CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Instant analysis is such that anyone with a laptop and hi-def television sat down Sunday night declaring Rickie Fowler golf’s new alpha male following an inspired victory at The Players.
From the game’s most overrated to overlord in a single news cycle. Only in sports.
To be fair, Fowler never deserved the most overrated crown he’d been saddled with in a recent player poll on Golf.com. To be historically accurate, Jordan Spieth was declared the heir apparent following his Masters victory last month, and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy certainly made a statement with his marathon triumph two weeks ago at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play.
A more accurate and even-handed assessment of Fowler’s victory and its impact on the macro is that it officially moved him into golf’s version of a competitive aristocracy.
After top-5 finishes in each of last year’s major championships, the guy in orange vaulted himself into the conversation, and Sunday’s 76-hole performance certainly solidified his place on the game’s upper shelf. But golf, at least in its current form, has far too much parity to award can’t-miss status to a single, albeit singular, talent just yet.
What seems much more likely in the coming months and years is a collective effort of dominance. Consider it the millennial’s version of the “Big Three,” with a revolving cast of characters that currently includes, but is not limited to, Fowler, McIlroy and Spieth.
It’s all part and parcel of an innate fearlessness that the current generation enjoys. Used to be standard for a twenty-something to spend a half dozen years plying his trade and learning the ropes before things fell into place on a consistent basis.
World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson didn’t get on the Grand Slam board until he was 33 years old. Vijay Singh was 35 before he won his first major and David Duval, a former world No. 1, was 29 when he broke through on the biggest stage.
But the current crop arrived on Tour with a unique sense of competitive indifference, or maybe it’s an utter lack of fear. Either way, performances like Fowler’s, who played his final four holes in regulation on Sunday on the Stadium Course in a combined tournament-record 11 strokes, are becoming the norm.
“I think we’re all kind of cut throat when it comes to that,” said Patrick Reed, who also deserves a seat at an expanding table of potential world-beaters. “I mean to hit driver like [Fowler] did on 18, 320, 330 down the left and not bail out right. That shows how bad he wanted it.”
Tiger Woods at his best, think early- to mid-2000s, was so much better than the rest of the pack that he had the ability to separate himself on a regular basis. That gap, however, has been narrowed to the smallest of margins at the highest levels.
On any given week, the likes of Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and, yes, even Reed have the ability to dominate fields and make the game look amazingly easy.
There is a dominant player in golf right now, but who that is often depends on what day of the week it is.