PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – If Brooks Koepka goes on to win his third consecutive U.S. Open this week, will anyone care or remember 100 years from now?
It may not seem like a fair question as you read this in 2019, but when Willie Anderson won his third consecutive national championship in 1905, it was big news in the golfing world, but not so much now.
The headline in The Boston Globe on Saturday after Anderson’s victory Friday in the two-day, 72-hole event at nearby Myopia Hunt Club: “Again It’s Anderson – Best Golfer in Country.”
Now when I say the “headline,” it was on page 7 of the Globe’s 14-page morning edition, which cost 2 cents, but Anderson’s victory was mentioned on the front page as well.
Anderson took control of the Open on the back nine and won by two shots over fellow Scotsman Alex Smith.
Though Anderson was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975, he is unfamiliar to many modern golf fans. If they’re not on Twitter or Facebook, they seemingly are unimportant. Such is the world in which we live.
Much of the history of our sport has been forgotten.
If you’re not older than 60, you likely never saw Jack Nicklaus compete. In this highly desensitized society, that means that the Golden Bear was good but not the greatest of all-time, or GOAT, a title that often is bestowed upon Tiger Woods.
If you were to ask the typical 30-something golf fan why he considers Woods as the GOAT, he can point to so many rounds that he saw Woods play live or via the numerous cable outlets that cover golf and others sports, either live or with highlights.
It’s not any different from watching basketball’s LeBron James doing something special and not remembering the pure jump shot of Jerry West or the extraordinary domination by Wilt Chamberlain.
To prove my point, the late British statesman Winston Churchill often is credited with the quote, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Churchill is not the originator of the quote, according to the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Mo., though he did make a similar comment in a 1948 speech to the House of Commons.
“Churchill worried not so much that those who forget the past are condemned to relive it, but that the loss of the past would mean the most thoughtless of ages,” the museum stated on its website.
Churchill’s concerns about history are applicable to golf history, which is lost to many observers.
Look at the latest World Golf Hall of Fame inductees, who were honored here Monday. Four of them – Retief Goosen, Billy Payne, Jan Stephenson and Dennis Walters – were alive and present for the ceremony. The fifth, Peggy Kirk Bell, died in 2016 and was the only posthumous inductee.
It’s a statement that those who are alive are more current and interesting than the deceased, whose connections to the game are limited to books and newspaper accounts. The past generations are not part of the Internet era and, thus, don’t merit the same recognition as the modern-era golfers.
A Koepka victory this week here at Pebble Beach Golf Links would be one of the biggest feats in the game, period. Winning three consecutive U.S. Opens is even more significant than when Woods won three consecutive majors in 2000 en route to the so-called Tiger Slam.
But the Koepka feat would be more significant because it would have occurred over three years at three different golf courses upon which he had not previously competed.
So, would history look upon Koepka’s feat in 100 years much the same way that we view Anderson’s feat today?
Who remembers that Walter Hagen won five PGA Championships from 1921 through 1927, including four in a row, in 1924-27? As flamboyant as The Haig was, he would have been perfect for our social-media society.
We miss a lot by not breaking open a book and reading about golf history.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli