For twenty years Palmer, then Nicklaus, then Watson were the dominate figures in the game of golf. Then came a stretch in time, BT (before Tiger), in which some very good players rose to the top then fell, played great then not so great, and won then lost majors (sometimes more than one in a year). It was fifteen years of Kite, Stadler, Sutton, Curtis, Corey, Faldo, Price and the Great White Shark. Excellent players all but not the caliber of the three they followed or the one they came before.
PGA TOUR MONEY LEADERS (1981-1996)
1996 – Tom Lehman, $1,780,159
1995 – Greg Norman, $1,654,959
1994 – Nick Price, $1,499,927
1993 – Nick Price, $1,478,557
1992 – Fred Couples, $1,344,188
1991 – Corey Pavin, $979,430
1990 – Greg Norman, $1,165,477
1989 – Tom Kite, $1,395,278
1988 – Curtis Strange, $1,147,644
1987 – Curtis Strange, $925,941
1986 – Greg Norman, $653,296
1985 – Curtis Strange, $542,321
1984 – Tom Watson, $476,260
1983 – Hal Sutton, $426,668
1982 – Craig Stadler, $446,462
1981 – Tom Kite, $375,698.84
I contend that we are not in an era of “the next Tiger Woods”, nor are we looking at another “Big Three Age”. Instead my gut tells me we’re about to relive the ’80’s and early ’90’s with a different cast of characters reprising the roles of Strange, Sir Nick and The Shark.
The best of the bunch in those non carnivorous animal years (post Bear, pre Tiger) was Nick Faldo. He won six major championships by being the most dominant player for a dozen years at two of them, The Masters and The British Open. He never won the United States Open or a PGA Championship. Let’s call Rory McIlroy this generation’s Nick Faldo, able to contend every time he tees it up but unable to solve the puzzle at two of the game’s three biggest events.
Curtis Strange was the first player to win a million bucks in a season, the first player since Ben Hogan (1950-51) to win back to back U S Opens and led the PGA TOUR money list three times in four years. His singular focus and attention to detail was legendary (perhaps second only to Faldo) and in that regard he and Jordan Spieth are a lot alike. Granted Spieth already has the Masters title Strange never won, despite coming oh so close in 1985, but I believe when all is said and done Jordan Spieth, like Curtis, will collect more U.S. Open trophies than green jackets.
Many experts believe that in his prime Greg Norman was the best driver of the golf ball the game has ever seen. He was at or near the top of the statistical heap in both distance and accuracy for the better part of a decade. That helped him win 20 times on the PGA TOUR and two British Opens. He was long, lean and, at times, larger than life. After the driving display Dustin Johnson unleashed at Chambers Bay last year and his colorful lifestyle can you argue that D J is following in the Shark’s impressive wake?
That “limbo era” had Nick Price, this one has Jason Day. Then they had Corey Pavin, now we have Zach Johnson. There WAS Fred Couples, Hal Sutton, Craig Stadler and Tom Lehman. There IS Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Adam Scott.
This is not going to be a Renaissance nor a rebirth, what it is going to be is a decade or more of very good golf played by very good, but not transcendent, players. Much to the talking heads at the Golf Channel’s dismay the next Golden Bear or Tiger is still a twinkle in some parents’ eyes and that’s okay by me.