late 1940s and 1950s, the term "major championships" eventually came to describe the Masters, the U.S. Open, the Open Championship, and the PGA Championship. It is difficult to determine when the definition changed to include the current four tournaments, although many trace it to Arnold Palmer's 1960 season. After winning the Masters and the U.S. Open to start the season, he remarked that if he could win the Open Championship and PGA Championship to finish the season, he would complete "a grand slam of his own" to rival Bobby Jones's 1930 feat. Until that time, many U.S. players such as Byron Nelson also considered the Western Open and the North and South Open as two of golf's "majors," and the British PGA Matchplay Championship was as important to British and Commonwealth professionals as the PGA Championship was to Americans.
During the 1950s, the short-lived World Championship of Golf was viewed as a "major" by its competitors, as its first prize was worth almost ten times any other event in the game, and it was the first event whose finale was televised live on U.S. television. The oldest of the majors is The Open Championship, commonly referred to as the "British Open" outside the United Kingdom. Dominated by American champions in the 1920s and 1930s, the comparative explosion in the riches available on the U.S. Tour from the 1940s onwards meant that the lengthy overseas trip needed to qualify and compete in the event became increasingly prohibitive for the leading American professionals. Their regular participation dwindled after the war years. Ben Hogan entered just once in 1953 and won, but never returned. Sam Snead won in 1946 but lost money on the trip (first prize was $600) and did not return until 1962.
Golf writer Dan Jenkins – often seen as the world authority on majors since he's attended more (200+) than anyone else – has noted that "the pros didn't talk much about majors back then. I think it was Herbert Warren Wind who starting using the term. He said golfers had to be judged by the major tournaments they won, but it's not like there was any set number of major tournaments."
In 1960, Arnold Palmer entered The Open Championship in an attempt to emulate Hogan's 1953 feat of winning on his first visit. Though a runner-up by a stroke in his first attempt, Palmer returned and won the next two in 1961 and 1962. Scheduling difficulties persisted with the PGA Championship, but more Americans began competing in the 1960s, restoring the event's prestige (and with it the prize money that once again made it an attractive prospect to other American pros). The advent of transatlantic jet travel helped to boost American participation in The Open. A discussion between Palmer and Pittsburgh golf writer Bob Drum led to the concept of the modern Grand Slam of Golf.
As none of the majors fall under the direct jurisdiction of tours, broadcast rights for these events are negotiated separately with each sanctioning body. All four majors have been broadcast at some point by one of the "big three" networks—all of whom are currently or have previously been PGA Tour broadcast partners. In 2015, CBS was the only big three network that held third and fourth round rights to one or more majors, as the remainder, along with early round coverage of all four, were held either by Fox or cable networks.
The Masters has been televised by CBS since 1956. Beginning in 1966, ABC obtained the broadcast rights for the other three majors and held them for a quarter century. The PGA Championship moved to CBS in 1991 and the U.S. Open returned to NBC in 1995.
ABC retained The Open Championship as its sole major, but moved its live coverage on the weekend to sister cable network ESPN in 2010. In June 2015, it was announced that NBC and Golf Channel would acquire rights to the Open Championship under a 12-year deal. While the NBC deal was originally to take effect in 2017, ESPN chose to opt out of its final year of Open rights, so the NBC contract took effect beginning in 2016 instead.
The Masters operates under one-year contracts; CBS has been the main TV partner every year since 1956, with ESPN televising the first and second rounds beginning in 2008, replacing USA Network, which had shown the event since the early 1980s. As of 2015, Fox Sports holds broadcast rights to the U.S. Open and other USGA events, replacing NBC and ESPN, with Fox Sports 1 as the primary pay TV outlet. CBS and Turner Sports hold rights to the PGA Championship, with TNT handling early round and weekend morning coverage, and CBS airing weekend afternoon coverage. Their respective contracts with the PGA of America run through 2019.
United Kingdom & Ireland
In the United Kingdom, the BBC used to be the exclusive TV home of the Masters Tournament and the Open Championship, however from 2011 onwards Sky Sports has exclusive coverage of the first two days of the Masters, with the weekend rounds shared with the BBC. The U.S. Open, and PGA Championship are shown exclusively on Sky Sports. Beginning in 2016, Sky Sports also became the exclusive broadcaster of the Open Championship; the BBC elected to forego the final year of its contract. The BBC continues to hold rights to broadcast a nightly highlights programme.
Distinctive characteristics of majors
Because each major was developed and is run by a different organization, they each have different characteristics that set them apart. These involve the character of the courses used, the composition of the field, and other idiosyncrasies.
Major championship winners
Win number out of total wins is shown in parentheses for golfers with more than one major championship.
Major champions by nationality
The table below shows the number of major championships won by golfers from various countries. Tallies are also shown for major wins by golfers from Europe and from the "Rest of the World" (RoW), i.e. the world excluding Europe and the United States. The United States plays Europe in the Ryder Cup and an International Team representing the Rest of the World in the Presidents Cup. The table is complete through to the 2016 season. Since the establishment of The Masters in 1934, an American has won at least one major every year, with the exception of 1994.
Scoring records - aggregate
The aggregate scoring records for each major are tabulated below. Green indicates an outright record and yellow indicates a shared record.
Scoring records - to par
The scoring records to par for each major are tabulated below. Green indicates an outright record and yellow indicates a shared record.
