The 2011 PGA TOUR major championship season concluded Sunday as Keegan Bradley became the 93rd PGA Champion after defeating another would-be first-time winner Jason Dufner in a three-hole playoff. A few weeks prior, 42 year-old Darren Clarke hoisted the claret jug for his first major in the Open Championship. Before that, Rory McIlory won his first major in record-breaking fashion at the US Open. Finally, Charl Schwartzel donned his first green jacket at The Masters in what many believe to be the most exciting major finish in years.
Four majors. Four first-time winners. Does it get any better than that?
While it is certainly too early to suggest that the 2011 PGA TOUR season is any indication of major victors in the future, we can all certainly agree that the “youth movement” is in full swing, if you pardon the pun. We can also agree that seeing new faces in the winner’s circle is great for the game in many ways. However, for the casual fan who watches golf on television to see names like Mickelson, Woods and other “household names”, this past season may be slightly confusing.
Dominance in sports is something that fans appreciate and gravitate to on an annual basis. If you are a baseball fan in the Bronx, for example, the sheer dominance of the New York Yankees is something that is as familiar to you as the Statue of Liberty. Manchester United football fans expect their team to win convincingly every time they step onto the field. American football fans in Boston witnessed their New England Patriots win multiple Super Bowls under a blanket of high expectations. I expected the very same from my Chicago Bulls during the 1990s. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal seem to take turns on who will dominate one year to the next on the tennis court. The LPGA’s Yani Tseng is the newest “Queen of Golf”, dominating her sport just as names like Ochoa and Sorenstam did before her. The list goes on and on.
Sports fans are drawn to these types of teams and individual athletes because of their seemingly superhuman abilities to achieve the pinnacle of their sport on an annual basis. The world enjoys celebrity; people yearn for a team or a player to cheer for and for others to jeer. From a storyline perspective, everyone loves a good guy and a bad guy. In the arena of professional golf, it seemed that for every fan who rooted for Tiger, there were five others who rooted for Phil. It just makes sense; fans need their heroes and their enemies.
Now, however, it seems that a new mindset is slowly making its way into professional golf. While Tseng maintains her grasp on in the LPGA, the PGA TOUR is becoming more fragmented. Individual player dominance seems to be on the way out while two interesting storylines are fighting for attention in its place.
On one hand, we have witnessed a “rebirth” of amazing golf talent as the game’s youth continues to show the world that the game is stronger than ever. In the other corner, of course, are the seasoned veterans who have amicably answered the call for battle. This contest has no other boundaries in the sand other than age; however it is a match-up that anyone can relate to regardless of your degree of golf fandom.
Perhaps an even more interesting storyline – at least in my opinion – is the continued contest between American and International golf. No longer is this brilliant match-up reserved for the likes of the Ryder Cup, President’s Cup or similar events. Golf fans can turn on their television sets every weekend to any tournament and see a constant struggle among the greatest golfers in the world from around the globe. I continue to find the notion that a “European Invasion” has taken over the ranks in professional golf. Sorry to break it to you, fellow Americans: international players are not taking over the game; they are taking the game back.
While professional sport will always have its favorites, its underdogs and its villains, the PGA TOUR is in the middle of a generation where dominance is no longer an individual possibility. The game has reached a point where the term “Any Given Sunday” better applies to the TOUR than the National Football League, and rightfully so. The only “sure-bet” in this game is the notion that such a wager doesn’t exist.
And frankly, this is exactly how golf should be.