By Ren Gates, COO of PlayYourCourse
Golf has never been as competitive as it is right now.
The Tiger era is clearly over. Just seeing him tee it up in a Tour event again would be largely considered a success. The question marks that plagued professional golf in Tiger’s absence several years ago, however, have completely disappeared.
Professional golf is as healthy as it has ever been. Tiger catapulted golf into the international spotlight in a way that even the golden age of golf with Nicklaus, Palmer and Player never could have dreamed. He inspired a generation that has now taken over the sport, making it more athletic and much, much deeper than ever.
We are treated to a new crop of superstars week-in and week-out on the PGA Tour. Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler lead that pack, but they are just the beginning of the conversation. Each one of them has earned superstar fame and riches in their own right. And yet, they rarely will ever have the experience of entering a tournament as the prohibitive favorite in their entire careers. Why is that? Well, at a bare minimum, anybody in the top 30 in the world can just as easily come out and not only win, but dominate a golf tournament.
To the rest of the professional golfers’ credit, anybody seemingly in the top 300 in the world is good enough to go out and win a golf tournament any time they gain access into a field.
So what can we expect at next week’s PGA Championship, the deepest major field of the year?
Well, that’s just it. We can’t expect, well, anything.
The cream tends to rise to the top at the year’s biggest tournaments, and yet, until Jordan Spieth’s epic Open Championship triumph, there had been a stretch of seven consecutive majors won by a first-time champion. In the greater scheme of golf, that is nearly unheard of.
Sure, Rory McIlroy has a sterling record at Quail Hollow. Sure, Jordan Spieth is playing some of the best golf of his career. Sure, Dustin Johnson puts himself in a position to win any week he drives the ball even reasonably well. That makes it no surprise that at Spieth and McIlroy at 8-1 and Johnson at 10-1 are the betting favorites to win the PGA.
But, look a little deeper.
There are 13 golfers with better than 30-1 odds to win the PGA, and that’s just what Vegas thinks. The eye test will tell you there are closer to 50 golfers out there who could easily make a run at the Wanamaker trophy.
Take a look at the leaderboard at the Open Championship. There were three players in the top 20 ranked outside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. There were another pair outside the top 100 and yet another outside of the top 300 in the world. Call them fluke performances if you like, but the US Open leaderboard shows much of the same: three players in the top 20 ranked outside the top 50 in the world, another two outside the top 100, and one each outside of the top 200 and 300 in the world golf rankings.
What it really shows us is that anyone who makes a major field has a real shot at contending.
I’m not naïve enough to say that the PGA Championship will be won by a player ranked outside the top 100 in the world. A player ranked even outside the top 50 in the world is a long shot. But it’s entirely possible.
Heading into the final, and deepest, major of the year, golf fans have a million reasons to be excited. Maybe Spieth captures the career Grand Slam. Maybe Rory recaptures his Major winning ways. And maybe we are treated to a Cinderella story turned household name capturing a major from the depths of the rankings.
No matter what happens, it will be terrific entertainment. The best part? The new age of golf is here to stay. The stars are here, but the parity has never been better. Lucky us.
PlayYourCourse is an online platform that matches students with top PGA pros in their local area for golf lessons. Most people don’t realize how easy it is to improve their golf game with even just one hour of one-on-one attention from a professional golf coach.