Circle 2uesday: A Major Headache

What's the remedy for our lackluster commitment to a true Grand Slam?

In Circle M1nday I singled out UpShot host and Ultiworld Disc Golf publisher Charlie Eisenhood because he thinks that the tour should end with the USDGC. I disagree and wrote the following rebuttal.

“The PGA Tour doesn’t end with a major. In fact, it front-loads the season with its prestigious four: The Masters in April, the PGA Championship in May, The U.S. Open in June, and The [British] Open Championship in July. Same goes for tennis, although its Grand Slam is somewhat more spread out because it includes a tournament in the southern hemisphere: The Australian Open in January, the French Open in late May/early June, Wimbledon in late June/early July, and the U.S. Open in late August/early September. Putting a wrap on the disc golf season in early October would hurt the brand because it results in nearly five months between Elite Series competitions from October 6 through February 21.”

I want to explore this topic further. Let’s begin with a conditional statement: If we standardize a four- or five-event Grand Slam, distribute the major championships over the course of the season, and fix recurring tournament dates in the schedule, then the tour will naturally flow in and out of these championships more gracefully. After all, the majors are tour stops at their core, not the be-all end-all.

If the season ends with the USDGC, it becomes the de facto pinnacle of the sport—the end-all—and artificially boosts the prestige of this event compared to the other majors. Should we install a schedule that privileges one major over another?

To my point, a week ago I stumbled across a discussion on the disc golf subreddit that piqued my interest. Under the header “USDGC vs Worlds,” user haonrek asked, “Beginner question here…which one of these tournaments is seen as more prestigious and why?”

Amidst the various anonymous replies, Danny Lindahl, Team Dynamic Discs member and DD employee known for his YouTube tutorials, weighed in twice in favor of Worlds. Here’s the meat of what he had to say (you can read his full comments on Reddit).

“Who [says] that USDGC is more prestigious than worlds? Signature discs come from world championships. ‘1x 2x 4x’ comes from world championships. . . . You can bet that if you ask Jerm [Jeremy Koling] and Nate [Sexton] which is more prestigious they’ll say worlds. Not that they would trade their US titles for a world title, but they’ll both say worlds is a more prestigious title (sic).”

Jeez, Louise. Sure, Worlds has a 37-year pedigree, but that’s no reason to rank it higher than the USDGC. Or the United States Women’s Disc Golf Championship, for that matter.

When consulting the annals of golf and tennis — true Grand Slam sports — total majors always outweigh specific championships. I’m pretty sure that golf legend Jack Nicklaus doesn’t sign his name “3x” based on his record at the longest running major, the Open Championship (i.e. the British Open). If the pundits levied judgment based solely on this metric, six-time winner Harry Varden (1870-1937) would rank number one in the history books and the Golden Bear would tie for eleventh.

Nicklaus is considered by many to be the G.O.A.T. because he won 18 major championships: six Masters, five PGA Championships, four U.S. Opens, three Open Championships. The fact that he still holds this distinction despite ranking third in total victories behind Sam Snead and Tiger Woods speaks to the importance of this tally.

Total majors. This is how I want to talk about disc golf. It’s how Steve Brinster wants to talk about disc golf.

Ken Climo still reigns supreme as the winningest disc golfer in history with 20 major titles in the Open Division: twelve World Championships, five USDGCs, two Japan Opens, one European Open. Valarie Jenkins is second with 16, Paul McBeth third with 13, and Paige Pierce fourth with 11. These are the only four players who have won greater than ten major titles. Three players tied for fifth with seven victories: Dave Feldberg, Elaine King, and Des Reading.

We don’t talk like this because we don’t trust the younger majors. And for good reason. The lineup seems always in flux apart from the stalwarts. Even the USDGC has proven untrustworthy. Remember the lost year? In 2011, Innova scrapped the Open division in favor of a handicapped performance flight.

Since 1982, 13 tournaments have received major designation by the PDGA, including four one-off majors in the last decade, totally undermining the notion of a repeatable Grand Slam. Year-to-year, the number of majors often changes as well. There were five Open Division championships when McBeth ran the table in 2015, three in 2016, four in 2017, and three this year.1

Let’s review the slate, shall we? In order of their inception, the 13 majors include:

PDGA Professional Disc
Golf World Championships
Japan Open1991-92, 1994-95, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 201410
USDGC1999-2010, 2012-present19
European Open2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 20177
Player's Cup2007-20082
Scandinavian Open2008, 2010, 20153
PDGA Championship20111
Stockholm Discgolf Open20121
Copenhagen Open20131
European Masters2014, 20162
Aussie Open2015, 20172
Konopiště Open20181

It’s worth noting that golf and tennis codified their major slate over the course of decades:

The PGA took 74 years: The Open Championship (1860), the US Open in (1895), the PGA Championship in (1916), and the Masters in (1934).

Tennis took 38 years: Wimbledon (1884), US Open (1887), French Open (1897), and Australian Open (1922).

The LPGA has gone through four iterations of the major calendar and displays similar growing pains to the PDGA. Currently boasting five majors, three carry greater historic pedigree: The U.S. Women’s Open (1946), the LPGA Championship/Women’s PGA Championship (1955, name change in 2013), and the Nabisco Dinah Shore/Kraft Nabisco Championship/ANA Inspiration (1983, name changes in 2001 & 2013).

2019 marks the 38th iteration of Worlds, so we can’t codify our majors as expediently as tennis did, but let’s not take as long as golf.

Here’s one idea. Traverse the Atlantic in the odd years for the biennial European Open, and hop the Pacific in the even years. Reinstall the Japan Open to alternate with the Aussie Open every two years. The Japan Open clearly has the prestige-factor seeing as it ranks fourth in total iterations among the Majors, but neither it nor the Aussie Open has demonstrated true staying power. Let them share the load.

So that’s three events. For a fourth? Develop a West Coast major to be contested in late spring. Test some courses. Test some formats. Develop a ten-year plan toward this goal. At this point, it’s less about the specific details and more about establishing the basic groundwork.

Professional disc golf needs a consistent major championship lineup to regulate the tour and establish historical precedent. For those that bemoan the transition away from the World Championships of yore—those seven-round sloughs—I would argue that the Grand Slam fills this void. Viewed collectively, four majors with four rounds apiece spread over the course of four to six months yield a sixteen-round showcase on four courses and multiple continents. Dang.

It’s an exciting time to be a disc golfer. The professional landscape is changing rapidly thanks to the emergence of the Disc Golf Pro Tour. Together, the DGPT and PDGA are revolutionizing the tour via the Elite Series. Major championships should be installed as season-long benchmarks within the more robust schedule. A standardized collection of majors spread more evenly over the course of the season challenges overall consistency, whereas a back-loaded schedule like 2018 emphasizes who’s hot at that given moment.

As fans we can begin shifting our mindset away from ranking the prestige of the individual majors and emphasizing their collective worth instead. After all, a single tournament, no matter its history, cannot define greatness.2

  1. I suppose I should technically count the 2016 PDGA/WFDF Team Disc Golf World Championships, but no. Just no. 

  2. Author’s note: This column was revised to better reflect the author’s intent 10/18/18. 

  1. Patrick Aubyrn
    Patrick Aubyrn

    Patrick Aubyrn is a staff writer at Ultiworld Disc Golf and the editor of the UWDG Power Rankings. PDGA #27904. Follow him on Instagram (@patrick.aubyrn).

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