Just last week I planned on enjoying my day off from work watching Tiger Woods’ opening round of his 2014 season at the Farmer’s Insurance Open. As I watched Tiger stay afloat after nine holes on the tougher South Course at Torrey Pines, I knew it was only going to be a matter of time before hearing the talk of “Chasing Jack’s 18 Major Wins”.
It’s not that I’m completely opposed to the conversation of “will he surpass Jack,” in fact, I enjoy the debate. What bothered me about Thursday’s discussion during the first round is that they approached the debate as if golf is like every other sport with aging athletes. That there is a day in a golfer’s career where he has to hang up the spikes because he just can’t compete with the youthful players anymore.
Golfers do not age like athletes of our major sports in America. When the elite athletes start to “show their age” we hear that “he’s lost his power”, “he’s lost a step”, etc. Since when did golf become a game of power and speed? I understand that power and club speed do create an advantage in the game of golf, but there’s also that great aspect of the game that tests a professional’s finesse and touch.
The conversation in summary of Nick Faldo, one of the most respected golfers of all time, started with him talking about how Tiger is now 39 years old (he’ll be 39 on December 30, 2014). Tiger currently has 14 major wins in his career and of those still playing; Phil Mickelson is in second with 5 major wins. To break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors, Tiger will have to acquire Phil’s career (the second most major wins of anyone on tour, if you’re still following me) from after 38 years old.
Let’s drop some knowledge on Faldo and all those who were in agreement that Tiger’s odds are well against him. Of Phil’s five major wins, two were won after the age of 38 (2010 Masters, 2013 Open Championship). That’s 40% of his major wins after the age of 38. Jack Nicklaus had four major wins after his 38th birthday (1978 Open Championship, 1980 US Open, 1980 PGA Championship, 1986 Masters). Even the Big Easy himself, Ernie Els, defeated father time and won his second Open Championship in 2012 at the age of 42, by changing his swing mechanics and going to a more finesse and consistent style of play. Although, nothing can attest more to a golfer’s belief that age is just a number, than in 2009 when Tom Watson captured the entire golf world’s attention as they watched the 59 year old legend lose in a playoff in the Open Championship.
Tiger is also on the prowl to surpass the great Sam Snead’s all-time record of 82 tour wins for a career. Tiger sits 3 behind Snead with 79 tour wins at the age of 38. Since turning 38 years old, Phil Mickelson has 8 tour victories, and Jack won 9 times on tour after he turned 38.
I understand these are examples from some of the greatest golfers of their time, but when has Tiger been anything but THE greatest golfer of his time? I see this new generation of youth bringing a new era of speed and power to the golf swing. Yet, I also see a Tiger Woods whose level of fitness can rival many from the other major sports in America. This is a man who possessed so much torque and power in his swing that he blew out his own knee; forcing him to change his swing and “dial it back”. He can still sting a 3-wood down the fairway at 300 yards! Is this the guy we should really worry about aging? I wouldn’t be surprised if Tiger’s birthday cake every year has the “14” candle lit, because that’s the only number he is focused on seeing rise each December 30th.
Tiger Woods is the reigning PGA Tour Player of the year. He has walked up to the 18th green waving his hat to the crowd in victory on 14 occasions in a major championship. He is 4 tour wins away from being the most victorious player in PGA history. He is undoubtedly the greatest golfer and arguably the greatest athlete of his era. If there is one golfer that can win 5 majors after the age of 38, it is Tiger Woods, and I for one, am very eager to see what he has in store for us in the coming years.