Hats off to Gary …. and kudos to Brooke!

Until Sunday afternoon, Gary Woodland was one of those names on the PGA Tour that you knew OF, for years.   But you wouldn’t have a clue what he looked like, what he’s done in his career, where he’s from, what strength his game has, whether he was a nice guy or a sourpuss, or what brand of equipment sponsored him.

That all changed Sunday afternoon.   With his impressive, courageous, and thoroughly well-deserved win at one of the more memorable U.S. Opens of recent times, Gary Woodland will now be recognized, better-known, and better appreciated by followers of golf around the world.

How long this will last is, of course, anyone’s guess… and very much depends on where Gary goes from here.

Did we witness the long-delayed and overdue arrival of a great new golf champion on Sunday?

Or will Gary, like so many major tournament winners before him, ride his moment of glory for a few weeks (say, a month, before the Open Championship begins), then rather rapidly fade back into the oblivion from which he came?

Think of names like Danny Willett, Y.E. Yang, Lucas Glover, Todd Hamilton, Charl Schwartzel, Ben Curtis, Kim Si-Woo, Geoff Ogilvy, Trevor Immelman, Tim Clark, or Jason Dufner.  All these guys have won either one of the four majors or a Tournament Players Championship in the last 15 years.  I follow golf pretty closely, but if I was walking through a quiet airport, and any one of these fine chaps rolled past me in the corridor – even if they were dragging a golf bag behind of them – I wouldn’t recognize one of them, and I can’t tell you whether they’re still playing golf for a living or not.

That is not to take away any of the prestige they acquired for winning their major.  They were all well-deserved.  (Mr. Yang, for example, beat Tiger Woods mano-à-mano in the 2009 PGA Championship, coming from a two-shot deficit to win by three strokes).

Unfortunately, however, sports – and the game of golf in particular – can be capricious, fleeting, and often unfair.  I’m sure none of these gentleman, the day after their major victories, ever thought that within months, their names would be mere footnotes in the game’s history.  To a man, they probably all thought that more victories, more majors, more money, and more glory would be theirs in the years ahead.  I’m sure Gary Woodland is daring to think these thoughts as I’m writing this.

I hope he’s right.  He was a very worthy champion of arguably the toughest tournament of them all, on a great and demanding golf course.  He played like a skilled surgeon, not wavering once in his pursuit of the trophy.  By all accounts, he’s popular with his peers, and grateful for the fans who support him; a journeyman who loves the game, and his family.

He deserves this moment in the spotlight, and hopefully, many more such moments ahead.  But so does every major champion; yet the list of those who transcend their first major victories is not a long one.  Good luck to you, Gary.

Now, speaking of champions, Canada quietly celebrated its own MAJOR achievement on Sunday as the divine Ms. Brooke Henderson, 21, of Smiths Falls, Ontario, proceeded to calmly secure her NINTH LPGA Tour victory at the Meijer Championship in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  (Too bad Meijer is pronounced “myer”, not “major”.   Otherwise, we’d be saying… oh, never mind.)

As we all know by now, this is one more victory than the eight each which fellow Canadians Mike Weir, George Knudson, and Sandra Post ever acquired in their stellar professional careers.

It was also her second win in this tournament, and her third tournament victory coming on Fathers Day, which is particularly appropriate for the Henderson clan, as father and golf coach Dave is very much a part of the four-person team that has made Brooke, arguably, and certainly in my humble opinion, the BEST non-Asian player on the Tour in the last three years.

The other members of Team Henderson are Brooke, of course, sister and full-time caddie Brittany, and very much in-the-background Mom, Darlene.  They often travel together, and when required, shield and protect Brooke from the interruptions, idolatry, and interference that can get in the way of concentration, practice and perseverance.

I’ve written about Brooke many times in the past, both here in Fairways and a couple of times in the Toronto Star, when that newspaper still recognized that golf was a sport worthy of individual (not newswire) coverage.  I have never written even the faintest negative word about Brooke, for the simple reason that it’s impossible to detect even the slightest flaw in this young lady and her achievements.

She’s so good at every aspect of the game, it’s awe-inspiring to behold.  And I don’t just mean those aspects that involve swinging clubs and stroking putters.  Her mind control on the golf course is almost breath-taking, whether she’s on a singular path to victory, or not having her best day.  Her ability to be articulate, interesting, forthcoming, and respectful to television interviewers, journalists, fans, star-struck little girls, and no doubt, anyone who crosses her path, is exemplary.  Her generally happy demeanor and girl-next-door good looks make her a sponsor’s dream.

Why Brooke has not been embraced by the LPGA Tour as its number one poster player – as opposed to the far less happy and approachable Lexi Thompson – is beyond me, and has been for years.

But then, great as she is, Brooke has to date only won – like Gary Woodland – ONE major championship in her nine professional victories.  Perhaps the LPGA recognizes the point I made above – which, in case you missed it, was sic transit gloria.  (That’s Latin for “so goes fame”, not “Gloria threw up on the subway”.)

Maybe with her second major win – this weekend, in Minnesota?? – the divine Ms. Brooke might finally be heralded as the best the LPGA has to offer.

And her status as more than a footnote will be secured.

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