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Golf’s major championships as college football rivalries

JASON GETZ/USA TODAY SPORTS

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — This weekend, golf fans across the world will turn their attention to The Players Championship. The event serves as the flagship tournament of the PGA Tour and features the strongest field in all of golf.

While the sport’s majors – The Masters, U.S. Open, The Open Championship (British Open) and PGA Championship – have more tradition, only The Players boasts 144 of the world’s best golfers, making it arguably the most difficult championship to claim.

I’m a golf fan and a college football fan, and while attending The Players, my mind began wandering on the topics of golf and college football rivalries.

Danny Willett donned the grean jacket after winning The Masters this year. In the world of golf, it doesn't get much better than that. ROB SCHUMACHER/USA TODAY SPORTS

Danny Willett donned the grean jacket after winning The Masters this year. In the world of golf, it doesn’t get much better than that. ROB SCHUMACHER/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Masters stands as the game’s standard-bearer. SEC fans likely consider the “Iron Bowl” to be college football’s equivalent to Augusta. Both are steeped in rich southern tradition. Both teams consider the game at the end of the season to represent the biggest win of the year, as would golfers who don the green jacket. Auburn and Alabama may not always have the best teams, but the rivalry’s importance trumps yearly records and is equal to golf’s greatest major: The Masters.

Similarly, it can be argued that The Masters is one of the easier tournaments to win because of the nature of its invitation system. Amateurs and former winners, yet to realize their prime or long past it, are invited. That said, no one has ever taken anything away from the greatness of The Masters or the Iron Bowl.

The U.S. Open is America’s golf tournament. It’s open to golf’s best professional players as well as anyone who can qualify through regional play. Observers of the game will be unfamiliar with many of the players in the field for this reason.

I would compare the U.S. Open to the Army-Navy game. Both are similar in that the level of competition does not equal the level of patriotism on display. Sports are cyclical, and these two events have cycled down; 60 years ago, both the U.S. Open and Army-Navy may have been the premiere events in all of sports.

To Americans, The Open Championship represents golf’s only major international tournament. The Open could be viewed as the most historical and possibly the most difficult based on course conditions and often gnarly weather. As I write this column from the east coast of central Florida, the Notre Dame-USC game might as well be an international game. The game is as historic as they come and the level of competition remains fierce, similar to the links-style golf found in the United Kingdom. The world may consider The Open Championship the world’s major golf tournament and to those outside of the SEC, Notre Dame-USC may be considered college football’s most historic rivalry.

The final major of the golf season is the PGA Championship. Similar to the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship allows members of the PGA of America to qualify for the tournament and compete with members of the PGA Tour for a chance to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy. Of golf’s official majors, the PGA Championship may boast the best field.

In college football, one game has recently stood above the others when it comes to future professionals on the field. Alabama-LSU has become a battle of future NFL employees. After the 2016 NFL Draft, LSU will claim 55 former Tigers on active rosters in the NFL, while Alabama can boast 60. The PGA Championship may be overlooked among the other majors, as the Alabama-LSU rivalry can be, but when looking strictly at the product on the field, neither take a back seat to anyone.

So which college football rivalry represents The Players Championship?

I find it to be the most entertaining golf event of the year and it features the highest purse in golf. In the SEC, the highest purse is laying claim to the SEC championship in Atlanta. For Florida and Georgia, winning the SEC always was professed to be equally as important as winning the national championship. October’s annual Cocktail Party in Jacksonville usually serves as the best test of who will win the SEC East.

To me, there is not a better week in college football better than the Florida-Georgia game. The same could be said of the week of The Players Championship. The Players is not an official major championship, and if you ask folks outside of the states of Florida and Georgia, the rivalry between the Gators and Dawgs would be unlikely to crack the top five. But when you ask those who frequent either event to name a more enjoyable week in sports, you may still be waiting for an answer when college football kicks off in four months.

Is it a coincidence that both events are held in northeast Florida? There just may be something in the water.

(You can follow Dan Hancock on Twitter @danhancock1978)

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