By Jeremy Brown, Western Kentucky University
The two questions surrounding golf these days are: ‘Will Tiger Woods ever be Tiger again?’ and ‘Is Rory McIlroy the new Tiger?’
Enough about Tiger this, Tiger that. Golf is just fine without him.
The world, the media, and the golfing community were, and frankly still are, absorbed by Tiger Woods. Why? He could strike the ball further than anyone had ever seen and his dominance from 1997-2008 is one of the most impressive runs in sports history.
Woods’ ball crushing and pin-attacking mentality notched him 14 major championships and 71 tour wins by the time he was 33.
Tiger Woods was on a whole different planet than any other golfer during those 11 years. Sure Woods has had physical and mental issues since then, but that’s not the only reason why we’ve seen him decline. A huge reason in his decline – a reason too often ignored because of how dominant he once was – is that the new generation of golfers can play the same game he started showing the world when he turned professional in 1996.
In terms of dominance, we may never see another like him.
But the intangibles that led to his victorious ways such as the long ball, the fearless pin seeking, the great putting? There’s more than a handful of these guys teeing the ball up every weekend.
You want to see a golfer crush the ball? Bubba Watson slams it at an average of 311 yards per drive and can get about 275 yards out of his lowest iron. As for attacking the pin and sinking putts, we all saw McIlroy’s birdie extravaganza last week at the U.S. Open.
If what golf is looking for is dominance, look back to last week once more as McIlroy lapped the field en-route to the lowest U.S. open score ever. Jason Day’s second-place score of -8 would have been good enough to win 26 of the last 30 U.S Open’s. And he lost by eight strokes. That’s dominance at its finest.
Being dominant on a consistent basis is the task at hand for McIlroy if he wishes to live up to his new title of “The New Tiger.”
But McIlroy isn’t the reason golf is fine without Woods. Golf’s talent pool is deeper than it has ever been, resulting in the most competitive the game has ever been. We’ve already seen six consecutive PGA events go to a playoff this year and we’ve seen just two multiple event winners in Watson and Mark Wilson.
The youth of the game also has golf on the upswing. The past five major champions have been under the age of 30 with McIlroy being the youngest U.S. Open champion since 1923. Day, runner-up in the past two majors and seven Top 10’s in 2011, is just 23.
Call it cliché, but golf is more wide open than it’s ever been.
The NCAA Tournament is at its peak of excitement when there is no clear cut champion and has championship games featuring small, private schools from the Horizon League like Butler. The NBA playoffs were thrilling because you had teams like the Grizzlies and Thunder advancing while usual champions like the Lakers and Spurs were bounced early.
This golf season you truly never know who is going to come out of the weekend with a win. Is Watson going to come out and blow away the field with his long ball or is his average putting going to be his Achilles heel? Is David Toms going to defeat the ball crushers with his average distance, yet deadly accuracy? Or are we going to see another 20-something European come in and put his stamp on the game?
To me at least, the answer to these questions is what makes golf more riveting than watching one guy destroy the field week in, week out.
When Woods returns, the game certainly won’t be hurt; it will become even more intriguing to see him compete with today’s generation of golfers.
For now, however, golf is in a new age and thriving with or without the man they call Tiger.