In 2013, David Duval not playing in a PGA Tour event should hardly qualify as news, but last night, he dropped some info on Twitter that surprised many in golf circles.
So it's official. I will not get a spot at the Humana.—
David Duval (@david59duval) January 08, 2013
Now, the reason this is important is because the Humana Challenge, formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic, is where Duval fired his legendary 59 in the final round of the 1999 event. Duval is one of only five players in the history of the PGA Tour to post such a number, and it obviously means a great deal to him, considering that it’s part of his Twitter handle. It should mean a lot to him. It’s one of those things that he’ll always be remembered for, right up there with winning the Open Championship and being ranked as the number one player in the world.
Unfortunately for Duval, he’ll also be remembered for his spectacular fall from the top of the game. That Open Championship win in 2001 was his last victory on the PGA Tour, and he’s actually only had nine top-10’s since that win at Royal Lytham. Duval has had a myriad of issues that have kept him away from the course over the years, whether it was injury, lack of desire, and when his wife became ill, but he has always made time for the Humana, playing in the tournament every year since that win, with the exception of 2004. Of course, it’s because of his struggles over the years that he doesn’t have a guaranteed spot in the event, or many others for that matter. For the most part, he’s relying on exemptions to play in an attempt to get his game back on track.
Admittedly, it’s a little strange that they didn’t grant him an exemption. Most past champions of any event are usually given an exemption without any hesitation, but there’s no rule that says they are guaranteed a spot. Of course, each tournament is different. In 1999, the year Duval won, the Humana/Hope changed their exemption rules. Prior to Duval’s win, tournament champions got a lifetime exemption to the event. That changed to a 10-year exemption in 1999, and Duval has been given a special exemption to play in the last three years.
Last year, former Masters champ Mike Weir was denied an exemption into the Northern Trust despite winning the event twice in 2003 and 2004, and let’s not forget the Ernie Els exemption nonsense from the Masters last year when he was passed over for Ryo Ishikawa. Els hasn’t won a green jacket, but many were shocked when Augusta National decided to pass him over for the young Japanese phenom. My point is that if you want to play on the PGA Tour, there’s really only one way to guarantee that: play well. The fact is, last year Duval played in 17 events worldwide and his finishes looked like this:
T60, 66, T66, 13 cuts, 1 WD.
More to the point, since winning in 1999, he’s got one top-10 at the Humana/Hope, and that was in 2000. We’ll never hear the reasons behind who was granted an exemption to the event, but the tournament organizers clearly think that a spot in the event is better used for another player. For what it’s worth, Duval doesn’t seem to be complaining about it. He’s understandably a little frustrated, but he gets that it’s on him.
It's up to me to perform this year.—
David Duval (@david59duval) January 08, 2013
I like Duval, as do most people who follow the game closely. Once he’s decided to quit playing, he’d be a great fit on any golf broadcast, if he so chooses. He’s an intelligent, witty guy, who would certainly be a breath of fresh air when compared to some of the guys currently on NBC, ESPN, CBS and Golf Channel, but until he does decide to quit, he’s probably going to run into more of these scenarios. There are lots of people who are pulling for him, and he’s apparently close to signing a new deal with Nike, reuniting him with the company that helped turn him into a star over a decade ago. Maybe this setback will help spur him on, but at the very least, it’s an interesting storyline to follow early in the 2013 golf season.
There really isn’t an off-season anymore when it comes to golf. Events with big names were still being played a couple of weeks ago, with the European Tour opening their 2013 season in South Africa on December 8th. The PGA Tour’s 2013 schedule commences this week, with the winners only Hyundai Tournament of Champions from the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii. The 30 player field comprised of last year’s winners on the PGA Tour is a little light on star power, with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Justin Rose skipping the opener, among others. However, the field is a little better than usual, led by 2012 Masters winner Bubba Watson, Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter and defending champ Steve Stricker.
2012 Hyundai Tournament of Champions Fact Sheet
- Course: Plantation Course at Kapalua
- Location: Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
- Yardage: 7,411 yards, par 73
- Defending Champion: Steve Stricker
- Friday – 5:30 to 10:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Saturday – 5:30 to 10:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Sunday – 3:00 to 6:00 PM ET (NBC) & 6:00 to 10:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Monday – 4:00 to 8:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
2013 will be the last year that the Hyundai remains as the season opener on the PGA Tour, with the Fall Series officially taking over that mantle later this year. It gives the tournament organizers a chance to rework the format of the event, since many of the stars traditionally skip the event. Woods himself has only played eight times in the event, which doesn’t do much for the tournament. Introducing a full field for the event might be the best way to go in the future, but for now, the 30-man field remains. Note that the Hyundai starts on Friday and has a Monday finish. Also, prime time golf on the East Coast!
Stricker is the only player in the field who has won at Kapalua in the past, and actually has the only runner-up performance as well. Stricker’s score of 23-under par was the fourth lowest winning score recorded on the PGA Tour in 2012, but it’s only the fifth lowest winning score recorded at Kapalua. In the fourteen years that the PGA Tour has stopped at Kapalua, the average winning score has been 20-under par, with Ernie Els holding the 72-hole record with a 31-under par 261 in 2003. Basically, this means that you can expect another really low number in 2013.
If you look at the winners of the event since 1999 when Kapalua became the host, the players walking away victorious are usually those who have the ability to get hot and go real low. Stricker is the exception to this of course, as he doesn’t usually go real low, but seven of the previous nine winners have been either first or second in strokes gained putting during the week, which speaks to Stricker’s success.
Now, without a truly dominant player like Woods or McIlroy in the tournament, there’s some good value betting options available this week. In most books online, Matt Kuchar is listed as the favourite at roughly 11-1, but we’re looking for a little more value than that. Here are five plays that I like this week:
Ian Poulter (Best Odds 14-1 at William Hill)
I’m a big fan of Poulter, and as I mentioned last week, he’s been one of the best players in the world for longer than most people think, as he hasn’t been out of the top-30 in the world rankings since April of 2009. He’s one of the world’s best putters, and as we saw at the Ryder Cup, he has the ability to go low. In his lone appearance at Kapalua, he finished T-6 at 18-under par. 14-1 is great value for Poulter.
Brandt Snedeker (Best Odds 16-1 at SkyBet)
Arguably the best putter in the world, Snedeker had his coming out party in 2012 with two wins and nearly $5 million in earnings. Snedeker’s lone prior appearance in 2008 yielded a tie for 10th, and he has been known to start hot in previous seasons.
Rickie Fowler (Best Odds 25-1 at Stan James)
Call this a hunch. Fowler hasn’t played at Kapalua before, as his win last year at the Wells Fargo was his first on the PGA Tour, but much like Poulter, his ability to go low is well known. I don’t think he’s ready to win a major this year, but he’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t pick up a couple of wins, and an easier course against a small field is one of his better chances. He’ll likely either be there at the end, or he’ll never be close. No middle ground here.
