I can still remember when I started paying attention to golf back in the early 70’s, Arnold Palmer was the King. Jack Nicklaus was making a bid to de-throne the King, but at the time Arnie was still the King. There has always been an heir to the throne out there winning tournaments and making a bid for eternal greatness.
Our media demands there be someone out there who will follow in the footsteps and become the new darling of the golf world. This exists in all sports, but nowhere more prevalent than in golf. With Tiger Woods starting to show some age, and human fallacies, the media is ready to pounce on anyone who looks like they have a game, and push them into the limelight, and on to glory.
During the most productive years of Tiger’s career, the task was to find someone who could challenge him on a week by week basis. The first was Phil. Phil is a great golfer, but the rivalry was never like it was with Jack Nicklaus, and Arnie. The next phenom to come along was Sergio Garcia. As soon as he hit that shot from behind the tree at the PGA and ran up the hill to see where it would land, this was the answer to the problem. Sergio would be the rivalry they needed. How did that one turn out?
After Tiger’s fall from grace in 2009, golf struggled with attendance, TV viewers, and interest in general. We put the pressure on the young guns like Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler to carry the load, but with a void here on the American Tour, we started to get more European players filtering here to fill it. Then came Rory.
I can still remember when Jack was getting past his prime in the early 80’s, Golf Digest had an article on the Young Guns. Keep in mind, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and Gary Player were still playing some very good golf, but the media was looking for the next Jack Nicklaus. The new Young Guns were Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw and Jerry Pate. I remember going to the Crosby Clam Bake in February of 1980 to see these new phenoms. I set up in the gap between the 14th green and the 15th tee where I could watch everyone, and get a look at the new heroes.
Now don’t get me wrong, all three were tremendous players in their time, Jerry Pate had shoulder problems that would sideline his career, Ben would go on to win a couple of Masters, and Kite would finally be a US Open winner. Not exactly ready to be in a conversation with Jack by all means, but very good golfers.
Unfortunately, you have a couple of categories here. There were very good golfers, great golfers, and Legendary Golfers.The legendary golfers tend to only come around every twenty to thirty years. Let’s think about it for a minute. Who would you consider as being Legendary and who would you consider to be Great?
A long as you only weigh what they did between the ropes, my legendary picks would be Bobby Jones, Sam Sneed, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. I know, you’re going to hate me because I didn’t put Arnie in that catagory. I have Arnie on the great list because this list is about what they did on the fairways and not what they have done for the game. Arnie was, and has always been the games greatest ambassador, but never the golfer Jack Nicklaus was.
Bobby Jones pulled off the impossible. He won all the Majors of his day in one year, we call in the Grand Slam. Sam Sneed was a winner, Ben Hogan still has the most copied swing in the world, plus he invented driving ranges and practice, and Jack still has those 18 Major tournament trophies in his showcase(that Tiger envies) and Tiger Woods totally dominated this game for a decade. Everyone else are just great golfers.
There is a strong possibility that the new Tiger Woods is still in grade school, maybe in college, or not even born yet. I don’t see anyone currently on the tour that has the game to even consider the position. Even the new Tiger Woods will never again be the dominating Tiger Woods we saw in the 2000 US Open. That dude doesn’t exist anywhere.
So maybe we need to have some patience and wait. At some point in time when we are least expecting it, and without fanfare there will be another legendary golfer come along. But if history holds true, we still have 10 to 20 years to wait.
Photo Courtesy US Pressware
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