So what changed after a dismal 4-over start to the final round of The Open Championship? What stood out was that Spieth never stopped problem solving on the golf course.Read More
Even as he holed the last putt, Brooks did not squat and pump the air with his putter. Neither did he jump for joy in the clubhouse as the last pairing walked off the final hole. Rather, it was the “chill” manner of acting like he had been there before coupled with his long drives and fantastic iron play that won Brooks this tournament.Read More
At the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills, we fans want the sort of drama we have become accustomed to seeing at U.S. Opens past. However, the tone has to be set by these four golfers and their potential to either make a move up the leaderboard on Sunday or consolidate a 54-hole lead en route to victory.Read More
Four first-time Major champions stole the show on golf's biggest stageRead More
By Brice Polender
After the year’s first two Major champions were first time winners, including a long awaited breakthrough from Dustin Johnson, it should have come as no surprise that Henrik Stenson, one of the Tour’s best players to not have won a Major broke through in emphatic fashion. We’ve always known Stenson had limitless talent, and he showed it by shooting the lowest score ever at The Open Championship, tying Jason Day’s 20 under at the 2015 PGA Championship for lowest Major total ever in relation to par. 2016 is shaping up to not only be the year of new time Major champions, but it is becoming a year where monkeys are being chucked off the backs of the most accomplished players to still be lacking Majors. If 2016 is to be the definitive year where the game’s most tortured greats finally break through to win that elusive Major title, then there is no doubt who should be the man to win the year’s final Major in the PGA Championship.
Sergio Garcia has now come to be synonymous with the title of “Best Golfer without a Major”. When Sergio first emerged on the scene at the turn of the millennium, many experts believed he would be the one to go head to head with Tiger for years and years to come and win numerous Majors in the process. But Tiger asserted his dominance, and as he began to rack up Major victories, the pressure of expectation mounted on Sergio. Despite consistently remaining one of the world’s best players, Sergio has continued to receive grief on the topic of having no Major championships to his name and has even described himself as an “unlucky golfer” in trying to explain why he has not broken through. And unlucky is not an unfair analysis for a man who lipped out on an eight footer that would have given him the 2007 Open Championship before losing in a playoff by one stroke to Padraig Harrington.
If luck has truly been the force keeping El Niño from winning his first Major championship, then perhaps destiny will be the other mystical force that will lead him to finally get over the hump. There would be no better feel good story than if Sergio could finally break through by winning at Baltusrol to end what would be the most feel good year in golf history. His career is Hall of Fame worthy even without a Major, as he has finished top seventeen in the year-end Official World Golf Rankings fifteen times in his career. Twelve of those years were top twelve finishes, seven of those years were top ten finishes, and three of those years were top five finishes. Most notably, in 2008, Sergio finished ranked number two in the World in addition to winning the Players Championship.
Yes, Sergio has had a great career, but aside from the sentimental reasoning, why is now the time that he will finally break through? As we saw was the recipe for Jason Day and Dustin Johnson in their breakthrough wins, putting one’s self into contention often will result in an eventual breakthrough. And as the tenth ranked player in the world and the second highest without a major (trailing only seventh ranked Rickie Fowler), Sergio has quietly been doing just that. He is currently on the longest streak of his career in made cuts at Major championships as he now stands at ten in a row. Perhaps even more telling than this streak are Sergio’s tied for fifth finishes in this year’s two most recent majors. With an already successful career and strong play fueling Sergio this year, Baltusrol is the place where El Niño can rid himself of the monkey on his back and lift the Wanamaker Trophy. If luck (or lack thereof) was what prevented Sergio’s putt from going in to win the 2007 Open Championship, then destiny is what will elevate him above his past disappointments and crown him a Major champion.
