Golf Generations Come and Gone

Our Incomplete Golf Memories with Passing of Generations is Sad

As devotees of the game of golf, we try to hold on to former greatness. At times, we sort of remember, and sort of don’t. Of course, the game continues as new greats appear on the men’s and women’s tours. People we thought would endure as immortal in the archives are allowed to slip away. New generations that weren’t there for the past greats adhere mostly to their own heroes. In modern golf, the term can indicate a space of just a few years, as some people retire, while others just suddenly lose their game. Some reappear in the category of “Say, whatever Happened To…?”

Some of us don’t really get Bobby Jones, in part because we don’t get what was then the glory of amateurism. Those generations featured the flat swing, beautiful as it is on video. We know he won everything in sight, but the slate of tournaments and the accompanying prestige of each were different than today. We see him in black and white film, a further sign of not relating. His clubs had hickory shafts, and the ball was full of feathers. Do we even play the same game now? Even further lost are his greatest competitors like Hagen and Sarazen, so worth remembering – (as in The Shot Heard Round the World).

Devotees know the names of the LPGA founders, but we revere them now as museum pieces as much as golfers. In my distant memory are patches in which Mickey Wright was seemingly invincible. Annika and Lorena and many others qualify for such prestige as well, but our gut memory requires us to look at their stranglehold on the record books as much as our hallowed memories. I am helped by the fact that I saw many of them play, and followed them from the gallery. Those memories are indelible, and my attendance made sure that everyone on the course was a member of my generation, even those fifty years younger.

Who would have ever thought that The Big Three of Nicklaus, Player and Palmer would lose any luster of immortality? Between the three, there was an awful lot of winning, but we who are old remember it in the heart, because we were there, the same way we remember the astronauts who walked on the moon.

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A generation already exists that did not experience the early career of Tiger Woods. Imagine having to explain to a young fan that when the players joked about showing up to see who comes in second, they were only partly kidding. Woods was the only golfer I can remember who actually made the game a little scary, such was his energy, insistence, rock-solid confidence, and insane natural gift.

The odd thing, though, is that he wasn’t alone on that lofty perch. For seven or eight years now, we have pleaded with all the powers that be, “Whatever happened to Yani Tseng? Please bring her back. She’s not done yet.” Now, a generation is passing that doesn’t know she was number one in the world for 109 weeks, and was only four points away from the Hall of Fame, although still in her twenties, Never has a game disappeared so completely and suddenly, and with it the top tens, made cuts, and major victories. Last year, she shot a tournament round in the mid-60s, so we know it’s still in there. She’s waiting for her putter to come around (aren’t we all?), but who knows if the fire will ever be recaptured?

Generations come, generations go. However, we remember the names of Napoleon, George Washington, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Beethoven and Mozart. One would hope that the most dominating names of the modern game, from every generation,would enjoy the same esteem – but I suppose that choice belongs to future generations.

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