The New King
The tide has turned in professional golf a new King has made an appearance. Rory McIlory won his first major
championship and has become a household name. I think he’s got the talent and the attitude to represent the
game very well. I am wishing him nothing but the best.
What is weird is that a few years ago (the winter of 2008 to be specific) I started working on a book about who
would be the game’s next great player. Here are the first two paragraphs of that book…
If you are into golf, even if you are not into golf, you know who Tiger Woods is. He seems to win every golf
tournament he plays in. He wins the close ones and he wins going away. He is the best player in the game today.
Some even say he is the best player in the history of the game. But a topic of discussion that seems to fascinate
the talking heads on the television is “Who is the next Tiger Woods?” Today when this conversation comes up the
names of Anthony Kim, Rory McIlroy, Danny Lee, and Ricky Fowler are mentioned.
However, I find the more intriguing question to be, “Who was Tiger Woods before Tiger Woods was Tiger
Woods?” In other words, who were the best players in the game throughout history? Throughout the course of
this book, I will seek to define who these elite players were throughout history. Additionally, I will seek to analyze
the characteristics that each of these champions possessed. And finally, I will attempt to find players of today who
possess those characteristics. In doing this, I hope to identify the next Tiger Woods!
Over the course of the book, I identified the average “reign” of each King, what were their common characteristics,
and who would be the next King.
The data concerning the reigns of each King broke down as follows:
Average reign of all the King’s tenures…12.7 years
Average reign of a select group of the Kings…15.5 years
As an FYI, this select group excludes the following champions:
Old Tom Morris as he started playing in majors at the age of 46;
Young Tom Morris due to his pre-mature death;
Bobby Jones and Byron Nelson due to their early retirements;
And Ben Hogan due to his physical limitations.
And at the time of my writing, Woods had been King for 13 years. I concluded that it was time to start looking for
the next King and to find those candidates, I looked at their common characteristics.
The common characteristics of the Kings were:
The first common characteristic among these elite players is that they all were exposed to the game at an early
age. In fact, I believe this to be the prerequisite for becoming an all-time great. If you don’t get exposed to the
game early in your life, you have no shot of wearing the crown. However, this characteristic isn’t the “end all be all”
as many people who have been exposed to the game at an early age never became Champion Golfers. So, I
looked for more and found a few characteristics I’ll described as “peer separators”. Along these lines, additional
characteristics were: A strong work ethic perhaps best personified by Ben Hogan, a great swing like Byron Nelson,
an understanding of how to win along the lines of Walter Hagen, sharp mental focus went it was all on the line like
Jack Nicklaus, and competitive fire similar to Tiger Woods.
And for sure, all the great champions had little bits and pieces of these “peer separators.” However, not all of
these champions came to rule the world of competitive golf during their heyday. The last and final characteristic of
the Kings of Golf was the ability to score well when their entire game wasn’t firing on all cylinders. The secret to
this last and final level is the key to all would be Kings and it centers on the short game and, more specifically,
Reviewing some key comments from golfers of the past and some fairly recent occurrences can add some
credibility to this claim regarding the short game and putting as the key to greatness. For starters, remember
Bobby Jones’ comments relative to Walter Hagen? Just in case you can’t recall them, I will state them again. Mr.
Jones is quoted as having said, “When a man misses his drive, and then misses his second shot, and then wins
the hole with a birdie, it gets my goat.” A quality short game and putting is the only way a man can score a birdie
after missing his driver and second shot. In fact, I would say that all the television commentators who say the
player “X” is one of the best tee to green players on Tour are actually not complementing player “X” at all. They
are saying he can’t putt. If you can’t putt, you can’t win. I can rattle off a bunch of great tee to green players who
have never won a major (but I won’t to spare their ego), but I will name a few major champions that were not the
greatest drivers of the ball or long iron players who’ve won majors due to their short game and putting…Ben
Crenshaw, Corey Pavin, David Toms, and Justin Leonard.
For further proof relative to the importance of the short game, let’s look at key moments in the careers of the great
players. For starters, let’s look at Tiger Woods. He sunk key putts to win the 1994, ’95, and ‘95 US Amateurs, and
numerous putts to win pro tournaments. And how about chip-ins? Does anyone remember the 16th hole at the
2005 Masters or how about his escapes and eagles at the 2008 US Open? What happens if he misses those
shots? Without question, short game and putting prowess have been keys to Tiger’s success.
Next let’s look at Jack Nicklaus. Let’s recall the 1970 British Open where putting provide a double boost for Jack in
that tournament. His first boost came from Doug Sanders missing a two footer that would have given him his first,
and in hindsight only, major. Later in a play-off Jack hit the tournament clinching putt. How about the 1986
Masters? Remember that putt 18 foot putt on Sunday at the 17th. It was clutch and crucial to Mr. Nicklaus
claiming his last major championship victory. Frankly, I could go on and on relative to the short-game and putting
being the key to Jack’s success. However, I will end it with some comments concerning the 1962 US Open. Jack
was down 3 shots to Arnold Palmer on the final day, but he rallied and won in a play-off. At the end of the day
when everything was added up Palmer outplayed Nicklaus tee to green, but 3 putted 10 greens and lost it in a play-
Willie Park is quoted as having said, “A good putter is a match for anyone” and without question he is correct.
Furthermore, I would re-iterate that if someone is called a great player “tee to green” they are in fact not a great
player at all. Instead, you can rest assured that comment means the player in question cannot putt and, therefore,
hasn’t found the secret to winning major championships.
At the conclusion of the book, I analyzed some potential future Kings: Hunter Mahan, Danny Lee, Rickie Fowler,
and Rory McIlory were a few of the younger players I looked at. And in the last sentence of the book I asked the
question, “Who will do it?” That is, ascend to the throne as King of the Golf World. The answer: Rory McIlroy.
Well, he is currently on stage with all eyes on him. Can he do it? Time will tell. Good luck, Rory!