By David Zakhodin
On a spectacular Southern California June afternoon eight years ago, a man on a mission stood in the shadows of the clubhouse behind the eighteenth green at Torrey Pines Golf Club in San Diego. Clad in all black and standing with unsteady legs as he watched the final group putt, journeyman Rocco Mediate awaited his first U.S. Open crown, a career defining reward for four days of remarkable golf at a score of 1-under-par. With Englishman Lee Westwood not being able to birdie the final hole, only one man in red stood between Rocco and golf glory. Unfortunately for Rocco, that man was the very definition of glory in the sport of golf for the last eleven years. As Tiger sank the fifteen-foot birdie putt that would forever cement itself in history, NBC’s Dan Hicks famously inquired, “Expect anything different?!” In short, no. Tiger epitomized a level of greatness and dominance in golf that had only been reached by a unique few. If anything, his reign over the sport was the most documented success story in the history of sport. When Tiger returned to Torrey Pines the next day for an eighteen-hole playoff against the hot Rocco Mediate, there was no contest. A fourteenth Major title was captured; a remarkable comeback achieved in the face of injury and immense pressure. Nothing was going to stop Tiger Woods, the man destined to break Jack Nicklaus’ record and become the greatest to ever swing a club. Until everything began to stop him…
Tiger’s victory at the 2008 U.S. Open was yet another hallmark moment confirming his status as golf’s supreme. Often touted as just a front-runner, Tiger silenced his critics by coming from behind on the last hole to win a tournament he had no business winning. He struggled with his game in all four rounds and would not have even been in contention had it not been for an improbable eagle on eighteen the previous day. But when the chips were stacked against him, he found a way to win, another characteristic of a generation defining athlete. Not only was Tiger the king of golf, but he was arguably the most popular and accomplished athlete of the 21st century. Being 32 years old at the time, it seemed to us that Tiger had all the time in the world to win nineteen Majors and surpass The Golden Bear. Eight years later, Tiger still sits at fourteen Majors and now can’t hit a 100-yard tee shot at a charity event without putting the ball in the drink. Right now you may be thinking that this is going to be another piece questioning whether or not Tiger can win again and demonstrate any resemblance of his old level. Well, just as Rocco Mediate was wrong when he thought he had the U.S. Open, you are misguided in your assumption. My guess as to what lies ahead for Tiger is as good as yours considering he is now publishing a book and rehabbing from a series of surgeries. What I can tell you is what happened to cause Tiger’s collapse, how it happened, and why it happened.
For all of the legends we have witnessed step foot on the tennis court and on the golf course, very few if any have experienced the sort of tumultuous fall that Tiger suffered through. We’ve seen the greats of both sports be conquered by common causes such as Father Time, injury, illness, lack of interest, or controversy. But because Tiger was so revered and respected by fans, experts, and fellow players, his disappearance from golf’s elite was glass-shattering. The club that his wife swung at the car window, the mistresses, the knee injuries: all of them contributed to the shameful fall of a king.
As I searched to find a comparison for the purpose of evaluating how Tiger fell the way he did, only one name came to mind. And if you thought Andre Agassi, you were wrong. Some have likened Tiger’s troubles to those of Andre Agassi in the mid to late 90’s when he struggled to motivate himself and fell to a career low ranking of 141. Yes, this is similar to Tiger’s current sitting at 569 in the Official World Golf Ranking, but that is where the parallels end. For Andre it was much easier to set aside the troubles of his personal life because he always felt that he had something to prove. Whether it was fulfilling his dad’s dream of becoming the best in the world, winning at Roland Garros, or defeating his greatest rival in Pete Sampras, Andre played with a chip on his shoulder that Tiger never had. Sure, Tiger was motivated by criticisms from other players and rivals such as Phil Mickelson, but he was always unequivocally the best by a mile. Moreover, Andre Agassi was a star who had reached immortality and dominance only for brief spurts of his long career whereas Tiger’s reign was seemingly endless.
To identify the man whose legacy resembles that of Tiger, we reach a little further back into tennis history and pull up the resume of a champion who was well on his way to breaking Roy Emerson’s Grand Slam record. A consecutive winner on the sport’s most contrasting surfaces, Bjorn Borg was the Tiger Woods of tennis in the mid to late 70’s. Whether it was winning five consecutive Wimbledon titles for the first time ever (a mark that Federer has tied) or a total of six French Open titles (only surpassed by Nadal), Borg was the master. The original King of Clay would rattle off wins at Roland Garros by outplaying his opponents from the baseline until they tired, and two weeks later he would serve and volley his way to victory at the All England Club. McEnroe and Connors tried to match his consistency, but when it mattered most, Borg came through and elevated himself to an unmatched level of toughness.
As unstoppable as Bjorn Borg may have been at the French Open and Wimbledon, he had demons that laid the groundwork for his unexpected exit from the world’s elite in 1981. Always absent from the Australian Open (a slam played mostly in nighttime) and underperforming at the U.S. Open, Borg had a well documented vision problem that prevented him from being at his best under the lights. Whether or not his eyes were the ultimate reason for his departure from the sport remains unclear, but Borg would disappear from tennis following his loss to John McEnroe in the 1981 U.S. Open final and open a conversation that has yielded many unanswered questions.
