A State of the Players Championship Roundtable

Discussing a question more complex than it sounds: does the Players still matter?


It’s a big week for the PGA Tour, and the Players is the only show in town for the golf world. It’s also a strange time to be a golf fan. We broke out a roundtable discussion to try and answer the question: “Does the Players still matter as much as it used to?”

Shane Bacon: I think it still matters, especially in the long term. This whole PGA Tour-LIV separation will hopefully only be a short chapter in golf’s history. If these tours eventually figure out a way to coexist, the historical context of what the Players has been about will be maintained.

Look at who’s won the Players. Even more than the major championships, I feel that the list of champions here is a great identifier of the best golfers of that era. Going back to ’99, and you have Duval, Tiger, Scott, Phil, Sergio, Day, Rory, JT and now Scottie as champs. Outside of Ernie and Vijay never winning here, it really is a collection of champions rightfully counted as among the best of their eras.

So it still matters to the history of the game, and it matters to me as a fan. Even if the field is no longer truly the best in golf, as it once was.

Meg Adkins: The disruption in pro golf over the past few years has given the Players an identity crisis. When your tagline is “the best field in golf”, it’s not great when a competing tour wipes some of your top talent off the leaderboard. It’s even worse when the PGA Tour creates signature events with elite fields and giant paychecks as its response to the competition, severely crippling your status as the Tour’s flagship event.

This one-two punch makes this week matter less than it has in the past. While LIV snatching top talent hurts, I’d argue the Tour’s magic wand creation of signature events has done more harm to the Players. We’ve seen all the top guys together four times already this year. The Players used to be the first time the best of the best got together, which was a big part of its prestige and appeal. Despite Gold Boy’s home falling on hard times, the Players still matters. Its history, venue, and impressive list of past champions keep it in “circle it on the calendar” territory for me.

Jay Rigdon: It’s different at the moment, but it matters. It still has a true identity, thanks to decades of history at one of the best tournament courses the Tour visits every year. It might matter a bit less, and certainly the “Fifth Major?” discourse would be even more comical now than it was before. But while the Tour’s roster has been depleted, it’s not like there’s another event like this one out there usurping it. It’s in the same boat as the rest of men’s golf at the moment: you can see the bones of what it was before, but it’s just not quite as good.

That said, if we get a big-time leaderboard melee down the stretch on Sunday at one of the most compelling venues left, it’ll still be fun as hell.

You know what it is. (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

Joseph LaMagna: Yes, the Players Championship matters. For much of this calendar year, conversations have centered around division in golf and the absence of star power on leaderboards. As a firm believer that golf is at its best when played at spectacular venues, I’m eager to watch TPC Sawgrass take over as the star of the show this week. When a venue is boring, we rely on other storylines to capture our attention because the golf course can’t carry the show. Architecturally compelling and rich with history, TPC Sawgrass can carry the show.

The golf course presents difficulty and variety. The winner this week will need to step up and execute a diverse array of exacting golf shots on a big stage. That’s what I want out of championship-level golf. At a worse golf course, I’d be less enthusiastic about watching a championship that doesn’t have all of the best players in the world teeing it up at the same time. At TPC Sawgrass, though, I’m ready to see which golfer can pass the test and bring home a trophy.

Will Knights: The uniformity in the answers above adequately outlines the correct answer, which is yes, the Players Championship still matters.

HOWEVA, to play devil’s advocate, there are very bright warning signs flashing to signal that the event is heading in the wrong direction.

For one, as Shane and Meg noted, the field is undoubtedly weaker. Yeah, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm and Cameron Smith may once again be in the field at TPC Sawgrass. But they aren’t right now. We are losing prime years of some of the generation’s best talents and we will never get those back. As Jay Monahan mentioned in his presser, a deal with the PIF is going to take a while. That means there is a real chance of multiple more years in which some of the game’s best aren’t at the Players. I do think the two sides will ultimately come together, but that’s a serious concern for both the long and short term.

Another sign the event is losing momentum: the laughable conditions that have been present ever since the tournament moved back to March. The Stadium Course is still a serious test of golf, but it is so much softer and forgiving in this slot on the calendar. If you want to identify the best players and provide the best test of golf, you need firmer conditions, not overseeded ryegrass.

Does the Players Championship still matter? Yeah, but it’s currently trending down. That’s cause for concern.

This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.