Heroes and villains
Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Jason Day has had an up and down season with injuries and his mother’s health derailing his starts. It’s been over a year since his last victory. On the weekend he had a chance to close the deal but three-putted in the playoff. Day won five times in 2015 and three times in 2016 to vault to World #1. Did you see signs at the AT&T Byron Nelson that Day is close to being a dominant player on Tour again? Is the three-putt in the playoff a concern?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): The problem we all seem to have is that once a player has been anointed “elite” or “Big Three” or whatever, we expect him/them to win every week. But nobody’s invincible, and they’re all so highly tuned that injury or fatigue, or an occasional six-month slump, is inevitable. I think Jason, Rory, Jordan and Dustin are all the real deal and are going to continue to dominate — season in/season out, not week-in/week-out — for several years. But because it’s four of them, and there are so many super players in the second tier, no one is going to dominate solo like Tiger did for a decade and a half.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I definitely saw some signs! Day shot four consecutive rounds in the 60s for the first time this season, finished the week 2nd in strokes gained with the putter and 16th in strokes gained off-the-tee! The Aussie looked especially great with his driver on Saturday when he fired off an incredible score of 63. In that round, he averaged 317 yards off the tee and found the fairway an impressive 71% of the time. That three putt was most certainly not a concern. As Justin Ray of the Golf Channel reported, Day has made 95.5% of his putts from inside of five feet this season prior to that hiccup so I think that he’ll be just fine.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Not a concern in the least, everyone makes a bad putt once in a while, and that was definitely poor, a Mickey Mantle, a dead yank. But given the personal issues he has had to deal with this year, it’s not surprising to see him struggle a bit. He’s still one of the best in the world and will almost certainly win one before the year is over, maybe even at Erin Hills next month. I’ll be cheering for him!
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: All signs point to his wealth of talent shining through again, if he can stay healthy. As Eldrick proved, and Rory and Day are underlining, the modern swing puts unheard of stress on the body. The guys have to find a happy medium between the gym work and the thousands of high speed swings. A healthy Day can dominate again. He’s an excellent putter and has likely already put that 3-jack well behind him.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): All aspects of Day’s game looked solid and I expect he’ll be ready for the U.S. Open. He won’t dwell on the three putt in the playoff. In fact, he probably forgot about it by the time someone slapped a cold one in his hands in the locker room.
In 2015, Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth were being crowned as the new Big 3 following recent successes in the majors. Since then all three have struggled at various times while Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas and others have all moved into the mix. There is no dominant player on the PGA Tour as there was during Tiger’s best years and not even a Big 3 at the moment. Do you prefer to see a single player or even a small group dominate or do you like it wide open where almost anyone can win?
Deeks: I’d say (as I did above) that we now have a Big Four, and I like it that way. It may be sacrilege to say, but it got kinda boring watching Tiger win yet again when he was winning everything a decade ago. The current Big Four will win their fair share, and probably most of the majors, which is great; but it’s also nice that new boys, and even the occasional old boy, can pull off a win in the Bag of Hammers Open or the Peach Pit Classic.
Kaplan: I love competition and surprises, so I will always prefer a larger group of elite players in the mix than just 3 or 4 players running roughshod on the rest of the PGA Tour. Plus, as a columnist, there is much more material to write about when different players win each week. In recent years, the number of elite players on the PGA Tour has expanded considerably (Thomas Pieters, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrell Hatton, Hideki Matsuyama). Plus, there are plenty of elite level players who are struggling at the moment (i.e. Spieth, McIlroy, Stenson, Day, Bubba, Mickelson, Reed, etc…) who I believe will regain their mojo just in time for the upcoming majors. Hopefully, we will have some good old fashioned heavyweight battles in the coming weeks.
Rule: Every sport benefits from dominant players or teams, it’s what makes fans passionate about the game, whether you love or hate the person or team that dominates. You either want to see them succeed as much as possible, or you want your underdog to un-seat them. The sport was never more popular than when Tiger was in his prime, and we need that dominant player again. It’s just so tough to dominate these days because the field is so even and everyone works their butts off to get near the top. DJ is definitely the one that can dominate more than the others just due to his ridiculous natural talent, and the fact that he’s too unaware (trying to put that as lightly as possible) to realise when he should be nervous, or to dwell on rough patches in his life, on and off the course!
