The History of the Memorial Tournament

By Ryan Watson

The Memorial has been one of golf’s treasured tournaments since its founding in 1976. The event was the brainchild of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, who dreamed of building his own world class course in central Ohio where he spent his youth and first fell in love with the sport. The dream became a reality when Nicklaus built Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio in 1974. He named the facility after Muirfield, Scotland, the site of his 1966 British Open win that completed his first career Grand Slam. Now that Nicklaus had a course, he just needed to convince the PGA Tour to let his new course host a premier event.

The Memorial is Founded

Turns out he didn't have to wait long. Nicklaus spoke to the PGA Tour of wanting a tournament to be like the Masters, with a similar level of international prestige. And while not quite taking on the status of a major, the Memorial is certainly seen as one of the most difficult and prestigious events of the year. The first tournament was held in 1976 and was won by Roger Maltbie in a playoff over Hale Irwin. Nicklaus himself would win the tournament in 1977 for the first of his 2 Memorial wins. Nicklaus is well-known for continually updating his course to make sure it is always plenty challenging for golfers. Tiger Woods currently holds the most Memorial wins with 5, including an unprecedented 3-peat from 1999-2001. Other notable former champions include Curtis Strange, Tom Watson, Jim Furyk, and Ernie Els. 


Memorial Honorees

Nicklaus’ chose the name “Memorial” for the event because he saw the tournament as a way to remember past golfing greats. Each year one or more golfing pioneers are honored at the beginning of the tournament for their contribution to the game. Every honoree is then given a plaque that is displayed at the Muirfield clubhouse, along with a plaque for each year’s winner. The first honoree was Bobby Jones, the famous champion who remained amateur his entire career and who helped found both Augusta National and the Masters tournament. Other inductees include Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Payne Stewart, Babe Zaharias, and Tom Watson. Nicklaus himself was the 2000 honoree.


Invitational Criteria 

The event remains an invitational, one of only five on the PGA Tour. The field is limited to 120 players, who are allotted using the following criteria: 

All Memorial winners in the last five years and prior to 1997

All Players Championship and major championship winners in the last five years

Winners of the Tour Championship, World Golf Championship events, and Arnold Palmer Invitational from the past three years

All PGA Tour tournament winners in the past year

Playing members of the last named U.S. Ryder Cup team, European Ryder Cup team, U.S. Presidents Cup team, and International Presidents Cup team 

Previous year’s U.S. Amateur winner

Previous year’s British Amateur winner

Up to four players selected by the tournament organizers from among the money leaders from the other five Federation tours

14 sponsors exemptions – 2 from among graduates of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, 6 members not otherwise exempt, and 6 unrestricted

All top-50 Official World Golf Ranking as of the Friday before the tournament

All top-70 from prior year's FedEx Cup points list

Any PGA Tour members whose non-member FedEx Cup points the previous season (excluding WGCs) would have placed them in the top 70

The top-70 from current year's FedEx Cup points list as of the Friday before the tournament

Previous year’s college player of the year (Jack Nicklaus Award)

Any remaining positions filled alternating from current year's and prior year's FedEx Cup point lists



About The Author

Ryan Watson is a freelance sportswriter and history professor. He has been an avid fan of golf since his father signed him up for golf camp as a young child. Ryan enjoys following the professional game and learning about new equipment and gadgets.


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