So where do the parallels arise between the rise and fall of Tiger Woods and Bjorn Borg? Their primes were roughly 30 years apart, but they played individual sports that required similar skills. The similarities begin with both champions reaching the pinnacle of their sport at an extremely young age. Borg was eighteen when he won his first French Open, and Tiger was a young 21 in the sport of golf when he won The Masters by a record twelve strokes (which has since been tied by Jordan Spieth). Once the world knew about their talent, Tiger and Borg carried with them an aura of invincibility. Their calm and poise under pressure coupled with a level of versatility golf and tennis had yet to see made opponents expect greatness from them. Every time Tiger showed up to a Major, the conversation was always, “are you taking Tiger or the field?” With Borg, there was no opponent who wanted to walk onto the court and have to play a guy who never missed the ball. Just like Borg’s funky looking backhand was the sharpest tool in an arsenal that enabled him to manipulate his adversary around the court, Tiger’s putter sank the hopes of many golfers like Rocco Mediate who thought they had him beaten on the course. The bottom line is that at their peaks, no one was beating two players who were well on their way to breaking Grand Slam records that would cement them as the greatest of all time.
Unfortunately for Tiger and Borg, destiny was not on their side. Their troubles began and ended with collective misfortunes at the last Major tournament of their respective seasons. Bjorn Borg’s demons were exposed at the U.S. Open where he had come so close to winning multiple times. When it looked like he would finally get over the hump in 1981 final against his rival John McEnroe, Borg couldn’t execute. Several months prior to that matchup, Borg had failed to win Wimbledon for the first time in six years (losing to McEnroe in the process). The seeds of doubt had been planted in his mind for the first time since he had elevated himself to the top of the tennis world. And a loss to McEnroe at the U.S. Open set the table for Borg infamously vanishing from the tennis map the way Peter Pettigrew vanished from the Marauder’s Map. Not only was no one anticipating him to flat out quit, but no one knew that an Ironman like Borg was so mentally fragile that he couldn’t take a career altering punch and recover from it.
On Tiger’s end, the collapse following the 2009 PGA Championship is much more publicized and dramatic than the downfall of Borg. Following a shocking upset on the final day of the tournament in which no-name Y.E. Yang snatched victory from Tiger’s hands, Tiger Woods’ career would never be the same. Several months later took place the confounding incident with Tiger’s wife and the golf club followed by Tiger being accused of and admitting to adultery. The next time we saw him was at a depressing press conference in which he looked like he had aged multiple years. Golf was nowhere near the forefront of his thoughts, yet its absence from his life failed to repair his marriage. Pivoting away from Tiger for a second, it is also very ironic that Borg divorced his wife soon after abandoning the pro circuit and would remarry twice more. Both men have been involved with multiple women since then (famously Lindsey Vonn in the case of Tiger), but their careers were never restored to the success they had pre marriage.
You may be wondering what conflicting marital situations have anything to do with the respective downfalls of Tiger and Borg. Evidence shows that athletes with stable personal lives are more likely to maintain a high level of performance throughout the span of a career. Look no further than the greatest champions in the men’s tennis. Roger Federer is happily married to his former manager and has four kids. Novak Djokovic married his high school sweetheart and has always been committed to his Serbian roots above the hoopla of being the world’s greatest. Rafael Nadal is the same; he still lives in his family home on the island of Mallorca and has had a long term relationship with girlfriend Maria Francisca. The one blemish in his record nine out of ten Roland Garros victories was in 2009, not so coincidentally at the same time as the divorce of his parents.
Hence, stability in life off the court or course is paramount to maintaining the mental edge that enables champions such as Borg and Tiger to continue being dominant. For Borg, we never really knew much about his personal life. His closest rivals labeled him as reserved and quite, and frankly no one knew anything about Swedish tennis players when Borg came onto the scene. On Tiger’s end, we all knew how much his dad influenced his ascension to golf’s throne. Following Earl’s death in 2006, many golf writers argued that Tiger wasn’t the same in the years he no longer had his mentor and his best friend.
