Today's Top Golf Stars and Their Legendary Equivalents

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2016

Today's Top Golf Stars and Their Legendary Equivalents

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    "What's past is prologue," Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest. Applying that sentiment to the world of professional golfas The Bard would surely never have anticipated—golf stars of the past are similar fixtures in the cast of characters to top golfers of the present. 

    "Similarity," of course, is a broad term. There are multiple possible points of overlap between any two pro golfers. In most of these cases, today's stars overlap with their "legendary equivalents" at more than one point, which we'll detail. 

    So who are the legendary equivalents of the likes of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and more from golf's storied past? 

    Read on to find out. 

Jason Day

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    Legendary equivalent: Tiger Woods

    Nobody on the PGA Tour presently has the combination of fire in the belly, on-course passion and tireless work ethic of Tiger Woods in his prime. Jason Day, however, may be the closest. And the grit he showed battling through vertigo at the 2015 U.S. Open was a shade of Woods' grimacing brilliance at the 2008 U.S. Open.

    Of course Day (or any golfer) is yet to approach Tiger Woods' peak winning clip of more than 25 percent of his starts. However, stretches like the Australian had earlier this year between winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational and triumphing at The Players Championship are reminiscent of Woods at his best.

    And yes, even as the No. 1 golfer in the world, Day doesn't strike fear into the hearts of his contemporaries the way Woods did. Victory isn't a foregone conclusion when he's in contention (just look to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational). 

    However, like Woods, Jason Day can obliterate the ball off the tee. And while he may lack some of Woods' creativity and course-management abilities, he's able to hit towering approach shots and flushed irons to hunt flags in green-light situations, a la Woods. Day is also an adept scrambler and one of the tour's best putters: all reminiscent of peak TW. 

Bubba Watson

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    Legendary equivalent: Sam Snead

    A big-time bomber from Bagdad, Florida, with a homemade swing. Something of a hayseed (in the best way possible), Bubba Watson is reminiscent of a certain kid from the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia who grew up swinging a golf club barefoot and favored earthy witticisms his whole life. 

    Say what you will about both Bubba Watson and Sam Snead, the pair are both singular individuals and real characters in an often bland and buttoned world of manicured fairways and khaki pants. Snead passed away in 2002, but his legacy of freewheeling never-had-a-lesson-in-my-life style of golf-ball slamming lives on in one Gerry Lester Watson.

    Blessed with incredible talent in a game where so many work so hard for modest improvements and the dominant belief is, to paraphrase the great Ben Hogan, one ought to reverse every natural instinct to hit the golf ball well, Watson and Snead occupy a special space. 

Jordan Spieth

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    Legendary equivalent: Tom Watson

    Intensity, hard-nosed determination, a willingness to speak his mind and a trueness to his own self defined Tom Watson. The same could be said for Jordan Spieth. 

    Spieth is regarded as a decent driver of the ball, an average iron player and a magician on and around the green. Watson's game was a bit more complete and his two-plane swing more syrupy, lacking Spieth's affectations. So it's mostly in major mettle and mentality that the pair are similar. 

    While Spieth is yet to win an Open Championship, his ability to triumph on a brutal track at Chambers Bay in 2015 and claim a Masters in just his second attempt is reminiscent of Watson battling the elements and winning in several of his five Open Championship victories. 

Rory McIlroy

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    Legendary equivalent: Gary Player

    International winner? Check. Fitness freak? Check. Major champion? Check. Occasionally at the center of controversy? Check. 

    While other potential equivalents for McIlroy would include some of the purest swingers of all time: Steve Elkington, George Knudson, Payne Stewart, etc, it's McIlroy's global presence (and winning) and his dedication to fitness that bring to mind the Black Knight. 

    Interestingly, McIlroy, at 27, has four major victories. Player, who turned 27 in 1962, had three major wins by the end of that year. Thus, Rory is on a similar trajectory to golf's Mr. Fitness.  

Rickie Fowler

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    Legendary equivalent: Jimmy Demaret 

    While Jimmy Demaret may have been more of a showman and exhibition-style entertainer than Rickie Fowler is, the comparison is appropriate from a sartorial standpoint. 

    Demaret, 16th in wins on the PGA Tour all time, was known for his bold attire, earning the nickname "The Wardrobe." Fowler, who until recently wore an all-Oklahoma State orange on Sundays, pushes the envelope from an attire standpoint, debuting a joggers-and-high-tops look this year. 

Dustin Johnson

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    Legendary equivalent: Greg Norman

    Arguably the greatest driver of the golf ball in the modern era, Greg Norman could blast the ball of the tee with a unique combination of power and accuracy. Dustin Johnson, the tour's longest hitter, isn't as accurate as Norman off the tee, but with driving dominance like he showed in both his U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational wins, DJ conjures up images of the Shark. 

    Norman, although he ultimately won a pair of majors, was no stranger to major heartbreak (remember the 1996 Masters?). Dustin Johnson, prior to breaking through at Oakmont, was best known for falling short at the 2010 PGA Championship in a bizarre rules situation and faltering late at the 2015 U.S. Open. 

    And they even look a bit alike!

Sergio Garcia

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    Legendary equivalent: Seve Ballesteros 

    An easy one, and not just because they're both Spanish. However, there's a line of Spanish golfing primacy that extends from Seve Ballesteros to Jose Maria Olazabal to Sergio Garcia by which Garcia is an heir to his "equivalent" in a way no other golfer on this list can claim to be.

    A five-time major winner, Ballesteros was known for his passion, creativity and shot-making ability. Ditto, Sergio Garcia, although neither he (nor anyone really) is in El Matador's league from a creativity standpoint. And both golfers share a reputation for a certain cantankerousness as well as a heart-worn-on-sleeve nature.

    Inspired play in the Ryder Cup, as well as clearly being inspired by the Ryder Cup, is another strong similarity between the two Spaniards, stalwarts of their respective European teams.

Patrick Reed

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    Legendary equivalent: Johnny Miller

    Brash, and hardly lacking in the self-confidence department, Patrick Reed brings to mind a man who is still brash and self-confident in his current role as an analyst for NBC: Johnny Miller. 

    Reed's "top-five player in the world" comments drew groans in much the same way as Miller's continued references to his Sunday 63 at Oakmont to win the 1973 U.S. Open (even though it was one of the greatest rounds ever, Miller references it ad nauseam). 

    Fiery Ryder Cupper Reed even puts a patriotic stamp on his golf equipment, reminiscent of Johnny Miller's 1973 U.S. Open footwear