Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Future of Golf, or Post-Masters Reflections

Four days after the conclusion of an amazing Masters Tournament, it's time to reflect upon just what took place and what it might mean.

First off, the wire-to-wire win for 21 year old Jordan Spieth prompted this great cover and tag line to appear in the mail box today:

Clever take on the book about Michael Jordan, and a statement that the "Spieth Era Begins Now".

First the tournament itself.  Spieth's performance was nothing short of, sorry about this, Masterful.  Only the fifth wire-to-wire win in the history of the Masters, and a tie for the all-time low score.  On Saturday, he stood up to the challenges and charges of the biggest names in the sport (McIlroy, Mickelson, and Woods), and on Sunday, every time someone looked like he would challenge him, Spieth answered with a birdie, an amazing up-and-down, or a clutch par, all leading to this moment.

Does this mean that a "Jordan Spieth Era" is now upon us?  

Well, how do you define an "Era"?  Is Spieth the next Tiger Woods?  Sorry, but no, or at least no one should be ready to declare so at this point.  Does it mean that Spieth can be a dominant player on the PGA Tour for the next 10-15 years?  It is quite possible that Spieth could indeed be just that, although, I do not think that we shall ever see anyone dominate professional golf the way that Woods did in the period from 1997-2008.  The probability of such dominance is infinitesimal, if for no other reason than this guy:

Rory McIlroy is only 25 years old and already has four majors to his credit.  And if McIlroy will prevent Spieth from being the "next Tiger", then Spieth, in turn, could prevent McIlroy from being the "next Tiger" as well.

What does excite the imaginations of golf nerds everywhere is the possibility of Spieth-McIlroy duels over the next dozen years or so that will be reminiscent of earlier days when Arnold Palmer battled Jack Nicklaus, and Nicklaus battled guys like Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, and Greg Norman.  It is a measure of Woods' total dominance during his time that there never was a real challenger to him, not even Phil Mickelson.  The idea of Spieth and McIlroy going head to head on Sundays at Augusta, Oakmont, St. Andrews and other such places over the next decade to so is wonderful to think about.

Oh, and we should also keep one other thing in mind.  Spieth could end up being a one hit wonder like Trevor Immelman, Lucas Glover, Andy North, or one of the many other golfers who have managed to win one major, and little else.  It certainly doesn't appear likely that Spieth will fall into that category, as he has already won several times on Tour and performed well in a Ryder Cup competition, but you never know.  It will be interesting to look back at the ledger at the conclusion of this Tour and Majors season and re-evaluate the possibilities.

Of course, you can't make any evaluation of the State of Golf without talking about these guys:

Phil Mickelson had a terrific Masters.  His score of fourteen under par would have won the Masters 70 of the 78 times in its history.  It appears that he has something left in the tank, at least at Augusta, and it would have been interesting to see how Spieth would have held up had he been paired with Mickelson instead of Justin Rose on Sunday.  One of those intriguing "what ifs" that makes sports so much fun to follow.  However, Phil is now 44 years old.  It's hard to win anywhere on tour at that age, much less a Major, which makes his performance at Augusta all the more remarkable.

As for Tiger Woods, he is 39 and he managed to shoot eight under par over the second and third rounds of the Masters. He also was two over par over rounds one and four.  The fact that he scraped by in one over on Sunday, when he could never find a fairway off the tee, is amazing.  He could overcome such erratic driving at Augusta, but if he drives like that at a course set up for the US Open, he won't make the cut.

The key points in the above two paragraphs are the ages of the two golfers.  In all sports, and especially tournament golf, Father Time beats all comers.  I don't doubt that Mickelson and Woods all again win tournaments here and there on the PGA Tour.  Woods may even possibly still be able to dig down and win a Major one more time, but at this point it's a long shot.  This takes nothing away from what they have been, which is two of the greatest golfers of all time (and in Woods' case, he is in the argument for THE greatest golfer of all time).  It will still be fun to see them play and watch them on TV, but I am afraid that their Days of Dominance are over.

The US Open will be played in Oregon this June, which means prime time telecasts here in the east.  You know that Fox, which is televising the Open this year, has to be licking its chops in hopes of young guns like McIlroy and Spieth going at it at Chambers Bay.  Bring it on!!

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