With Tiger Woods setting the bar as high as he has over the past decade and a half, maybe we are putting too much expectations on our young American Golfers on the PGA Tour. What you have to remember as a golf fan, the greatness of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Sam Snead only come around once in a generation if you are lucky. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we may, or may not see that kind of talent for a while, and need to be patient enough to see if some of our young guns can someday meet your expectations.
As an older fan who got into golf as both a player, and follower in the mid 1970′s when Arnie was reaching the end of his career, and Jack was near the peak, I remember reading an article around 1980 in Golf Digest about the young and upcoming stars of the game. Today, we view these golfers as being icons of an era with Persimmon Drivers and new putters that went Ping when the ball was struck. They were Ben Crenshaw, Jerry Pate, and Tom Kite.
Crenshaw finished his career with 19 PGA wins, and two Masters Championships, the first in 1984, and then again in 1995. Kite too, had 19 PGA Tour wins to go along with one U.S. Open which finally came in 1992. Both came out of the Harvey Penick factory at the University of Texas, and have both played on the Senior tour. Jerry Pate had health issues with his shoulder, but did finish with 16 PGA wins and one U.S. Open in 1976.
The four young American golfers on the verge of greatness today, and the one’s I think have the potential for greatness are Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Nick Watney, and Webb Simpson. There are more, but three of the four, have already won majors, and between the four, have 15 PGA tournaments on their resume’s.
It all began last year at the PGA Championship. Keegan Bradley at the Atlanta Athletic Club on the Highlands Course. Bradley added a win in 2012 at the WGC-Bridgestone Championship, and lost in a playoff with Bill Haas, and Phil Mickelson at the Northern Trust Open. At the Ryder Cup. Phil Mickelson was sent to mentor him through the early part of the tournament, and I’m not sure Phil didn’t get some mentoring from Keegan. I know it was some of the better golf we’ve seen from Phil since he won at Pebble Beach.
Bubba Watson was next, when he won a very dramatic Masters, in a playoff against Louie Oostheuzen on the 10th hole at Augusta. Although he played well for the remainder of the year, and made the Ryder Cup, the Masters was his only win in 2012.
Webb Simpson came on the scene late in the 2011 season, winning the Wyndahm championship by three strokes over George McNiell, and then again at the Duetche Bank championship where he won in a playoff against Chez Reavie. Simpson was there at the Olympic Club in June when Jim Furyk hooked his drive into the trees, giving the field an opening. Simpson won his first major by one stroke over Graeme McDowell, and Michael Thompson.
Nick Watney doesn’t have a major on his resume yet, but he does have 5 Tour wins begining with Zurich Classic of New Orleans back in 2007. Even though he didn’t have a great 2o12, he did win at the Barclays during this years FedEx Cup playoffs over Ryder Cup Captains pick Brandt Sbedeker. I felt that Watney should have been on our Ryder Cup team instead of Jim Fuyrk.
With all this talent coming along, and add a few I didn’t mention like Hunter Mahan, Brandt Snedeker, and Dustin Johnson, you have a great core of young players. Let’s not put the pressure of having to be the next Tiger Woods on them, and let them develop their games at their speed. If they can’t get to 74 tour wins and 14 major championships like Tiger, or 73 wins and 18 majors like Jack, let’s support them anyway. Maybe we will get a few regular Hall of Famers, Icons and Senior Tour Champions from them down the road. That should be plenty.