A scant 25 years ago, people wondered if we would ever see the kind of golf we’d become accustomed to again.
Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Trevino and Watson raised every trophy of significance and prior to that, Hogan, Nelson and Snead were joined by other truly capable adversaries.
According to some there was a slight pause during the 1990s when all we had was Faldo, Norman, Els and Price, but everything changed in 1997 with the arrival of Tiger Woods.
Over the past 20 years, Woods has been his own “Big Three” and one of the most recognizable names in sports, but where do we go from here, especially now with the uncertainty surrounding Tiger’s future?
People love champions.
They want someone to rise up from the pack and win at an unsustainable rate, set records, be in contention at every event and be a media darling.
As soon as the greatest player of all-time rides into the sunset people expect someone to immediately fill the void. Life isn’t like that.
If you walked into a shopping mall and stopped passers-by to name the player who hit the most home runs in a season from a list of Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Mark Maguire, most would say Ruth or Maris, even though it’s Bonds.
In other words, nobody since Babe Ruth in the 1920s has played baseball to his level in their minds.It’s likely the average person has heard of Muhammad Ali or Pele yet other greats lived before and since the man they call the Greatest.
As far as golf is concerned Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods top the list, but no others have become household names.
Looking at the contenders to replace Tiger as the most dominant player the only legitimate choice is Rory McIlroy.
Given his ability to win big events numerous times on different venues and at a young enough age, McIlroy has the tools to put together the best record of this era.
Others putt better, drive better and are younger. Others have comparable records, but nobody has a record even close to his at his age. Three things concern me – his putting is suspect at times, in the past couple of years, he has suffered a variety of injuries and has he enjoyed too much financial success to this point?
Sam Snead’s lifetime earnings were $620,000 and change, which when calculated into today’s dollars, he is all-time leading money winner at over $200M but it took him over decades to do it.
He did have off the tour earnings for club contracts and exhibitions, but nothing comparable to the revenue generated today by hundreds of players. In the 1940s, Hogan and Snead were basically the only two golfers who were paid large amounts to endorse products. Touring professionals primarily lived from their tournament winnings.
PGA Tour professionals have always been gracious with their time. They supported various fund raisers as a name celebrity, played in exhibitions and pro-ams and had their own favorite group to which they contributed.
I recall the hundreds of hours our own Al Balding gave to the Easter Seals and physically challenged youth. Every tour pro has something they are involved in to benefit people less fortunate than themselves. How will this consumption of time and interest impact a player’s career going forward?
The Tiger Wood Foundation receives funding from various sources, including Woods personally. Tiger also spends a lot of time acquiring funds, mentoring kids and playing a pivotal role in growth/management.
He openly states his desire to increase the number of admissions tenfold. Will he arrive at a point where he derives more pleasure, challenge and drive to increase the impact from his foundation than he can get from golf?
Ernie Els and his wife Liezl have made a tremendous difference in helping young people deal with autism, which affects their own son.
Through personal donations of time and money, Els has created an entirely new way to provide opportunity for young people through a school in Florida.
When you hear him speak about his professional golf career and then listen as the subject turns to the school, there is a visible change in his demeanor. His main purpose for golf is becoming, if it isn’t already, to help support the school.
Recently, Rory McIlroy was asked about his role in the future of golf.
His reply was, “I don’t think there is anything better in life than when you are able to help other people, whatever way that might be? We are in a very fortunate position where we can give back and we can really help a lot of people. I take that role very seriously”.
Will he find an avenue to pursue a personally created responsibility that far exceeds professional golf?
The PGA Tour generates millions for charity and the players come very close to matching that through their personal initiatives. They can perform at this level because they attain a desirable profile and they are reaching incredible amounts of lifetime earnings very early in their life.
Previously, players developed their skills over a period of years and now, they join the tour as experienced veterans.
Where golf once consumed a lifetime to master, young lions are trained with electronic devices, exposed to pressure situations at early ages and benefit from highly knowledgeable teachers. They win early and accumulate wealth early.
Will this translate into an early departure from the required hundreds of hours of dedicated practice, burdensome travel and stress of public demands?
Are we entering a time of decade-long careers that skyrocket to the pinnacle only to be followed by an interest in other soul-satisfying endeavors and early retirement?
It’s not be a bad thing.
Enjoy the young stars while we can just in case.