Golf has a new Big Three…probably. But let’s start at the beginning.
The Great Triumvirate came first. Between 1894 and 1914, Brits Harry Vardon, John H. Taylor and James Braid won the Open Championship 16 times, and the trio ruled golf when the game was played mainly in the United Kingdom.
Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan were the faces of golf in the United States through the 1940s and ’50s.
They were followed by the Big Three. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player brought the modern game to the world, with a big assist from television. There may be players with better careers (though considering Jack’s 18 major championships, that’s unlikely), but it seems impossible that there will be three superstars bigger than life — unless Tiger Woods spawns triplets.
So, here we are: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. It happened suddenly because not long ago we were pondering the future as Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer each had a cup of coffee while holding the world No. 1 ranking. Now we have what looks like a new era in golf. The accomplishments of Spieth, McIlroy and Day are impressive but not nearly as much as their respective ages — 22, 26 and 27. And they span the globe, like ABC’s old Wide World of Sports. Spieth is American, Day is Australian and Rory is from Northern Ireland. They may entice most of the planet to watch. As Curt Gowdy said of the Boston Red Sox after they lost the 1975 World Series, “Their future is ahead of them.”
Even the CBS crew — hardly golf’s most critical bunch, to be sure — acknowledged the New Big Three scenario as they watched in amazement while Day, fresh off his Canadian Open and PGA Championship wins, looked totally Tiger-esque while dominating the Barclays, the first stage of the FedEx Cup playoffs, which aren’t really playoffs. All Day did was shoot 125 on the weekend. Plainfield Country Club may never recover from this thrashing.
After host Jim Nantz brought up the Big Three idea, analyst Peter Kostis said, “They’re all phenomenal players. If by some magic, we could get Phil and Tiger back to some reasonable form, it would be an absolutely brilliant next stage in golf for a few years and then these Big Three will take over. I think we’re in for some exciting times.”
Sir Nick Faldo added, “We already are. We have a dozen instantly recognizable golfers and characters and a couple of superstars, which is brilliant for our game.”
This was a fresh idea last month after Day won the PGA. At the same time, Spieth, the runner-up at Whistling Straits, took the No. 1 world ranking from McIlroy. That was short-lived, however, as Spieth gave the top spot back when he missed the cut at Barclays. The question of who should be No. 1 is a different topic.
Try to imagine a scenario in which these guys aren’t the New Big Three of golf. Nothing fits:
Theory One: Day is just on a hot streak, he’s not really this good. Yeah, those 375-yard drives are just flukes. C’mon, man.
Theory Two: McIlroy’s ankle, injured in a soccer “kickabout,” is a career-ender, and he’ll never get back to No. 1, uh, even though he already has. Sure, his ankle was so bad that all he could manage at the PGA, his first week back, was 17th place. Surely you can’t be serious. I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.
Theory Three: Spieth will get complacent after this career-making year and never climb back to the mountaintop. Wait, the guy who chides himself in gosh-golly fashion after every perceived mis-hit, the guy who preps for majors as if they’re college board exams, is going to get complacent? Have you watched this guy?
Theory Four: Some superstar golf god from Korea or China whom we don’t even know about yet will come out of the woodwork in a few years and blitz them all. Well, he’d better be two parts Tiger and one part cyborg.
Theory Five: I’m down to asteroid strikes and alien abductions here. I’ve got nothin’.
Excuse me, Mr. Gowdy, but the Big Three’s future is now. What we’ve got to look forward to is a back-and-forth horse race as Spieth, McIlroy and Day pass the No. 1 ranking around like a pitcher of Miller Lite after a softball game in Milwaukee.
There’s a decent chance that we may never be able to figure out which of these three is the best because they’ll be playing a game of can-you-top-this? Don’t forget, Day has just as strong a case for No. 1 as the other two. Remember his vertigo-challenged episode at the U.S. Open? He shared the lead heading into the final round and finished in the top 10 — but without the vertigo attack, who knows? And like Spieth, Day also missed the British Open playoff by a single stroke.
Looking back, 2015 may turn out to be the greatest year in golf history, especially if this is the year the New Big Three was born. All they need now is a more original nickname. The Three Kings? The Millennial Triumvirate? Triple Thunder? The Global Three? The Big Trio?
Submit your nominations in a sealed envelope addressed to: 2016…And Beyond. Then sit back and enjoy.
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