PGA Tour: The difference between good and great

Posted by: mike June 26th, 2017

By Steve Trivett

 

The golf cat is now officially out of the professional golf bag.

When Brooks Koepka lifted the U.S. Open trophy on the 18th green at Erin Hills last Sunday, two questions concerning the state of professional golf moved front and center.

With his victory in the 117th U.S. Open, the 27-year-old Florida native became the seventh straight first-time major championship winner – a long streak that now dates back to the end of World War II.

So. . . .

Is that because there is now an absence of “great players?”

Or is it because there are more “good players” now than ever before?Tiger and Spieth

Easy answers - yes and yes.

And those two questions – and answers – beg even more questions.

There are a lot of good, young players – but that doesn’t explain seven straight major championships all by itself.

Only three of those seven – Koepka, Jason Day and Danny Willett – were in their 20s when they won their major championship titles.

Three more - Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Sergio Garcia – were in their 30s.

And Henrik Stenson was 40 when he won the Open Championship last year at Royal Troon.

Good players all.

Now, let us talk about “great players.”

Jack Nicklaus won 17 of his 18 major professional championships over a span of 18 years.

Tiger Woods won all 14 of his major championships from 1997-2008.

Walter Hagen won 11 major championships from 1914-1929 – and remember the Masters didn’t start until 1934 when “The Haig” had passed his prime.

Tom Watson won all eight of his major championships over a span of nine years.

Arnold Palmer won all seven of his major championships in seven years.

Nick Faldo won six majors in 10 years.

Phil Mickelson won his first – and so far all - majors over 10 years.

When those guys were around, you didn’t go seven straight majors without at least one of them winning more than one.

And that brings us back to the “good players” of today.

Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are the only players currently on tour under 30 who have at least two major championships to their credit, but Spieth has now gone eight straight majors without a victory and McIlroy hasn’t won in his last 10 major-championship appearances.

And it’s not because they aren’t good players.

But it could be that they are not yet “great players” – at least when you use history as a measuring stick.

But they could be.

And they need to be.

Because that would be a shot in the arm the game needs.

The television ratings are in for the 2017 Open at Erin Hills – and they are the lowest in tournament history since people started keeping track of television ratings of sporting events.

That’s not a knock on Koepka – or the rest of the final-round leaders that made this U.S. Open compelling for real golf fans, but it is a statement about the casual fans who only watch if their “favorite player” isn’t playing.

And when you had a U.S. Open with both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson missing, the remaining players could have walked around Erin Hills 40-under par and naked and a lot of people wouldn’t have watched.

Because when it comes to sports, good just isn’t good enough anymore.

Somebody needs to be great.

And right now, we’re still waiting.

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Steve is a long time veteran golf writer. He's already on the far side of 70 - which explains how Steve Trivett started covering the PGA Tour in 1963. He's an award-winning journalist who has worked for the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, The late great Rocky Mountain News and The Villages Daily Sun. He once carried a single-digit handicap, but his ball striking finally reached the depth of his putting prowess.