LEMONT, Ill. – The year was 1990. Titanium head drivers were all the rage, Jack Nicklaus debuted on the Senior Tour, governing bodies settled on a standardized golf ball and a young whippersnapper named Phil Mickelson was cleaning up on the amateur circuit.
It was also the year when the PGA Tour first introduced its Player of the Year award.
Beverage of your choice at the local 19th hole if you can name the inaugural winner of that honor.
No? Got nothing?
It was none other than Wayne Levi, who won four tournaments that year to claim the hardware, despite only two other top-25 finishes for the entire season.
Such was life back in the olden days, where no singular dominant player existed and it was up to someone to separate himself from a pack of fellow talented professionals.
For the second straight year – not coincidentally, ever since Tiger Woods’ SUV crashed into a fire hydrant – there is no clear-cut winner of this prestigious award with a tournament-and-a-half remaining in the regular season.
Webb Simpson is the current favorite, thanks to two wins in his last three starts and two other runner-up finishes so far. But five other players have matched his multiple-victory mark, including rookie Keegan Bradley, who won the PGA Championship.
If there’s a sense of déjà vu, it’s because this is virtually the same exact scenario as last year, when Jim Furyk claimed the season-ending Tour Championship for his third title to not only clinch the FedEx Cup, but the POY award, as well.
And so this year’s race remains wide open, which leads to this question of the day: Why not Mark Wilson?
The veteran pro has enjoyed a very Levi-like season, having won two of his first three starts – at the Sony Open and Waste Management Phoenix Open – but with only two top-10 results and no serious title contentions in his ensuing 20 appearances.
Thanks to opening rounds of 65-66 at the BMW Championship, Wilson finds himself in position to break the logjam atop the PGA Tour victory table, tied for the lead at Cog Hill entering the weekend.
“That would put me with the most wins of anybody,” he said after the round, “and then going into East Lake if I can get another one there, I think I'd have a good argument.”
When told that sounds like a lot of ifs, Wilson responded, “Should I say when? The game is fickle, you never know. I've played great so far. There's a lot of great players out here, but I feel like I'm playing very close to the same form I had when I started the year out. My mind is in a better place, and I'm just kind of accepting the results; whatever happens, happens. But yeah, I would definitely put myself in there. Certainly not right now, but I need at least one more win, two more wins to probably be in that discussion.”
Don’t think it can’t happen.
Despite only two wins in his first 236 starts on the PGA Tour, Wilson has proven this year that he has goods to hold up in the final-round heat. Needing only a par on the final hole at Waialae, he made birdie to clinch the victory; a few weeks later, he outlasted Jason Dufner in a Monday playoff in Phoenix to win again.
Of course, there’s comfort and there’s comfort. No player ever feels complete ease under the glare of the spotlight, but if Wilson is to ever enjoy anything close to that feeling, it would be here at his de facto home course, not far from his place of residence.
“I don't feel like I've played it a ton, but just enough that I don't really have to look at the yardage book too much,” he said. “But yeah, I know how to get here in the morning, and it just is very simple. Yeah, I know if there's construction there or a hold-up on the bridge I know another way to go. So yeah, I feel very comfortable. Probably the most of any tournament during the year.”
Besides, there’s no pressure here. You want pressure? Try being a Green Bay Packers fan while living in the heart of Chicago Bears country – which is exactly what Wilson is right now.
That alone should garner some kind of award, but for now he’ll be content to battle for the Player of the Year title. Like he said, he isn’t in that discussion right now, but two more great rounds on this course could solidify his place in that debate.
Wilson certainly wouldn’t be the most famous nor popular player to ever win the postseason hardware, but his name on the trophy would hearken back to the days when it was first introduced.
As if he needed any more karma on his side, there’s this little tidbit, too: When Levi claimed the first-ever POY award, he was helped by winning this very tournament, too.