Jonas Blixt (Best Odds 37-1 at Betfair)
Blixt’s win at the Frys in October may have only been recognized by hardcore golf fans, but his numbers suggest he’s one to watch in 2013. He finished 16th in scrambling and 2nd behind only Snedeker in Strokes Gained Putting last year on the PGA Tour. Outside of that win at the Frys, he did have four other top-10’s and only had four rounds of 75 or higher all season. That’s a pretty good level of consistency for a rookie on the Tour. The best thing is, you’ll be able to get him at long odds all year, until he starts winning regularly.
Johnson Wagner (Best Odds 100-1 at Sporting Bet)
Wagner is my longshot play of the week, but it is justified. He’s been under par in all eight of his rounds at Kapalua in the past, and he has the fifth best average finish at this event of any player in the field, with a pair of top-10’s. Betfair actually had Wagner at 113-1 when I started writing this post, and has taken him down to 61-1, so people are quickly moving on him. Get in on him while you can, even as a nice each way bet.
Those are my picks for the Hyundai, and I’ll be back again next week for the Sony Open.
Trying to predict outcomes in sports is usually a foolhardy exercise. As easy as Nate Silver made predictions look earlier this year, it really isn’t that simple. With that said, I’m going to lay out five things that I expect will happen in the world of golf in 2013. Feel free to look back at this in 12 months time and laugh at me for how off-base I was. Here we go.
Tiger Woods will win at least one major championship
People have been predicting this since Woods made his return to golf from injury and scandal a few years ago, but it hasn’t come to fruition. So, why is 2013 any different? Everything started to come together for Woods last year, and despite the absence of a major victory, he did pick up three wins on the PGA Tour at big tour events. As I mentioned last week, Woods felt that last year was the first season where he felt healthy and comfortable with the swing changes implemented by Sean Foley. So, which one does he win? The Masters is the most likely bet with his freakishly good track record at Augusta (four wins and eight other top-10’s) but I can definitely see him winning the Open Championship as well. Ernie Els won the last Open held at Muirfield in 2002, but Woods was in a position to challenge before a third round 81 derailed his chances. That 81 is still his worst ever professional round. I think Woods gets it done in 2013, and gets at least one step closer to Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 career major victories.
Jim Furyk’s disastrous end to 2012 will continue into 2013
Jim Furyk’s reputation as a closer was always overblown, but 2012 was a nightmare for Furyk, as he blew four 54-hole leads, and was a big part of the American collapse at the Ryder Cup. He’s 42 years old, and will be 43 in May. The first thing that typically leaves a golfer when they get older is their nerves, and considering those nerves appeared to be missing last year, one has to think that they will just keep getting worse. The number one sign that someone is uncomfortable on the course is when they start deviating from routine. When Furyk was taking extra time to hit his shots and standing over his putts for an eternity at the Ryder Cup, it was just another reminder that it was all slipping away from him. Now, it wasn’t all bad for Furyk last year, as he did earn over $3.6 million in 2012, but it should have been so much more. Expect that number to be cut down significantly in 2013.
The anchored putter debate is far from over
I’m not sure how this will play out, but we haven’t heard the last about the banning of anchored putters. Whether it’s players like Keegan Bradley following through with potential lawsuits, or the PGA and European Tours ignoring the decision by the USGA and R&A, there’s much more to be discussed on this front. Since the ban isn’t supposed to take effect until 2016, it’s going to be interesting to see how players like Bradley and Ernie Els react. Will they switch now, or will they try and make as much money as possible until they are forced to change?
Bud Cauley becomes the next young American golf star
This one is hardly a bold proclamation, seeing as how Cauley has been on the radar of golf fans for quite a while now, but he’s still a relative unknown. The 22-year old finished 44th on the PGA Tour money list in 2012, with seven top-15 finishes. He got better as the year went on as well, and was mentioned by some as having an outside shot at making the American Ryder Cup team. Rickie Fowler broke through in 2012, and you can expect Cauley to do the same in 2013.
Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Adam Scott and Justin Rose: One of these men will break their major drought
The five men listed above have a combined zero majors, but that will change in 2013. Both Donald and Garcia have held the “best player in the world without a major” title in the past, and you could argue that Scott has as well. You can make a case for each man, and that’s what I’ll try to do here:
- Donald: The most consistent player in the world, and has the best short game of anyone around not named McIlroy. His best shot might come at the U.S. Open, which is being held at Merion in 2013. The course hasn’t hosted a major since 1981, and will be playing way shorter than most courses on the schedule, which will place a premium on accuracy, the area where Donald excels most.
- Garcia: We’ve been waiting for this one, haven’t we? Garcia’s been projected to win a major for over a decade now, but things started to come together again for him at the end of last season. He won the Wyndham in August, and was in position to win the Barclays the next week. He followed that up with a good performance at the Ryder Cup, and he won in Malaysia a couple of weeks ago. His recent eye surgery and new TaylorMade equipment certainly won’t hurt things either.
- Poulter: People may have become familiar with Poulter from his legendary performance at the Ryder Cup, but he hasn’t been outside of the top-30 in the World Golf Ranking since April of 2009. He will always be a better match play player than a regular tournament player because that’s just the way he’s wired, but he is too good to go without a major. One of the world’s best putters.
- Scott: 64-67-68-75. Those are the scores for Scott at the 2012 Open Championship, and his four-shot lead going into the final round looked insurmountable, but for some reason, Scott never looked comfortable. Outside of his second place finish in the Open, he had three other top-15’s in the majors. If Poulter is too good to go without a major, Scott is WAY too good. Don’t discount the Stevie Williams factor either, as the caddie is the best in the business.
- Rose: The 2012 season was the coming out party for Justin Rose. One win (WGC-Cadillac) and twelve top-10’s worldwide, plus a fantastic performance at the Ryder Cup, culminating in his comeback victory against Phil Mickelson in the Sunday singles. That undefinable “it” factor? Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson and others have had it, and so does Justin Rose.
Those are my five predictions for the upcoming season. If you have any, post them in the comments.
At this point, I thought that we were done with the “What’s Wrong with Tiger Woods” stories. Surely, that horse has been bludgeoned to the point of no return over the last three years. As I wrote back in June, Woods is basically in a no-win situation at this point. The expectations are staggeringly high. If he doesn’t live up to them, he gets blasted. If he does, he was supposed to get there anyway.