Quinn: Doesn’t matter if it’s a big one or a big three or five. What matters is that the best have charisma, play exciting golf, and thereby attract a huge fan base. There are too many ‘Who Cares?’ winners on the Tour, and almost nothing but ‘Who Cares?’ winners on the LPGA Tour. (Nice to see Lexi Thompson win the Kingsmill). DJ hits exciting shots but couldn’t be more boring. Spieth whines as much as wins. Are you going to pay to follow Thomas around for 5 hours? Rory and Day play exciting games, are entertaining and engaging personalities. I’d happily settle for a Big Two, with the supporting cast winning the second and third tier events.
Mumford: I definitely prefer a small group or even a single dominant player. It provides a much clearer rooting interest, either for or against. While it’s nice to see young guys win the Shave Club for Men Classic on a weekly basis, they don’t put me on the edge of my seat. Even the events feel like warm ups for the real thing – majors and WGC championships. And for those events, as they say in team sports, you want the best players to be the best players.
Most stories work best with a hero and a villain. The current PGA Tour doesn’t have a single dominant hero but has lots of good players and nice guys who can fill the role. But does it have any villains – someone you can and want to root against? Who’s the best PGA Tour villain of all time?
Deeks: My current villain is Patrick Reed. I just don’t like his attitude and cockiness. Prior to him it was John Daly, then (going back progressively) Scott Hoch, then Tom Weiskopf, then — believe it or not — Jack Nicklaus, when he first came out on Tour and started beating my (and everyone else’s) idol, Arnie. We all learned to love Jack when it was clear Arnie was done by 1969, and Jack had lost weight, grown his hair, picked up his glacial pace and learned to smile, and showed he was a gracious winner and a classy loser. I suppose the best villain of all time was Terrible Tommy Bolt, in the 50s, who cussed and cursed and hurled his clubs after bad shots. But I once spent an afternoon with Tommy Bolt and found him to be one of the nicest, funniest, and most charming guys I’d ever met.
Kaplan: Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson are the closest thing to villains on the circuit these days and that really isn’t saying much because both players are actively trying to clean up their public images. The best villain in PGA Tour history, aside from Shooter McGavin, is probably Rory Sabbatini. The South African would get in fights with every personality type on Tour, from Tiger Woods to Sean O’Hair, and even one time berated a 16-year-old volunteer at Riviera for marking his errant drive with an empty Coke can.
Rule: As I mentioned in my previous response, all sports work better with dominant players, whether they are liked or not, and maybe sometimes even better with the latter. Some would certainly put Tiger in the villain category due to his indiscretions and lack of personal interaction with fans, but I don’t think he fits that category. There are a couple of guys I root against these days due to their annoying cocky attitudes and idiotic comments, like Patrick Reed or my newest player-to-hate Grayson Murray (have you seen some of his comments on social media? What an idiot!), but despite some selfish comments from Reed (top 5 in the world? Yeah, ok) I don’t see either of them getting to the point where I would classify them as villains because they just aren’t good enough to care about. As for all time, that’s a tough one because the greats that come to mind were all great champions. I guess I would have to stick with the obvious choice, Shooter McGavin!
Quinn: Larry Mize for his ridiculous 100-foot chip-in on the 11th to rob Greg Norman of the 1987 Masters. Without that dumb luck stunner no telling — Mize could hit a small bucket from that spot and never get it close — no telling how much better Norman’s record would be. Mize’s legacy? Who cares.
Mumford: For Americans, there’s likely no bigger villain than Ian Poulter, who ravaged them with fiery stares and dealt them death blows with his putter in several Ryder Cups. Of course, someone’s villain may be someone else’s hero and Poulter is fine in my books. Amongst current players, Bubba Watson probably comes closest to being a villain but he’s so streaky that he can’t always be counted on to be the foil. In other eras, Raymond Floyd and Nick Faldo were my primary villains, partly because they were so good and won their fair share of big events against my heroes of the time and partly because I kept hearing stories about what jerks they were with fans and in pro ams. I’ve since met Faldo on several occasions and he was far more gracious and less threatening in person than any villain has a right to be.