Those who constantly chirp that professional golf is in a great place are only staring into the forest and merely glancing at the trees. Now that it looks for the world as if Tiger Woods is done being Tiger, this search we’ve been on to find golf’s next savior is coming up woefully empty.
That Si Woo Kim won the Players Championship and Jordan Spieth missed the cut – instead of the other way around – speaks to the notion that golf’s present stars are anything but. Nice players and even nicer people, most of them. But not a one of the bunch truly is great, nor do they move golf’s needle.
Just look at the Official World Golf Ranking. Dustin Johnson is the No. 1 player in the world. He finally won a major championship last year at the U.S. Open, and he won three straight starts in 2017. It might have been four in a row had Brian Harman not made an unlikely putt on the 72nd hole at the Wells Fargo.
But that win streak was sandwiched around a slip-and-fall before the Masters, resulting in a WD before his Thursday starting time. At the Players, he faded like Dorian Gray, never threatening to do anything more than take up space.
Johnson is a really good player, and some would argue that he has become great. Maybe. But beyond that, he’s not eloquent enough to be admired for anything other than his golf. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t elevate him in stature, which should be accorded to the best player in the world.
Rory McIlroy, No. 2 in the world, has four majors to his credit, which should vault him into the category of great players, and perhaps it does. But he hasn’t won a major since 2014, when he won two and was targeted as the next big thing. Since then, he has been mercurial, injured a couple of times and accused of a lack of interest if he’s not in the hunt. He also was thought to have spent more time in the gym than on the range, and interestingly enough, he doesn’t look as ripped physically as he once did.
Now that McIlroy, 28, is married, perhaps his career path will straighten. A new sense of focus could be a springboard.
Fourth-ranked Jason Day, who has a PGA Championship and a Players to his credit, can’t stay healthy enough to be a major force. Does anyone else worry that he seems to be sick or injured most of the time?
Spieth, who is No. 6 in the world, seemed to have the best chance of leaping to the top of golf’s heap when he won two majors in 2015. He was even a putt or two away from winning the British Open and was runner-up to Day at the PGA Championship.
But he appeared to have made some swing changes last year in an attempt to find some extra yards off the tee. He found that his sublime putting alone wasn’t enough to win majors. But he still seems to be trying to find his old swing. He is, however, only 23.
Maybe Rickie Fowler moves the needle among kids, especially when you see so many dress like the colorful Fowler in his galleries. But until he finds a way to leave double bogeys alone, he won’t win a major or step into the next level that it takes to be truly among the elite.
Beyond that group, there is a pack of good players who already have run into a major or two, such as Justin Rose, Zach Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Adam Scott. And some other young players for whom major championships seem to be destined, such as Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm.
But until one or two step away from the pack and separate themselves into a rivalry or have targets on their backs, the PGA Tour will look a whole lot more ordinary than special.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: email@example.com