LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – There have been five different teams to win the last five World Series titles and nine in the past 11 years – and Major League Baseball is widely lauded for its virtuous parity.
Four different teams have claimed the last four Super Bowls and six in the past eight years – and the National Football League is universally celebrated for its equitable diversity.
Fifteen different golfers have captured the last 15 major championships, including nine consecutive first-time winners – and the prevailing feeling is that something is “wrong” with golf.
What a crock. Instead, something’s wrong with the prevailing feeling.
It’s no secret that in the dozen years from 1997-2008, we all became desensitized to domination. Tiger Woods won 14 of the 48 majors that were contested during this period, peeling ‘em off at a clip that was never before witnessed in the game.
Whether you recognized his individual greatness with each additional achievement or gradually took him for granted – or both – there was a sense that Woods’ accomplishments were somehow normal after a while, that we should expect him to triumph more often than not.
The truth is, that was the deviation from the norm. Not this.
In the years since that dominance has subsided, the game has reverted to form. Much like its championship counterparts in most team sports, the list of major champions is once again an eclectic mix of superstars prevailing over their peers, up-and-comers breaking through and one-hit wonders getting a turn to shine in the spotlight.
Call it a Parity Party.
No longer are questions posed in regard to choosing one player over the rest of the entire field. Such queries have instead transitioned into inquiries about the current depth of fields, which the pros almost unanimously concur are more extensive than they’ve ever been before.
“I think the fields are deeper, there's no doubt,” Woods said in advance of this week’s Open Championship. “You need to have a hot week at the right time. That's what it comes down to. I think that there are more guys now have a chance to win major championships than ever before and I think that will just continue to be that way. What do we have, 15 in a row I think it is now? It just goes to show you the depth of the field.”
The current streak of varied winners isn’t the lengthiest in the game’s history – from the 1983 U.S. Open through the 1987 Open Championship, there were 18 different champions – but it’s difficult to argue that field depths aren’t monumentally stronger than those of past generations.
Don’t believe the players who are competitive now and have only known it one way? Then ask a guy whose career has spanned two separate eras.
“I was in the right era for my time, for the tournaments that I won,” explained Mark Calcavecchia, the 1989 Open champion who is again competing this week. “I think if I was in my prime today, I seriously doubt I’d win a major or win 13 times. Just because everybody else is that much better than they were 20 years ago.”
All of which begs the question: Which is better?
Is it more beneficial for the game to have a singularly dominant player who draws worldwide interest every time he tees it up? Or is it more advantageous to boast a competitive balance that features a different champion on any given week?
Well, it depends whom you ask.
“I think you can argue it both ways,” Rickie Fowler contended. “I think it's fun knowing going into the week that there's a full field of guys and almost anyone can win. Not saying, ‘OK, there's a 50 percent chance that this guy is going to win this week; we'll try to give him a run, if not we'll play for second.’ As a player, I think it's a lot more fun playing against a handful of guys fighting it out for a championship versus trying to beat down one guy and play for second.”
That may be the case, but any notion that something is “wrong” with the current state of the game just because it has become less predictable is foolish at best and insulting at worst.
Think back to that 12-year period when Woods claimed those 14 major titles. If the first question before each of those performances was, “Tiger or the field?” then the second was often, “Why won’t anybody step up and challenge Tiger?”
Guess what, golf fans? It isn’t just one player who has stepped up. It’s many of ‘em, consistently and constantly.
In other sports, parity is proof that the system is working, forever regenerating itself with new, different champions. In golf, the current state of the game is too often perceived in a negative light.
Instead, the prevailing feeling should be that this is perfectly normal.