This brings me to the story posted by Selena Roberts last week at her new venture, Roopstigo. Roberts of course is a respected investigative journalist, who’s most famous for working at Sports Illustrated and breaking the Alex Rodriguez steroid story in 2009. Roberts’ work has consistently appeared in Best Of lists and the top publications worldwide, so I was intrigued when I saw my Twitter feed light up with people giving praise to her latest piece about Woods. I’ve read it several times now, and not only does it seem off, it comes across in some spots as downright misinformed.
Let’s start at the beginning. The title of the piece, “How He Lost The Grip On Greatness: Tiger’s Money Trap”, infers that his financial situation is the reason Woods hasn’t played up to his lofty standards. To be honest, Roberts presents financial information that was previously unknown, and she should be commended for her research. The problem is that there’s nothing concrete that suggests any actual link between Woods’ finances and his results on the course. I’m not going to judge Woods on his financial situation, since I don’t think I’m qualified to do it. What I will do though is dispute the actual golf related material in the piece.
Roberts rightly posits that Woods is a bit of a recluse. Despite the fact that he needs to be a public figure based on his occupation and stature, he’s never been one that has wanted to be out in front. He’s preferred to live a life of privacy, as is his right. Roberts also correctly points out the need for Woods to be the best, whether that comes from his pursuit of breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major victories, or chasing down new best friend Rory McIlroy as the world’s current number one player. We all know that what drives Woods more than anything is his desire to be the best.
Where the piece begins to fall apart is the next paragraph, starting with a quote from Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee. Chamblee mentions how Woods “lives like a billionaire”, before admitting that he has no idea how his finances play into his “struggles”. I’m really not sure why that quote was even used in the piece if Chamblee wasn’t going to link it to his performance on the course.
“In a dramatic shift from the dominance he enjoyed in the mid-2000’s, when he was ranked first or second in final round play, Woods was 32nd this year.”
Again, as I wrote in June, people need to get used to the idea that Woods regaining what he had is probably never going to happen. He’s going to be a good, and probably great player. But the dominant, world-beating Woods who dwarfed the competition isn’t coming back. Also, Woods seems to be the only athlete on the planet who gets legitimately compared to who he used to be, and people just seem to be okay with it. Do people really expect Kobe Bryant to be the same guy that he was when the Lakers were winning three titles in the early 2000’s? What about Ray Lewis and Ichiro? Even if we ignore team sports and focus on individual ones, no one is wondering what’s wrong with Roger Federer. People have come to grips with the fact that those guys, while still quality players in their own right, will never be the same, but Woods doesn’t get afforded the same luxury.
Chamblee continues by mentioning that Woods’ weekend scoring average is consistently higher than it is pre-cut. In this case, he’s right. If you go based on last year’s statistics, Woods’ scoring average on the weekend is about a stroke higher than it is before the cut. Chamblee also makes the assertion that this is all mental. Granted, Woods’ highest scores in final rounds all came at notable tournaments, including all four majors, but there are several good quality final rounds in his 2012 season as well. In fact, his two lowest rounds of the year, a 62 at the Honda Classic and a 63 at the CIMB Classic, both came in final rounds.
“Somewhere a long the way, he lost the joy. Now he looks like he does it because he’s good at it and that’s what he’s supposed to do. That’s part of what’s happening with Sean Foley.”
At this point in the analysis, Chamblee starts making assumptions. He’s assuming that Tiger doesn’t enjoy playing anymore. He’s assuming that the only reason why he’s playing is because he has to. On the course, Woods has always shown emotion. When he won at Bay Hill in March, his first legitimate PGA Tour win since the BMW Championship in September of 2009, Woods was beaming. The same thing happened at the Memorial in June and at the AT&T in July. Yeah, he’s upset when he plays poorly, but so is every other golfer. The amount of TV time that Woods gets magnifies the petulant behaviour that he exhibits. I’m not trying to justify the behaviour, but that’s a discussion for another day. Also, to say that Sean Foley, Woods’ coach since 2010, is responsible for an alleged lack of happiness inside Woods when he’s on the course is a little ridiculous.
Chamblee, discussing the work of Foley with Woods:
“Tiger is worse in every statistical category with few exceptions. He drives it shorter and hits fewer fairways. He hits fewer greens and he is a considerably worse putter. He is far more of a conservative golfer than he was and far more limited in his shot shaping. He is addicted to an idea now. He is over influenced by that idea. It’s literally at best corrupted but probably completely robbed him of his ability to create.”
Again, this depends on what we’re comparing Woods to. Woods’ injury history is well documented as well, and he’s made reference in recent weeks that he finally felt healthy again this season. Since it seems that Chamblee is discussing Woods’ time with Foley, let’s take a look at those numbers. Below are four graphs, outlining the four statistical categories that Chamblee mentions. Remember, Foley and Woods started working together in 2010. First, driving distance:
After a slight dip from 2010 to 2011, Woods’ average jumped back up almost four yards in 2012. So, if we’re discussing Foley’s work with Woods, Chamblee is incorrect in this case. Now again, the 300+ yard averages from the mid-2000’s do stand out, but that’s common for golfers in their early 30’s. To illustrate that point, take a look at the below graph with six of Woods’ contemporaries, all of whom have been considered at one point to be long hitters.
You’ll notice that the graph is very similar over the years, at least in the shape that each player has taken. Low start, followed by a big spike and a gradual decline. Woods is simply taking the same path that pretty much every other golfer has taken over the years, except that the distance is longer in his case. Woods has actually been fairly steady over the past five years in comparison to other players.
Woods’ accuracy off the tee has never been great, and it completely plunged in 2011 under Foley. This year, Woods rebounded nicely with an almost 15% increase. Now, a lot of this could be related to him taking 3-wood off the tee a little more this year instead of driver, but a 15% jump shouldn’t be ignored.
Greens In Regulation percentage:
Once again, if we’re comparing Woods to his success from the early-to-mid 2000’s, he is down in this category. However, if we’re just taking it from when Foley took over as Chamblee has made it seem, there was a steady improvement from 2010 to 2011, before a slight dip last year, despite moving up eight spots in the ranking across the PGA Tour. That goes to the theory that most players today are less pinpoint with their irons, and are more concerned about bombing the golf ball.
Strokes Gained Putting:
Strokes gained putting is a relatively new stat on the PGA Tour, with data only going back to 2004. As the name suggests, the stat tracks how may strokes were gained per round against the rest of the field. Woods took a nosedive in 2010 when working with Foley, but again, has seen steady improvement under Foley in the last two years.
Basically, the data shows that if we’re making fair comparisons with an allegedly healthy Woods, combined with him getting comfortable with Foley’s teaching, Chamblee’s criticisms are completely unfounded. Now, if we’re comparing him to what he was when he was in his early 30’s, then yes, he is a worse golfer. Again though, how fair is that? The success of golfers after the age of 35 is limited, so the fact that Tiger won three tournaments last year and could have won several others is a testament to how good he still is. Now, as it relates to Chamblee’s comments about Woods’ lack of ability to shape shots and create, Wayne Defrancesco does a much better job than I ever could at debunking that myth in the video below:
“If Tiger Woods fired Sean Foley, and never, ever spoke to Sean again, he would be a better golfer.”
Now again, this isn’t the first time that Chamblee has put it out there that Woods should fire Foley. Why Woods would even consider firing Foley after winning three times on the PGA Tour, and earning over $6 million last season is beyond me. Once again, Chamblee is looking at what Woods was instead of what he is. If Woods fired Foley, it would mean starting again with a new coach, his third in four years. Last year demonstrated that Woods can still be one of the best golfers in the world, capable of winning any tournament in the world. Last year also showed us that he’s starting to get used to Foley’s teaching.
Roberts acknowledges that Foley isn’t the only variable, mentioning that the players today, like McIlroy, have started to pass Woods thanks to his injury trouble. Combine that with the amount of mileage on his body, and the fact that, you know, golf is pretty difficult at times, and you have reasons that make up a believable argument as to why Woods hasn’t been the dominant player that he was ten years ago. Of course, these factors are just mentioned quickly and tossed aside. Roberts than presents a graph, showing Woods’ final round scoring average from 1996 to 2012, which again fits her narrative for the piece, but doesn’t do anything to prove that his dip in success is related to anything other than the above factors.
The last page of the piece explores the details of Woods’ finances, including the point that Woods owes ex-wife Elin Nordegren $54.5 million before January of 2016. Again, I’m not going to delve too much into that, but the fact that Woods made roughly $70 million last year alone leads one to believe that paying that off wouldn’t be a huge deal, even if his play and sponsorships take a bit of a hit.
Chamblee continues, discussing Woods’ pursuit of Nicklaus’ major record:
“There have been three wins in majors in the last 56, by people over the age of 40. So his window is over the next 12 majors realistically. Can he win four of the next 12? He’ll contend – there’s no question that he’s a good player – but he’s got so many weaknesses that rob him of critical shots now as compared to the past. So, no, I don’t think he’ll get to 18 or 19. No, I don’t.”
Chamblee is correct in describing the likely window for Woods, but then he loses the plot again. He mentions his weaknesses compared to previous years, but players who win three tournaments in a year against good fields and are at or near the top of several statistical categories, do not have “many weaknesses.” Woods might get to 19 majors, and he might not. Frankly, it’s stupid to suggest that he will, but it’s also ridiculous to suggest that he can’t.
Should Tiger Woods fire Sean Foley? In Brandel Chamblee’s mind, the answer is obviously that he should. Unfortunately, Chamblee appears to be overlooking the facts. Nobody who follows the game closely would be surprised if Tiger Woods won at least one major next season. Firing Foley and starting over with someone else would probably guarantee that Woods doesn’t win a major for at least another year, and considering Woods’ age, that doesn’t seem like the brightest idea if he has aspirations of catching Nicklaus.
For what it’s worth, Woods has never entertained the idea of firing Foley, at least publicly. Patience has never been Woods’ best virtue, but it seems like in this case, he’d be best served to ignore Chamblee like he has in the past. He won’t ever be the same player again, but he’s never been closer to getting most of it back, and firing Foley at this stage would be a backward step.
The relationship between a golfer and his caddie is one of the more interesting dynamics in professional sports. A few years ago, you never would have expected the amount of vitriol between Tiger Woods and Steve Williams, and despite what they say publicly right now, they wouldn’t be caught dead around each other. If you believe Woods, the two were never overly close, despite seeing each other away from the course all the time, and even showing up at each others weddings. The role of a caddie isn’t just about picking the correct clubs and giving out yardages. It’s about knowing the player you work for inside and out, and dealing with any problem that your occasionally petulant, millionaire boss will throw at you. Sometimes a player and a caddie work together for years. Jim Furyk and Mike “Fluff” Cowan have been together since 1999, while Jim Mackay has seen every peak and valley of Phil Mickelson’s career since first being on his bag in 1993. Other players, like Sergio Garcia, change caddies as often as their shoes.
So, I’m never surprised when I see that another caddie has been let go by a top player. According to Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail, Lee Westwood has decided to part ways with his longtime caddie, and good friend Billy Foster. Let’s make something clear about Foster: he’s not your average, run of the mill caddie. He was on the bag of Seve Ballesteros for nearly five years, winning eight times in that span near the end of the Spaniard’s incredible career. Ballesteros once went through a stretch of ten caddies in ten years, so you know that Foster must have been doing something right. (Editor’s Note: Seve may have been a little crazy.)
Where it gets interesting with Foster is that he’s been unable to perform his usual duties for Westwood since injuring his knee in April while playing in a soccer game. For Westwood to drop Foster at this point in his recovery seems a bit harsh considering he was expected to be healthy for the upcoming season. Factor in the close knit relationship between the two men, and the success they have enjoyed together on the course, and it’s a curious decision by the world’s fourth ranked golfer. In talking to Lawrenson, Foster referenced how difficult the last few months have been, saying:
“I’ve been in a dark tunnel. I’ve only started walking again these last two weeks, so to get the call from Lee just as I was starting to see the light again was unbelievably disappointing and made it harder to take.”
It’s the latest in a series of changes for Westwood, who turns 40 in a few months. He’s recently moved to the U.S., and earlier this year, he dismissed long-time coach Pete Cowen. His much ballyhooed move of bringing on short-game wiz Tony Johnstone didn’t work out either, and he has also apparently been shown the door.
Winning golf tournaments is difficult, despite what Tiger Woods has made it look like for the last fifteen years. Four days of playing against the world’s best on the toughest courses out there explain why a good majority of professional golfers never win a pro tournament. Tommy Gainey won his first PGA Tour event this year at the McGladrey’s at 37 years old, and if you talked to anyone in South Carolina twenty years ago, they would’ve told you that Gainey was destined for greatness as a pro golfer. There are players like Gainey all over the world too, which shows you how good the best players in the world really are. The gap in talent between a player like Gainey and Woods isn’t as big as you’d think, and yet, the difference in the level of success is clearly evident.
In golf, much like in every other professional sport, we define a player’s worth by their success. The PGA Tour has been around since 1916, and there have been 107 players to win at least ten events in that time. You may think that’s a huge number, but when you consider the amount of players to come through the tour in the last 96 years, combined with the amount of events each year, it’s really quite miniscule.
