The elusive majors » Manila Bulletin Sports

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By Ding Marcelo

The US Open tennis championship concluded yesterday with Rafael Nadal hoisting the trophy, notching major tournament win No. 16, and moving just three shy of Roger Federer’s record 19 major championships. On the women’s side, Sloane Stephens captured the women’s title, notching her first major championship win, and excitedly upsetting many a seeded player.

The US Open is the last major tennis event for men and women in this year’s sports calendar. Already finished are the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon.

In golf, also concluded are the major men’s events — the Masters, the British Open, the US Open, and the PGA Championship. Still in golf, the LPGA is also largely concluded, with just its fifth and final major of the year, the Evian Championship, happening in France this week.

In their unique way, only golf and tennis have what they call “major championships,” which is a basket of events played around the world over a one-year period.

 The majors are the Holy Grail for athletes around the globe, the singular tournaments they aspire to win, the trophies they covet most, and the lasting legacy they leave behind when they bid their careers goodbye. Indeed, by nature, the majors gather the world’s elite athletes — thus, winning a major means winning against the very best.

 And there is the other side of the coin. Seldom brought up in polite conversation, it is nevertheless the staggering feature of these major tournaments: the prize money.

 In the US Open, for instance, Nadal took home the winner’s prize of $3.7 million, the same booty for the female tennis champ. That is R175 million in pesos, for each, for two weeks’ work. The first round loser had a “consolation” prize of $30,000, or R1.5 million.

 The only other feat to rank alongside winning the majors is probably winning the gold medal in the Olympics. That one is definitely something to cherish, but it does not pay, and the gifts lavished on bemedalled athletes by their grateful governments and potential sponsors cannot match Nadal’s win.

 No Filipino has ever won a major championship.

Not counting professional boxing, very few Filipinos are even able to play in the majors. Even today, when hundreds of millions are poured by government into sports, through the Philippine Sports Commission, Filipino athletes fail to make a mark in the majors. Or, for that matter, win an Olympic gold medal.

 Occasionally, a player or two manage to get themselves into a golf major. Miguel Tabuena played in the US Open this year, but failed to make the cut. Frankie Miñoza played in the Masters twice, and before him, Luis “Golem” Silverio, also twice, but both also failed to make the cut.

 At present, I can think of only two Filipinos who can be ranked among the elite in sports, none of them in tennis or golf.

One is male chess grandmaster Wesley So and the other is woman weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz. However, So, now ranked among the three best chess players in the world, has become a United States citizen.

 To find a Filipino athlete that played in the majors and made an impact, one has to go as far back as 1948, or 69 years ago.

On that year, tennis player Felicisimo Ampon made the fourth round of the US Open. He also advanced in 1949 and 1950, and in 1952 made it to the quarterfinals. In 1952 and 1953, he advanced as well to the quarterfinals of the French Open. He also played Wimbledon and reached the third round three times.

 It’s now nearly 70 years since Ampon put the country on the global sports map, and, looking ahead, no one looms on the horizon.

 POSTSCRIPT: Regan de Guzman, the Filipino LPGA player we profiled last Friday, failed to make the cut in her final event of the season in Indianapolis. Bad driving, bad putting, she said in a message.

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