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.
At the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Jordan Spieth dominated the field with a near flawless performance to win his seventh PGA Tour title before the age of 23. The comparisons to Tiger Woods are inevitable, even though Spieth’s career is just getting started. Is it fair to compare the two players yet or do we need to see a lot more from Spieth before anointing him “the next one”?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): He probably IS the next one, but jeez, I wish the media would just let him prove it first… and that means after at least three more majors.
Frank Mastroianni, Freelance Writer: I don’t have an issue with Spieth and Woods being compared as long as we are comparing records to this stage in their careers and not declaring him the next godsend. I gained a lot of respect for Spieth — though I still don’t care for his on course demeanour screaming at each golf shot like a 10 year old — during his post-victory interview. He himself said that though he appreciates the comparisons, they are still premature.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The confidence level for my pool pick — Jason Day — was so high that I enjoyed my annual policy of avoiding the Hawaii stop as it’s prime time in the NFL and do not like the Plantation Course, having played it numerous unenjoyable times. It’s beyond goofy. So late news that Spieth started where he left off was surprising, but not comparable to Eldrick’s pre- and post-Xmas wins back a decade and a half ago. The Tour has too many elite players now, so no one will ever dominate the way Eldrick did. That was then. What Spieth is doing is his alone and doesn’t require comparisons to any other player or era. Forget the next one, but he might be the current one.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Not only do we need to see more from Spieth but we need to see what Rory McIlroy has to say about it. The Irishman was sidelined for much of Spieth’s run last year and things might have been different if the two had faced off against each other. There are a lot of others who should have an impact too, although at Kapalua most of them faded off into the Hawaiian sunset.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours @GolfAwayTJ): It’s impossible to ever compare anyone to Tiger because he had an impact on the game that went well beyond the golf course. But if we are looking strictly at golf achievements, Mr. Spieth is certainly throwing his name into the conversation of best player of his generation. Of course, his career is a relatively small sample size at this point, and it will remain to be seen how long he can continue to win, but he seems pretty grounded and motivated, so there’s no reason to believe he won’t win multiple times each year for the foreseeable future. And 1 or 2 majors a year to boot. It will be interesting to see if Rory can be motivated enough to challenge him for best player in the world. It makes for an exciting 2016!
Craig Loughry, GAO Director of Handicapping (@craigloughry): You can compare Woods and Spieth to this point. Their paths are fair to compare including age, number of starts on Tour(s), and Majors won, creating that map gives us an idea of what we’re looking at. And it’s VERY good in many categories but Spieth has a big hill to climb if he wants to keep pace with Tiger in the future. Woods had 7 wins by age 23 but then added 17 more by age 25.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I think that we can start comparing the two because Spieth’s resume is already starting to look very much like Tiger’s did at around the 3-year mark. What is really interesting is that year 4 (2000) was the season when Tiger went loco, winning 3 majors and 9 of 20 tournaments that he entered, including 6 in a row at one point. Spieth is at around the 2 and a 1/2 year mark, so he still has a little bit of wiggle room to catch up, but the next 12 months will be extremely crucial in determining whether Jordan is, in fact, a GOAT candidate or just one of the preeminent talents on the next generation. That’s a heck of a lot of pressure, though.
The Ryder Cup is still a long way off but the recent spate of wins by young Americans (Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Kevin Kisner etc) signals a potential change to the team’s chemistry. The older players who have lost so many Ryder Cups may be replaced by hungry young players without any baggage. How do you like the chances for Davis Love’s team at Hazeltine?
Mastroianni: I don’t think the American players will ever really be at the same level as the European players when it comes to bonding as a team and understanding how to win as a team. A lot of people fail to understand the fundamental cultural differences between the U.S. and European countries and, unfortunately for the Americans, the way European players grow up (in general, not from a golf perspective) is much more conducive to winning in team events. That’s why some of the strongest, blockbuster American teams have failed to win against some of the weaker European teams in the past. In team competition, I take Europe 8 times out of 10 no matter who’s on the squad.
Kaplan: The US Ryder Cup team reminds me a little bit of the Kansas City Royals. The new core is extremely talented and young and it is not going anywhere. It may have taken a little time to develop but a roster consisting of Spieth, Reed, Fowler, Berger, Thomas, Koepka, Kisner, Kizzire, and Kaufmann for years to come is going to be a nightmare for the Europeans for years to come. The Americans might not win this year, but I expect the tide to shift soon towards the US side.
Rule: As much as I love watching the Euros win the Ryder Cup regularly, it will be good for the competition if the Americans can come in with a young core of players, and pull out a seemingly underdog victory on home soil. A lot of the young Americans are likeable guys too, so it’s easier to cheer for them. However, it will be tough to win if they are too young. It’s a pressure packed competition, and ideally a team would only introduce a couple of rookies each year, otherwise they could just be overwhelmed by an experienced European team. I always look forward to the Ryder Cup, and may even think of making the road trip in September. Who’s in?
Mumford: The way the year is starting out, 2/3 of the American team could be rookies or under 25 or both. Unless Davis Love insists on pulling in some veteran losers, this is the best thing for the U.S. team in a long time and they should beat the Euros who will themselves be saddled with some over-the-hill veterans. The young U.S. players could form the nucleus of a strong Ryder Cup team for many years to come too.
