Let the battle begin. That’s what most golf fans are hoping for with Phil Mickelson’s recent victory in the prestigious Player’s Championship.
As an individual sport, golf does not provide the type of rivalries that come naturally to team sports. With fields of approximately one hundred fifty players in most PGA Tour events, one would surmise that a variety of winners would be the ideal situation for golf fans. In fact, followers of the game have always yearned for a “top dog” who could dominate. Provided, of course, that there would be a number of worthy adversaries to challenge that player’s spot atop the Tour’s pecking order.
Many golf fans refer to different eras by the player(s) who dominated. The mere mention of names such as Hagen, Jones, Nelson, Hogen, Palmer, and Nicklaus call to mind the periods those player’s were considered the game’s best.
As the game grew in popularity there was the inevitable infusion of talented players that produced more parity. When Jack Nicklaus ceased to be a factor in major championships, golf fans and media alike clamored for a new alpha male. There was a long list of potential candidates. Some achieved fame but could not come close to matching Jack?s dominance. Others are little more than a footnote.
Then came Tiger Woods. Tiger long ago proved that he is a worthy challenger to Nicklaus’ record 18 professional major championships. But true to the fickle nature of the game’s followers, there were complaints about the lack of players willing and able to go toe-to-toe with Tiger. We want our king; but we also want a challenger to the throne.
When Phil Mickelson finally broke-through to win two Masters championships along with a PGA championship, many thought the game of golf had a marquee rivalry along the lines of Palmer-Nicklaus. But Phil’s ability to finish-off tournaments has come into question, due mostly to a proclivity for wild tee shots at inopportune moments.
A recent twist to the story has fans eager to see what awaits during the season’s final three majors. Mickelson, long associated with golf instructor Rick Smith, has come under the tutelage of Butch Harmon. Harmon, who comes from a famous family of instructors (including his late father Claude, who earned a Masters championship of his own), had a long association with Tiger Woods until a few years ago.
The break-up of Tiger Woods and Harmon was big news in golf. Harmon received a bit too much of the acclaim for Tiger’s liking, and the two parted ways (Tiger Woods now works with Hank Haney). Working with a top player brings a special validation to a golf instructor. It brings fame and more than a little fortune.
The duo has focused on shortening Phil’s swing to provide better control. The litmus test for a player’s golf swing is the crucible of competition, especially in the big events. Though not officially a “major” championship, the Player’s offers the year’s toughest field and biggest paycheck. The game would benefit greatly from having the two biggest names battling for major titles. The fact that there’s no love lost between them only makes the prospect sweeter. Add a little soap opera drama to the mix and it could be an exciting time to follow the PGA Tour.