The PGA Tour's off-season is what you make it.
For Tiger Woods it's a working vacation. He was spotted the other day at a Park City, Utah, eatery, perhaps replenishing after a day on the slopes with his powder-loving wife Elin, but he's back to work this week as host of the Target World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, California.
For Bernhard Langer the off-season is a time to stop and smell the millions. A week after defending his title in the Del Webb Father/Son Challenge with his son Stefan, and collecting $200,000 for his efforts, Langer joined fellow German Marcel Siem, he of the second most famous ponytail in men's golf, to capture the WGC-World Cup in rainy Barbados (and $700,000) last weekend.
Me, I watch Q school in the off-season, and I read my e-mail, which spiked after a recent column that poked holes in Woods's so-called "streak," decried Phil Mickelson's U.S. Open wreck (depriving us of the rival we thought we had for golf's alpha dog) and even took dead aim at poor Sergio Garcia.
But before we give the microphone to my critics let's have a look at the fan mail, since my parents take a lot of trouble to come up with convincing pseudonyms and the least I can do is answer them in a timely fashion.
Someone named "Jim" writes:
\"With all due respect to Tiger's talent and his extremely admirable dedication to improving his skills, I have a problem (actually several but I'll spare you) with his win totals and streaks.
\"Going back through the history of the PGA Tour, I can't think of a single dominant player who was literally handed victories the way Tiger gets them. Watching tournaments, the players seem to be falling over themselves in an effort to be the one who \"goes in the tank\" so Tiger can win again.
\"That isn't the kind of competition the Tour needs. They need players scratching and clawing to beat him and anyone else ahead of them. You see that when Tiger skips a tournament, but not when he's entered.\"
Well done, Dad! I couldn't agree more. Although Woods is pushed every so often, as he was by Bob May at the PGA, and Mickelson at Doral, there's something frustrating about watching the guy win even when he's not playing his best. Or do you enjoy watching John Daly foozle a two-foot putt in sudden death?
Someone named "TSD" writes:
\"About time someone called the ridiculous love for Tiger what it is: a joke. Yes, he's the best player, but trying to continually build him up to a God-like status is killing golf.\"
Way to go, Mom! I like the outrage, and obviously, I agree.
Here's a letter from "jhkjr," who is more circumspect:
\"Let's not forget that if Tiger Woods is not winning, all you have to look forward to are a bunch of foreign players setting up shop in Florida and flying home to Australia, South Africa, Sweden, England or Ireland in the off season.
\"Also, it's so funny, but I get the feeling that if Phil had Tigers record there would be no complaint about who's the greatest of them all. Before Tiger came along we had players like Corey, Paul, an old Seve, Colin, Tom, and a cast of the lame, mediocre players. Since Tiger came along the sport of golf changed and became alive. Hey you even have something to write about. Just like Ali made Howard famous, Tiger put all you writers on the map.\"
I've got no complaints or doubts about Woods being the greatest. Even when Mickelson sizzled from the 2005 PGA through three rounds of the 2006 U.S. Open, and looked like the de facto number one, we knew he would never sniff Woods's major total. Woods is so strong mentally he ought to be bending spoons in Coney Island. It would simply help the game if there were a Trevino to his Nicklaus, and after Mickelson's implosion at Winged Foot, it's not clear there is such a player.
Reader Frank from Kingston, Canada, took exception to a number of points, rushing to defend Woods and Garcia:
\"Perhaps a bit more intelligent appraisal would have taken into account Tiger's grief over his father's desperate struggle with cancer, which ended sadly in May 2006, and the effect this had on his play, allowing Mickelson to dominate for a time.
\"Then I think Mr. Morfit needs some serious scolding for writing that Sergio Garcia is a head case for 103 of 104 weeks, with the exception being the Ryder Cup. That is a completely inappropriate statement to write about one of the top players in the world, who has won multiple tournaments on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, and who has seriously contended in several major championships. It is even potentially libelous, in my view.
\"Garcia is only 26 years old, and will very likely break out and win a major in the near future. Garcia, after reworking his swing and solving his waggle problems, seemingly needs only to improve his putting under pressure.\"
But wait! Frank from Canada is not alone. Reader Abe (from I don't know where) was similarly peeved:
\"What is this unsubstantiated love-fest with a rival to Tiger? What makes you believe that a rival to Tiger would increase golf's popularity? A rival to Tiger would de-mystify Tiger.
\"People watch because they are convinced they are watching The Greatest Golfer Who Ever Lived, bar none. Sure, you'll have the Oldies claim that, if Jack were playing today, he'd whip Tiger. Fuhgedaboutit! Just look at their records, year to year. Pound for pound, Tiger has beaten the Golden Bear to every imaginable milestone.
\"People say Jack had rivals like Arnie and Gary, and that's what made golf great back in the day. Well, that's exaggerated. There may have been a few years where Jack's and Arnie's greatness overlapped, but no one ever identifies any tangible evidence to suggest that the rivalry did golf any good. It's all 20/20-hindsight nostalgia.\"
Tiger was "demystified" long ago, somewhere in the midst of losing to Ed Fiori, Billy Mayfair, Costantino Rocca, Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke, Rich Beem and others. That's why it's so frustrating to watch when players still wilt in his presence. Somehow, they didn't get the memo.
Cameron Morfit covers the PGA Tour as a Senior Writer for GOLF MAGAZINE. You can read his column every Monday on GOLFONLINE. E-mail him your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.