Is Professional Golf Heading Back to the Late 1980s?

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2010

FARMINGDALE, NY - JUNE 17:  Tom Lehman watches his shot during the third day of previews to the 109th U.S. Open on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park on June 17, 2009 in Farmingdale, New York.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

For one reason or another, human beings are rarely satisfied with what they have.

If we have a big house, we want a bigger one.

If we have a lot of money, we want more of it.

And we are no different when it comes to professional spots.

As we watch a dominant athlete or team perform, we want to know who the next great athlete or team will be.

As much as we discuss our desire to see parity, competition, and rivalries, sports are never more popular than during the era of a dominant athlete or team.

Basketball was never more popular than it was during the '90s when the Chicago Bulls were dominating the game.

Baseball was never more popular than when the Yankees were dominating the sport in the late '90s.

Boxing was never more popular than during the eras of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson’s.

And golf has never been more popular than during this present Tiger Woods era.

Instead of sitting back, relaxing and enjoying the fact that we are witnessing the career of arguably the most dominant golfer the game has ever produced, we are spending a significant amount of time asking ourselves who will be the next Tiger Woods?

Which one of the young guns is going to step up and become golf’s next big thing?

We want that warm fuzzy feeling that can only come with knowing that things are going to be ok down the road; only in this case the future may not be as bright as we would like.

At the moment, golf has a plethora of exciting young players.

We have Rory McIlroy, Ryo Ishikawa, Martin Kaymer, Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Paul Casey and many others.

It’s a time reminiscent of the late '80s-late '90s: a lot of great players, yet there’s the absence of that dominant, record breaking force.

Between 1987 and 1997, the game of golf was filled with unbelievably talented players.

We had Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Payne Stewart, Curtis Strange, Nick Price, Tom Lehman, Fred Couples, etc.

If you want competition and parity, it didn’t get much better than the ten year span between 1987 and 1997.

Norman, Faldo, Ballesteros, Price, Lehman, etc. were constantly battling it out for major championship titles. There were rivalries and sudden death playoffs galore.

Yet the game’s popularity took a nose dive during this period.

How could that be?

Well, like many sports, golf is far more popular when there is a dominant force in the game.

We are ultimately lying to ourselves when we say that we’d rather see parity, intense competition and rivalries than a dominant force.  If that were the case, the late '80s through the early '90s would be considered golf’s golden age rather than its dark age.

If it’s parity that we’re after, why did golf’s popularity spike when Woods began dominating the game in the late '90s? Shouldn’t Woods’ domination of the PGA Tour have had the opposite effect on the game’s level of popularity?

If it’s parity that we’re after, why are we constantly asking ourselves who is going to be the next Tiger Woods?  Wouldn’t we want to avoid another Tiger Woods at all costs?

If it’s parity that we’re after wouldn’t the days of Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods completely dominating the game be seen as “bad” times for golf?

It’s anyone’s guess when Woods will decide to return to professional golf.

But here’s a bit of advice to all you “parity seekers”: When Woods does return, sit back and enjoy what you’re seeing because you may not be completely satisfied with the next era in professional golf.

In a mere 10 years we may very well be thrust back to the PGA Tour of the late '80s...and we all remember just how exciting that was.   


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