I’ve had a comment or two suggesting that I’m hating on young Mr. McIlroy (see earlier post “Re-Open”). No, no, no. Not the case at all. I like the kid. I absolutely envy the swing, love the way he bounced back from the Sunday debacle at the Master’s, and it’s always great to see a young athlete deliver on their potential.
I’ve got issues with the hype machine. And I give Rory additional credit for placing his performance at Congressional in the proper perspective relative to what Tiger did at Pebble. I get it that it helps a sport’s visibility with the larger universe of non-fans if you have a dominant player or team. You don’t have to know jack about baseball to be a Yankees fan. You don’t really have to pay attention and yet you can still be comforted that you are rooting for a winner. And Tiger’s fall has left golf’s throne vacant and therefore left millions of casual fans without a rooting interest. But the rush to crown Rory seems a bit desperate. It feels more like branding than anything else.
Now Rory’s progress does hold great promise. The golden age of an individual sport is when there are great rivalries: Palmer/Nicklaus or McEnroe/Borg. And the prospect of Rory v. Tiger is definitely something to anticipate. But here’s the sobering reality: how often can we realistically expect that to happen, as in their going head to head on the Sunday of a major? Probably not all that often. Think of how many times Johnny Mac faced Bjorn or Federer played Nadal for a championship and yet how often have Phil and Tiger stared each other down in a comparable setting? Nicklaus and Watson at Turnberry may be such a special memory not so much for the quality of the golf but for the mere fact that it happened at all. Golf is so fickle and so random that favorites rarely rise to the top of the leaderboard at the same time. It’s as much about the Jack Flecks and Larry Mizes as it about the all-time greats. And thus, it is yet another way in which golf stubbornly refuses to give us what we want.