Single round records
The single round scoring record for all four majors is 63. This has occurred 30 times by 28 golfers between 1973 and 2016. Greg Norman and Vijay Singh are the only golfers to record two rounds of 63 in the majors. Johnny Miller was the first golfer to shoot 63 in a major and was the only golfer to shoot 63 in the final round to win a major until Henrik Stenson did so as well during the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon Golf Club. The most recent golfer to shoot 63 in a major was Robert Streb at the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club.
'Player of the Year' in major championships
There is no official award presented to the player with the best overall record in the four majors, although the PGA's Player of the Year system favors performances in the major championships. Since 1984, world ranking points have been assigned to finishes in the majors, which has allowed a calculation of which player has earned the most ranking points in majors in a season – in almost every year since, one of the year's major winners has either won two of them, or has been the only player to win one and record a high finish in another (like Justin Leonard in 1997, David Duval in 2001, Lucas Glover in 2009 or Dustin Johnson in 2016), enough to finish top of such a merit table in those years. The single exception was Nick Faldo in 1988, whose finishes of 2nd, 3rd and 4th earned him more world ranking points than any of that year's champions achieved during the season.
Tables are occasionally constructed for interest showing the overall scoring records for those players who have completed all 288 holes in the majors during a season. In the 1970s, Jack Nicklaus led such a table in 1970–73, 1975 and 1979, with Gary Player leading in 1974, Raymond Floyd in 1976, and Tom Watson in 1977 and 1978. In the 1980s a notable leader was in 1987, when Ben Crenshaw was top of this compilation after finishing 4th, 4th, 4th and 7th in the four majors. In total Crenshaw took 1,140 strokes, only 12 more than the sum total of the four respective champions' scores of 1,128. Recent 'winners' of this accolade are Pádraig Harrington in 2008, Ross Fisher in 2009, Phil Mickelson in 2010, Charl Schwartzel in 2011, and Adam Scott in 2012. In 2013 Scott and fellow Australian Jason Day tied for this accolade with a cumulative score of +2. Rickie Fowler led in 2014 with −32 after top-five finishes in all four tournaments, while in 2015 Jordan Spieth led the standings by achieving the lowest all-time cumulative score in a year of −54, one shot better than the cumulative score of Tiger Woods in 2000. In 2016, Jason Day again led with -9, achieved despite not winning any of the major tournaments during the year.
Consecutive victories at a major championship
a These are consecutive because no tournaments were played in between at The Open Championship in 1871 or at the PGA Championship in 1917 and 1918.
Wire-to-wire major victories
Players who have led or been tied for the lead after each round of a major.
Top ten finishes in all four modern majors in one season
It was rare, before the early 1960s, for the leading players from around the world to have the opportunity to compete in all four of the 'modern' majors in one season, because of the different qualifying criteria used in each at the time, the costs of traveling to compete (in an era when tournament prize money was very low, and only the champion himself would earn the chance of ongoing endorsements), and on occasion even the conflicting scheduling of the Open and PGA Championships. In 1937, the U.S. Ryder Cup side all competed in The Open Championship, but of those who finished in the top ten of that event, only Ed Dudley could claim a "top ten" finish in all four of the majors in 1937, if his defeat in the last-16 round of that year's PGA Championship (then at matchplay) was considered a "joint 9th" position.
Following 1960, when Arnold Palmer's narrowly failed bid to add the Open Championship to his Masters and U.S. Open titles (and thus emulate Hogan's 1953 "triple crown") helped to establish the concept of the modern professional "Grand Slam", it has become commonplace for the leading players to be invited to, and indeed compete in, all four majors each year. Even so, those who have recorded top-ten finishes in all four, in a single year, remains a small and select group.
On 13 of the 25 occasions the feat has been achieved, the player in question did not win a major that year – indeed, three of the players (Dudley, Sanders and Barber) failed to win a major championship in their careers (although Barber would go on to win five senior majors), and García and Fowler have also yet to win one (as of the end of the 2016 season).
Masters and U.S. Open
Masters and Open Championship
Masters and PGA Championship
U.S. Open and Open Championship
U.S. Open and PGA Championship
Open Championship and PGA Championship
Note: The order in which the majors were contested was inconsistent between 1895 and 1953. Since 1954, the majors have been played in their modern order (Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship, PGA), except 1971, when the PGA was played prior to the Masters.
Most runner-up finishes in major championships
For the purposes of this section a runner-up is defined as someone who either (i) tied for the lead after 72 holes (or 36 holes in the case of the early championships) but lost the playoff or (ii) finished alone or in a tie for second place. In a few instances players have been involved in a playoff for the win or for second place prize money and have ended up taking the third prize (e.g. 1870 Open Championship, 1966 Masters Tournament). These players are still regarded as being runners-up. For match play PGA Championships up to 1957 the runner-up is the losing finalist.
Along with his record 18 major victories, Jack Nicklaus also holds the record for most runner-up finishes in major championships, with 19, including a record 7 at the Open Championship. Phil Mickelson has the second most with 11 runner-up finishes after the 2016 Open Championship, which includes a record 6 runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open, the one major he has never won. Arnold Palmer had 10 second places, including three in the major he never won, the PGA Championship. There have been three golfers with 8 runner-up finishes – Sam Snead, Greg Norman and Tom Watson. Norman shares the distinction of having lost playoffs in each of the four majors with Craig Wood (who lost the 1934 PGA final – at match play – on the second extra hole).
Players with most runner-up finishes but no major victories
a Crampton was second to Jack Nicklaus on each occasion.