Deeks: I truly think the US is due for a victory, and for the sake of the competition, I’ll be rooting for them for the first time in decades. And yes, I hope there will be more young guns on the US team. I think we’ve had enough Mickelsons and Furyks.
Quinn: Without question the young guns will make this the strongest, and most energized, US team in a generation. Love 3 is too old to relate, so he’ll just have to be the anti-Tom Watson, just STFU, and pick nice shirts.
Loughry: I like the changing of the guard, the young guns look good on paper, but the Ryder Cup is about alternate formats and the concept of team, something for some reason the American squad can’t get a handle on. I’m hoping the US squad can turn the tables, and inject some excitement and emotion back into the Ryder Cup, as it is too lop sided for Team Europe of late.
What did you think of Rickie Fowler’s new high top golf shoes and if available in any colour of your choosing, would you wear a pair?
Rule: I like em. If golf is going to grow as a sport, particularly with the younger generations, it has to relax its dress codes with more non-traditional golf wear. His “kicks” are pretty cool actually, not sure if I could pull them off, but I may try someday! It would have to help my wonky ankles at least. Not too sure about the jogging pants though – that might be one step too far.
Deeks: I didn’t see the TOC this weekend (I’m offshore), so didn’t see Rickie’s footwear. They sound stupid, but then I’m an old grump. The chances of my ever wearing a pair would be zilch to zero.
Loughry: High Top shoes? Well, they’re not for me no matter the colour, but if it appeals to the young lads of today and tomorrow, then I say “high hop too it”.
Quinn: Man, the hi tops and jogging pants seem to be a stretch, so to speak, to a market that just might not be there. Guess PUMA thinks the skateboarders are going to see a Rickie poster and trade in the boards for sticks? Hmmm.. But I do like the six pockets in the pants. That’d be great for pace of play. Not sure the game requires this degree of ankle support, and not sure they’d look too good with shorts, but if I had to pick, I’d take a neon red pair, you know, so the foursome would notice.
Kaplan: My one knock on golf shoes is the lack of ankle support across the board. For violent swingers of the golf club, like myself, these shoes are ideal. I will take a pair in each colour, please.
Mastroianni: The high top shoe is ridiculous. Unless they’re available in a golf shoe, and when I say golf shoe, I mean a shoe that looks like it’s made for golf and not boxing, I won’t ever wear one. I might change my mind if you want to take me on in the ring or time travel ala Marty McFly though.
Mumford: Colour them any way you like – they’re not for me. But kudos to PUMA for pushing the envelope. Those shoes may be cool to someone out there that previously thought golf was just for old fuddy-duddies.
Moving forward, who is more likely to win a major – Dustin Johnson or Tiger Woods?
Deeks: My inclination is to say neither will win a major. But if I had to pick, it’d be Johnson. I just can’t see Tiger rising to the occasion ever again. But then, they would’ve said that about Nicklaus in ’86 and Sinatra in ’54.
Loughry: I can’t bet against TW, so that’s where I’m going. DJ is missing (GI) Golf Intelligence that is required to win a Major, something a good caddie can help him with, which he refuses to hire.
Quinn: It’s an unfair question because ‘neither’ is not an optional answer. I can’t conceive of the collision of catastrophes that would have to befall the game’s top 20 players to allow Eldrick to win another one. It’s also difficult to imagine none of the top ten guys — or a new stud to be named later — putting enough pressure on Johnson to induce him to blow another one. Still, that’s a heck of a lot more likely than Eldrick winning again on a big stage.
Mastroianni: Dustin Johnson. Is this seriously a question? I think there should be better odds of Jack Nicklaus winning another major before Tiger.
Rule: If I had to put money down, it would be on DJ for sure. He’s due to win one, while Tiger seems miles away at this time. I wouldn’t be surprised if DJ wins the Masters this year, dominating the golf course with his length.
Kaplan: Well, on one hand we have a guy who may never compete on the PGA Tour again, although I am not sure how many people actually believe that. Conversely, Dustin Johnson appears to have unlimited amounts of talent and distance, but absolutely no killer instinct. As he has demonstrated during several majors throughout his career, Dustin is a good bet to make a bone-headed blunder at crucial moments. He is the Blair Walsh of the PGA Tour. Tiger does not make those mistakes. He is clutch. Maybe the most clutch golfer ever. If he does get back to form, and stops trying to hit that draw — which his back clearly does not allow him to hit anymore —I would take Tiger in a heartbeat. He knows how to win a major. He’s done it 14 times before. If we have another PGA Championship or US Open at Torrey Pines and Tiger is healthy, I wouldn’t put it past the old man.
Mumford: Tough one. It’s really two questions, as in will Tiger come back and can DJ win a major? My gut says yes and no. I think Tiger is obfuscating as usual and he’ll be back sooner and better than he wants to let on. If he does, then I think he’ll win more majors. I also think DJ may be like Sergio – immense talent but possessed of a fatal flaw that causes a crucial error at the worst time. Consequently, I doubt he’ll ever win a major.