Whistling Straits Kinder to Those ‘in Phase’
So, the first day of the PGA is in the books at Whistling Straits. Some of the expected stars are at or near the top, and some are not, just like it goes on any other week. Unless the lead is a whopping ten strokes, the first round leaderboard doesn’t matter all that much. The first day can only tell you if you’re in a good position to continue – that is, if you’re playing well. It can tell you a lot more if you’re not. Majors are not played on powder puff courses, and all pros know they can’t go into one with any aspect of the game in a so-so condition, and come out winners. Jordan Spieth has wisely put aside his quest for history for one or two days, and is concentrating on making the cut, which he will most likely do.
It is the player with problems who is exposed by a course such as Whistling Straits, and by an event such as the PGA. That, of course, brings Tiger Woods to mind. Recent articles have plunged to the bottom line in asking “What the whatever is wrong with you?” This, to the king of making the cut, major royalty in pursuit of the all-time crown of greatest ever. Just hearing the reports on Tiger, I wonder if we haven’t formed a wrong impression as to why the former master isn’t among the winners anymore.
He was reminded in no uncertain terms today of what’s wrong, by removing himself from contention with one club only – the putter. We have been harping and preaching on the Tiger swing for so long that many of us have missed the point. He has not been reduced to an elderly, quivering mass of jelly from tee to green. The man who is actually playing fairly well can’t putt – at least, not lately. As we see the rankings revolve, and see various players hit winning patches, it is tempting to dub them as the new greatest, but that might have been easier to do decades back. Today, anyone on the tour can come out with a couple of 64s, on any given week on which all the aspects come together. Even a mediocre putter has days when a lot of them drop – even I have that. And, even a consistently great putter has days when they couldn’t buy one – I have even more of those. All the parts of Tiger’s game, on their best days, are still enough to win any tournament on the planet, if they’ll only happen on the same week, and if someone else’s doesn’t. The real long-term winners on tour, then, are those who put it all together a little more often than average. The ultimate example this year is Spieth. He could completely botch the PGA, go home after two days, and still own half of the majors from this year, and one of the prep tournaments from a week before the Open.
To know who the greatest winners are requires time, not week to week snapshots. A while back, I didn’t see how Lydia Ko could possibly lose. Two decades ago, we were preparing for majors by picking the second place winners and crowning Tiger before the fact. If only a small handful of shots had gone the other way, we might be talking about Jason Day owning half a year’s worth of majors.
It is certainly true that not all players are created equal. Some are better than others. However, the test is the same for all of them. To join the list of greatest winners, get it all together – all of it, and right now, or a course like Whistling Straits will become, at the best, “Also-Ran Land,” and at the worst. “Dire Straits.” Just ask Tiger if he keeps putting this way.