By Bob Harig
Special to
Monday, April 2

This is a question that never before required an answer. It was ludicrous to think that any golfer could win four consecutive major championships, same year or otherwise. The stuff of dreams, not deliberations.

 Tiger Woods
No sweat: Tiger Woods must win The Masters if the debate is to continue.
Now, of course, there is reason for debate. Is it a Grand Slam if a player wins four straight major championships, but not in the same year? There is nothing in the golf annals, no rule written in the record books, no decree from golf's governing bodies.

Never has a player won The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship in the same season.

In fact, only five players -- Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods -- have won them all, period.

Woods this week will arrive at Augusta National Golf Club with the eyes of the golf world upon him. When he tees off in the 65th Masters on Thursday, Woods will be attempting to win his fourth consecutive major championship.

He already made history last year by joining Hogan as the only players in the modern era to win three majors in the same year. And no sooner had Woods won the PGA Championship in dramatic fashion with a playoff victory over Bob May, the questions started.

"Tiger, will you consider it a Grand Slam if you win the Masters in April?"

Woods said yes. And a lively debate has ensued.

When asked about the scenario a few weeks ago, Arnold Palmer practically came out of his chair.

"That is ridiculous," said Palmer, 71, who along with Nicklaus is the only player in the past 40 years to claim The Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. "If he wins it, he's starting a new one. It's not a continuation of last year. That takes the fun out of it. That takes away the kick out of winning the Grand Slam.

"What you're saying is that (Bobby) Jones, if he had won the British Open, the British Amateur and the U.S. Open and then a year later won the U.S. Amateur, then that would be the Grand Slam. And that's not the case."

And that's where this whole Slam thing got started. Jones, the great amateur golfer who founded Augusta National and The Masters, won all four of what were then considered to be the game's major championships in 1930: the U.S. Amateur and Open, along with the British Amateur and Open.

Jones was the game's ultimate major player. Of the 21 majors he entered from 1923 through 1930, he won 13, lost two in playoffs and finished second two other times. He confided in no one his plan to try and capture all four majors in a single season except writer O.B. Keeler, who came up with the Grand Slam term from bridge, the card game, where sweeping seven tricks is considered a grand slam.

The golf Slam was completed at the Merion Cricket Club, where Jones won the U.S. Amateur and then retired from competitive golf. The feat was never again matched, the idea of a Slam was never broached again for 30 years.

When Hogan captured The Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in 1953, no talk of a Slam existed. Then, qualifying for the British Open overlapped with the PGA Championship. It would have been impossible to play in all four, let alone win them.

It wasn't until Palmer won The Masters and U.S. Open in 1960 that the idea of a "new" Slam emerged. Somewhere on the way to the British Open at St. Andrews, Palmer and golf writer Bob Drum of the Pittsburgh Press discussed what it would mean if Palmer won the Open Championship and later captured the PGA.

"I said, 'Wouldn't this be unique to have a Grand Slam of Golf?' And Bob wrote about it and it's gone on from there," Palmer said. "That's how it really got to be what we know now as the modern Grand Slam."

Palmer lost that British Open by one shot. "But in the ensuing years when I won The Masters (1962 and 1964), there was no question about the fact that it was in the back of my head all the time."

No player again won The Masters and U.S. Open in the same year until Nicklaus in 1972. Like Palmer, he failed at the British Open by a single shot.

"I am sure there was pressure, but I felt fairly confident going over there and playing," Nicklaus, 61, recalled. "That's part of the deal. I always liked that. I was the only one that could win (all four)."

An interesting sidenote: Due to a scheduling quirk, Nicklaus actually held three majors at the same time. He won the 1971 PGA when it was played in February, so he went to the 1972 Open at Muirfield with a chance to claim all four trophies. "Nobody ever brought it up," Nicklaus said.

For all his greatness, however, Nicklaus had difficulty overcoming disappointment at Augusta. If he didn't win, it was a huge letdown. The idea of capturing a Grand Slam was clearly on his mind.

"That is what I thought about every year, that was my whole goal," Nicklaus said. "And I hurt myself several times if I didn't win Augusta; my year was shot. I just didn't even want to play the rest of the year. I finally started kicking myself in the rear end, I said that is sort of stupid."

Nicklaus won The Masters in 1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975 and 1986, but other than 1972, was never much of a threat to capture the Grand Slam. In fact, Nicklaus won 18 major titles, but two in the same season only five times (1963, 1966, 1972, 1975 and 1980).

As for Woods, Nicklaus said: "I don't think I am the guy to determine that. Grand Slam is winning all four of them in one year. What is your year, calender or fiscal? It would be pretty special whatever it is."

Said Sam Snead, 88: "If he wins Augusta, I guess he can't say he's won all four in one year, can he? It has to be in the same year. It's simple. At least I would think so. But here's something he can say: 'Well, I've got all four at the same time.' That's not too bad, is it?"

That's exactly what Woods has been saying.

"There's two thoughts: obviously, one is you've got to do it in the calender year, which I'm not going to deny," Woods said. "It's harder to do because you have to win The Masters to start off with.

"Or you can get hot during the summer, which I did and continue, and then turn it on in the spring. Hopefully, if I win The Masters, it will be considered the Slam. And in my estimation, it would be, because I would hold all four at the same time."

How inconceivable is this? Nick Price in 1994 was the last player to win consecutive majors when he captured the British Open and PGA Championship. Before that, it was Tom Watson in 1982 at the U.S. Open and British Open. Greg Norman led all four majors through 54 holes in 1986, but came away with only the British Open.

"I truly believe a Slam is possible," Norman said. "Guys win four tournaments in a year, why couldn't it be the four majors?"

Norman believes if Woods win The Masters, it should be considered a Slam. "Absolutely."

So does Price. "You have all four trophies in your hand at the same time, that's good enough to be a Grand Slam. To the purists, it isn't. But I'd take it."

Woods knows he must first win the tournament, one he first captured in 1997. Then the debate can really rage.

"It would be a great problem to have," he said.

Bob Harig, who covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, writes a column every Tuesday for HELP | ADVERTISER INFO | CONTACT US | TOOLS | SITE MAP
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