Virginia Golfer May / June 2015 - Page 42

MyTURN by JIM DUCIBELLA B y now, you know the news. It’s been in all of the papers, all over television, talk radio, especially the Internet and all of its dark, foreboding corners. By winning the Masters in April, Jordan Spieth ushered in a “new era” in golf. The victory, his first in a major, also catapulted him to the heart of the game’s next great rivalry. Spieth versus Rory McIlroy. If only if it were true. Instead, it’s just hyperbolic flim-flam. Take nothing—nothing—away from Spieth. The 21-year-old Texan plays with an understated panache. He doesn’t maul a course into submission, doesn’t send tee shots into orbit around the moon before they return to earth. Rather, he engages the playing field in a battle of wits and grit that belie his tender years. He’s pocketed $14 million in a brief career that includes three PGA Tour wins. He’s already represented his country in the Ryder Cup Matches and Presidents Cup play. He absolutely kills the competition with kindness, giving thumbs-up when Justin Rose crafted an amazing shot off muddy, trampled terrain on No. 7 on Sunday at the Masters, nearly backing the ball into the hole. In an interview later, he amended an answer about a competitor missing putts from something like “had he only made” to “if only they’d gone in.” Even with Jordan Spieth’s triumph at the Masters, only time will tell if he will challenge the game’s best on a consistent basis. 40 V I R G I N I A G O L F E R | M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 5 40_VSGA_MayJune15.indd 40 As for McIlroy, he’d make the ideal counterpart in a mano-a-mano scenario. All of 25 years old, he’s the first European to win three different majors. He joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to capture three majors by the time he’d hit the quartercentury mark. Even the fact that Spieth is American and McIlroy European lends an air of international intrigue and spice. But any investigation into “great golf rivalries” reveals precious little human element. Take Arnold Palmer versus Nicklaus, the quintessential golf rivalry. Tour events are where rivalries germinate. Majors are where they blossom. Palmer won seven majors during his epic career, but Nicklaus finished second in only two of them, including the 1964 Masters that Arnie won by six strokes. Conversely, of Nicklaus’ 18 major titles, Palmer was thrice runner-up—once by four, once by nine. What about Watson-Nicklaus? Watson never finished second to Nicklaus in a major. Nicklaus, on the other hand, finished second to Watson four times, never by more than two shots. It’s the foreword and maybe a chapter or two toward greatness, but it all transpired over a seven-year period. If only it could have continued. Woods-Mickelson? Of Tiger’s 14 major wins, Phil’s finished second just once, at the 2002 U.S. Open. And Woods began the final day with a four-shot lead and finished the day three in front. Heck, Chris DiMarco has given Tiger more of a run for his money in the majors. He’s finished second to him twice, including a playoff loss in the 2005 Masters. As for Phil, in the five majors he’s won, he’s never had to outduel Tiger. For all the prodigious talent these two possess, they’ve never been in the ring together. Ali-Frazier, it ain’t. Who else you got? Sam Snead and Ben Hogan? Score it 1-1. Snead came from three behind in the 1954 Masters to outlast Hogan in a playoff. Hogan walloped Snead by six in the 1953 U.S. Open, his largest margin of victory in a major. Do we really want to go back to Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen? We’re not that desperate to stir up something, are we? Let’s face it; how many times have we heard players insist they’re playing against the course, or themselves? How many players even refuse to look at the scoreboard during tournament competition? As far as Spieth and McIlroy are concerned, there’s no bounty on either’s head, no bonus (that we’re aware of) for beating the other guy. These aren’t the contentious days of yore. There was a line of players waiting to congratulate Spieth after his walk off 18 in Augusta. It’s hard to build enmity for someone when you are patting him on the back, not stabbing him in it. Spieth says McIlroy is “an unbelievably nice guy” who has something—lots of victories—he can only dream of. Sure, they’ll see each other on the game’s four biggest stages. But let’s give this brew time to ferment. They’ve got to prove that they have what it takes to vie for the lead role, year after year, in the States and overseas. They had a chance to start ascrappin’ at the WGC Match Play Championship in early May. And while there’s no shame in losing to Lee Westwood, Spieth didn’t exactly cover himself in glory by bowing out on Friday. McIlroy, meanwhile, captured a monumental match with Paul Casey and outlasted the suddenly formidable again Jim Furyk before carving up Gary Woodland, 4 and 2, in a ho-hum final. Spieth versus McIlroy might turn out to be a rivalry for the ages. But, if you are already marking it down on your scorecard after the American’s first major victory, even Spieth suggests you use a pencil. Columnist Jim Ducibella retired in 2008 after 27 years at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. A 2010 inductee into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, his second book, King of Clubs: The Great Golf Marathon of 1938, is available in bookstores or by ordering online. TOP: THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT; ROSS KINNAIRD/R&A/GETTY IMAGES The Next Great Rivalry? Not So Fast w w w. v s g a . o r g 5/8/15 11:58 AM