Tag Archives: Tiger Woods

Departures and Arrivals

Golf in the Olympics turned out to be surprisingly compelling. Justin Rose edged out Henrik Stenson on the men’s side, while In Bee Park, carrying the weight of a nation’s expectations, dominated the women’s competition. Moreover, Gil Hanse’s masterful course design not only delivered a marvelous canvas for the participants to display their skills, but also provided a low-maintenance track that could springboard golf participation in Brazil.

Or so we thought. Reports from several publications indicate that the Olympic Golf Course is dying a slow but inevitable death. Reasons cited are the high greens fees ($74 – $82 per round), resulting in very few rounds being played (on the bright side, no pace of play issues!) and the continued financial crisis is Brazil, which has resulted in the course’s maintenance crew not being paid for at least a couple of months.

A friend of mine pointed out that many Olympic venues become white elephants after the Games closing ceremonies (really, how much use would a cycling velodrome or kayaking course get post-Olympics?) and that one should have expected this outcome.  He’s probably correct, but unlike the other structures, a golf course has a life, and the good/great ones have a distinct character. Rio’s Olympic Golf Course has the latter in spades, what with its wide fairways, strategic bunkering, and seaside linksy qualities- in other words, the type of course that can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels.

It will be missed.


In the meantime, one of my home courses, TPC at the Four Seasons, will hold its final Byron Nelson Classic next year. This is only a mild surprise to us, as AT&T took over sponsorship a few years ago and announced its intention to move the tournament to a new Crenshaw-Coore design in a currently depressed area that is being gentrified (and in which AT&T has a vested interest) in 2019 The course has been announced ready to play; hence, the move date was bumped up by a year.

I’m of mixed emotions about this, as I think most members of courses who host a professional event would be. While there is a certain prestige of holding a tour event as well as an emphasis on course conditioning, there’s also some inconvenience involved, primarily loss of access to the facility (although in our case, we’re fortunate in being a  36 hole complex, so our members can continue to play).

And I’m not sure how the professionals will feel about the move. At one time, “The Byron” was a must play, particularly when Mr Nelson was still with us. Our course has hosted the event since 1983; the list of past winners is a veritable who’s who of golfing greats. In recent years, the field has been somewhat diluted due in part to a PGA Tour schedule change that moved the The Players Championship from March to May, occurring a week before “The Byron.” Many big name players choose to take off the week following The Players Championship.

As stated above, The Byron’s new venue, Trinity Forest Golf Club, is part of a redevelopment project in a somewhat depressed area of Dallas. The course was built on top of a landfill, and has a decidedly links-like feel. My guess is that the pros will enjoy the course, but will miss the convenience of the current site, which features a 4 star hotel on premises and easy access to both DFW and Love Field airports. And from a spectator’s standpoint, parking and transport in and out of The Four Seasons is pretty straightforward. Not so much for the new venue.

I won’t miss having cart-path only access to TPC for three months, nor will I miss the disruption of grandstand and concession stand construction/deconstruction that accompanies the tournament. But the atmosphere at The Byron has always been quite festive, and the golf remarkable. Plus there was always the opportunity of a chance encounter with Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, or Paulina Gretsky.

It will be missed.


After months of conjecture and near-misses, it appears that Tiger Woods will finally make his return at his Hero Challenge in the Bahamas, a very limited field event (20 players) that doesn’t count as an official PGA Tour event but somehow counts in the World Golf Rankings. When Tiger began his layoff in late 2015, his ranking was 247; it’s now somewhere in the 800’s. Golf writer Jason Sobel wanted to know how such a fall could occur while The Big Cat wasn’t playing; my response to him was that either position was not particularly desirable. [To his credit, Tiger, when asked by one reporter what his expectations were for the season, joked that if he could be in the top 1,000 in the world rankings, he’d be happy].

In a year that’s seen a US Ryder Cup victory, a number of notable celebrity deaths and a political campaign that has gone beyond surreal, I am not even going to hazard a guess as to how Woods performs this week. He did proclaim that he can now hit “any shot, any time on demand,” which hopefully translates to him being able to find the fairway off the tee more consistently. I’ll leave it to Peter Kostis or Gary McCord to analyze his swing changes; to my relatively untrained eye, he seems to have come up with a move that puts less stress on his back.

