Monday, 18 June 2012

There's a Major sense of unpredictability surrounding golf

Another major championship over, another first-time winner. Webb Simpson's US Open triumph at the Olympic Club in San Francisco stretched the incredible sequence to nine events as he followed in the footsteps of Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson in clinching their maiden major victory.  
Will Simpson's success prove to be more than just a flash in the pan?

The 26-year-old American, who finished a shot clear of McDowell and fellow countryman Michael Thompson on one over par after shooting a final round of 68, had only previously won two PGA Tour events (2011 Wyndham Championship and 2011 Deutsche Bank Championship) and arrived at the tournament having missed the cuts at the Players Championship and the Memorial tournament. Not exactly the form of a prospective winner.
So is the incredible sense of unpredictability surrounding golf a good or bad thing for the game? There's the obvious argument that the sheer excitement of any sport is defined by the element of surprise. The possibility of an underdog overcoming the odds keeps us coming back for more and provides the paying public with talking points day after day. Sport wouldn't be what it is if the favourites won all the time but then again, you can't underestimate the value of them. The big guns are those that attract the most attention at the end of the day.

Last fifteen major championship winners
2008 PGA Championship: Padraig Harrington (3/3)
2009 Masters: Angel Cabrera (2/2)
2009 US Open: Lucas Glover
2009 British Open: Stewart Cink
2009 PGA Championship: Yang Yong-eun
2010 Masters: Phil Mickelson (4/4) 
2010 US Open: Graeme McDowell
2010 British Open: Louis Oosthuizen
2010 PGA Championship: Martin Kaymer
2011 Masters: Charl Schwartzel
2011 US Open: Rory McIlroy
2011 British Open: Darren Clarke
2011 PGA Championship: Keegan Bradley
2012 Masters: Bubba Watson
2012 US Open: Webb Simpson

*First-time winners in bold

Placing a bet on the winner of a major championship has become somewhat of a lottery nowadays. Player's odds are determined by history and prestige as oppose to recent form. Despite a steady resurgence, how much longer will Tiger Woods' former glories be taken into account when the bookies draw up their prices? Players of his class don't come around every day but golf needs someone to emerge from the crowd and at the very least threaten to match his major championship haul.

Golf is craving a new focal point. A name that immediately springs to mind when the sport is mentioned. Someone who carries an aura with him wherever he goes. Such is the overall standard of the game nowadays, the question is when this type of player will be unleashed, not if. The even more pertinent question is who?  

McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, both aged 23, are widely regarded as the game's brightest prospects with four PGA Tour wins between them to date. Crucially, the former has already broken his major championship duck and showed all the hallmarks of a sensational player in doing so. Simpson, Watson, Kaymer, Schwartzel and Ooisthuizen are all currently ranked in the world's top 20 and aged under 30 but whether any of them have the ability to take their game to another level remains to be seen.

Whoever it is that pulls away from the pack and grabs the initiative could have a very long and successful career ahead of them at the very top of the game. The key for these potential stars is consistency when it really matters. They all know that they have the ability to win major championships and the more they do it, the better they will be able to deal with the intense pressure which they inevitably conjure up.

The British Open takes place at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club between 19th and 22nd July. Could that be the tournament that signals the fruition of a player on the brink of true stardom? 

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