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THOMPSON: The game of golf benefits when Tiger wins

November 04, 2019 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


A news story can get lost, or buried somewhere deep inside a website, especially in today’s hourly cycle. And in sports - with baseball’s World Series, NCAA and NFL football, NCAA and NBA basketball all crowding a finite space - a golf story halfway around the world isn’t top of the page.

That’s especially true when a PGA Tour event that was supposed to end on Sunday was delayed until Monday…which is Canada’s Tuesday. Trust me, a lot of people missed the milestone. And it was noteworthy.

Tiger Woods won his 82nd PGA Tour event last week…tying Sam Snead for the most all-time victories among professional golfers. Tiger beat the field in the Zozo Championship near Tokyo, Japan by three strokes…his first event of the new 2019-2020 PGA Tour.

I have long been a fan of Tiger. What he has done thus far in his career makes him one of the greatest golfers to ever play the game…and he is not through. I’ve always contended that arguing whether Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) is an exercise in futility…steak better than lobster, Beatles better than Elvis, Mike better than LeBron?

Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates after winning the Zozo Championship PGA Tour at the Accordia Golf Narashino country club in Inzai, east of Tokyo, Japan, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019.
Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates after winning the Zozo Championship PGA Tour at the Accordia Golf Narashino country club in Inzai, east of Tokyo, Japan, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019.
Image Credit: (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Sportswriters and fans often refer to the number of victories at major championships - The Open Championship, U.S Open, PGA Championship and Masters Tournament - as the benchmark of golf greatness. By that scale, Tiger - with 14 victories in majors - is second only to Jack Nicklaus, who won 18 majors. Nicklaus won a total of 73 times on Tour over 24 years…9 fewer than Tiger... and Tiger is playing his 23rd year.

Using one of these measures over the other to determine the greatest golfer is really splitting hairs. Tiger, at 43 years of age, is nine years younger than Sam Snead, who was 52 when he won his 82nd PGA Tour event. Also, Tiger plays in an era with more competitive players, as well, when winning majors and tournaments, in general, is mathematically more difficult.

Regardless, my bet is on Tiger to not only win more regular tour events…he’s likely to win more majors. He almost won the PGA Championship last year…closing within two strokes with a final round 63. And this year he’s the healthiest he’s been in more than a decade…the beneficiary of five successful back surgeries.

Tiger had four top-ten finishes in 12 events last year, and six top-tens in 15 events the year before…and that was with lingering back pain. Today Tiger is playing without pain…and has completely re-invented his swing to accommodate his changed physical capabilities.

Tiger might easily play another five years on tour…maybe more. It is telling that the young Turks on the PGA Tour - McIlroy, Spieth et al - respect Tiger’s 14 majors and 82 total wins. Understandable…no one else playing today has more than five wins at majors…and that’s Mickelson…not exactly a youngster.

Consider this almost dumbfounding fact: Among today’s leading professional golfers, only Dustin Johnson has 20 Tour victories. Rory McIlroy has 17, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth each have 11 victories, and the world’s number one player, Brooks Koepka, has seven wins. Total all of their wins…and collectively they still trail Tiger by 16 victories.

Hey, the truth is…the game benefits when Tiger wins…typically the television audience increases by 50 percent to 70 percent when Tiger is on the prowl. His physical and mental prowess is something to marvel. And that flashing smile when his work on the course is done makes him almost impossible not to like. And remember, he proved himself fallible in his personal life…and that, too, has won the hearts of many fans.

Tiger just might be one of the greatest athletes of all time…in any sport. He has transformed the game of golf…much like Muhammad Ali changed boxing. 

I wrote about Tiger a year ago…and now this…and sometime next year I’ll probably write about him again. Perhaps it’ll be about his winning another major…or two. Maybe, another three of four victories on tour?

He deserves our attention…our admiration…even when he wins halfway around the world…on a Tuesday.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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