PINEHURST, N.C. -- When Gene Sarazen did it, well ... he didn't know he had done it.
The modern Grand Slam and its offshoot, the career Grand Slam, had yet to become part of the golf consciousness, a feat that would take some 25 years to gain acceptance and importance. So when Sarazen won the 1935 Masters -- not even called the Masters then, nor anointed as a major championship -- the idea of completing the career Grand Slam had not yet been born.
Not the case for Gary Player, who in 1965 won the U.S. Open at Bellerive in St. Louis in a playoff over Australia's Kel Nagle. The victory gave him at least one win in all four major championships -- the Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship.
"It certainly meant a great deal to me then, but it continues to grow and become more and more special as time goes on due to its rarity and the sheer accomplishment that few are able to achieve," said Player in an email. "Next year will be the 50th anniversary of my [career] Grand Slam, so that will be incredibly special.
"Isn't it something, too, that only two other golfers have achieved the Grand Slam in the 50 years since I did it at Bellerive? That alone speaks to how difficult it is to achieve."
Only five players have won all four modern majors in their career -- Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Phil Mickelson takes his shot at history this week at Pinehurst No. 2, where he will attempt to add the U.S. Open to his three Masters, one Open Championship and one PGA. He has been runner-up a record six times at the U.S. Open.
For Sarazen, the Masters was the last of his seven major titles.
Hogan, playing his only Open Championship in 1953 at Carnoustie, won the title to complete a career Grand Slam that likely did not register with him, either. That year he won the Masters and U.S. Open as well, but the PGA Championship conflicted with the Open Championship. The idea of winning all four -- or a modern Slam -- had yet to take hold. It was the last of Hogan's nine major titles.
The Grand Slam idea gained traction in 1960 when Arnold Palmer won the Masters and U.S. Open and talked of completing a modern Slam by winning the Open and the PGA. He finished second to Nagle at St. Andrews and never did win the PGA, leaving him among 11 players -- including Mickelson -- with three of the four.
"Arnold Palmer and [writer] Bob Drum at Cherry Hills in 1960 discussed the professional grand slam in one year which triggered the notion of a career Grand Slam when Arnold nor anyone else could do it," said golf historian Sid Matthew. "The press has continued to laud the career Grand Slam to assuage the failure of anyone to capture the calendar year professional grand slam."
Player, 78, who won a total of nine majors, took great pride in beating Nicklaus to the career Grand Slam.
Nicklaus, 74, for his part, didn't make much of it. He accomplished the feat for the first time in 1966 when he won the Open Championship at Muirfield. That victory was significant enough to him that he named his course in Ohio after it (Muirfield Village) and modeled the Memorial Tournament logo much like the Claret Jug.
"There wasn't much fanfare from my side or anybody else's," Nicklaus said about the career Grand Slam. "My fanfare was winning the British Open. And I never even thought much about a career Grand Slam. We were trying to win it in one year, not trying to win it in a bunch of years. But I was very proud of Muirfield, obviously, in '66."
The British Open would also be the place where his best shot at a calendar year slam came to an end. After winning the first two majors in 1972, Nicklaus finished second to Lee Trevino. Nicklaus, who won 18 majors, would go on to win each of the majors at least three times, with his last Open title at St. Andrews in 1978.
Woods has also accomplished the career Grand Slam on three occasions, first doing so when he won the Open at St. Andrews in 2000. That was the second of three consecutive major titles that year, and he added a fourth in a row in 2001 at the Masters, in what has been called the Tiger Slam.
"Winning the [career] Grand Slam was really special, especially completing it at St. Andrews," Woods said in an email. "The walk up No. 18 there, and at Augusta, is amazing. People forget how hard it is to win, and it's even tougher at a major. To win all four means a lot to me."
Mickelson has made it clear that joining the elite group is a big deal. The current set of four majors has been around for 80 years with just that small number of players making this unique part of major history.
"It does not surprise me," Player said. "There have been many great golfers who have won a number of majors, but each major championship has its own unique tests that have perhaps kept great players from triumph over all four. It takes a lot of work, but also a bit of luck.
"Like I've said before, the harder you practice, the luckier you get."