Golf fans -- OK, sports fans -- OK, people -- are fickle. Their tastes change quickly, quicker than ever it seems. One minute, something is the greatest thing ever. The next, it's worse than the Plague.
Even if he doesn't like it, Jordan Spieth gets it. So, too, do Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, who, along with Spieth, have been siloed into a new Big Three. Except that moniker became inconvenient when Rickie Fowler, who won The Players earlier this year, took down the Deutsche Bank Championship for his first multi-win PGA Tour season. Depending on who you asked, Fowler was suddenly herded into golf's elite.
Spieth laughed at the idea of the fluidity with which fans and media keep track of who's the best in golf right now. No, right now. Now.
“Two weeks ago (before The Barclays) everyone said, you’re the best there is, you’re the best in the world, you’re awesome, man, not a bad thing said," Spieth said at the BMW Championship.
Then Spieth missed the cut and Jason Day won by six.
"And then Jason wins — Jason is the best in the world, man, he’s awesome."
Then Spieth missed the cut at TPC Boston, Day played tired golf and Rickie Fowler stared down Henrik Stenson to win his first playoff event.
"And then Rickie wins. Rickie wasn’t even what you guys were talking about. You guys were talking about me, Rory and Jason. Rickie wins, and all of a sudden people are coming out of their igloos and they’re saying, man, that’s my guy. He’s the best in the world."
An igloo wouldn't be a safe place to live in the Land of Scalding Hot Takes, where there's a greater explanation for Spieth's mini-slump than that he's worn out from winning two majors and almost winning two others this year, or that few golfers, other than Tiger Woods, have found a way to make cuts without even their average stuff.
Golf fans -- OK, sports fans -- OK, people -- take good things for granted really easily. These young guys are brilliant and their brilliance overlaps. So it's easy for folks to declare epochs in a matter of weeks, shifting allegiances to the guy playing the hot golf at the moment. Rory had his at the end of 2014, winning two majors. Spieth had his begin the second he opened with 64 at Augusta in April. It was interrupted by McIlroy in May with a pair of wins. Then Spieth got it back in June and July and most of August -- that is, until Day won the PGA Championship at 20 under par and won his second of three starts. However, it wasn't until The Barclays win (and the Spieth missed cut) that made people realize Day had been playing well all summer and had just given him limited credit for contending at the U.S. Open despite battling vertigo and coming up a few feet short at the Open Championship of getting into a playoff at the Old Course. Like baseball's disabled list, the Day Era was started retroactive to Chambers Bay.
Spieth seems to think that's created an ever-roving set of bandwagon fans who move from one hot player to the next, and back again as the leaderboard changes.
"You have true fans, there’s no doubt, and I love true fans," Spieth said, "and I’m happy to take any bandwagon fans there are for me."
The 22-year-old may have it wrong, however. Maybe it isn't that there's a finite set of fans in Spiethland, Roryville, Dayton and Fowlerania, with a band of gypsy fans going from place to place at will. Rather, perhaps golf fans realize the riches in front of them and have a permanent home in one of the Four Kingdoms -- to say nothing of the villages of the Johnsons, Watson and others -- but they also holiday homes in one or more of the others. As each player reminds us of what they'll capable of doing, each fan has a chance to bask in their sun.
That means people being fickle isn't necessarily a bad thing for golf. Rather, what these guys are doing -- and will likely continue to do -- is creating golf fans again.
For the better part of two decades, the sport had bandwagon fans for one guy: Tiger. There were plenty of people who watched only when Woods played and couldn't have cared less about anyone else. Tiger, Tiger, Tiger Woods, y'all. Not PGA, PGA, PGA Tour, y'all. That's not the status quo in golf anymore. Woods still moves the needle significantly -- just look at the Wyndham Championship ratings -- but he's no longer, as Brandel Chamblee used to say, the needle.
With this new breed of player may come more parity, but that means fans get used to seeing several players win with regularity. That builds name recognition that then conditions fans to look for more than one standout name on a leaderboard. None of these guys will have the transcendent effect Woods had on the game and four guys aren't better than this one, but golf can permeate more among fickle fans if they have choices. That should mean a budding fan base for the sport, even if that means they fly from flower to flower like bees to pollen.
After all, that's buzz, right?
JOIN GNN PLUS AS AN ANNUAL MEMBER & YOU'LL GET:
- A FREE USGA handicap ($30 value, annual members only)
- Entry into member-only giveaways
- Special discounts and member benefits
- An ad-free experience
- Equipment testing data
- Exclusive fantasy golf and betting research