Perhaps the most painful part of the debacle that the two legends experienced was their attempted comebacks. Borg, dismissing advances in the technology of tennis racquets and strings, returned to competition in 1991 where he played several tournaments and went on a truly humbling losing streak at the not-so ripe age of 35 (at least in that era of tennis). On the other hand, Tiger returned from his leave of absence and actually won The Players’ Championship in 2011, his best four days of golf since that 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. However, having faltered in the final round of The Masters and Open Championship in 2013 where he was in position to contend following 54 holes, Tiger failed to build the confidence necessary to regain his old form despite a strong start to the 2013 season. Couple the inability to replicate small spurts of consistency with the need for knee and back surgeries, and you won’t find Tiger contending on today’s PGA Tour. It is without a doubt that he was the king of a sport that needed saving when he emerged on the scene. Just like Borg injected a new style of play into Grand Slam tennis, Tiger was the rock that always stood strong and brought passion and skill to every hole he played. But when the foundation upon which this rock was built crumbled, there was nothing to stop Tiger from falling off his throne and into the abyss. There was no precedent for his disappearance from the sport’s elite, but with Bjorn Borg, we found a story with a background that showed how even the mighty can fall.
Today, golf has changed as a result of Tiger Woods. For better or worse, his absence has created a void that is being filled with young stars who are eager to become the next multi Major champions. Sure, it’s unlikely that they will challenge Tiger’s fourteen, but they will have been inspired by what he did from 1997 to 2008. If you’re waiting for my take on whether or not Tiger can become his old self again, you won’t get one. The odds are stacked against him, and time and health are definitely not on his side. But as Alfred told Bruce Wayne, “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Tiger didn’t deserve the demoralizing events (some of which were out of his control) that caused his fall. I hope the king can find his way back up.
By Brice Polender
Standing over the ball on his second shot on the 72nd hole at Oakmont, Dustin Johnson was one solid approach shot away from winning the 116th U.S. Open and erasing his name from the list of “best player to not have won a major”. Having stayed laser focused throughout the round despite the mental and emotional turbulence he must have felt from the poorly handled officiating, Johnson was completely in the zone and ready to hit his approach from 190 yards out following a perfect drive. As Johnson was about to start his swing, the silence was broken by an electronic beep of some sort that came from behind. Johnson backed off from the ball and sternly looked in the direction of the noise and muttered, “really?” in disbelief that something so distracting occurred right as he was about to hit one of the most important shots of his life. But he was quick to regain his focus and remained unwavering in his commitment to achieving his goal. He took two loose practice swings before walking up to the ball and executing the shot of his life: a perfect six iron to five feet from the cup, all but sealing his first major victory.
As he walked up the eighteenth fairway toward the green, Johnson’s expression was one of concentration and stoicism. There was not a hint of relaxation or celebration in his body language as the fans showered him with cheers and applause. Even when he sealed the victory by sinking the birdie putt, Johnson remained reserved in his celebration giving a muted fist pump. It was only when his one year old son ran into his arms that a huge smile lit up Dustin’s face and he finally began to let his guard down. This wasn’t going to end in heartbreak like last year and so many majors before.
Dustin Johnson remained perfectly stoic, only focusing on the golf course ahead of him in spite of all his past disappointments and failures to close out major championships. In fact, it was evident that those past failures had really prepared him for this moment. The memories of being so close so many times before instilled a healthy fear that prevented him from letting anything stop him from achieving his goal. He truly played like a man that had learned from his experiences.
When on the fifth green Johnson’s ball moved right as he was about to address it following a few practice strokes, Johnson quickly informed the referee that the ball had moved backwards and that he hadn’t touched it. By doing this, he guaranteed that there would be no penalty more than a stroke as he had experienced in the past with a controversial rule. In the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straights, Dustin was assessed a two stroke penalty for grounding his club in a sandy area outside of the ropes that in no way resembled a hazard. The penalty cost him what would have been a spot in a playoff.
Johnson ended up parring the fifth hole, and it seemed to be a closed issue. But later, on the twelfth hole he was notified by USGA rules official Jeff Hall that there was a possibility that he would be assessed a stroke penalty after the round if it was determined that more likely than not Dustin’s actions caused the ball to move. When all the other groups were notified and this information was presented on the broadcast, there was soon an outcry by players on social media. McIlroy, Spieth, Fowler, Els, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Luke Donald, and others denounced any suggestion that there should be a stroke penalty.
