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The question of what is a Grand Slam

As the best player in the history of the game closes in on his unique date with, well, the history of the game at Augusta, much unseemly squabbling has broken out among golf’s many pedants. Will a Woods victory in the Masters constitute a true completion of a Grand Slam? It depends on your point of view.

In golf, there are three Grand Slams. Four if you count the Bobby Jones 1930-version of US Open, US Amateur, Open and Amateur that will, it is safe to assume, never be repeated until the R&A get together with the USGA to consider an application for reinstatement as an amateur from Mr TWoods. So, in real terms, there now exist three versions of golf’s "Impregnable Quadrilateral". The first no longer lives up to that outdated moniker.

Five men - Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods - have achieved the "lifetime slam", having won the Masters tournament and the US Open, Open and US PGA championships over the course of their illustrious careers.

We are on the brink of seeing a second version - four consecutive victories in major championships - if and when Woods dons his second green jacket at Augusta two weeks hence. Such a feat would be unprecedented and was, as recently as five years ago, seen as so unlikely as to be practically impossible. Such is the magnitude of Woods’ achievements over the past 12 months.

The third and last Grand Slam is five months away, at least. To win, as Jones did 71 years ago, all four majors in a calendar year - the only true slam to the ultra-purists among us - looks beyond everyone apart from you-know-who. And if he achieves it this year he will have won seven consecutive big ones, which may be beyond even his extraordinary talents.

Of course, 40-odd years ago no-one in golf was thinking about such things. Before the coming of ‘The King’ in the shape of Arnold Palmer, a Grand Slam was something you did with a door when in a foul temper. Indeed, as recently as 1953 a golfing Grand Slam was impossible. That year Hogan won three of the four - his so-called Triple Crown - but was denied the chance of the fourth by the fact that the US PGA championship and the Open at Carnoustie overlapped.

Still, looking on the bright side, the ’53 US PGA champion, Walter Burkemo, would never have become the answer to one of golf’s great trivia questions had Hogan been logistically - and physically, given his injuries in his notorious car crash - able to complete the slam that year.

That aside, the Grand Slam as we know it today evolved from a conversation between Palmer and a Pittsburgh golf reporter by the name of Bob Drum in 1960. Having won the Masters and the US Open, Palmer remarked to Drum that, "wouldn’t it be great to win the Open, come back to Akron and win the PGA? Wouldn’t it be unique to win a Grand Slam of golf?"

Most people, apart from Woods wouldn't count a Masters win as a Grand Slam. Allsport.

Drum thought so, too, and duly wrote up the story. That Palmer lost the Open at St Andrews by a stroke to Kel Nagle and, in fact, never did win the PGA, was neither here nor there. The Grand Slam was up and running.

Since then, only Nicklaus has really threatened to do the ‘impossible’, most notably in 1972, when he arrived at Muirfield for the Open as clearly the best player in the world and, just as relevantly, having already won the first two legs of the sequence. He prepared well, too, arriving a week in advance of the championship, and playing no fewer than seven practice rounds. It was little wonder that, given his long-standing affection for the course where he had made his British debut in the 1959 Walker Cup, Nicklaus was a prohibitive 9-4 favourite going into the event.

He didn’t win, of course. Courtesy of his own cautious play over the opening three rounds, and the inspired chipping of defending champion Lee Trevino, Nicklaus lost by a shot to his compatriot.

"God is a Mexican," proclaimed Trevino. "I hope Jack wins the PGA. Then I’ll be remembered as the man who stopped the Grand Slam."

Nicklaus reflected: "I’ll always believe I played Muirfield the right way, and simply did not play well enough. After all, what can I do about a guy who holes it out of bunkers and across greens?"

Three weeks later, with the year’s best sports story dead in the water-hazard, the ‘Golden Bear’ let the ‘Merry Mex’ down when he finished tied for 13th, six shots adrift of Player in the US PGA Championship. So it was seven Grand Slam shots too many for Jack, which was as close as anyone would get until last year - as a prelude to cleaning up the next three majors, Woods was six shots behind Vijay Singh at Augusta National.

Which brings us full circle. Will it be a slam for Woods if he does it? He certainly thinks so, but one who doesn’t is Palmer. Ever the traditionalist - on everything apart from new drivers, of course - the 71-year-old icon is a calendar-year man when it comes to majors.

"It would be ridiculous to call it a Grand Slam," he insisted. "No way, Jose. I think Tiger might do it one time, but it has to be in one year."

Sounds like a challenge to me. Over to you, Tiger.

 

 


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