Some people say golf isn’t even a sport. A game they say, played by non-athletes who can do nothing else but hit a ball in a hole. I can see part of that. I’ve always contended that if you took a person who has inherent athletic skills, good hand-eye coordination and a desire to learn, you could make them a scratch player if that was all they worked on for a year or so.
Golf has become such a different kind of endeavor in the last 20 years. As the money grew, the players became more serious about the game, kept their bodies in better shape and practiced harder. The biggest complaint from the over-40 set in professional golf in the last two decades hasn’t been about anything on the course. They don’t like the locker room any more. Too many agents, too many briefcases, and too many pagers, not enough scotch, beer and card games. They were looking forward to the Senior Tour so they could have a cocktail with somebody, anybody, without a bunch of arched eyebrows scouring their bellies.
There are famous stories about Tom Weiskopf showing up on the first tee on Friday wearing the same clothes he wore on Thursday. Apparently something he learned from Raymond Floyd. If that happened these days, the player would be hustled off the course for some kind of counseling and put in a rehab, immediately.
Nobody on tour is acting like that anymore. It’s not even the middle of March and eight players have already won more than $1 million. Joe Durant is the only two-time winner on tour.
Joe Durant, one of the hundred or so players capable of winning each week.
Used to be only about ten guys could actually win, and that number was smaller if Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were playing. They just scared guys off the leader board. Tiger Woods did that for a short time, but not anymore. Players like Phil Mickelson and Hal Sutton are looking for the action.
The new golf balls are making everybody longer and giving them the idea that they can compete. Players are practicing harder and longer. “Hell, even Stadler is hitting balls on the range,” Fuzzy Zoeller told me at Bay Hill this week, “Stad never hit balls!”
Over the next two weeks in North Florida, the greatest golfers of all time will put their games on display. Not some kind of All-star, old-timers exhibition, but rather real competition.
The Players Championship should have every great current player in the world on the golf course for the first round of competition on Thursday. Every one of the top 50 players in the world is committed to playing. On Sunday, the best player of the week will be identified.
The Stadium Course at Sawgrass is set up so that if any part of a players’ game is deficient, it will cost him. He won’t win. The winner will have driven it straight, hit crisp iron shots, displayed a deft short game, and putted beautifully.
Tiger, Hal, Freddie, Phil, Duval, all of the best will be there.
On Monday, two of the most significant players in the history of the game will play at the King and the Bear at the World Golf Village. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus will play in a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match over their new collaborative course in St. Augustine. Not put on an exhibition, like when they opened the course, but play a match. Real competition. Palmer at 71, recently shot his age in a tournament, and Nicklaus is still a force on the Senior Tour in his 60’s. They both want to win, and both hate to lose, especially to each other.
Where else are you going to see that?
Following that, Palmer and Nicklaus will pair up as a team to compete in the Legends of Golf at the King and the Bear. Every great player not on the PGA Tour who can still bend over and tee it up will compete.
Right here in our backyard.