Youth dominating golf on global scale

By Jason SobelOctober 17, 2011, 6:51 pm

I’ve never been much of an optimist. Offer me a glass half-full and I’ll pour it out. Show me a silver lining and I’ll maintain that gold is a better buy.

It’s more than that, though. I don’t get too hyper about hyperbole. I have aggravations with exaggerations.

Keep all of that in mind as I make the following proclamation about the impending future of golf: It’s brighter than ever.

This isn’t in regard to the state of the game at its grassroots level or a rebirth in the number of courses being built – though each could be positively impacted by this idea.

Instead, it’s about what is currently taking place at the game’s most elite stage, and what will be taking place for an awfully long time to come.

Ever since players have been competing for cash, there have been young studs on the horizon, threatening the status of seasoned veterans. Never before, though, has the crop of prospects been as respected as they are right now.

There’s no better explanation than to simply ponder a response to this question: Who is the most talented young player in the world? The easy answer is Rory McIlroy, the 22-year-old wunderkind who won the U.S. Open in dominating fashion earlier this summer.

Observers may have proffered a double-take in recent weeks, though. Rickie Fowler, also 22, broke through for his first career professional win in Korea. Tom Lewis followed by claiming the Portugal Masters title in just his third pro start on Sunday.

It speaks volumes about the skill level of these kids that the answer can change seemingly on a week-to-week basis. And it says even more that they’re not just contending, but learning to win on the professional ranks at such a young age.

In previous generations, this triumvirate would have provided all the fuel necessary to flame the rivalry of newcomers versus the establishment, but these days they have plenty of company from their up-and-coming peers.

There’s Jason Day, 23, who finished as runner-up at two of this year’s major championships. Ryo Ishikawa, 20, whose professional victory total has already reached double-digits. Matteo Manassero, 18, who already owns two European Tour titles. Bud Cauley, 21, who is on the verge of becoming the sixth player in the past three decades to earn his PGA Tour card without Q-School or a developmental tour.

At the risk of simply listing more unique talents, there’s Patrick Cantlay, a UCLA sophomore who has already made his mark on the professional circuit. Peter Uihlein, who took last year’s U.S. Amateur crown. Harris English and Russell Henley, a pair of recent University of Georgia grads who claimed Nationwide Tour wins before ever turning pro.

That foursome competed on the U.S. Walker Cup team last month. It should only serve as further proof of the global budding talent level that they lost to the team from Great Britain and Ireland.

There is a dizzying array of ridiculously gifted and hard-working youngsters. They’ll not only have to share riches and fame with each other, though, but a bevy of already proven players who are only a few years their senior. Four of the world’s top-10 ranked golfers are 30 or younger, as are each of the next three just outside that delineation. They include rising stars such as Webb Simpson and major winners like Martin Kaymer. In fact, three of the current holders of major titles – and five of the last seven – are 20somethings.

The future of golf is in such a good place at the elite level that it would be easy to proclaim this the beginning of a transformation from the so-called Tiger Era to one of greater parity and more superstars.

In keeping with my newfound optimistic viewpoint, though, allow me to offer what can only be considered the brightest of bright ideas: Tiger Woods returns to past form early next season, but instead of singularly dominating tournaments as he did for so many years, his younger peers – the players who aren’t intimidated by his persona and aren’t afraid to win – continue to step up, one by one challenging him for titles that become larger than simply the trophy for which they are competing.

Add in continued consistent play by stars like Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, and perhaps renewed invigoration for Phil Mickelson, and the next five to 10 years could be a golden age for the game, the likes we haven’t seen in decades.

When Jack Nicklaus first burst onto the scene as a baby-faced 22-year-old at the 1962 U.S. Open, his immediate rivals were Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. While those competitions persisted for years, by the time Nicklaus’ career was winding down, he had cultivated new, younger opponents – most notably Tom Watson.

Woods may never return as the player he once was. If he does, he may finally find a worthy foil in a player like McIlroy, or the opposition could come in the form of a few dozen young, talented players – each of whom has been making his mark during Tiger’s absence from the winner’s circle.

Should the latter take place, it would ultimately provide an entertaining landscape, the likes of which hasn’t been captured in a very long time. It would be a momentous change, sure, but change isn’t always a bad thing.

Hey, even a glass half-empty guy can be optimistic about the future.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.

Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

5/2: Rory McIlroy

7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

9/2: Justin Rose

5/1: Brooks Koepka

15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

10/1: Adam Scott

12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes