Arguably the three most recognizable and successful stars in golf over the last twenty years, in consideration of both their on the course success and off the course marketing and star-power, may be the threesome mentioned in this headline. The alarming issue involves those actions that are being bantered along with these names as the new PGA Tour season begins the upcoming decade.
The “Borderland”, as much as any other region, has seen the demographics of golf change with the rise of John Daly and his improbable victory in the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick, followed behind closely by an affable star out of regional Arizona State with movie-star looks, an “awe-shucks” attitude and a go-for-broke style of attack on the golf course. And then, of course, there is Tiger Woods. Most would argue that Woods has been the most influential athlete of the new millennium.
Possibly the biggest criticism of golf analysts and enthusiasts over the last twenty years has been the “robotic-like” nature that athletes in the sport of golf have taken in the form of dry, character-less golfing “machines” who lack the personality and style to make the game truly streamlined for those most skeptical of sports aficionados. This fact functioned as an even greater catalyst to the Woods, Daly, and Mickelson aura. The efforts of the golfing community in El Paso and Las Cruces over nearly two decades to mold a generation of golfers attracted by the aforementioned stars may have been seriously affected in a significantly short amount of time. Golf has long been a sport in many cultures previously void of interest in such an “elitist” pastime. The threat that a large segment of this new golfing population may have been undermined in two months’ time by a hero’s infidelity, a perennial underdog’s continued fight against personal demons, and an eternal “choir-boy” imaged, fan favorite being tarnished by accusations of cheating have recently rocked the golf world. If this is what the PGA Tour was lacking in significant drama and rivalry, for the sake of our newest generation of golfers and next in line, I hope that the scene quickly turns to boring again very soon. Golf’s traditions and values have been unmatched by any other sport and untarnished for far too long to absorb such a brutal blow by three of its biggest stars over the course of a few short months.
It seems so unfortunate that a talent such as John Daly has been seemingly squandered on too many occasions to count. His recent statement that he was quitting, quickly recanted on Twitter that it was taken out of context is just another incident in a much too long string of self-defeating actions. It seems his number of chances to crawl out from under the rocks in which he has buried himself too many times before may be dwindling to the point where he officially does quit. Eventually, even the relentlessly forgiving of all golf fans will quit on him too, probably sooner rather than later.
Phil Mickelson certainly has not broken the rules of golf, and Scott McCarron’s recent accusation that his use of grandfathered Ping Eye-2 wedges was “cheating” was way out-of-bounds. However, the fact that he was “appalled” that Mickelson had put the clubs in play and doing so violated the spirit of the recent rule change concerning square grooves actually was appropriate. Would anyone disagree that the basic premise of the rule change is to ban the use of clubs with square grooves? Finding loop-holes and bending the rules doesn’t seem like the saintly thing to do. Anyone remember how many spectators it took to move a boulder out of Tiger Woods’ way in a PGA Tour event? Do you really think that the spirit of the rules had such an idea of a “loose” impediment? I think not.
And, maybe Tiger Woods’ success combined with a “squeaky-clean” image was far too good to be true. Maybe his idolized role in golf combined with unrivaled success had become too predictable, and possibly too easy. This author predicts that his abrupt fall from grace will be followed by an equally ferocious and dominating ascent back to the top of his sport.
On a week where football reigns supreme, here’s to the New Orleans Saints who go “marching in” to their first ever Super Bowl this weekend, and the hope that some Saints come marching onto the scene of the PGA Tour quickly in the year 2010.