I wish him well. That may come as a surprise to some who know my past feelings about him, but he seems to have developed some perspective during his layoff. Last year at this time, he spoke of being “vulnerable,” something that most folks would have never expected from such a dominant figure. I think his involvement as a vice-captain in the Ryder Cup was well-received by the US team, and he’s already been tapped for a similar role for the Presidents Cup next year.

But please, please, please – let’s temper our expectations. This will not be Tiger circa 2007. He will no longer show up on Sunday wearing red and scaring the shit out of the competition. He won’t make every putt inside of 6 feet when it matters the most. And he won’t catch Jack Nicklaus’s major championship record.

Then again, I never thought Donald Trump would be elected President of the United States. Stay tuned.

 

A Year That Didn’t Totally Suck

Another year without a hole in one. But golf has other rewards and foibles . . .

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Travel Tales . . .

In January, The Golf Nerd Goddess and I trekked to the Diamante Resort in Cabo San Lucas, home to Davis Love III’s acclaimed Dunes Course and Tiger Woods’s initial foray into course design, El Cardonal. It was the latter that proved to be a pleasant surprise, as Woods has created a linksy track that is both playable for the high handicapper while presenting a challenge to better players, particularly around its wildly contoured greens. This takes nothing away from The Dunes, which features holes that play along the Pacific, and its magnificent par 3 11th – an uphill beast whose green is carved into a dune – provides a breathtaking vantage point.

Beyond all of that, golf at Diamante has a vibe all its own – after checking in, one heads for the smoothie/slider bar for a pre-round snack, and then proceeds to the practice range, which features salsa music and comfortable lounge chairs. Once on either course, one can enjoy margaritas or mojitos, black bean soup, outrageously delicious tamales, and other local delights at various stations – all of which are included in the greens fee. Add to that a mountainous desert landscape that dips into the ocean – which, during January, features frolicking whales – and it’s hard to imagine a more unique setting for golf.

Quite the opposite was our trip “up nort” to Eagle River, WI, the most aptly named town in the US.Flocks of eagles flew overhead as we navigated our way through a couple of modest but thoroughly enjoyable tracks, one in the host town and another in nearby St Germain.

_________________________________________________________________________________

We hosted and became friends with Julie Yang, an aspiring LPGA player. It was a tough year for her, as she failed to make a single cut, but she returned to Qualifying School and achieved full status for the 2016 season. Look for a much better year from this talented (and wonderful) young lady.

__________________________________________________________________________________

I weighed in on erstwhile Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s foray into the world of golf. Things have not gone particularly well for The Donald on that particular front, as the R&A has removed his recently acquired Turnberry from the Open rota in reaction to his rants regarding immigration and refugees in the US. He also lost a court case in an effort to block a proposed wind farm that would overlook his course in Aberdeenshire, and had his name (briefly) removed from the signage for his course in Dubai. The PGA tour is considering moving its World Golf Championship away from Doral (also owned by Trump), which would be roughly akin to having the Kentucky Derby being run at Aqueduct. Stay tuned.

___________________________________________________________________________________

While Spieth and Day dominated the news on the PGA Tour, the most exciting event of the year was The Presidents Cup, an event I admittedly decried for its seeming irrelevancy. The teams were separated by a point going into Sunday’s final day singles play, in which 7 of 12 matches went to the 18th hole, including the final decider, which was contested between the home country’s instant national hero and the American team captain’s son.  I was one of perhaps dozens in the US who stayed up to watch the live overnight coverage from Seoul, and it will likely be forgotten by the time the 2017 match rolls around.

And for some, the most poignant Tour moment may have been what might be Tiger’s last stand at The Wyndham tournament in Greensboro. Records crowds turned out as Woods seriously contended for three rounds before fading on Sunday. A month later, he was undergoing yet another surgery, this time for his back. His press conference at his own tournament in December was downright painful, as for the first time, he seemed to acknowledge his own mortality – at least as a golfer. If he is able to come back, I hope it is with realistic expectations from everyone concerned, and that he can make his way to some tour stops that he’s not frequented in the past so that all golf fans can pay tribute to this remarkable player.

_______________________________________________________________________________

And finally . . .

