— So if a registered letter from a certain E.T. Woods of Windermere, Fla., were to arrive at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., do you think there’d be a collective holding of the breath? No doubt.
And if said letter were to include something to the effect of "I hereby relinquish my PGA Tour membership so as to spend more time with family, compete on 'Dancing With the Stars,' and get my man Charles Barkley elected governor of Alabama," do you think the tears would flow? As sure as 16-handicapper’s slice they would.
It’s just that the tears wouldn’t reach flood proportions like they may have two or three years ago.
Oh, Woods is still Woods, meaning he’s miles ahead of anyone else for title of world’s greatest golfer. And the mantra that everyone loves to chant — that it’s great for the game that the world’s most famous athlete plays golf — that still holds true. No one compares to Woods when everything is rolled together — talent, success, aura, likeability, recognition, presentation, personality. He is the complete package and no other sport can produce an athlete to match him, though tennis' Roger Federer comes closest.
So, sure, his departure would be cause for despair, but if Woods' June limp to the sideline and subsequent surgery and layoff demonstrated anything, it was the relative strength of the PGA Tour and the pro golf landscape. It’s in good shape, and while there’s no way one would suggest it is better without Woods, his absence from the scene gave others a chance to step up and strut their stuff.
Anthony Kim, for instance, and Camilo Villegas makes two. Sergio Garcia and Hunter Mahan were two others who showed there is great talent under 30 and the emergence of fan-favorites Boo Weekley and J.B. Holmes is something PGA Tour officials can take comfort in.
Without Woods, Vijay Singh was able to flex his veteran muscles and Phil Mickelson solidified his hold on No. 2. Padraig Harrington cashed in for two majors and endless respect, while Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter demonstrated they’ve got enough game to do likewise. And in addition to all that, Paul Azinger carried out his two-year quest to restore American pride in the Ryder Cup and breathe new life into an event that was on the ropes.
All in all, it was a pretty good stretch of golf from mid-June to the Ryder Cup, and it may have served as an answer to those folks who often wondered what the pro golf landscape would look like without Woods. The answer: It would look pretty young, with a sprinkling of veteran talent, and fairly entertaining, too, with spirited competition and scintillating golf for those who appreciate it. Granted, it would lack the electricity delivered by Woods, who made the game a must-see like no one had since perhaps the early days of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, but there is now plenty of evidence that the game will be able to go on without him, which, truth be told, is a reality closer to being realized than people may think.
There is, for instance, the matter of his 33rd birthday, which is only weeks away, and if you want a somber thought to consider here it is this: Woods is perhaps two-thirds of the way to the finish line of his PGA Tour career. The 2009 season will be his 13th on the Tour. It’s hard to envision him playing a full schedule past the age of 40, which means seven, maybe eight seasons are out there, but if we give him full credit for the way he has drawn young stars to the game — and for sure, we must — then it’s safe to assume the horizon is even brighter for professional golf.
Will it ever be quite like it was in 2000 when Woods was chasing down three majors? Or April 2001 when he was conquering an unprecedented fourth straight major? Or 2006-07 when he was winning 15 times in 31 starts? Or even 2008 when he played just six times, but won four tournaments, including a U.S. Open on one good leg?
You’d guess not, except who knows, maybe 2009 will bring even greater things from Woods. It could also bring greater things from his competition. He has that sort of effect on players, a fact for which the PGA Tour is thankful.
A: If you cast judgment purely from a golfing standpoint, your “best ever” list would have to start with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, then include the likes of Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Walter Hagen, and Gary Player — for those are the men who rank as the leading winners of the major championships. Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino ... they’ve got to be included, too, as they mixed major championships with a great many other victories.
The incomparable Seve Ballesteros needn’t take a back seat to any of them. He would never be considered a better player than Nicklaus or Woods, maybe not even on par with Hogan or Nelson, for that matter, but surely his talents ranked equal to anyone else you want to submit. You will find critics who will suggest Ballesteros was only successful where he could spray it anywhere, but that is untrue.
While much of his legend is built around the wild shots from which he recovered, he was equally successful at ball-striking venues such as Augusta National (two wins) and Westchester Country Club (two wins). The great players win on all surfaces in all corners of the world and Ballesteros aces that test, too. His triumphs were recorded throughout Europe and in the United States, and he marched to victory in Japan, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Kenya.
Whatever credit one wants to give Palmer and Nicklaus for popularizing golf, the same degree must go to Ballesteros for all he meant to golf in Europe and beyond.
Q: Do you think any other type of play should be added to the Ryder Cup? Personally, I’d like to see one round of four-ball — total score per team, per hole?
— Brad Childe, Winnipeg, Manitoba
A: Given that both the Europeans and Americans take a great deal of pride in the rich history of the Ryder Cup, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see any sort of support from either side to change the formats that are in place and have been since its 1927 inception.
Your suggestion for a format strays from the pure match play that is favored at the Ryder Cup. Over the years, they have tinkered with the number of matches played and the order in which they’ve been played, but it has always been singles and foursomes (since the beginning) and four-ball (since 1963). I’ve got no concerns about the format, only with the fact that 28 matches are squeezed into three days. I’d favor the way the Presidents Cup does it — six team matches Thursday, six team matches Friday, two sessions of four team matches Saturday, then 12 singles matches Sunday. It gets every player in the lineup for each of the first two days without those ludicrous 25-minute turnarounds that some competitors face. There’s a better flow to it and it actually gives the fans more golf to watch. Then again, since it’s a Presidents Cup style, don’t look for Ryder Cup officials to adopt anything like it.
A: Marc, you’ve hit upon a thought that many of us agree would work splendidly, but we also know it will never happen. Why? Because you’d be talking about different owners — the European Tour and PGA of America cash in on the Ryder Cup, the PGA Tour and various international golf bodies realize the profits of the Presidents Cup. Put these men in the same room and I doubt you could get them to agree on who sits where, never mind how they would split the proceeds, where they would play the event, and how it would be scored. Thus are we destined to have what we have now — a scintillating and deeply emotional Ryder Cup competition between the U.S. and Europe one year, and a seemingly light-hearted exhibition (comparatively speaking) between the U.S. and the international lads the next.