Salas and Langer, Another New Great, and an Older Great
For those of us who have followed professional golf for a long time, we’ve watched talented, distinct personas rise and fade, only to be replaced by the next wave of gifted practitioners. Within those two inevitable groups, however, there are sub-groups – those who rise faster than anticipated, and those who just won’t leave, and don’t need to.
For example, consider Suzann Pettersen’s triumph at the LPGA Lotte Championship in Hawaii this weekend, a victory that is impressive, but not entirely surprising. The Norwegian star has won eleven times on tour, and figures to win again. Her game is, without a doubt, on the upward side of its arc, having won in South Korea and China before her time in Hawaii.
However, the real story for the long-term is that Lizette Salas has arrived, and she hasn’t taken a long time to do it at 23 years of age and not much time on tour. Salas turned in a tournament record of 62, playing nine under over a sequence of nine holes. She birdied 8 and 9, holed out for eagle on 10, and birdied 12 through 16. The four-time All-American from USC obviously rebounded from a late tournament fade-away two weeks ago at the Kraft Nabisco, saying, “I felt like me again.”
All of that is impressive, but in the big picture, what is important is Lizette’s 4 top ten finishes in the last 7 starts. She’s been on the leaderboard seemingly all the time lately, and that’s the way to become a winner, by putting yourself in that “could win this” position every week on Sunday. I had a hunch about this golfer before she even started, and I’m ready to take it to the next step by saying we’re going to see a lot of her, accepting trophies.
For those who aren’t keeping track, Langer is a three-time Champions Tour Player of the Year. He still figured into this year’s Masters picture until late into the tournament, a tournament he won twice when Niagara Falls was brand new – at least it feels that way to me…I watched him do it.
This week, Langer won the Greater Gwinnett Championship with six birdies. And, long-term? Like Salas, Langer has put in a top three finish in five of the last six events. Watching him, it’s clear that he’s aging slowly, and so is his game. He has apparently triumphed over an episode of the YIPS as well. The 55 year-old is still a contender in either tour, and may be for a while yet.
In winning the Greater Gwinnett, Langer did all weekenders a favor, if we were paying close enough attention. After the victory, he saluted the short game that continually pulled him out of trouble. As he put it, “I missed three greens, and I was 1 under par.” – the ultimate “drive for show, putt for dough” comment.
So, there they are, another new great, and an older great who sees no reason to stop, both making weekly appearances at or near the top of the leaderboard, both with healthy life attitudes and strong competitive streaks. Salas and Langer are excellent reasons for the long-term survival and popularity of the game – young blood, and blood that never grows old.