Readers may recall the seemingly unrequited romance between the Golf Nerd Goddess and a certain golf club. Happily, Santa heard her urgent pleadings and delivered said club under the tree Christmas morning. The GNG tried it out that afternoon; the resulting tee shots were impressive. That trip to Pebble Beach may be forthcoming, after all.

Also on Christmas Day, I got to play golf with my sister Lisa and her boyfriend Chad.  Lisa’s interest in the game has been somewhat recent, and Chad (despite my concerns) has been a willing enabler. I was wowed by her tee shots; she drove the ball over 200 yards a couple of times. Moreover, despite some major work required on other game skills, she truly enjoys playing – and is actually watching golf on TV. If nothing else, this has made Christmas shopping for her a helluva lot easier.

Tiger Agonistes

It was a tough start to the New Year for the Golf Nerd, as I’ve been mostly waylaid by bronchitis and the flu. The Golf Nerd Goddess and I did get away for 6 glorious days to Cabo San Lucas (more on that another time), but for the most part we have not been able to take advantage of some reasonably mild Texas winter weather.

It was also a tough start for one Tiger Woods, who at the Phoenix Open (sorry, The Waste Management Open just does not have that pastoral ring to it) displayed his mastery of the chunked two-yard chip and the missed 4 footer (two critical elements to my own short game, by the way). He missed the cut comfortably, but to his undying credit, faced the golfing press with humor (“I’m just here so I won’t get fined”), and perhaps most critically, was brutally frank about the state of his game.

We’ve written much about the humbling nature of golf, but when it strikes at one of the greatest players of all time, it somehow becomes much more poignant. Watching Sam Snead and Ben Hogan putt late in their respective careers was an excruciating exercise – Hogan, in particular, was a mess, sometime standing over the ball for over a minute before pulling the trigger. Jack Nicklaus was distracted by business issues; his famous focus betraying him. After winning the Open Championship, Ian Baker-Finch suffered through two years of missed cuts, and finally found his way to the broadcast booth. At some point, Seve Ballesteros decided to stop being Seve Ballesteros and tried to become Ben Hogan.

It’s painful to watch, especially for those of us who try to play this game – we have been there, and we feel it. Stub a few chips, or worse yet, hit one off the hosel, and the next time we stand over the ball, our hands shake and our mind races, and we wonder if we are actually going to make contact with the ball, rather than attending to the task at hand (i.e., getting the ball in the hole).

So for all the snark that I’ve directed at Mr. Woods in the past, I have a great deal of empathy with what he’s going through, and am encouraged by his honesty. He’s teeing it up again this weekend at Torrey Pines, one of his favorite venues, and I hope that he can work through his current issues and get himself back to relevancy. Tiger is like the Yankees – you can love him or hate him, but it’s a lot more fun when he’s in the mix.

[Wait, did I just write that?]

You Always Hurt the One You Love

I recently had a chat with an old golfing buddy of mine, a retired three-star general who has seen service in Vietnam and later was on NATO’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (his nickname, not surprisingly, is “The General” – sometimes it’s just best to go with the obvious). The General is a very good golfer; his handicap is typically in the single digits and though well into his 60’s, still has plenty of length off the tee. We were commiserating over my recent putting escapade; he commented, “Some game we love, isn’t it? Glad I made a living doing something else.”

I made a joking response – “Yeah – combat had to be easier.”

He responded, “More predictable.”

While to the undying gratitude of a nation, I’ve never seen combat duty (or wore a military uniform), but I have to think he’s right. How else can one explain the great drive that precedes the chunked approach shot; the nifty birdie followed by a double bogey (fondly referred to by golfers as PBFU – “Post Birdie F*ck Up”); the solid front 9 backed up by a horrendous backside; the 75 on Saturday that becomes a 90 on Sunday? Hell, even at his most dominant, Tiger Woods won slightly more than 20% of the tournaments he entered, which in any other sporting endeavor would have him seeking other employment.

