By David de Winter – Sports Editor
For nigh on two decades, golf’s major championships have been dominated by familiar names adorning the leaderboard: the likes of Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Jim Furyk have all regularly been fighting for the biggest prizes in golf. But does 21 year-old Jordan Spieth’s victory at the US Open on Sunday herald a new era in golfing history?
My earliest memory of golf was Nick Faldo’s remarkable victory at the 1996 US Masters, as Australia’s Greg Norman infamously threw away a six shot lead. But really, since I can remember, the world of golf has been dominated by one man: Tiger Woods. No longer. All four of golf’s major championships are held by men in their early or mid-twenties – Rory McIlroy and Spieth. The Player’s Championship, golf’s unofficial 5th major, was won last month by 26 year-old American Rickie Fowler. Seven of the world’s top twenty golfers are under 30 years of age. These players are ready to take over from the old guard and move the game forward to become the stars of tomorrow.
Consider the achievements of Spieth for one moment. He is 21 years of age. Now I don’t know about you dear reader, but when I was 21, being at the pinnacle of my profession was not top of the list of my priorities and was (and still is) a very long way off. He won golf’s most prestigious tournament, the US Masters – a title that has eluded some of the game’s true greats, at the second attempt (in 2014 he finished tied 2nd) with the joint-highest under par score in Augusta history (a record he shares with another American prodigy – a certain Tiger Woods).
In winning last week’s US Open he has won the first two majors of the year, just the sixth time that has been done in history. And all this has been achieved without playing ‘spectacular’ golf. Spieth does not hit the ball a long way. He is not like McIlroy who is famed for blasting the ball 300+ yards down the fairway and playing devilishly accurate wedges. Instead he plays very steady, consistent, often risk-free golf, meaning he rarely drops shots. His putting, especially at the Masters was superb – I don’t think I saw him miss a putt from inside 10 feet throughout the tournament. Spieth is a craftsman and an immensely talented one who, rather scarily, will only get better with time.
So what does this mean for the world of golf? In McIlroy and Spieth the game has two superstars that it desperately needs after Woods’ ignominious fall from grace. These two wonderful players will become figureheads for the sport for years to come, hopefully inspiring the next generation to take up the stick and ball.
That is not to say there is not a place in the game for the old masters. It was great to see Colin Montgomerie amongst the leaders at the US Open at -1 on the first day and the likes of possibly my favourite ever golfer Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia will still be competing for the top prizes for the next 5 or so years because they are great players.
Golf is slowly but surely losing its stuffy and exclusive image – not least thanks to the decision by the R&A to finally admit female members earlier this year (long overdue). There is a tangible shift in the golfing hierarchy towards the new generation of players. With the likes of Spieth, McIlroy, Jason Day and Patrick Reed all cementing themselves in the world’s top 20, it is an exciting time for golf. Long may it continue.