Jim Furyk currently sits tied for 51st in all-time wins on the PGA Tour with 16, including his one major victory, the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. Furyk has never been an electric player. He grinds at tournaments, and plays a solid, consistent game from tee to green. He doesn’t hit the ball long, his 280 yard average off the tee ranked him 171st on tour this year, but he hits plenty of fairways and is considered one of the better putters out there. It’s these characteristics that lead people to believe that Furyk’s game translates well to majors, and that when it comes down to it, he’s less likely to blow up than someone like Woods or Phil Mickelson, who rely more on power and creative shot making. It’s a narrative that sounds like it should make sense, but does it? For roughly the last decade, we’ve been hearing about Furyk’s steely demeanor and his ability as a closer. Of course, that was blown straight to hell this year when Furyk couldn’t close any of the four 54-hole leads he either held on his own, or with someone else. Don’t forget that Furyk was also a major reason for the American collapse at the Ryder Cup, another Sunday where he couldn’t close.
Many people suggested that Furyk’s struggles related to him getting older, and as history will tell you, it does get more difficult to hang on to a tournament as you age. However, when you look at the sheer numbers, they suggest that Furyk’s reputation may be a tad inflated. The table below shows all active PGA Tour members with at least ten wins, and their winning percentages when going into the final round of a tournament with either an outright lead, or share of the lead with at least one other player.
So, you might be saying “Wait a minute. Those numbers look much worse because of this season. That’s unfair to Furyk.” Granted, his 2012 numbers do take Furyk down a peg, but even if you ignore them, he’s still only 9/17, which gives him a 53% closing percentage. So, why does Furyk get this extra layer of credit when it comes to getting the job done under pressure? He certainly gets far more praise than Stricker or Leonard, who have had similar careers and at least stylistically, have comparable skill sets.
Prior to winning the 2003 U.S. Open, Furyk won seven times. Since winning his first major, he has picked up another eight victories. The one thing that truly stands out is that U.S. Open win, which is one of his nine victories where he went into the final round with at least a share of the lead. He was one of only four players under par that week, finishing at 8-under par, three shots clear of Australia’s Stephen Leaney, and that was the turning point for not only Furyk’s career, but the way that the public and the media viewed him as a player. This is what winning a major does to a player’s reputation. Look at the list of non-name brand golfers who have won their first majors in the years since Furyk won in 2003, and you’ll see a group of players who rightly or wrongly, have been labeled as guys who won’t crack under the pressure of a final round lead. Geoff Ogilvy, Zach Johnson, Y.E. Yang, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell and Keegan Bradley are six guys that have been given the Furyk label of a “closer”. Oosthuizen, by the way, has been unable to close three of his five final round leads this season.
A lot of this is placed on the American media, who are in love with an American player winning their national open, and to be honest, the same thing would probably happen in the UK if a Brit actually won the Open Championship. Winning a major should provide extra value to a player, but it shouldn’t blind anyone to the actual data behind them. Furyk is one of the finest players of his generation without question, but his career is the prime example of the narrative not matching the numbers.
The worst kept secret in golf is finally official, as world number one Rory McIlroy will not be renewing his sponsorship deal at the end of this season with Acushnet (Titleist and Footjoy), making him free to sign with any company he chooses. The rumours have been swirling around McIlroy for months for two reasons: First, his budding and odd relationship with Tiger Woods, and second, as noted by Doug Ferguson in his writeup this morning, Titleist has been known for letting their star players go, most notably with Woods and Phil Mickelson. So, what’s next for Rory?
The move seems obvious. Expect McIlroy to join Woods at Nike, and the numbers being thrown around are staggering. The popular rumour is that McIlroy already has a deal worked out with Nike at ten years, and $250 million. Let’s take a quick look at why this does and doesn’t make sense for both parties.
For Rory, the first pro is obvious. $250 million is a massive amount of cash, and there’s no way that anyone could blame him for turning it down, despite the struggles of almost every golfer on Nike’s roster at the moment. Secondly, McIlroy’s relationship with Woods obviously played a huge role in this, and being closer to Woods is probably something that McIlroy wants at this point. The downside to Rory making the switch is that you never know how someone will play with a new set of clubs. You may not think that means much, and for weekend recreation players, it probably doesn’t, but the slightest change of things for the pros is a big deal. If this deal is in fact complete or close, it would behoove both parties to announce it quickly to give McIlroy as much time as possible to get acclimated to any change that he’s going to have to make. There were rumours on Monday that during their exhibition in China, McIlroy asked Woods if he could swing a few of his clubs, which if true, is pretty much the indicator of where things are going. The two were also definitely caught on-air discussing Nike equipment as well.
More fuel added to Rory to Nike rumours? Miced for sound during Woods - McIlroy ex players talked Nike eq, balls/spin rates.—
Rick Young (@RickatSCOREGolf) October 29, 2012
Now with Nike, there really isn’t a negative here, outside of the slight chance that McIlroy falls off the map. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but if you’re going to put it on one player for a ten-year term, they’ve picked the right one. The deal would give Nike arguably the two best players in the world, and would definitely give them the two most marketable assets in golf. Woods and McIlroy dominate the conversation in the game to an obscene level, and Nike having both of them under their control is huge for the company. Like I said above, we can safely assume that if McIlroy signs with Nike, that Woods played a part in getting it done, and keeping Woods happy is just as important to Nike, at least in the short term, as signing McIlroy is. Lastly, looking at Nike’s talent roster, it’s obvious that they need some fresh faces. While some of the players they have are successful and playing quality golf, the likes of Carl Pettersson and Francesco Molinari aren’t the types of players that turn heads. Throw in the fact that several of their players that they had expected to lead the charge for the next few years have fallen on hard times, and you’re looking at a group that needed an influx of something positive. Who knows, these rumours may not have even started if Anthony Kim and Paul Casey had been able to play respectable golf in the last 18 months.
Keep in mind that this is purely speculation at this point. Luke Donald, Nick Watney, Gary Woodland, Kyle Stanley and a few others are all free agents as well, so McIlroy won’t be the last shoe to drop.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been on the golf course and done something stupid. Okay, now raise your hand again if after doing that stupid thing, you proceeded to hurl obscenities at the ball, you club and maybe even your playing partner, who happened to hole out from the greenside bunker, without a bounce. Fact is, we’ve all been there. Personally, I’m on my fourth putter in my less than ten years playing the game, and only one of those times was because I felt I needed a switch. Golf is a frustrating game, and one that will always lead to meltdowns, especially for those of us who play relatively frequently and take it seriously.
By now, you may have seen the below video from two-time PGA Tour winner Mark Wiebe at the Champions Tour’s AT&T Championship this week. The language is NSFW, so you may not want to play it depending on who’s around.
Look, I get why people could be offended by the language, but I’ve seen some articles online pointing to the idea that Wiebe needs to be fined or suspended for his actions. Frankly, that’s ridiculous. The more logical suggestion could be to put everything on a 30-second delay, so that those moments could either not be shown at all, or they could be bleeped out. Wiebe is known as one of the better putters in the game, and missing a short putt like that would fry anyone, let alone someone who’s supposed to gain strokes on the field with the flat stick.