Yes, General, this is indeed some game we love. I think about the 1999 Open Championship, when after playing 71 holes in brilliant fashion at Carnoustie (an already difficult track rendered nearly unplayable thanks to a sadistic course superintendent who had narrowed some fairways to a ridiculous 12 yards in width), Jean Van de Velde came to the final hole needing only a double bogey 6 to capture the Claret Jug. Instead, he butchered the hole so badly that he actually waded into the Barry Burn (a narrow creek that is brilliantly leveraged throughout the course to wreak havoc) to contemplate hitting a shot, at which point Curtis Strange, commentating for ABC, proclaimed, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen on a golf course.” Ultimately, Van de Velde took his drop from the creek, pitched on, and made an 8 foot putt for a triple bogey 7 to put him in a three-way playoff, ultimately losing to Paul Lawrie. If I were Van de Velde, I certainly would have been considering a change of occupation at that point.

I had my own adventure at Carnoustie a few years back. It’s certainly not my favorite place in Scotland. The town, which is not particularly charming, is hard to reach, and the course itself is  perhaps the least scenic of all of the noteworthy Scottish links. Noted course designer Tom Doak describes it thusly: “It’s not that Carnoustie is unfair; it is just depressingly efficient at exposing the flaws in one’s game.”

To be fair, several of my golf acquaintances have told me they love the course, usually because either they shot an exceptional score when they played it, or because they bested Van de Velde’s final hole 7 on the 18th. I can proudly raise my hand to the latter, having lipped out a 6-footer for par to cap off an infuriating round of golf.

I made 8 pars during my round at Carnoustie, which under normal circumstances would have had me tracking towards a score in the mid-80’s, which on a course of that caliber would have been a quite satisfying score. That was not to be the case for yours truly.

After a start of three bogeys and two pars, our group came to the par 5 6th hole. There are three fairway pot bunkers strategically placed in the fairway. The golfer can either play to the right of the bunkers, which lengthens the hole considerably, or shoot through a narrow gap between the bunkers and the out of bounds markers that constitute the left boundary of the fairway. In 1953, Ben Hogan took the latter path successfully in all four rounds en route to his only Open Championship win; this hole was henceforth referred to as “Hogan’s Alley.”

Naturally, we all wanted to take the aggressive route through Hogan’s Alley. It was my misfortune to find one of the fairway bunkers, and was forced to play out sideways. I extricated myself successfully – but to my horror, the ball rolled merrily through the “alley” and out of bounds – which meant replaying the shot, with penalty, from the same bunker. I again got the ball out; this time keeping it in play – but now lying 4 with a good 250 yards remaining to the green. Three shots later, I arrived there, but I somehow managed to putt off the green and into a bunker.  Another three shots later, I was in the hole, carding a rather impressive 11 shots for the hole.

Amazingly, this was not the most embarrassing moment of the round for me.

Earlier in the day, a few of us were walking through St Andrews. I spotted a really cool pair of plaid pants in a shop there (my friend Ben had previously bought a pair during the trip, and I felt the need to do some styling of my own) and decided they would be the perfect sartorial statement for Carnoustie.

So . . . returning now to our hero’s travails . . . after the disaster at Hogan’s Alley, I recovered nicely with a par on the 7th (a combination of a helping wind, a sweeping right to left hook, and a severe case of red-ass produced my longest drive of the day, and indeed the entire trip) and a respectable bogey on the difficult 8th hole.

Unfortunately, the 9th was not so kind to me, and I wound up making double-bogey. While reaching into the hole to retrieve my ball after holing out, I heard a tearing sound. My new pants neatly split along the inseam of my right leg, encompassing the entire length of my thigh. This, of course, was the source of much merriment among my friends, although I was not particularly amused.

Fuming, I hacked my way to make a 9 on the next hole, and declared my disgust for Carnoustie, the game of golf, and mankind in general.

And then proceeded to par 4 of the next 6 holes. Yes, General, this is some game we love.

Head Games

 

As Jack Nicklaus entered the final years of his playing career, he joked that he had become a “ceremonial golfer.” These days, he has fully realized that particular title, having become part of the triumvirate that fires off the opening shots at Augusta each year. The Golden Bear remained remarkably competitive well into his 50’s, particularly at the Masters, where he found himself on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday several times. But despite the relative longevity of career that golf affords, physical and mental wear and tear eventually catch up with even the best players – particularly the latter.

