Tiger, Stacy and Colleagues Have Company
Those of us who are older knew precisely what the paradigms of youth were. Amidst a slough of interesting names, personalities and excellent golfers of the PGA, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player stood at the center, just as Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson had in the previous era.
Switching paradigms was hard for us, not only because the new greats threatened to unseat the idols of yesteryear, but because we didn’t know them. It took time and effort to familiarize ourselves with them, to form a vicarious association, so that we’d have someone to root for. With all the great players to go around, finding a horse to emotionally back after the big three stopped winning, and then stopped playing, seemed like a desert.
Once we had our new paradigm shift in Tiger Woods, then we looked around for someone to challenge him, so that the weekend would not be a foregone conclusion. That was hard for us as well. The talent, we could not argue. The person – well, that’s never been perfected in anybody, but in addition to the new talent infused into the tour, the older guys needed a villain, just like we’d done with Jack. Then, we came to either love the new heroes, or at least were in awe of their games.
And then, there was Sergio Garcia – maybe he’d be the guy. We tried it on for size, and the rivalry looked great, except that Sergio just wasn’t the golfer to hold up the end of such a weekly face-off. He probably played the game well enough to make it interesting, but his brain and emotional make-up just wouldn’t behave. That seems to have changed last week when Garcia played a fabulous British Open, fabulous enough to emerge as a winner in many years.
Then along came Rory – again – after an extended and interesting absence. Rory won the Open with a beautifully consistent week, not a spectacular ending, but smart and disciplined enough to pull it off.
We used to look to Rory as a rival to Tiger as well, but were disappointed, not because Rory isn’t a great golfer, but because he’s not an every-week threat. His few wins are big ones – really big ones, and except for a flubbed Masters, he’d be in the Grand Slam club, still a fairly small one. No one, however, has emerged from the pack week in and week out like Tiger did in the early years of his career. His era has been pronounced “over,” and I am reluctantly beginning to agree. He will probably win again (five times last year), maybe even a major, but the juggernaut times are probably over. So, who’s going to scare us every week, and make the anti-fans sick to their stomachs as we head into Sunday saying, “Oh no, my guy’s only seven ahead.”
The LPGA isn’t really having the same kind of paradigm shift as the men are – not – enjoying. The phenoms are rising, winning tournaments, but the veterans are not fading. They’re still winning as well. Stacy, Suzann, and the rest of the greats are still great. The shift is coming, though, with the Lexi generation, and this week, it was represented by Lydia Ko, the grand old lady of seventeen who has just become a millionaire after hanging on to her amateur status for several years. With the remaining strength of the vets, Ko, who will almost certainly reach the pantheons of the greats, will not pull off a Tiger, and be the woman to beat every week. There’s too much parity among the women to allow a Mickey Wright/ Babe Didrikson dominance week in and week out.
As for Tiger, I must believe that remaining in the game, with the intention of winning again, is not just a vain hope. Somewhere in there, he knows whether he’s got more winning in him, and if he didn’t, I’m not sure he’d keep going. If you’re young, thirty-seven might seem ancient, but for those of us who have passed it, it’s not. We need to recalibrate – even Tom Watson is still playing excellent golf on the young man’s tour.
So, as we wait for our new paradigm, get ready for a lot of faces. I just don’t think the tour-wrecker is out there any more.