Triumvirate

triumvirate

Last Sunday, Jason Day won the 2015 US PGA championship in record fashion with a 20-under par total – the lowest score in relation to par in a major. And he did it with Jordan Spieth breathing down his neck, prompting Nick Faldo to say something that caught everyone’s attention.

“We had the big three moons ago, Now we’re approaching having another big three in the game of golf.”

It’s safe to assume that by “moons ago”, he meant Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. The big three won a total of 34 majors over a span of about three decades.  At the end of their careers, they combined for a whopping 375 professional wins!

How do Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day compare so far?

World Ranking Name Age Majors Pro Wins
1 Jordan Spieth 22 2 7
2 Rory McIlroy 26 4 18
3 Jason Day 27 1 10

I’m not a big fan of Nick Faldo the commentator.  But I admired him a lot as a player.

A little side story. I met him personally in ’96. He had just won his third Green Jacket after Greg Norman lost a 7-stroke lead going into the final round at The Masters. He was in Manila to check on his course design at Eagle Ridge. President Fidel V. Ramos, an avid sportsman, invited some young golfers to come see Faldo do a clinic at Malacañang Palace, which has its own mini 9-hole course.

I was impressed by how Faldo shaped his shots at will. Low. High. Left to right. Right to left. You name it. And he did it with such purity that you could almost feel the impact resonate in your bones. It was such an encouraging experience because I was going through a major swing change then after attending a David Leadbetter school. Faldo was one of the players who made Leadbetter famous back in the 90s. (Or was it the other way around?)

My brother Angelo, who was only 17 that time, was one of the few players brave enough to demonstrate their skills in front of Faldo. Noticing Angelo’s extreme “lag”, Faldo became concerned about the gallery on the right and motioned them to step back a few feet. Good thing they did because Angelo narrowly missed them on the next shot. I remember how Faldo encouraged Jennifer Rosales to hit down more with her wedges. Jenny had quite a shallow angle of attack, which made her an outstanding driver of the ball. “Thump!” He would repeat over and over. Jenny won the 15-17 division title in Junior World that year. Whether that tip made a difference, I’m not really sure. I remember him chuckling and whispering something naughty to a friend after seeing Greg Norman’s shark logo on the trousers of one of the attendees.

In other words, he had a keen eye. Not very endearing. But with accomplishments like his, I guess you could afford not to be.

Six-time major champion. Only 2 golfers from outside the United States have won more majors, Harry Vardon (7) and Gary Player (9). Most successful Ryder Cup player ever. Ever since the Official World Golf Rankings began, only two players have been at the top spot longer than Faldo: Tiger Woods and Greg Norman. Apart from Faldo, only Woods and Norman were able to hold the No. 1 spot for one whole calendar year.

Remember the time when Jack Nicklaus pronounced that Tiger will win more Masters titles than Nicklaus and Palmer combined? OK, it didn’t happen. But it could have.

Faldo’s recent pronouncement feels eerily similar.

Let’s take a look at the active players who have won at least a major outside of the top 3.

World Ranking Name Age Majors Pro Wins
4 Bubba Watson 36 2 10
5 Justin Rose 35 1 18
6 Jim Furyk 45 1 27
11 Zach Johnson 39 2 28
12 Adam Scott 35 1 27
13 Louis Oosthuizen 32 1 12
21 Martin Kaymer 30 2 22
24 Phil Mickelson 45 5 51
45 Charl Schwartzel 30 1 12
51 Webb Simpson 30 1 4
103 Padraig Harrington 43 3 30
106 Geoff Ogilvy 38 1 13
120 Ernie Els 45 4 68
177 Retief Goosen 46 2 43
186 Stewart Cink 42 1 14
195 David Toms 48 1 17
206 Vijay Singh 52 3 59
286 Tiger Woods 39 14 106

They’re all great players. But there’s one glaring common denominator. Age. The youngest among them is 30. The guys who have won at least 3 majors are all past 40, except Tiger who is turning 40 in December.

Phil, Ernie, Vijay and Padraig could’ve been called the “big four”, but their cumulative 15 majors were overshadowed by Tiger’s 14 on his own.

And then there’s the issue of a player’s impact on the game. It certainly goes beyond money and wins. Tom Watson, for instance has 8 majors against Arnold Palmer’s 7. But you never hear about Watson being included in any “big three” discussion, even though his career overlapped with that of the big three.

The “Big Three” elevated golf to new heights during their time. Tiger did the same almost singlehandedly. They belong to an elite few who  transcended their sport.

Can Spieth, McIlroy and Day usher a new era in golf? They certainly have all the right ingredients. And they couldn’t have picked a better time to rise to the occasion. With the state of Tiger’s game and the popularity of golf in question, I really do hope Faldo is right. We need him to be right.

Golf needs new heroes.

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