By Alex Miceli
When Justin Rose announced recently that he would skip this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, it would have been easy to criticize the decision.
After all, how hard would it be for Rose, who was No. 13 in the Official World Golf Ranking, to fly to Austin, Texas, on a private jet and play three or five days before catching a private flight back home to Orlando or the Bahamas?
Same thing for Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler, all among the world’s top 10, who also opted out of this week’s $9.75 million event designed for the world’s top 64 golfers. (Adam Hadwin, who leaped into the top 64 of the Official World Golf Ranking with his victory at the Valspar Championship, opted out of the Match Play because he is getting married.)
There’s another side to the defections. It concerns the desire to win a green jacket.
Each week, the PGA Tour drops into a city and writes big checks to 70 or so weekend qualifiers. Those 72-hole stroke-play tournaments often can be remarkably similar, except for the location.
The four major championships are different. Bobby Jones helped set them apart in the 1920s, before Hogan, Nelson, Palmer and Nicklaus affirmed them as golf’s premier events.
In many ways, Rose, Stenson, Scott and Fowler should be applauded for skipping the guaranteed money of a WGC event to prepare for the April 6-9 Masters.
For the 36-year-old Rose, the window to win the Masters is closing. In the three decades since Jack Nicklaus, at age 46, won his record sixth green jacket in 1986, the average age of a Masters champion is 32.
Since Nicklaus in ’86, only six players older than 35 have won the Masters: Ben Crenshaw (43) in 1995, Nick Faldo (38) in ’96, Mark O’Meara (41) in ’98, Vijay Singh (37) in 2000, Angel Cabrera (39) in ’09 and Phil Mickelson (39) in ’10.
Since the so-called Tiger-proofing that Augusta National underwent in the early 2000s in an attempt to toughen the course for Woods and the next generation of talent, only Mickelson and Cabrera have won among golf’s older generation. The winner’s average age since 2006, which was the last of two rounds of Augusta’s Tiger-proofing, has dropped to 31.
Rose (2013 U.S. Open), Scott (’13 Masters) and Stenson (’16 British Open) already own one major title apiece, but the appeal of a second major championship always outweighs a World Golf Championship. Remember that Rose, Stenson and Fowler shrugged off the Zika virus fears and went to Rio de Janeiro for the return of golf to the Olympics, for the good of the game. Rose won gold, and Stenson claimed silver.
So remember that the highly-ranked players who skipped Austin this week did it for the purest of reasons: to try to win a major.
Isn’t that what we expect from the best players in the world?
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli