PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Imagine if a young Tiger Woods was docked two strokes for nearly missing his tee time, or lost the PGA Championship because he didn't realize he was hitting from a bunker, or coughed up the U.S. Open because he panicked and went brain dead on Sunday.
How long do you think it would have taken Woods to think, Gee, I wonder if I've got the best caddie? Answer: Not long. He would have cut the rope and hired a new guy, post haste. Nothing personal, bro — it's just business.
Even in his 20s, Woods was bloodless. So were guys like Ray Floyd, Hale Irwin and Lanny Wadkins.
Today's 20-somethings may develop such a fearsome edge some day. Or they might not. They may be too busy fishing, or detailing their cars, or texting a guy who knows a girl who might be able to get them on MTV Cribs. Boo-ya.
The era of Tiger and Phil is coming to a close if it hasn't ended already. Fred Couples, 51, shot 66 Friday to take the lead through 36 holes of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, but he admits he's playing on borrowed time. Davis Love III will be the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain.
All of which is to say there's a huge opportunity for the young guys to seize control of the PGA Tour.
Can they be bothered to do so?
Caddie Bobby Brown gave his boss, Dustin Johnson, the wrong tee time at Riviera on Thursday. Johnson, who said he hadn't looked at the tee sheet himself, came within seconds of being disqualified, but got by with only a two-stroke penalty for being late.
Thus began a miserable day for the tall 26-year-old, who trudged through a 2-over 73 that included a double bogey on the first hole and a double on the short par-4 10th. To make matters worse, he was asked about his tardiness mid-round by Golf Channel reporter Jim Gray.
Of course Gray (rap name: Tenacious G) should know better than to barge in on a player in the middle of a round, and Golf Channel did the right thing by swiftly removing the controversial bulldog from this week's telecast.
Gray's hyper-aggressive style might be a better fit for covering something a bit meatier, like nuclear weapons, but his breach of journo-etiquette is not the story. Neither is Brown, even though he violated one of the codes of a caddie (show up, put up, shut up) and has proven so fireproof he ought to inherit the "Asbestos" nickname made famous by the late caddie Steve Duplantis.
This is about the next group of really good players, and whether they care enough to be great.
Watching young, incandescent talents like Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Ryo Ishikawa, Johnson, Anthony Kim and Rory McIlroy can be thrilling, or it can be like watching your kid stumble out the door with his shoes on the wrong feet.
The fact that Johnson blew his tee time is not so bad in and of itself. It happens. Jim Furyk overslept and missed his tee time at the Barclays last year, and Furyk, 40, has rarely if ever been questioned for his professionalism.
The Johnson situation is different because it's part of a pattern. He's won four times, but he's racked up almost as many blunders. Does he care enough to do the unpleasant stuff like holding those around him accountable?
Kim (73-70, 1 over at Riviera) made news for a bad bouncehe got after hooking his drive off a cart path on Thursday. His ball ended up out of bounds, and he made double-bogey. Kim had been wronged; everyone agreed.
Hey, what about just not hitting it so far left?
These are not bad guys. Kim is good company. Day and McIlroy couldn't be nicer. And nobody burns with more on-course intensity than Bubba Watson, who withdrew from the NTO on Thursday with a sore abdominal muscle.
You can't help but wonder, though, who's giving them advice, and not just advice on when to go to the tee.
Fowler, sporting a new haircut this week, had played just twice this year, at San Diego and Phoenix, prior to his first-round 74 at Riviera. Why all the rest? He's 22. He says he's hungry, and he looked like a cold-blooded killer in Ryder Cup singles. Maybe it was just a 24-hour thing.
"I played for so long last year, through the Shark Shootout, I wanted to have some sort of an off-season," Fowler said after signing for an even-par 71 Friday.
The Bob Hope Classic gave him a sponsor's exemption last year, but Fowler didn't return to the beleaguered event this year. Kim no longer plays the Hope despite having gone to La Quinta High. What, they didn't like Road to Zanzibar?
The absence of so many good players at the Hope left the stage wide open for Venezuela's Jhonattan Vegas, 26, to break through with his first win in just his fifth start on Tour.
Maybe the young guys will learn something from either Vegas or Woody Allen, who is credited with saying that 80 percent of life is just assembling a totally excellent entourage.
Wait, check that-it might have been "just showing up." And it might have been 90 percent.
The other 10 percent is making sure to avoid Jim Gray.