Ivan Morris Column - Golf’s Newest Big Three

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
WHEN Jason Day uncorked a massive drive on the par-5, 11th hole at the ‘crazy hard’ Whistling Straits, an ‘impossible’ golf course for average golfers, it wound up 382-yards down the fairway, Jordan Spieth couldn’t help himself and uncharacteristically blurted out: “Holy s--t!” Day smiled and playfully flexed his biceps. It was the moment when the PGA Championship was done and dusted.

WHEN Jason Day uncorked a massive drive on the par-5, 11th hole at the ‘crazy hard’ Whistling Straits, an ‘impossible’ golf course for average golfers, it wound up 382-yards down the fairway, Jordan Spieth couldn’t help himself and uncharacteristically blurted out: “Holy s--t!” Day smiled and playfully flexed his biceps. It was the moment when the PGA Championship was done and dusted.

In the dour Tiger Woods Era, golf fans were not privy to playful interactions or the graciousness of Rory McIlroy. Rory lost his coveted No. 1 spot but accepted in good grace and declared: “Jordan deserves it.” When Tiger was No. 1 for 15-years, fans grew accustomed to the idea that the end justified the means and forgot how important good sportsmanship is.

Golfers like Day, McIlroy, Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose have restored my faith in golf as a gentleman’s game. The fact that all, bar Rose, are still in the 20s and that Tiger has been eclipsed once and for all augurs well for the future.

The tears of relief and joy that Jason Day shed on the final green, even before he managed to send his final putt underground were not because of the many near-misses that went before but because he was thinking back to when he was a 12-years old and his (half Irish) father died of stomach cancer. His (Philippine) mother was impoverished and forced to take out a second mortgage; borrow money from relations in order to keep Jason away from ‘bad company’ in a residential golf academy where he fell under the influence of Col Swatton. The influence for good that PGA pro, Swatton, exerted as an ever-present, surrogate father figure and caddy culminated at Whistling Straits.

That Day was as ‘wild as a goat’ is now well chronicled. Psychologists said that Day would never win a major because of those tough times. He would always ‘settle’ for a handsome cheque rather than take on the risks necessary to post a win. How wrong could they have been? Rarely has a player in the lead with one round to go played so aggressively from start to finish, rebuffing the challenges that came at various stages with stunning skill.

Golf now has a brand new ‘Big-3’ - Spieth, McIlroy and Day. They will dominate the majors for the foreseeable future with Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace, Adam Scott and, perhaps, Patrick Rodgers playing cameo roles here and there.

In the history of the game, there have been several other precedents of threesomes dominating golf’s big events. The first, acknowledged triumvirate emerged around the turn of the twentieth century when JH Taylor, Harry Vardon and James Braid won fifteen Open Championships and the US Open between them.

Then along came Walter Hagen, Bob Jones and Gene Sarazen in the 1920s followed by Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan in the 1940s and into the 1950s. Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus were the names on everyone’s lips during the 1960s and 1970s.

We all know how disarmingly charming Rory McIlroy can be while Jason Day is genuinely one of the most friendly and popular players on Tour. Spieth is portrayed as a mannerly, holier than thou young Texan trained from birth, to yes-sir and no-ma’am his way through life. However, anyone who studies how he plays the game and how he talks to his caddy on the golf course cannot help noticing a ‘temperamental edge’ and caustic self-criticism.

On observing the way Jordan signed an autograph, a curious golf writer once asked Spieth why he didn’t play golf left-handed?” “To give everybody else a chance,” was the unexpected answer delivered with a broad smile. No false modesty there and why should there be? This year, Spieth recorded the lowest ever, aggregate score for the four majors by a considerable margin.

Rory has a tough task on his hands wrestling the Official World Golf Ranking, No. 1 spot back but I am certain he will both enjoy the challenge and raise his game to meet it. Spoiled by the media savvy of the likes of Palmer, Player and Nicklaus, golf writers were turned cynical by Tiger to the extent that many thought that to be a good player you had to be something beginning with the letter ‘b.’ Whereas, during the ascendance of McIlroy, Spieth and Day, the question arising in the same minds was: Could they really be so nice? Is it all a show? Is it acting?

I, for one, don’t think so. No more than the sour ungrateful way Tiger behaved. (He was just being himself too - more’s the pity!) We should never confuse being mannerly and gracious as a lack of genuineness or that such traits are inconsistent with passion, spirit and success.

Words of the Wise

I’m delighted to hear that a 23-years old, Dental Technician, Tiarnan McLarnon from Massareene Golf Club won The Irish Amateur Close Championship at Tramore last week. McLarnon is absolutely not a full-time amateur but an honest workingman with a ‘proper’ 9-5 job - three cheers for him. Although, I probably wouldn’t have agreed 35-years ago, I would prefer to win the ‘Close’ than a cap. McLarnon had no choice. The Home Internationals took place BEFORE The Close this year. Talk about downgrading your own national championship!