Tiger skeptics lost in the woods
Tiger’s not back!
You’ve heard it at work, you’ve heard it from the jerky boys on your favorite call-in sports radio show. You’ve read the blather here at blog central.
I realize talk, while cheap, is also fun. And I understand that, for your average golf nut, pontificating about and combing over every drive, chip and putt, and (my personal favorite) pretending to know anything about what’s going on inside a pro golfer’s head, is like lifeblood. But the conversations swirling around about Tiger being “back” or not are largely steering around one central, titanic truth: Tiger is the biggest golfer ever. Ever. I didn’t say the best - he hasn’t earned that title outright just yet. But the biggest.
Think about American sports during the last century. If you really want to talk about the big athletes of the 20th century - the guys who really mattered, you’re talking about Babe Ruth in the first half and Muhammad Ali in the second. These are guys who became not just bigger than their sport, but way bigger.
How many all-time greats did the Babe play against? Shoot, how many were his teammates!? Tons. But if you stop your average soccer mom in a mall somewhere, she might identify Lou Gehrig as “the guy who invented that disease,” but she’d have no idea who Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson or Tris Speaker were (and these are Hall of Fame guys!). Same deal with Ali foes. Though they were the greats of their day, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton were never bigger than boxing. Not even close.
Enter Phil Mickelson. Enter Vijay Singh. Enter Ernie Els. Enter David Duval – oh, sorry, wait outside, Dave. Three decades from now, only hardcore golf nuts will remember these guys.
Don’t believe me? Billy Casper - a guy who won three majors and notched 51 PGA wins (sixth on the all-time list) - probably would have argued too. At least before his abysmal performance at Augusta last week. Back in his day, Casper ruled the links. Who could possibly forget a guy who, in the stretch from 1968-1970, wracked up more wins than Nicklaus, Palmer and Player combined. Yet here we are, three decades later, and just prior to the Masters, most folks would just stare blankly if you asked ‘em about Billy Casper. It took some serious ugly golf to put Billy’s name back on folks’ lips.
Casper was great – but he wasn’t bigger than the game. Likewise, there are a number of great players on tour right now. Guys who make watching golf fun.
But only one guy out there is destined to stand not just alongside Hagen, Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, etc., but among the biggest icons of his generation in any field. And he just won another major.
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