Is Golf Entering a New Era with No Tiger, No Phil, Some Bubba, a Pinch of Rory?
Every 10 or 15 years, the Great Golf Rotation happens. The Hogan/Nelson/Snead Epoch evolved into The Arnie Era. That begot The Big Three—Arnie, Jack and Gary. Pretty soon, they were cast aside for Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros and a cast that included Ben Crenshaw, Raymond Floyd, Lanny Wadkins and Hale Irwin. A few years later, it was move over, boys, for The Shark. He was shoved aside by a slew of Europeans—Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal—a couple of Americans, Fred Couples and Davis Love, and two South Africans, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. (It takes a lot of guys to defeat a Great White Shark. )
Then the sea parted for Tiger Woods, and it tossed Phil Mickelson out on to the beach with a fresh, new, major-winning game. We've all been enjoying that landscape for some time.
But the winds of change are blowing.
Woods' first Masters victory was 17 years ago. Now, he has a disc.
Mickelson has a muscle. Louie Oosthuizen has a back and a farm. Justin Rose has a wrist. Rory has a fiancee. Justin Rose has a shoulder. Jason Day, a thumb. Jason Dufner has a pose and a new wife. Bubba has LA, baby, in reverse order. Adam Scott has a dinner.
Webb Simpson, Graeme McDowell and Keegan Bradley have lifted trophies since owning their majors. Perhaps the more recent major champs deserve a pass because they all go through a phase of either chasing money or chasing history.
A few, though, are just plain shocked. As Graeme McDowell said after winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, "To join the list of names, Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus. I can't believe I'm standing here as a Major Championship winner."
Tiger Woods never said anything like that. He expected to win majors, or at least that was the aura he projected.
Looking at all this from the standpoint of the Great Golf Rotation, it should come as no surprise that we are already into the leading edge of a new rotation of golfers who are in the process of unseating Tiger and Phil. They will usurp our current stars to become tomorrow's darlings, but right now they are people we hardly know.
Did you know Martin Kaymer before he won the PGA at Whistling Straits? How about Keegan Bradley? Jason Dufner before he lost to Bradley? Will they win more majors and 15 or 20 tournaments?
Since January, just two major champs, Zach Johnson and Bubba Watson, have won PGA Tour events. Fans have had no Tiger fist pumps, no Phil smiles, few Keegan stink eyes.
We're looking at winners who have had to proclaim their own worth, like Patrick Reed. We don't know if they are one-hit or two-hit wonders or the next big thing. We need proof.
Of those who have won in 2014, most have had a career being eclipsed by the long shadows of stars who aren't shining as brightly as they once did. Some, like John Senden, Steven Bowditch, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler, Scott Stallings and Matt Every, are battle-scarred, golf veterans. They have had a steady diet of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and finally got a chance to shine.
What have these upstarts done with Tiger and Phil and Rory? For one thing, they've beaten them when they have shown up.
Some recent winners are surprises, like newcomers Russell Henley and Chesson Hadley, two recent grads from the Web.com Tour. Are they the next Jim Furyk or Ernie Els? Too soon to tell. How about Jordan Spieth, who seems to be the next big thing? We don't know about him yet, even though we suspect he will be very good.
One true superstar in training—everyone agrees—is Rory McIlroy. As the April-October portion of the golf season kicks in, he will start to make more regular appearances. He will have to in order to keep his status on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour. He will want to because he wants to be on Paul McGinley's Ryder Cup team. He's sure to be on a leaderboard near you or on your TV or mobile device, as the saying goes.
We can't forget about Adam Scott. In his case, it's more surprising that he hadn't won five majors before he won The Masters. The only person who didn't know that was Adam Scott. His issues are his age and the ruling bodies of golf. He took a long time to get that first major, and hopefully he collects another couple before the putter change in 2016.
So what does that mean as we stare down Magnolia Lane, across the 17th island green at TPC Sawgrass, as we remember Payne Stewart at Pinehurst, and so on this season? It means golf has become downright unpredictable.
No longer is Tiger Woods a lock for anything. Neither is Phil Mickelson.
Going into the heart of the golf season, even though Tiger Woods has won at three of the major sites and is the defending champ at the fifth major (Players), rather than pick him, you might as well put the names of the field on a wall and throw a dart. That is going to be as good as anything else when it comes to predicting the outcome.
Golf is moving into a new era. We just don't know its name yet.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.