SCISSORS PAPER ROCK
WHAT BETTER STAGE THAN THE MASTERS FOR GOLF’S LATEST BIG THREE – JORDAN SPIETH, RORY McILROY AND JASON DAY – TO STRUT THEIR STUFF AND PROVE WHO’S NUMBER-ONE IN THE WORLD AFTER ALL …
Some wondered who would ever dominate golf aer the Tiger Era. Now, three young giants are staking their claims.
AT THE START of this year, a golfer named Scott Langley went to market. The left-hander from Illinois became the first in his sport to sign on with Fantex, a company that sells shares in professional athletes. Langley quite literally had become a stock – his future prizemoney and sponsorship earnings were made equivalent to corporate revenues, and his performance on the course would move his share price up or down. Through the first couple of months on the PGA Tour, investors weren’t given much reason to celebrate; Langley, entering his fourth full season as a pro, hadn’t made a cut.
Langley’s equity arrangement was a catchy novelty, but with apologies to the 26-year-old, it’s kind of misplaced. When it comes to speculation about golfing futures, there’s one true bull market: the three-way contest between Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day to be the best player of this era.
Tiger Woods’ epochal run atop the sport from the mid-1990s to the beginning of this decade had perhaps conditioned golfwatchers to expect the emergence of another monarch. Instead, the outlines of the post-Tiger era have assumed another familiar shape in the history of golf. As often as the game’s best player has been easily identifiable, there have been periods when the title bounces back and forth among intense rivals. And it’s remarkable how often these eras have been thoroughly defined by a group of players small enough to fill out a Thursday tee time on tour.
Indeed, golf has seen many Big Threes. Back when golfers played in coats and ties, there was Harry Vardon, JH Taylor and James Braid. They were known, in a
wonderfully 19th century turn of phrase, as the Great Triumvirate, mainly because they won the Open Championship 16 out of 21 times up to the First World War. American golf came to the fore between the wars, driven by three men born within six months of each other in 1912: Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. Nelson and Hogan had famously competed against each other since their teens, coming out of the same caddy yard in Fort Worth, Texas.
Perhaps the best-known Big Three formed after Arnold Palmer energised the golf world in the early 1960s with his leading-man aura. He soon had co-stars: Jack Nicklaus began to compile professional golf’s greatest record, and became the hub of a number of other, later rivalries, while the indefatigable Gary Player added an international element to the Big Three ilk.
Many would argue, quite convincingly, that the state of golf is never better than when such tripartite rivalry is present. The sport had obsessed for the last few years about its direction after Woods’ star power had dimmed, with mostly pessimistic outlooks. But as Spieth, McIlroy and Day have each become major champions and world no.1s before the age of 27, the narrative has changed. “Golf is in a very healthy stage now,” Day said after his PGA win. “Three to five years ago, it was kind of struggling a little bit with the identity of who was really going to be that no.1 player in the world. Rory came out and was really dominating. But there was no one really kind of
challenging him for that role. For young guys like myself and Jordan, a lot of those guys are starting to play better golf and starting to challenge. So that’s what I’m looking forward to in the future, the sheer competition of being able to fight against these guys each week ... It’s going to be a lot of fun over the next five to ten years.”
We’ve seen other potential Big Threes come along and tantalise. This one has a genuine look to it. The relationship between the three is good-natured, and they’re still at the early stage of
their careers where their accomplishments drive each other upward. This month’s Masters inaugurates another major championship cycle; it’s also now a checkpoint to gauge where Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day stand in relation to one another. And in this contest, each golfer possesses certain qualities that might give him the upper hand, if only until the next major shakes out.
At a glance, Jordan Spieth looks every bit a champion golfer ... Looked like one the day back in 2010 when he first came to the notice of the wider golf world. At 16, he made the cut in his hometown PGA Tour event in Texas, the Byron Nelson Championship. More than the feat itself was the way he did it – the kid was just so poised, like he expected to make the weekend as any pro would. Spieth marked himself out as a young player to watch and since joining the tour in late 2012 has lived up to the image, toppling age-related records at a remarkable rate. Last year he had one of the best seasons of any golfer at any age, winning two majors and putting the Grand Slam into the realm of the possible.
There’s a curious dichotomy to Spieth, however. He may look the part of great
Cutting edge: Jordan Spieth takes apart golf courses with the precision of a surgeon.