An abundance of championships

Arjun Atwal won the Wyndham Championship on Sunday, but what exactly does that make him the champion of?

Once upon a time, most PGA Tour events were called “Opens,” with an occasional Invitational or Tournament. The only tournaments with “Championship” in the title were actually the championship of something, like the PGA Championship.

In 1959, somebody in Houston had the bright idea of calling the former Houston Open the “Houston Classic.” It sounded a little bit more special, and soon other tournaments started calling themselves Classics, too (though Houston eventually reverted to “Open.”)

Ah, but “Championship” sounds even more special than “Classic.” The first tournament to call itself a championship without really being the championship of anything was the former Tournament of Champions, which became the Mercedes Championship in 1994. But if we give that tournament a pass because at least it has a field of only winners, the step was made by the former Anheuser-Busch Classic, which became the Michelob Championship at Kingsmill in 1996. That was followed by the Air Canada Championship, in 1999.

Those two events, relatively minor ones on the PGA Tour, are no longer around, but there are more and more championships all the time. Some of them are legitimate. We have the Players Championship, which is the flagship event of the PGA Tour. The Tour Championship is another event run by the PGA Tour, but we’ll allow it as legit because it is a season-ender featuring the top players of that particular year. And there’s a Match Play Championship, too.

But we also have the CA Championship, the Transitions Championship, the Wells Fargo Championship, the HP Byron Nelson Championship, the Travelers Championship, the Turning Stone Resort Championship, the Wyndham Championship, the Deutsche Bank Championship, and the BMW Championship. These tournaments are “championships” in branding alone.

Indeed, Championship has taken the lead as the most-used title on the PGA Tour, with 14 on the 2010 schedule compared to 11 for Open and 10 for Classic. (The U.S. Open Championship and [British] Open Championship go double in their titles, so I haven’t included them as either Open or Championship. There are nine others that are called Invitational, Tournament, or something else).

A look back by tournaments in years ending in “0” shows the evolution of tournament names.

1950: 28 Opens, 3 Tournaments, 2 Invitationals, 1 Championship, 4 others, 0 Classics.

1960: 33 Opens, 2 Classics, 2 Tournaments, 1 Championship, 5 others

1970: 25 Opens, 10 Classics, 2 Championships, 7 others

1980: 21 Opens, 12 Classics, 4 Tournaments, 3 Championships, 4 others

1990: 17 Opens, 14 Classics, 3 Tournaments, 3 Championships, 7 others

2000: 15 Opens, 15 Classics, 7 Championships, 10 others

2010: 14 Championships, 11 Opens, 10 Classics, 11 others

What’s next? Could there be something more special than calling your event a Championship? An Extravaganza? A Festival?

Maybe this week’s event on the PGA Tour will be the new trend-setter. The Barclays. A tournament title that says, we’re so cool we don’t even need a descriptive word. (Not to mention that it totally focuses attention on the sponsor.)

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