Wiebe’s only human, and he’s doing what every single one of us have done on the course in the past, and will continue to do in the future. I’ll take what Wiebe did over throwing a club or destroying a piece of property any day. At least this was entertaining.
Last week, I had the chance to talk with Morgan Bell. Morgan’s a former professional golfer from PEI, who played for the University of Montevallo in Alabama. Currently, she’s working for Golf Canada as the organization’s Sport Development Communications Coordinator. We touched on many subjects in the interview, including her start in the sport, her abrupt retirement from the professional game and the current state of the sport in Canada.
Adam Sarson: Can you give me a quick background on where you’re from, and how you got started in golf?
Morgan Bell: Well, I’m from the small East Coast island of Prince Edward Island, born and raised in Charlottetown and I have no shame in saying PEI is the greatest place in Canada to play golf. I actually love the story of how I started playing golf because it involves french fries, still my favourite food.
When I was about six, my family had a cottage in Stanhope, PEI. We lived about a kilometer up this dirt road from the local golf club, Stanhope Golf and Country Club. I had this old green Maxfli bag with five clubs in it and my parents would bribe me with a few dollars and say ‘You can go down to the golf course and get french fries but you have to take your golf clubs and practice’. So, off I’d go, bribed by fries.
But the more I was there, the more I liked it and Stanhope was awesome because they gave free Junior lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’d go and take mini lessons from the local pro and then dad would take me down in the evenings and we’d play nine holes on our old 3 wheel golf cart until it became dark! It was such a great environment to learn the basics and make it fun.
AS: Did you play any other sports growing up, or was it mostly a focus on golf?
MB: I played SO many sports. My parents literally wanted me to experience everything. Dad used to always teach me the fundamentals in the backyard because he didn’t want me to look girly playing sports and I’m still so thankful to him because I can throw a baseball surprisingly hard.
In the winter I was a highly competitive figure skater, but I quit at 16 trying to land triples! I also was a competitive alpine ski racer and went to the Canada Games in 2004. I loved ski racing; it was so much fun going fast. I also took ballet alongside figure skating for many years, even though I’m so ungraceful it’s hilarious and if piano counts (Editor’s note: it doesn’t) I did that too until I was 16.
In the summertime, I played baseball with the boys (second base and center field) until I was 16. I quit because I realized they were all boys and being 16 and a girl didn’t work out very well with them anymore, so I switched over to softball (Third base), played on our provincial team and went to Nationals for that. I eventually quit softball in grade 12 when I was on the Canada Games team, as my coach told me I had to pick between softball and golf, and in my mind I said ‘I’m not going to be playing softball when I’m 60, nor is it going to get me to school on a full-ride”. Golf became a full-time focus soon after that.
AS: At what point did you and your family realize that golf wasn’t just something that you were good at, but something that you could try and make a living out of?
MB: I realized it in my senior year of university, pretty late. I was hitting the ball past most people I played against and I won a few tournaments my senior year, but because I didn’t have a car at university, I really actually never got to practice nearly as much as I wanted to. I went back after graduating in 2008 from Montevallo and was the assistant coach on the women’s squad, bought a car and took lessons from Hank Johnson in Birmingham, Alabama. It was then that I kind of realized I could make a run at this, but I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
AS: You mentioned attending the University of Montevallo in Alabama. How does someone from the east coast of Canada end up in Alabama to play golf? Walk me through the process of how you ended up there.
MB: A question I get asked all the time! I was recruited through this agency called ‘CAPS’. I was in grade 12 at the time and actually originally went to a school in St. Louis at a place called Lindenwood (that’s why I love the Cardinals). I really disliked that school and wanted to transfer out at Christmas, but had to wait until my freshman year was over. Montevallo was one of the original schools to recruit me, so I called them up when I was done at Lindenwood and asked if they still had scholarship money available, and sure enough they did. So, my parents and I flew down to St. Louis, picked up all my stuff out of storage and drove down to the backwoods, small town of Montevallo.
At first glance, I thought to myself ‘What on earth did I just do?’ But Montevallo was the greatest four years of my life, and being a small town person, it was completely perfect for me. So many of us Canucks end up at so many random places, but these schools needs to meet scholarship/NCAA criteria and there is a huge opportunity in so many sports, not just golf.
AS: Further to that, how did your family and friends react to you moving so far away for school? Was it difficult to keep up relationships with them?
MB: My parents were 50/50. I think my dad was terrified to send me away, as he didn’t even want me to travel off PEI for university, but I won that battle!!
My friends thought it was awesome and thank god for MSN Messenger back in the day because seriously that’s all I used to do. I’ve never been one to have a huge group of friends, so my two closest friends from high school still remain my closest friends today. Facebook also appeared in my second year of university, so that was a big help too in keeping up with everyone’s lives.
As for my parents, it was actually a blessing because being so far away I realized how much I loved talking to them. Living at home you take them for granted but after I was away for long enough, all I wanted to do was talk to them every day. I’m still awful for that. I call my mom and dad seriously every day. They might tell me they are sick of me soon.
AS: From a golf perspective, run me through a typical day at Montevallo.
MB: Oh dear. (laughs) Just keep in mind Montevallo is no D1 Alabama here. I do very much wish it was much more structured looking back. Golf didn’t start until about 2pm. Whenever class was done essentially and we’d recruit drives out to the course, as Timberline was a 20minute drive. We kind of took our own reigns on practice but Coach Palmer was always out at the range or putting green with us, and he was pretty decent golfer himself so he often offered some advice if we needed it. Like I said earlier, practice was my Achilles heel in university. I like to practice, and I’d find myself only staying for an hour or two because my ride wanted to leave.
But we’d go up there, hit two bags of balls, chip, putt and then twice a week we usually played 18 on the worst walking course you could ever imagine. We practiced every weekday though. The gym was up to ourselves for my first two years, and after that we had some hilarious trainers who busted our butts.
AS: Tell me about the results you had throughout your college career.
MB: I had my good tournaments and bad tournaments. College golf really taught me a lot about being a competitor because half the time I had zero idea what was going on with my golf swing. I didn’t have a coach for four years, so I still consider myself a fantastic grinder.
When I dedicated myself in my senior year it showed. I won a big tournament in Myrtle Beach against a huge field, shooting 75-73. I won in a playoff and I’ll honestly never forget sinking that 20ft birdie putt on the first hole. I actually have no idea how it went in, but it just smoked the back of the cup and fell in and my whole team came running out onto the green. It was completely awesome.
