Sep 19

Modern Greats-How Good?

Greats – Nicklaus to Spieth and Day-Comparable?

As I divided my time between the Solheim competition and the BMW Championship today, I noticed an ad for a wristwatch featuring the great Jack Nicklaus. As he wandered through the annals of golf history’s peaks, much of them by his own making, he surveyed his realm like a wise old owl. The “hook” of the ad was, “It doesn’t just tell time, it tells of history” (or something like that). Going back to the PGA and Solheim, I noticed, on the men’s side, that everyone in the entire world was under par, except for me.

jack I followed a litany of Jordan Spieth’s woes, only to discover when they finally showed the leaderboard, that he was minus 10. They made it sound as if he were missing the cut. I guess that for Spieth, woeful was the word, because after three rounds, Jason Day was minus 20. In other words, if they lowered the par for the course by 18, he’d still be two under! Over on the Solheim side, women from two continents were ‘bamming’ it away like there was no tomorrow, making coyly tight approach shots that would make we want to just pick up, then rolling in putts that looked like they were drawn up in an earthquake. Great golf is everywhere, as, it seems, are golf greats
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All these star players. There used to be only one, maybe two, maybe three or four at a time, outside of the times a stranger would intrude on Sunday. So, how good are ‘we’ these days? That is, compared to the annals stretching from Bobby Jones through Jack Nicklaus, and yes, Tiger Woods, who is now in the annals (funny how time works – seemed as though he just got here).

All the comparisons aside, like different equipment, different courses, different competition, etc., are the modern stars just as good as they were when Nicklaus upset Palmer’s apple cart, and Player was an absolute nuisance on the upper leaderboard? Granted, these guys were gifted, and how, but now it seems as if everyone is destroying par on a regular basis, and there are so many that no good rivalries can stay put, once established. Is there a Mickey Wright or Babe Didrikson around today, playing with modern toys rather than hickory shafts?
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Fortunately, this is one of those conversations in which I don’t care if there’s an answer – and I don’t really believe there is. Every past champion took what was dealt and made the most of it against what and whoever was there. Can’t do anything more than that. Has our increased distance, accomplished largely via technology, humbled the old courses so much that they are rapidly becoming pitch and putts? Some have been upgraded and altered to prevent that very phenomenon. Perhaps Donald Trump serves a useful purpose in the game after all.

While whittling away all the other differences between the eras, we also have to peel away our fantasies of both the old and new stars, from Yoda-like watch ads to the surreal depiction of Tiger’s game in the early years. I didn’t like Nicklaus when he first appeared – now I do. I didn’t like Tiger much when he first appeared – now I’m trying to, with modest success. I was a Patty Berg/Mickey Wright fan, but there’s no problem following a host of other favorites among the moderns. And speaking of the women, did the founders of the LPGA swing like that? Suzann Pettersen looks like she’s in a war., and winning it. I don’t remember Mickey looking like that.

Of course, we’ll never know, but I am caught between the question of “Where are all the new greats of golf?” and a growing suspicion that “We already have a whole bunch of them, maybe too many,” as seen through the eyes of one who grew up in the Big Three era.

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