On Sunday evening former player and Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee was fuming when looking for an explanation from rules official Jeff Hall for why the USGA ended up giving Johnson the stroke penalty, “I’ve seen a lot of crazy things on the golf course. A lot of crazy rule scenarios unfold. I’ve played golf for forty years. I have never nor have I ever seen anybody make a practice stroke that caused the ball to move.” When Hall and Thomas Pagel (USGA Senior Director of Rules) explained that their rationale was that the weight of evidence such as Johnson’s proximity to the ball and the time elapsed pointed to that it was more likely than not that Johnson caused the ball to move. Chamblee in disbelief pleaded, “What about what he did caused that ball to move?”
This massive disconnect between the USGA rules officials and pretty much all of the public, especially current and former players makes it clear that this was either just terrible officiating by the USGA and/or it is a terrible rule like was the case with the Calvin Johnson/ Dez Bryant non catches. Regardless, the USGA is very lucky that Johnson took care of business and that in the end the decision they came to in assessing Johnson a stroke penalty had no effect on the outcome because if it had, it would undoubtedly go down as one of the worst officiating debacles in sports history. But maybe if in the end that stroke would have affected the outcome, the USGA would have ruled differently. Perhaps the USGA’s ultimate ruling of applying the stroke penalty to Johnson was just so the whole controversy and turmoil that they caused would not result in nothing.
With those watching from the outside being livid, imagine what must have been going through Dustin Johnson’s mind, as a player who has been robbed of a chance in the past to win a major championship because of a b.s. rule/ruling. As mentioned in the beginning of the piece, it is truly remarkable that he was able to keep it from affecting him and remain poised while many of the other players at the top of the leaderboard were thrown off by the news of the pending stroke penalty.
Tiger Woods summed it up well in his tweet: “Some great golf by @DJohnsonPGA all week, strong way to finish overcoming that rules farce. Happy Father's Day to DJ and all of you.”
by David Zakhodin
When the ball is struck off the first tee on the morning of Thursday, April 7th, three men will enter Augusta National Golf Club with the spotlight of the golf world shining upon them. Since 2008, we golf fans have wrestled with who should become the face of the sport following the demise of Tiger Woods. The last half decade has produced a slate of inconsistent champions and one-time wonders who have failed to permanently rise to the pinnacle of the sport. And even though it may be tempting to claim that golf is sunk deep in a state of parity, it is clear that after the outcome of the 2015 season, golf fans ought to no longer search for a singular face to lead our sport. Instead, we must embrace the birth of a Triumvirate captained by Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy.
Just as the Roman Triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus was defined by leaders who were highly qualified, Golf’s New Triumvirate is highlighted by past success and future potential. Of the three, Rory McIlroy emerged as the first contender for the face of golf. Whether it was triumphing at the 2011 U.S. Open only weeks after a historic collapse at The Masters or looking unperturbed on the back nine of his victorious campaign at the PGA Championship in Valhalla, Rory established himself as a result of his swagger and ability to perform under pressure. While much of the media rushed to crown Rory after his dominant 2014, a young prodigy in Jordan Spieth leapfrogged Rory in both the rankings and in popularity by accomplishing a feat that had only been previously achieved by five golfers: winning The Masters and The U.S. Open on arguably one of the most treacherous courses ever. As for the skeptics, Jordan silenced them with top four finishes at the season’s last two Majors and a victory at the Tour Championship. And just as we were about to coronate Jordan, things finally clicked for Jason Day who avenged his previous runner-up finishes at Majors by winning the PGA Championship. Since, Jason has stolen the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking from Jordan thanks to his early 2016 victories at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC Dell Match Play. No matter what vantage point we see through, it’s evident that each of these three golfers has had his time to shine. However, after they tee off on Thursday, each strike of the ball will go a long way in dictating their pathway in cementing their stronghold on the sport.