I won another one too, but I was always a big advocate that a lot of scores would never win tournaments at other events. So, shooting 77 to win doesn’t count in my books, but I’m proud of Myrtle Beach. It was a tough two days with good girls around me. I always wanted to be better, and I still remember taking two doubles in that 75 in Myrtle Beach and being furious about them even after winning. (laughs)
AS: After graduating, you turned pro. What was the process of turning pro straight out of school? How did you get into events? Share anything that you think takes us behind the scenes.
MB: You just declare you’re a pro and enter whatever professional events you want. Not too glamorous.
I actually waited a year to turn pro because I went back and took lessons for a year and coached my team. I felt then that I had a great foundation after the summer of 2009. I had won every amateur event on PEI that summer, set a few course records, and played well at Nationals despite one terrible round. I felt I could do it, so I went to LPGA Future Qualifying in the fall of 2009 and turned pro after. Getting into events isn’t too hard. Women’s fields need players, so there was always a spot in a mini tour anywhere really.
AS: At some point, you decided that playing professionally wasn’t for you. What made you come to that decision? How often do you play now?
MB: This is quite a story…
Futures the first time around didn’t go too great. I was terrified when I got there, totally felt in over my head. I just wasn’t used to it but I did get status. So that winter I didn’t want to stay on PEI in the snow, so I actually flew to South Africa to practice with a good friend of mine who was a professional on the Sunshine Tour. I actually can’t ever remember playing golf so well. I was over there for 4 months and was ready to come home and play a full season on the CN Women’s Tour, and try to get into as many Futures events as I could. I had so much confidence.
I flew home sometime in May and after hitting the ground on PEI, I had about a two day turnaround and had to fly out to Vancouver for the CN event, my pro debut. I remember before flying out to Vancouver, I was standing in my mom’s room trying to put a sock on while balancing on the other foot and I fell over, which is totally weird since I have pretty great balance, but I just brushed it off.
Anyways, I got on the first tee in a practice round and I felt so weird. I was hitting the ball 40 yards shorter than usual, I was tired, I was just out of it. I thought I was just nervous. So I teed off the next day, and I played I think 12 holes at like +16. At one point, I was standing over the ball and it was moving to my eyes. I felt like I was on a really rough boat ride standing over the ball, and at that point I knew I had to withdraw. I went to the hospital where the doctor told me she couldn’t believe I was golfing, let alone driving…. Awesome.
I flew back home and literally spent a month sleeping. I was so tired, but my biggest mistake was trying to play golf to beat it. I should have taken that entire summer off and gotten better, but I was too stubborn. I felt like I had to play, something I’m sure a lot of struggling pros would understand. I played terribly all summer long, hit shots a 20+ handicap wouldn’t even hit. I was going to physio where they do all this wacky stuff to your head and eventually, I’d say about 4 months later, the vertigo did go away but my confidence with golf was shattered and my golf swing turned into some hilarious thing I’ve never seen before.
I played for another year but I never got over it. I essentially went back to South Africa, found some good ground, and caddied a ton on the Sunshine Tour, which I loved. I went 7/7 in cuts made for the guy I caddied for over there. Then I came back home and tried to play a few more events, but my mind over the ball in tournaments was just toast. It wasn’t worth it anymore and the fun was gone, so I knew I had to make a change.
AS: How much do you play now, and why do you do it? It sounds like you were pretty hard on yourself when you played competitively. Are you still that way now even though you’re not actively pursuing it as a career?
MB: I get out to play I’d say twice a month now as it’s just not a priority right now, but when I do I have so much more fun than I did when playing competitively. I actually think I’m better right now than when I was competing as I put way too much pressure on myself. Now I just step up, hit it and and go. It seems I play like a whole new Morgan. I’m 100% having way more fun now playing golf. I still get disgusted when I hit a bad shot that I know I should be able to hit, but I typically laugh about it now and get over it in under 5 seconds. I still have high standards for myself out there, but I definitely don’t put the pressure on myself to perform well anymore, but it seems like I almost always do. I wish I could have figured this all out a long time ago!
AS: You’re currently studying as a grad student at Centennial College, with the ultimate goal of being on TV, talking about sports. How did you end up in Toronto?
MB: That story above deserves a few thanks for getting me here, and I’m thankful for it now.
I took journalism as my undergrad because sports have always been my passion. I knew if I wasn’t playing them, I wanted to be talking or writing about them. When I ultimately decided to quit competitive golf, I knew I had to make a change and I knew I’d been out of school too long to depend on my undergrad to get me a job. I knew I wasn’t happy where I was and a career in sports was the only solution to my problem.
I literally Googled ‘sports journalism grad programs’, up popped Centennial, and I’m going to consider it my lucky break. I have family up here so moving wasn’t that big of an issue, but I couldn’t believe I was going back to school, something I said I’d NEVER do. But I didn’t want to go back for long and Centennial offered this perfect grad program that essentially is under a year and you’re done. Painless in my eyes! I applied in late September, and not long after I was informed of my acceptance, and I had a few months to wrap my head around moving. Again.
AS: Do you have a specific goal or dream job in TV?
MB: Kelly Tilghman has my dream job in golf, but Erin Andrews has the best sideline reporting job in the world and she’s so good at it. That being said, I love a lot of things besides TV. Truthfully, I just enjoy finding the stories and sharing them. I’m really not sure where I want to be yet, but I do hope it’s in golf because I want to have a voice for our sport and I hope someday I can be an influential person for the sport of golf and it’s development in our country.
AS: You recently took a job as the Sport Development Communications Coordinator at Golf Canada. What are your duties in the new job? Why did you end up taking it?
MB: Well, I just look at their name ‘Golf Canada’ and I feel lucky to be there. It’s our country’s governing body for the sport I’m the most passionate about. If I want to be in the thick of things in golf in Canada, it’s a great place to be. Earlier in the summer, they let me come and work for them at the RBC Canadian Open. I filmed some videos, interviewed fans and players and it was a fantastic experience. I really found out how much I enjoyed the people I’d be working around, and when the job was offered to me I knew it’d be a great place for me to be.
What my job entails though is all things sport development in our country. National Golf in Schools, Team Canada, Future Links, Golf Fore the Cure, Women’s growth, etc. You name it, and it more than likely falls under my window. I’m responsible for writing content and producing videos for all these things. It’s busy and I like it. Even in the winter it’s busy! It’s also neat because I grew up in a few of these programs, so I feel like I can give back a little bit at the same time while working.
AS: What are the similarities and differences with this job, and with being a pro golfer?
MB: I think being a golfer always helps. I know a lot of the players, I’ve played a lot of the tournaments, I know the etiquette, I know when and when not to push for questions and I also know what it feels like to be in their shoes, except maybe when they win a professional event, but I can certainly imagine what it feels like. It’s definitely an advantage to know the other side, and it gives you a little bit more credibility right off the top.