 

At the height of their powers, Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones (all of whom were the best of their respective eras) were incredibly focused at their craft, and were so mentally tough that oftentimes they could pull off a tournament win without having their best game. One of Jones’s most memorable quotes cites the most important 6 inches in the game of golf is the space between a golfer’s ears. It’s also instructive to know that Jones retired from competitive golf at the age of 28, explaining that “(championship golf) is something like a cage. First you are expected to get into it and then you are expected to stay there. But of course, nobody can stay there.”

 

Hogan, of course, was ultimately done in by a combination of the aftereffects of a horrific automobile accident and a stupefying case of the putting yips. Woods’s is a story yet unfinished, but it’s pretty clear that since 2009, he’s fought an inward battle along with dealing with the physical ailments that have plagued him.

 

For most of us who play the game recreationally, if the word “tournament” is thrown into the mix, even on a course on which we regularly play, a nervousness [sometimes even a panic] sets in. Instead of the usual light-hearted banter and needling one generally hears on the practice range, there’s a grim silence punctuated only by shots of varying degree of quality and the occasional oath either muttered or bellowed. And this is just on the practice tee.

 

And then the round begins, and we are paired with guys with whom we are at least acquainted and oftentimes are good friends, but this is a tournament, dammit, we need to bear down! More often than not, this scenario results in shots that can only be defined as stupefying, turning otherwise decent, clear-thinking men or women into emotional mush.

 

I have to say that more often than not, I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve managed some decent tournament performances, and even have won a few, although I tend to think the reason for that was because the formats under which they were played were so convoluted that it was hard to know how I stood during the course of the completion, so I didn’t let that part of it enter my mind. Whereas in a straight-up stroke play competition, I was usually pretty much toast going into things.

 

The Golf Nerd Goddess has played in a number of two and four person team events, and has generally fared well. Recently, however, she decided (or was coerced, in her words) into our Women’s Golf Association’s Match Play event. The matches were seeded, with lower handicappers taking on higher handicappers in the first round. The GNG is in the latter group, so she wound up drawing the reigning Woman’s Club Champion in her first match, and was understandably concerned with this particular match-up.

I tried the usual pep talk – hey, you’re getting a lot of strokes; she’s going to be as nervous as you; it will be a good experience. Her circle of golf friends all told her “just go out and have fun” while also providing her with all sorts of advice on how to beat her opponent (which they all wanted her to do, as it would greatly improve their chances in the tournament). All of which did nothing to make her any less apprehensive. To make matters worse, her match was delayed a week due to heavy rains that came through the area.

We had gone out on the course a few times to prepare for the match, particularly from a mental aspect (those who know me would scoff at the thought of me playing the role of Sports Psychologist, and I would not blame them). Our main focus was to play one shot at a time and repeat the same routine each time. We seemed to be making some progress.

Match day arrived, and GNG was nervous (she had awakened me at about 2:30 AM that morning to tell me she couldn’t sleep and had mentally played all 18 holes. I had to laugh, as I’ve gone through that same ordeal). We went over to the club to warm up, and then met up with the WCC and her husband. At this point I should mention that all of us are friendly; we’ve play rounds and dined together previously. But this was a “tournament round.”

And it showed. Both ladies were nervous; I could tell that the GNG was playing much too quickly, but because of the “no advice” rule, I couldn’t really say anything to her about it. But she hit just enough really good shots (while the WCC hit just enough poor ones) so that they were even after nine holes.

Unfortunately, things unraveled for the GNG at the start of the back nine. Some bad shots, a (under any other circumstances) hilarious putting display by both players on 10, and a ball in the water on 12 suddenly put her three down. I felt horribly for her, figuring that she was broken.

I was wrong – a 50-foot putt on 13 halved that hole, and then another lengthy putt dropped for her on 14 to bring her back to two down with four holes to go. But a golden opportunity to close to within 1 went for naught, and the WCC closed her out on 16.

The ladies hugged and I kissed the GNG, who wore an expression somewhere between disappointment and relief. “You made her sweat,” I told her.

We had lunch, ran a few errands, and then settled in for the evening. We talked about the match over several glasses of wine; I stressed how proud I was of her for not quitting and that the experience would help her in the future. She had seemed to accept the outcome all right, and we decided to turn in early.

I turned on the TV; we climbed into bed – and suddenly she blurted out – “I could have won that match! She was nervous; she did not play her best! I SHOULD have won!”

