Tiger Woods brings a lot of people to the game of golf who ordinarily wouldn’t give a fig about the sport. When Woods isn’t playing, sometimes they disappear. That’s unfortunate, because as we have seen in the last 12 months, there are a tremendous number of exciting players today. We only have to look at the recent winners in the US. Woods’ absence has allowed other players to blossom, proving that they, too, have the right golf stuff.
Reason No. 1: Rory McIlroy.
Without Woods’ absence from golf, would Rory McIlroy have received his due at the U.S. Open? Would he have won the U.S. Open? Without Wood’s failure to make putts on the back nine on Sunday at Augusta, would anyone have cared about Rory McIlroy at sundown?
Reason No. 2: Charl Schwartzel
Never mind that he will always have to ignore spell check when he types his name, Schwartzel birdied the last three holes to win at Augusta National, something that’s never been done since the tournament started in 1934. That was back before it was a major.
Reason No. 3: This year’s interesting and surprising PGA Tour winners
Who can forget the explosive power of Jhonattan Vegas at the Bob Hope Classic? Nick Watney is a shy but powerful winner who has a corner on the Gary Cooper, strong, silent type of personality. Jonathan Byrd finished off last season with a hole-in-one to win a playoff only to start the 2011 season by winning in a playoff. Gary Woodland, winner at Transitions, took advice from his golf guru and didn’t hit it as long as he could every time. That, he said, was the key to victory. Mark Wilson won twice in the first five weeks of 2011, and he has been overrun with talent since.
Reason No. 4: Bill Murray
Only a victory with D.A. Points in the AT&T National Pro-Am could reduce Murray to speechlessness. It was pretty good for Points also, since it was his first Tour victory. Murray now has the comedic pro-am bragging rights for he rest of his life, but when it came time to make a victory speech, he was humble.
Reason No. 5: Luke Donald
Think about it. A guy who is 5’8” emigrates from England and attends a big golf school—not—Northwestern. He is a small guy in an era of big guy, power golf. He has wrist problems, hooking the driver problems, wrist surgery, more hooking the driver problems, and yet he fixes that and wins the mano-a-mano WGC event and becomes No. 1 in the world. Is this a great country or what? The only thing Donald is missing is US citizenship. His Ryder Cup teammates would shoot him if he opted for that.
Reason No. 6: Twitter & Ian Poulter
Without Twitter would we know what Ian Poulter cooked for his British pals during the Hilton Head tournament? Would we know there was a ghost in his rented house? Would we see his outfits for majors in advance? Would we be able to sign up to win limited edition putter covers?
Never has anyone had more fun with any kind of electronic gadget than Poulter with his tweets and twitpics. He once confessed he hates standing in line at a theme park with his kids. Gosh, he’s just like us, only with fast cars, private planes and an amazing wardrobe.
Reason No. 7: Comebacks & Kleenex moments
There’s nothing like a tearful win to make you want to reach for that box of Kleenex.
Aaron Baddeley, after a promising initial start, he stacked and tilted himself into near oblivion. Now, he’s back with a victory at the Nissan Los Angeles Open.
Now the tearjerkers:
Lucas Glover, back from the mental hinterlands of golf after winning a US Open at Bethpage Black, won this year, finally, at Wells Fargo Championship. Quick, a tissue.
David Toms, missing in action for a couple of years, nearly winning at The Players, followed that week up with a tearful victory at Crowne Plaza Colonial. Never mind the plaid jacket. He’ll wear it with pride.
Steve Stricker—quick, reach for that tissue box—won at Jack Nicklaus’ tournament, one of the more prestigious of his 10 victories.
Bubba Watson. Twice. Sniff, sniff. Once in San Digeo at the Farmer’s Insurance Open and nearly getting over his typical tearful victories, a second time the Zurich Classic. Besides, who doesn’t want to hit it “Bubba Long”?
Reason No.8: The Bubba and Rickie Show
Move over Oprah. When Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler show up, you are in for good, clean fun. These guys can have more of a blast than seven-year-olds on a Slip 'N Slide in July. They love fans. They love playing golf. They even love charity outings. Bubba wore camo pants all week at the US Open to support the troops. The shirts were on sale here.
$10 from every sale goes to the PGA Tour's "Birdies for the Brave" program for military vets.
Rickie Fowler, otherwise known as the man in Oklahoma State Orange on Sunday, works hard at his golf game, and he is certainly enjoying his second year on the PGA Tour. If you are in the right place at the right time, Fowler may be handing out hats. For sure he hands out autographs, and you can nearly always count on him for a sheepish smile. He loves golf and it shows.
Watching Bubba and Rickie, even if you hate golf, you’ll like it when you watch them play.
Reason No. 9: Graeme McDowell
Every once in a while, a player has a special season like Graeme McDowell’s 2010. US Open, Ryder Cup, Chevron, plus victories on the European Tour. Never mind that he hasn’t won in 2011. He will again. His attitude is great for golf.
Selfishly, for our side of the pond, McDowell praises the US and its collegiate programs as wonderful proving grounds for those who are not ready to turn pro at 17, like Rory McIlroy. It worked for him. He said he wasn’t ready at 17 or 18 and went to UA-Birmingham.
McDowell has taken up membership on the PGA Tour, and he does his best to charm the golf audience. He’s Irish. He can’t help it.
Reason No. 10: The Mystery of Tiger Woods
OK, he’s not playing, but you can’t go a week without some kind of story, rumor or question being asked about the former No. 1. First there’s the tweak at The Players, then the double tweak at The Masters. Now there’s the boot and the crutches. And there’s the agent saga. Woods will be host at the AT&T National this week, but will he tee it up any time soon? Will he make either one of the final two majors of 2011? And how can he surpass Nicklaus if he can’t get onto the golf course? These and other mysteries plague us. It is the great golf question of 2011: What is really going on with Tiger Woods. We may never know.
So if your primary interest in golf is Tiger Woods, you can enjoy the rumors that circulate. Meantime, enjoy the great play of the cast of interesting personalities that golf has given us in 2011.