Far be it from me to call out Warren Buffett, but I believe the Oracle of Omaha might have missed an opportunity. If he thinks offering a billion bucks for a perfect bracket was money (still) in the bank, he needs to check out the PGA Tour lately.
In case you dozed off somewhere along the West Coast, the four winners during the Florida swing weren’t exactly a Mount Rushmore of superstars. They’re not even the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, though you might have guessed differently after the reaction to wins from Russell Henley, Patrick Reed, John Senden and Matt Every.
No single-named heavyweights, no players with Q ratings that more closely resemble IQs, no one with a major championship to their resume. In fact, you could make the argument that each champion’s victory was the greatest of his career, which is saying something during a month known more as a bullpen session for the game’s elite before taking the mound at Augusta National.
Buffett’s offer of prosperity for perfection didn’t last three days in the annual hoops tournament, but golf’s parity party easily would have kept it from happening inside the ropes, too.
This is the part where I’m probably supposed to make some grandiose proclamation about fields being deeper than ever, young players being more prepared to beat proven competitors, tournaments being more difficult to prognosticate than in the past, and everything we’ve ever known about the world of golf being flipped on its axis.
Some of that might be true. All of it might be true. But such proclamations shouldn’t be offered in March, when – to employ another hardball analogy – the game’s best are still going through spring training.
If the four majors are won this year by aforementioned single-named heavyweights like Tiger, Phil, Adam and Rory, we’ll recall the Florida swing as a mere blip on the radar screen. Chances are, though, what we’ve witnessed not only in the past four weeks but in the entire season to date is less a deviation from the norm than the norm itself.
What we might have reached – and what we’ve gradually been heading toward for a half-decade now – is the “Any Given Sunday Era.” It’s a time when Henley can claim a victory after a two-time major champion falters, a time when Every can grab one after the reigning Masters champion does likewise.
All of which should lead to two questions:
1) Is this a good thing?
2) Why is it happening?
Each can be debated at length, until another era of dominance gradually forges into the forefront without us realizing it.
The first question is the result of a long-standing conundrum in golf. Despite annual celebrations of dynasties gone by, the NFL – everybody’s favorite equal opportunist these days – prides itself on parity and, judging by its growing popularity, fans wouldn’t want it any other way. When golf undergoes a period of parity, though, it’s treated as if something is wrong with the game. Think of it this way: Nobody ever speaks in glowing terms about the mid-to-late 1930s, when two dudes named Alf won major championships … or the Brewer-Goalby-Archer years at the Masters … or the half-dozen years before Tiger started winning majors, when 20 different players combined to win 24 of 'em.
The second question has likely already been answered by a few of those recent winners. Reed made international headlines when he clinched a third career title at Trump National Doral, then trumped any bold statement made by his clubs with one by his mouth, touting himself as a “top-five” player in the world.
Every is a guy who six years ago flamed out of Q-School, only to insist, “You know, 25 guys are getting through and I’m not. It’s 25 I’m better than, too.” Forget that the Class of 2008 included would-be major champions Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner and Y.E. Yang; this was Every simply letting his confidence shine through. While he didn’t echo Reed’s sentiments about being a top-fiver, he did understand them.
“What’s wrong in believing in yourself? There’s so many sensitive people that just get all torn up on the dumbest stuff. And it’s OK to believe in yourself,” he said after winning at Bay Hill. “What Patrick Reed said, I thought that was great. … I’m serious. That’s great he thinks he’s a top-five player; he probably is right now. What’s wrong with thinking good things about yourself?”
Therein lies the biggest secret as to why PGA Tour events have become less predictable than a roulette wheel. We’ve entered an era where players don’t just want to win each week. Nearly all of them really, truly believe they can win. There’s a big difference between the two. All you have to do is revisit the Florida swing to understand that.
It might not make professional golf more appealing to the masses, but it does make it tougher to figure out on a weekly basis. Predicting winners has never been an easy proposition, but lately it’s become downright impossible. How impossible? Well, I’d be willing to bet Buffett’s billion bucks you can’t do it. Hey, golf’s parity makes filling out a perfect bracket seem easy these days.