I tried again to explain that this was a building block, that she’d be better prepared next time .

“I don’t care! I lost. I feel terrible. How can anybody think this is fun?”

For that, I had no answer. I’m sure Jack, Tiger, Ben and Bobby would be at a loss, as well.

 

Sound and Fury

A favorite motion picture quote comes from Billy Murray, who in the film “Tootsie” plays Dustin Hoffman’s friend and roommate. When Hoffman’s character reveals his scheme in pursuing his transgender acting opportunity, Murray furrows his brow and remarks, “Ok, we’re getting into a weird area here.”

Such is the state of the PGA Tour these days. Dustin Johnson takes a “leave of absence” from the tour for personal and physical reasons.  Various media outlets report that Johnson has been suspended from the tour for cocaine use. The Tour denies that he has been suspended. Of course, the Tour, ever image-conscious, never announces any fines or suspensions for alleged misbehavior – although John Daly, bless his heart, was having none of that when he took a break back in 2008. “Oh, no, I was definitely suspended,” said Long John, who felt that he owned it to his fans and the public to be honest about his issues.

Other juicy tidbits have emerged regarding Johnson’s suspension, including 1) speculation that his previous absence from the Tour (officially attributed to injury) was in fact drug-related, and 2) a rumor that he was involved with another Tour player’s wife (say what you will about Tiger Woods, but at least he confined himself to porn stars and Denny’s waitresses).

I wish the Tour would be more transparent in these cases so that we are not left to conjecture (and whatever issues Johnson is facing, I would hope he can learn to deal with him), but there has always been a curious relationship among the Tour, its players, and the golf press, all buttressed, naturally, by corporate sponsors that drive tournament purses. Professional golf sells itself as a clean sport, where never is heard a discouraging word. On the flip side, golf “journalists” have largely played along, trading “access” for relatively tame questions of the players. Stepping outside these bounds can have consequences to those covering the game. When noted writer Charles Pierce dared to suggest in GQ back in 1997 that Woods, while regarded potentially the most talented player ever, was a normal 21 year old and not the second coming of Gandhi (as Woods’s father suggested in a Sports Illustrated article), he was accused of “ambush journalism” and was largely blamed for Woods’s guarded relationship with the press going forward.

Running parallel to this is the notion of Woods being chosen for the US Ryder Cup team (a team, by the way, that is seriously impacted by Johnson’s absence).  I’m still amazed that captain Tom Watson has not put this to rest. It’s apparent to everyone (save for 90% of golf commentators and ESPN) that Woods is nowhere near top form and that his back is still an issue. Yet the golf world collectively holds its breath – on Wednesday, the Golf Channel waited for him to show up at Valhalla, and 1) provided commentary on his health based on him opening the tailgate of his SUV and stretching on the bumper, and 2) analyzing his shots on the practice range.

Words is that Woods is “desperate” to be chosen for the Ryder Cup – although “desperate” might be the word that would be best applied to the various media outlets who will cover the event and that seem to go into withdrawal when there he is not in the field. But has anyone even bothered to look at Woods’s Ryder Cup record? First off, it’s below .500. Secondly, there is always major consternation as to who will partner with him, although the question should probably be, “Who the hell WANTS to partner with him,” given his record. Finally – since 1999, the US has won exactly one (1) Cup, in 2008. Guess who wasn’t on the team that year?

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy (who Jack Nicklaus has officially hexed by stating that he should win ‘”15 to 20 majors”) waits in the wings with a chance to win his third tournament in a row (two of them being majors), with a bevy of young challengers waiting in the wings.  That should be the major story going into the PGA Championship this week. I don’t need to watch Tiger Woods practice, and if he chooses to play (and if he were to make the cut), I certainly don’t need to watch him hit another 290-plus shots.  If he truly wants to benefit golf (and himself), he needs to shut it down until he is ready to play again, and stop kidding himself and us.

Rory Revisited and Open Musings

[Originally posted July 21,2014]

Three years ago, after he had blown away the field at the US Open Congressional, I wrote a rather lengthy Facebook post that wondered if we were getting over-heated in our excitement over Rory McIlroy. As you may recall, his win came during the post-Tiger Scandal/First Tiger Injury era, when golf TV ratings had dropped dramatically. I suppose we were all anxious for the Next Big Thing in Golf to identify himself and I suggested that we all take a deep breath before proclaiming him The Next Big Thing in Golf.

[If you’re interested, here it is.]

After winning The Open Championship yesterday, McIlroy, now 25 years old, has won three of golf’s four major titles, which puts him in rarified air along with Mr. Woods and Mr. Nicklaus as being the youngest to do so. It has not always been the smoothest of rides. He left high-profile agent Chubby Chandler, flamed out again at the Masters, had a high-profile romance with Caroline Wozniacki that ended rather clumsily, and at times made statements that reminded us that, yes, he’s in his early 20’s and will say things that someone in his early 20’s will say.  At the same time, he had an awesome 2012 season, winning four times on tour (including another major rout at that year’s PGA Championship). 2013 was something of a dud, but after the breakup with Wozniacki earlier this year, he erased a seven shot deficit in the final round to beat out Thomas Bjorn to capture the European PGA Championship.

And then there was his performance in the Open, which was exhilarating – particularly the eagle/eagle finish on 16 and 18 on Saturday which effectively won the tournament for him. He drove the ball superbly, putted like a Zen master, and responded to his own hiccups and challenges from others admirably. Moreover, he was incredibly patient, not only on the course, but with a media that was obsessed with his recent spate of great Thursday/horrific Friday outings.

It’s a testimony to both Ricky Fowler and Sergio Garcia that they did their best over the weekend to try to make it close; Garcia, particularly. He has never been a favorite of mine; his whining over perceived injustices and outright jackassery on the course (spitting in the cup, kicking a microphone on the tee, throwing one of his shoes at spectators) have not been particularly endearing. But at Hoylake, he played with passion while eschewing the pouting. Even after the ill-fated bunker shot on the back 9 Sunday, he did not quit. And the way he embraced the applause of the spectators on the final hole was truly heartfelt. Maybe he has grown up. Or maybe he’s just someone who will always wear his heart on his sleeve. In any event, the thought of him winning a major no longer repulses me, which perhaps shows growth on both of our parts.

Fowler is no longer a golf clothing model – his work with Butch Harmon has begun to pay off; moreover, of all the contenders at the Open, he seemed to have the most fun. When McIlroy hugged his “mum” in celebration after play ended on Sunday, Fowler could be be seen smiling as he watched and walked by them in the background. Which is some you would never see Tiger Woods do.

Ah, yes – Tiger. Honestly, his issues on the course remain the same as they were prior to his injury; mainly, he can’t drive it consistently in the fairway. This point was driven home by the ESPN broadcasting team to a stupefying degree, primarily because we, the TV viewing audience, were allowed to witness the lion’s share of his 294 shots, which has to be some kind of record. A friend of mine said he felt somewhat sorry for Woods in this tournament. While I could not personally go that far, it was remarkable how quickly he deflated in his second round after a rocky start. He’s going through yet another swing change (one precipitated, no doubt, by injury), and at this point, even his most ardent supporters would have to say that he’s a mess (and please, let’s not get carried away by his opening round 69). He did meet with the media after each round, and for once did not mince words about his game or claim that he was “this close” to being the force he once was. He’s 38 years old, but not unlike Seve Ballesteros at a similar time of his career, it’s an old 38. Much is being made of the fact that Firestone and Valhalla, two of his favorite tracks, are upcoming. If he can’t hit it straight, he’s not going to win anywhere.

I find it amusing that articles are being written today about how Rory is “blocking” Tiger’s path to Nicklaus’s record of 18 professional major wins, when in actuality it’s a talented array of pursuers who could have the majors split among them. Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and the criminally under-appreciated Martin Kaymer are all in or approaching their primes. Fowler is knocking on the door, and Jordan Spieth still can’t legally drink in most of the US. Phil Mickelson, Angel Cabrera, and Jim Furyk are all major champions in their 40’s who still have plenty of game left. Garcia might be more hungry than ever, and Henrik Stenson (if he can keep his emotions under control) has the game to be a major threat.

But Rory has the total package, has the most upside, and has seemed to have weathered the controversies in his life remarkably well for someone his age. He might not dominate like Tiger did, but he is the man. We might as well get used to it.