Jordan Spieth, the newly minted No. 1-ranked golfer in the world, is 22. Former No. 1 Rory McIlroy is 26. PGA champion Jason Day is 27.
Are you ready for the newest version of golf’s “Big 3?”
If this is how it looks post-Tiger Woods, I can’t wait.
The game always displays a lot of young talent, but almost never three of this caliber so close in age. They lead a small cavalry charge of 20-something wanna-bes, all inspired by Woods, who will carry golf to crazy new heights.
Spieth, so TV-friendly he almost jumps out of the screen into your living room, owned the 2015 majors. He made a run at the calendar-year grand slam and eventually finished first (Masters), first (U.S. Open), T-4 (British Open ) and second (PGA). His majors total of 54 under par broke Woods’ 2000 record.
Get this: 93 percent of his shots in the majors were shown on TV. That’s box-office stuff.
Better still, he accomplished all of it with a smile on his face and passion in his heart. Spieth answers questions with an honesty that is almost disarming. His thumbs-up to Day as he wrapped up his breakthrough victory last weekend ranks as one of the best moments of the season.
Spieth did catch a break with McIlroy’s soccer injury that kept him out of the British Open. Spieth used that opening to climb over McIlroy to No. 1. Rest assured, McIlroy will climb to the top again. His 22 wins on the PGA and European tours, spiced by his four major victories, stamp his authenticity.
Woods missed having a single foil like McIlroy, a bona fide rival, to challenge him. He won 14 majors anyway, of course, but always with the same scenario – Woods overwhelming the field, lapping all pursuers.
Jack Nicklaus, the golfer Woods chased in the record book, was pushed by a series of Hall of Fame-level champions – Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller and others.
Today, Woods is 39 after missing a hard-to-believe third straight cut in this year’s majors. Clearly struggling physically and mentally, he’s lost the advantages that at one time belonged to him alone. His gracious tweet congratulating Day and Spieth suggests Woods has reached another place in his life. Who knows if he can again summon the skills of greatness? Who knows if he still has the desire?
Watching Woods reminds everyone of the game’s uncompromising difficulty. Woods’ run ranks arguably as the best in golf history, but it is over.
Then there is Day, the Aussie who outdrove Spieth by 80 yards once on Sunday at Whistling Straits. His tears of joy as he hugged his caddie, Colin Swatton – the man who guided him during his troubled youth – was another snapshot moment.
Remember Day fighting through debilitating vertigo to finish the U.S. Open? The climb to his PGA victory – and single-event major record of 20 under – bore the mark of credibility.
Day worked hard for his big win. It took him three years to win his first PGA Tour event. He fought through injuries and many close calls at majors. He heard the whispers that he was an underachiever.
But here was a man who used Woods’ scores as benchmarks over the years. They’ve become good friends, and Day’s eclipsing of Woods’ 19 under at the 2000 British Open is more evidence of another star in the making.
Watson collapsed many times at majors before he finally broke through. So did Phil Mickelson. Day has followed the same career curve, and he’s positioned – alongside Spieth and McIlroy – to dominate the game.
We must wait eight months for the 2016 Masters. Wish it was next week.
The Shag Bag – Modesto’s Shawnee Martinez, a senior at Long Beach State, shot 83-72 – 155 and failed to reach match play last week at the U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Portland (Ore.) Golf Club. The eventual champion was 17-year-old Hannah O’Sullivan, who played at Los Altos Country Club before the family moved to Arizona. ... The First Tee of Central Valley will open a program site at St. Stanislaus Golf on Crows Landing Road in October. Visit ststangolf.com or phone general manager Angel Padilla, 209-538-2828.