Today’s Big Three – Speith, Day, and McIroy
Some Important Differences Between Now and the Old Days
I started my perusal of the day’s golf news by reading an article suggesting that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are no long sure bets for the Ryder Cup. My first thought was that it was a new day for understatement, and that people are making the mistake in thinking “What have you done over the past year (if anything),” and “What have you done over the past six weeks?” I can’t think of a single reason for including Tiger or Phil in an event that requires one to play good golf right now. The same pundits are making the same mistake with the new leaders of golf, the people who really are playing the game in style…right now. Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, and Rory McIlroy, are being hailed as the modern era’s counterpart to the “Big Three” of the mid to late twentieth century.
The temptation to liken these three greats to that famous trio of yesteryear is strong. They are incredible golfers, and have picked up the bulk of the chips over the past year, leaving slim pickings for the rest of the field. Over the past few months, Spieth, Day, and McIlroy are probably as high-quality on the tour of today as the Palmer, Player, and Nicklaus group was to their age. Calling these major-eaters the modern “Big Three” is fine in terms of their quality, but in the outer environment, there are some important differences. Six months from now, we could be talking about three completely different people.
It would be unfair, uncool, and fairly stupid to say that there wasn’t a competitive field back there in the fifties and sixties. There was Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriguez, and a lot other iconic names who could wield a good club, but across the board, not as many golfers were competing to be on the tour, and once arrived, the real threats were fewer in number. In the modern era, they’re coming out of the bushes, bursting college programs at the seams, and setting such a high bar at the qualifying phases of development that many are ready to win their first year out in the big leagues. In this sense, the Big Three has become the Big Twenty.
It was very interesting to have Gary Player in the old days. He was South African, which was a very chic item for the PGA Tour. He was an ever-present international threat in any tournament, major or otherwise. There were fine golfers from other countries as well, scattered all over the globe. But, it was Player who truly represented internationalism, not Bob Charles. The way the game looks today, it is owned by the planet, not by a single continent. Two out of three in the new Big Three are not American, and during the Ryder, downright anti-American in one case. Jordan Spieth, the young American wizard who skipped all that “get your feet wet” jazz, is joined by Irishman McIlroy and Australian Jason Day. This, I believe, is good for the game, and Player’s presence on other Big Three probably advanced the cause of international interest. They account for a hefty percentage of the past two years’ majors.
The focus on Nicklaus, Palmer, and Player, never wavered. One of them was always threatening, usually two of them, and very often, all three. Today, McIlroy has disappeared for months on end, albeit due to a soccer injury. Spieth has played some absolutely woeful golf in between his magical victories, and Day labored in the top ten for years before finally striking gold. With this field, for all we know, we may be talking about a newer Big Three six months to a year down the road. The scary part of it is that its members might be 16 to 18 years of age, so the new trio had better make hay while the sun shines.