While posting a blog on The Golf Community at Google+ this morning, I picked up an interesting statistic on Morning Drive that I included as a comment to my blog. Tiger Woods, and Jack Nicklaus are the only two players in history to win both, The Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and the US Open at Pebble Beach in the same calendar year. After taking a little schtick from Moderator, Ricky Potts regarding Tiger, I started to think about how I personally would view his legacy when it’s time for him to hang it up.
As an older golf fan who grew up in the 1950’s when golf was considered a dumb game, played by rich people, my thoughts on what Tiger Woods has brought to the game are endless. Francis Oumet, and Bobby Jones brought golf to the US at a time when it was largely a game played in Europe, and in particular, the British Isles.
Byron Nelson held the game together throughout World War II, and let Ben Hogan, along with Sam Snead pick up the pieces in the early 50’s. It was Arnold Palmer who put the game on television, and it was the rich competition of the 1970’s between Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, and Gary Player that helped put the game on television week in, and week out so, the public at large could see the best in the world play.
It was Tiger Woods who broke the racial barriers and took the game to the rest of the world. Although he was not the first African-American to play at Augusta, he was the first to be sized for a Green Jacket in 1997.
On a business trip to Thailand in 2000, I was exposed to the impact Tiger Woods was having on the world of golf. Huge billboards throughout Bangkok was only the tip of the iceberg. I played golf while in Korat, and learned that almost every golf course in the country had Tiger in its name somewhere. At 25 years-old, Woods was already a legend.
Tiger has 79 wins on the PGA Tour, and is still shy of Sam Snead’s 82 all-time career wins, a record he should break as soon as this year. He still stands four major wins shy of Jack’s 18 career majors, and five shy of holding that record by himself.
Although I put Tiger Woods in the company of the greats of this game, and view him as the greatest player of his generation, I’m still not ready to hand him the all-time “Greatest Golfer” title just yet.
How do you rate Johnny Unitas with Joe Montana, and Tom Brady? All were great players during their time, but the game, rules and equipment changed from one generation to the next. Richard Petty had many more opportunities to set the 200 win mark in NASCAR, but that doesn’t diminish the effect Darrell Waltrip, and Dale Earnhardt had on the sport.
Tiger Woods didn’t have to play with Persimmon golf clubs, and uses golf balls that are designed to fly better than anything we had in the 70’s, so being able to judge his accomplishments in the same paragraph with Bobby Jones who won the Grand Slam with Niblicks, Spoons, and golf clubs that had hickory shafts was a tough order.
Looking to the future, who is coming along that we can safely say has a chance to compare to Tiger Woods? I personally haven’t seen them yet, and wonder if they have been born yet. The closest on the wins list are Phil Mickelson with 42 wins, and Vijay Singh with 34 tour wins. Both are is the same boat as Tiger, approaching the end of their careers. Vijay has turned 50, and unless he finds a new formula for Deer Antler Spray that is legal, is for all practical purposes done.
So who do you think can fill Tiger’s shoes when his playing days are over? Rory doesn’t have the mental toughness, Adam Scott is too old, and can’t putt, and Dustin Johnson doesn’t have a good enough short game. So who?
Tiger Woods is a polarizing figure to say the least, but for a decade on the PGA Tour, there was no one better. He not only dominated the best the world had to offer, but he was responsible for some of the greatest highlights the game has ever had. Highlights that, like the feats of Bobby Jones and the rest of the greats, will be talked about for the next 100 years.
You can follow Les on Twitter @Spin_47 and in the Golf Community at Google+