That being said, a desk is not a golf course. Being a professional golfer you have an office, it’s just outside. People glorify professional sports way too much, and golf is just as much of job as what I’m doing now, but I don’t get a tan anymore.
AS: You’re an interesting case because you know what it’s like to be on the professional athlete side of things, and now you’re trying to break into the media. Do you have any thoughts on the current state of sports media? A lot has changed in recent years with the way things are covered, especially with the explosion of social media.
MB: I love where sports media is going, and aside from the lockouts, sports are healthy in North America.
I also 100% think if you’re not in the loop with social media, you are going to get left in the dust. Not only Twitter, but social media is the future of sports. Everything we do now involves live tweeting, athletes reactions on Twitter, fan reactions, etc. It’s the fastest way to find out what’s going on, and as journalists, it’s an incredible source to find information (as long as you make sure it’s right!!)
Twitter has been my most beneficial tool in getting my foot into this industry. I’ve met so many great writers and producers through it, and I thank them for all their help and guidance, as they are always there to lend advice if needed.
Back to the original thought though. I don’t think social media going anywhere. It’s only going to get more and more integrated into broadcasts in the future, and I think it’s such a unique way to make fans feel included. There’s nothing like it.
AS: What do you think about the current state of golf, both in Canada and abroad?
MB: I think in Canada, things are finally starting to come together again. We have insanely talented amateurs right now in our country, kids like Albin Choi and Brooke Henderson. They are involved in such great programs that are only going to help them become better, elite players. It’s exciting to watch their progress.
I also think it’s fantastic that the PGA Tour is taking over the Canadian Tour, as I can’t think of a better opportunity for the guys in our country to finally have. I caddied on the Canadian Tour for a summer and there are some seriously talented players out there. I hope they are going to find a little more of the limelight they deserve, which hopefully means more recognition, more sponsorships etc. It’s a great thing and I look forward to being a part of it and seeing it grow.
As for the state of the golf worldwide, the men’s tours are bursting with opportunity. Everyone loves watching them and with players like Tiger and Rory healthy, it can’t get much better. On the women’s side, the mystery remains, as I can’t wrap my head around why people aren’t watching. North America needs a bigger presence. Ratings were high when Creamer faced Shin a few weeks back, and I think for the game to grow again in North America, we need more of our stars to step up and put up a fight. The game develops so young in Korea and other places, that I think in North America, we have to start adapting some of their techniques to stay competitive because it’s certainly working for them over there.
For more from Morgan, give her a follow on Twitter, and check out her blog. Also, check out Golf Canada’s website and Twitter account for more information on their programs and news on Canadian golf.
There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks on the PGA Tour about Vijay Singh. The three-time major winner turns 50 years old early next year, making him eligible for the Champions Tour. Singh, for what it’s worth, says that he has no interest in teeing it up full-time against the senior players, and frankly, who can blame him? Despite a winless season so far in 2012, Singh has put together five top-10 finishes and earning over $1.5 million. He still drives the ball well, averaging over 295 yards per drive, and his legendary work ethic, especially when it comes to keeping himself in shape, remains in tact.
Last week at the Frys.com Open, Singh was at the end of another solid tournament, finishing T-4 and posting a score of -14. Towards the end of the event, this tweet from Kieran Clark came across my timeline:
It’s astonishing to think, that between the ages of 40-45, Vijay won the same number of PGA Tour titles as Raymond Floyd did in his career.
— Kieran Clark (@OnParWithGolf) October 14, 2012
We all know that Vijay has been ridiculously productive in his career, but that fact was staggering. Raymond Floyd is a 4-time major winner, with 66 professional wins under his belt, and countless other awards and accolades. All it took was five years for Vijay to eclipse Floyd’s PGA Tour win total? And those five years were when Vijay was in his 40’s?
Coming into the 2004 season, everyone was well aware of the talent that Vijay Singh possessed. His resume spoke for itself:
- Eleven European Tour titles
- Fifteen PGA Tour victories
- Two major championships (1998 PGA Championship and the 2000 Masters)
- Fifteen other professional wins
He won more money than any other player in 2003, but 2004 was the year that Vijay officially announced his arrival, and he did it by stomping all over the competition. Take a look at these numbers:
- Twenty-eight of twenty-nine cuts made (Buick Invitational)
- Nine wins, including his third major, the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits
- Eighteen top-10’s and twenty-four top-25’s
- $10,905,166 in earnings
In addition to his 2004 season, Vijay finished in the top-10 in 54 events from 2003-2005. Keep in mind that Rory McIlroy and Bo Van Pelt tied for the lead in top-10 finishes this year on the PGA Tour with ten. In the history of the PGA Tour, there have been only six players who have won at least nine tournaments in a season, and only two of those have come after 1950. His total earnings in 2004 is also a record, assuming we’re throwing out the $10 million bonus that’s awarded for winning the FedEx Cup, which was introduced in 2007. Take a look at his results from early August to the end of October that year:
Outside of the WGC event, that’s a stretch of six wins and a tie for second. It was during this stretch that Vijay put an end to Tiger’s then record streak of 264 weeks at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings. The two would battle back and forth for that title for the next nine months before Tiger took it again for another five years. I’ll be the first one to criticize the ranking system in place for the OWGR, but at this point, there really was no argument: Vijay Singh was the best player in the world. That may not seem like much now, since the top spot in the world has changed hands so frequently in recent years, but this was a huge deal back in 2004. No one should have been better than Tiger. No one was supposed to dominate the game except Tiger, much less a 42-year old from Fiji.
Tiger first ascended to world number one in June of 1997, and throughout his career, he has spent a record 623 weeks in the top spot. In his first two years, he battled Ernie Els, Greg Norman and David Duval for the top spot, before finally taking control of it for five years, starting in September of 1999. Keep in mind that from 1999 to 2004, Tiger’s first prolonged stint at the top, he won 33 times, including seven majors. The idea that someone would replace him at the top of OWGR was unfathomable, but Vijay managed to pull it off for 32 weeks. Those 32 weeks happened when Tiger was at the top of his game, when he was not only the best golfer in the world, but the most dominant athlete on the planet.
My point is this: Back in 2004, it was obvious that Vijay was the best player in the world, but I don’t think anyone actually remembers that. Is it because he only won one major that year? I’d understand that argument if he didn’t win eight other tournaments, and have eighteen top-10’s. Any conversation about the best players in the world over the last decade centers around Tiger and Phil. A few people mention Ernie Els, and that’s really where the discussion ends. This happens all the time in sports. Some players get a ton of attention for their accomplishments, while others get forgotten, and Vijay Singh appears to be one of those guys. As Vijay makes his transition from the PGA to the Champions Tour, where if he decides to go, he will dominate, we should all look back and recognize that Vijay Singh was not only the best player in the world, but also had one of the greatest individual seasons in sports history.