The sports world is at it again. As a result of the impressive wire to wire, 8-stroke win last weekend at the U.S. Open by the 22 year-old kid from Northern Ireland, reporters, writers, fans, and even several fellow golfers seem to have quickly forgotten that the game of golf had been played for many years prior to Rory McIlroy’s dominating performance last weekend at Congressional.
During the tournament, but especially the day after, the Rory love showered from the heavens in the form of boundless verbal adulation from peers and media alike, once reserved in the sport for the likes of legendary players such as Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Gary Player, etc. As a matter of fact, comparisons to the aforementioned “legends of the links” repeatedly surfaced on the lips and fingertips (for those who write) of all who cover the PGA Tour. Due to the redemption factor that most likely inundated the frontal and temporal lobes of the Northern Irish phenom as a result of his “Meltdown at the Masters”, I even found myself rooting for the kid to finish this one, after his record-setting 65 in the first round put him yet in another early lead. You’d have to be heartless to feel absolutely no compassion for such a seemingly good kid trying to erase the demons that haunted him at Augusta National two months ago. And you’d have to be a blind man to fail to realize the dominance and impressive nature of his performance last week.
However, this is where I draw my line. Much of the praise amassed on Rory this week is reminiscent of the “prisoner of the moment” ideology that seems to dictate mass opinion in our society as a whole, let alone in the world of sports. Though impressive, the swing of Rory McIlroy became the subject of awe last week as he earned the nickname “BMW” (for the company’s slogan, “The Ultimate Driving Machine) from his peers in the clubhouse. Fellow Irishman Graeme McDowell said, “you have to drive the ball very well and he is probably one of the best drivers to hit a ball that I’ve ever seen”. Others have already placed him on the level of Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus after only his first win in a “Major” tournament.
For some reason, it appears that proponents of the sport have been waiting patiently (or impatiently) for the next youngster to show signs of greatness so they could thrust the burden of soon-to-be icon upon his shoulders. Joe LaCava, longtime caddie of Fred Couples said, “He’s [Rory] by far the best player I’ve seen who is in his 20’s…by far”. Comments like that lead me to believe that much of the Rory sentiment is being exaggerated in order to push Tiger Woods to the side. Tiger aka “the reason golfers make the kind of money they do now”, was by all accounts (and probably still is), “bigger than the game”. So it seems as if certain people are willing to go out of their way to create and endorse the next “great” player in order to somehow diminish Tiger’s greatness.
Now, I am by no means a Tiger apologist, because I certainly realize that the man has made mistakes in his life that may or may not be affecting his performance on the golf course, but has definitely soured the opinions of him by many of his peers. However, comments like the ones made by Joe “LaCaddie” force me to quote the once great, current punching bag, Roy Jones Jr…”Y’all Musta Forgot!”
Tiger Woods holds the record for most PGA Tour wins by a player prior to his 25th birthday with 25. The closest to him was Horton Smith with 17. Tiger also holds the record for most tour wins by a player from ages 20 through 29 with 34. The great Jack Nicklaus is second with 30. After 100 starts, Rory McIlroy has 3 tour victories. After the same amount of starts, Tiger Woods had 28 tour victories and almost double the number of top 10 finishes than his “successor”. Woods also holds the tour records for wins after 25 and 75 starts, with Jack holding the record for wins after 50 starts. At 21 years and 24 weeks, young Eldrick was also the youngest player in history to hold the ranking of #1 Golfer in the World.
Considering the fact that Tiger owns close to 30 PGA Tour records (many of which were set in his 20’s), as well as several amateur records, this list (If I chose to finish) could be the making of my first New York Times Best-Selling sports novel. But the point has been made and the production, achievements, awards, and iconic status of Tiger Woods speaks for itself. He changed the culture of the sport and has brought it to a level of popularity never before seen in the world of golf. He is also the richest athlete in the world and none of his riches have accumulated as a result of a well-played gimmick. The man can simply play the game. So as great as Rory is and as great as he may become, 1 “major” does not a legend make. He is roughly 13-17 “major” wins short of sitting at the Tiger/Jack table at Thanksgiving dinner. In my opinion, the expectations now being piled upon young Mr. McIlroy after only 1 “major” win (3 wins altogether) are extremely unfair to him. The public would do Rory a huge favor by doing their best “Shawshank” imitation and escaping the “penitentiaries of the moment”, and by simply remembering that the PGA Tour did not just start last week in Bethesda, Maryland.