Players dealing with major-less label is nothing new


Two years ago at The Players Championship I asked Adam Scott about his friendship with Sergio Garcia. Here were two golfers with everything – looks, cash and golf swings to die for.

Who wouldn’t want to be them?

“We’re the young guys with gray hair,” Scott said with a grin. “We’ve been pretty lucky, but we’ve also gone through the low times.”

Scott and Garcia have been pretty lucky. They’ve played golf at a high level in the era of Tiger Woods, reaping the benefits of huge purses, fat endorsement deals and their own good genes. They have worked hard for their daily bread, on the range and in the gym, traveling the world and battling their peers.

Debate: Most likely to win first major in 2013

But the “but” is a heavy one. It shadows them and others constantly, in season and out of season, in press conferences and likely in their quiet moments. It is the lack of a major championship, the gap in the resume that can only be filled four days out of every year.

Scott and Garcia are hardly alone in the category of best player without a major, but they have worn those heavy hats for the bulk of their careers. It could not have have been easy watching Tiger rattle off major after major, double and triple dipping, and having your own golfing gifts measured through the lens of the iconic Woods.

When Garcia lipped out a putt for par on the 72nd hole at Carnoustie in 2007 that would have given him the Open Championship, he doubled over onto his putter. When Scott missed his par attempt on the 72nd at Lytham in July, he squatted to the ground and bowed his head.

Both men looked as though the wind had been knocked out of them. Both looked older than their years.

Throughout history, golfers have been forced to face the question. Tom Kite, before his breakthrough at the 1992 United States Open, Corey Pavin, at the same tournament three years later, and Davis Love, David Duval and Phil Mickelson after them.

At the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, Kite reflected on the meaning of his win a decade earlier – and the criticism he faced before the victory.

“When I got to be 42 years old and I hadn’t won a major, it was justified,” Kite said. “I went too long without winning a major championship. [But] giving the label to a guy at 31 years old [which Mickelson was at the time] is so stupid, so unfair, so unjust. I mean, they’re even starting to talk about Sergio. Give me a break. He’s barely out of diapers.”

Mickelson faced a barrage of questions before he broke through at the 2004 Masters, just as Garcia, Scott, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and others hear them now.

In the last few months the 39-year-old Westwood has left his swing coach, Pete Cowen, dropped his caddie, Billy Foster, and hired and fired his short-game guru, Tony Johnstone. He has plans to move to South Florida to have a foothold in the country where three of the four majors are played.

That is a lot of change in a short period of time, the chase for a major clearly the catalyst for so much upheaval.

A compelling argument can be made that it’s easier to win majors now than during Woods’s remarkable haul of 14 trophies, from 1997-2008. From the 2008 PGA through the 2012 Open Championship, 16 different players won those 16 majors.

But if Woods’ star has dimmed, Rory McIlroy’s is just beginning to burn.

In 2013, the raft of players yet to win a major will set off once again, searching for a signature victory while also beating back a growing chorus of critics.

At least Tom Kite never had to deal with Twitter.