While it is impossible to ascertain whether one of these three will be putting on the green jacket in the Butler Cabin on Sunday night, what we do know is that the 2016 Masters represents the first high stakes event where Jason, Jordan, and Rory will compete on a level playing field. More specifically, these four days will serve as a litmus test for determining whether or not one of the three can separate and establish his dominance over the other two just as Octavian asserted himself as the leader of Rome. Now, the reason this upcoming Masters yields a level playing field is because these golfers have reached a level of prestige where no more excuses can be made on their behalf. Jason can no longer pull the inexperience card and say that he has struggled finishing the job on the big stage because he is the world #1. Jordan has no excuse for being worn down after having played too much golf because we know he possesses the clutch gene that helps him shoot low scores even on his mediocre days. And Rory doesn’t get to talk anymore about his freak leg injury because he’s had a full offseason to regain the form that won him four Major titles. With demons from the past out of the equation, it is now imperative to examine both the tangible and intangible factors that will contribute or prevent these three from putting on the green jacket.
Beginning with their play on the golf course, evidence suggests that Jason is by far the hottest golfer of the three. When reports had him dead in the water after a suspected back injury, Jason steamed through the WGC Dell Match Play by most notably notching a big 1 Up victory over Rory in the semifinals. Even though the conditions at Austin Country Club hardly resemble those at Augusta National, the high level of play demonstrated by Jason and Rory shows that they are both primed to make a big push for their first respective Masters title. On the other hand, Jordan enters The Masters perceived as an utter enigma. Last year we knew what we were getting from him week in and week out on the course; this year we hardly have anything to build off aside from the victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii where he shot 30-under. While some may say that Jordan is going into the Masters fatigued and lacking confidence, I say beware of the defending champion. If Jordan can find that zone where he hits the 75% greens in regulation that he hit during last year’s Masters and pairs it with his usual brilliance on the putting green, he will surely be placing the green jacket on his own shoulders as opposed to the shoulders of another rival.
Perhaps more integral to the progression of a four-day event such as The Masters is the body language and mental fortitude that a golfer exhibits in his quest to making the winning putt on the 72nd hole. For Jason and Rory, everything boils down to maintaining poise should they set themselves up for victory on the back nine of the final round. It was five years ago that Rory collapsed with his infamous final round of 80 while Jason failed to put his foot on the pedal and let Charl Schwartzel slip into the green jacket. However, with Jason having accumulated so many wins over the last six months and Rory showing off his regained form with the WGC Dell Match Play performance, both should have no problem embracing the pressure of stepping up on a stage where they have previously faltered. And even though past results at Augusta paint Jason and Rory as the underdogs and Jordan as the favorite, the mainstream golf media claims otherwise. Maybe Jordan no longer has anything to prove to himself, but he has to show his doubters that he is capable of regaining the same level that elevated him to the pinnacle of the sport last season. Today, the conversation revolves around Jordan’s recent woes, but I renounce the idea that somehow Jordan’s alleged inconsistency is going to prevent him from performing at the level required to regain the green jacket. In fact, it’s amazing how recency bias surrounding Jason’s hot hand has absolutely shelved the success that Jordan had last year. If not for a two-putt on the 71st hole at St. Andrews, we may very well be talking about a winner of both the calendar Slam and the FedEx Cup Playoffs as well as the world number #1. Therefore, it’s crucial not to underestimate the resilience and strength of the man who seized the reins of the golf world last year and may very well become the Octavian of this Triumvirate.
As much attention as we give to the three favorites, we cannot ignore the chip on the shoulders of the rest of the field. If there is anything we have learned from The Masters in the past half decade, it is that Augusta National often presents winning opportunities for golfers who are rarely in the limelight. While the Zach Johnsons, Charl Schwartzels, Bubba Watsons, and Adam Scotts of the world may get some favorable betting odds from Vegas because of their past success, the 2016 Masters is still not about those golfers. They may be Major champions, but they have not risen to the level of Jason, Jordan, and Rory because of their inability to maintain a consistent presence in the winner’s circle. The bottom line is that Jason, Jordan, and Rory will fuel the bulk of the conversation before, during, and after this week’s event. We golf fans won’t have to waste our time listening to mainstream golf media spending eons of time covering the state of Tiger Woods’ back during his mysterious rehab schedule. Instead, all eyes will be on three golfers who will push one another to their respective limits in pursuit of greatness. Despite the fact that today’s Triumvirate lacks the longevity of the first Golf Triumvirate composed of Harry Vardon, John Henry Taylor, and James Braid that won sixteen Open Championships between 1894 and 1914, it is unequivocally the face of golf. And if Jason, Jordan, and Rory push one another the way Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player pushed each other throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, then we will surely be immersed in a new age of golf for which the tone was set by the outcome of the 2016 Masters.
by Brice Polender
Due to golf’s unpredictable nature in comparison to other professional sports, it is common to see a great deal of fluctuation in who is relevant. One of the contributing factors to this parity is that in no other sport do we see an individual like Jim Herman get hot to win a PGA Tour event for the first time in 106 appearances. Although this could be a springboard to future success, in all likelihood such a performance will not be replicated anytime soon. This specific scenario reveals why there are so many different winners on the PGA Tour. Herman represents a majority of players on the PGA Tour who have the potential to win on any given week if they play at their very best and catch all the right breaks. In a sense each tournament is a lottery where the odds are spread out relatively evenly, and those who are in the final group on Sunday are the ones who happen to be playing their best golf that weekend. When looking at winning an event from this perspective, it makes the top players who are able to win several times a year and at the biggest events all the more impressive. The most common rationale for describing a top golfer from the rest is that he either plays his best more often than everyone else, finds a way to win when he is not at his best, or most likely because his B+ game is equivalent to the field’s A+ game.
Because there is only one winner at an event in golf, that winner understandably receives the vast majority of the media’s attention. And because for most players, wins are few and far between, it is very difficult for them to stay relevant in the headlines on a consistent basis. Even for the game’s very best players, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy, we have seen that whoever wins the most recent tournament is portrayed by the media as the “next Tiger”. This past year started with all the expectations on McIlroy’s shoulders. However, all media attention shifted to Spieth after he won the first two Majors and was on the brink of history. Just when Spieth was locked in as the next Tiger, Day trumped Spieth’s momentum en route to a victory at the PGA Championship. And despite Spieth getting the best of Day at the Tour Championship, Day now stands as the guy to beat after winning the Arnold Palmer and WGC Match Play.
Heading into The Masters all conversation surrounds Day’s current streak, Spieth’s ability to repeat, and McIlroy’s pursuit of the Major that eludes him. One player who is being overshadowed by the aforementioned three is Dustin Johnson, whose 2015 season is perceived by many not for what it was, but for what it could have been. He won the WGC Cadillac Championship and had a strong showing at The Masters where he tied for sixth. It was at the middle two majors where the story was one of missed opportunity. With a chance to win the U.S. Open, his infamous three putt from twelve feet on the 72nd green was one of the more heart wrenching losses in recent golf memory. Despite this massive disappointment, Dustin rebounded to start the Open Championship by taking the 36 hole lead only to collapse in the final two rounds and finish tied for 49th. Refusing to let the disappointments at the previous two Majors keep him down, Dustin finished tied for seventh in the year’s final Major at the PGA Championship and continued his solid performance in the FedEx Cup Playoffs with top tens at three of the four events including a fifth place at the Tour Championship.
The only other players besides Dustin to record at least three top ten finishes at the Majors in 2015 were Jason Day, Justin Rose, and Jordan Spieth who finished top five at all four. Therefore, Dustin’s ability to maintain a consistent level is a reason for why he will capture an elusive Major similar to the way Jason Day broke through after barely coming up short on multiple occasions. And with the pressure being off Dustin and on the top three in the Official World Golf Ranking, it is now Dustin Johnson’s time to become the center of attention by way of winning the 2016 Masters.
Augusta National is famous for its lightning fast greens, thus making great putting and wedge play paramount in the battle for the green jacket. In fact, driving the ball long off the tee is perhaps the most overlooked part of being able to separate from the rest of the field at Augusta. It’s no coincidence that the tour’s most prominent long hitter in Bubba Watson is the only player to have won The Masters twice in the last five years. With the greens being as slick as they are, they present a challenge that is greater than putting itself, and that is being able to get one’s approaches to stay on the green and not roll off. Because of this difficulty, being able to use a club or two shorter on every approach is a huge advantage for those who are able to hit the ball long as the ball is more likely to stay on the green when coming from a steeper trajectory. Being the Tour’s leader in driving distance in 2015, Dustin Johnson carries this significant edge over much of the field.
This year Dustin Johnson is quietly off to a strong start and has hardly been mentioned in comparison to Adam Scott and Jason Day who already have two wins each. Dustin is third in top tens with five and has perfectly prepared himself for this week’s Masters by way of a third place finish at the Shell Houston Open with a score of thirteen under. Flying under the radar and possessing the necessary experience of having been in the hunt for a Major title, Dustin Johnson will get over the hump and put on the green jacket on Sunday.