I love to hear stories about the “old days”, how things used to be and debate as to whether or not a certain player would lead the PGA Tour money list if he/she could play with today’s equipment.
First, let me state right off the top that any person who won and was a champion in any era would be a winner and a champion in another era.
Being a champion must include a certain amount of talent, effort, desire, hard work and luck, but it also comes with heart. Then, there is the undefinable “it” factor, an ability to take grasp of the moment -not all champions have it.
Most recently, we saw Jordan Spieth (who has “it”) win a playoff against Daniel Berger in the Travelers Championship. Berger played superb golf with few, if any, errors. He drove well, hit precise iron shots and made a few really nice putts on the back nine.
Also on the back nine, Spieth drove into two nearly impossible situations, one with a three wood and the other with a hybrid. Both were horrible shots from which he managed to escape.
In all honesty, he could have suffered large penalties with either and been eliminated from contention but he didn’t. Instead he managed to jockey himself into a tie.
In the playoff, Spieth sensing his lack of control with a driver, used a hybrid off the tee and hit the ball into a tree that protects the left side of the fairway.
The ball crashed into the caressing boughs which embraced his ball and flung it back into the fairway. Without the tree, Spieth would have hit the ball out of bounds a distance of over 80 yards from the fairway. Instead he drilled a long iron into the bunker in front of the green and holed out for a birdie and the victory.
Jordan Spieth who, in my opinion is the best putter from 15 to 30 feet I have ever seen has won events like this before. While we are at it, he is not reliable from inside four feet. However, he succeeds with the most unlikely of shots at the most critical of times.
That was evident at the Open Championship, where Spieth was lucky to escape with a bogey on the 13th hole of the final round and then went five under the rest of the way to claim the Claret Jug. Jack Nicklaus, when he was at Glen Abbey earlier this week, said Matt Kuchar, who seemed ready to claim victory at Royal Birkdale, didn’t lose the tournament, he just ran into a buzzsaw named Jordan Spieth.
Spieth has the “it” factor.
Tiger had it. Jack had it. Arnie had it.
Phil didn’t have it. Faldo didn’t have it. Greg Norman didn’t have it.
In Norman’s case, he won simply by outplaying his opponents, but he was upended so many times by unexpected shots. Strangely, Norman does have the “it” factor when it comes to off-course business.
The inner belief, the confidence, past experience, upbringing, never-say-die, it ain’t over until it’s over and then divine intervention becomes evident, but it must be in the most high profile, most theatrical, most pressure filled moment. Holing out from the fairway on the first hole doesn’t count as having “it,” but doing it on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open does.
Over and over and over, Jack made a putt on the 18th green to win. Sure, he made them during the tournament as well, but in the quarter century or more that he dominated, nobody made more putts of meaning on the final green.
As his career ambled along we began to think he might make it, and then we thought he’d probably make it and then we were sure he would make it. At the same time, a similar evolution was taking place with the other players and with Jack himself. The more often he sunk a putt, the more he believed he would and so did everyone else.
Media, fans and players began to describe the back nine of a tournament with Jack in contention as hearing “bear tracks.” Basically, it meant the fans knew Jack was going to win, Jack knew Jack was going to win and the other players knew Jack was going to win. Bingo! A self-fulfilling prophecy.
It has been said that successful careers begin with a winning start. Jack’s first victory was the U.S. Open, a strong jump start. It didn’t take long to realize this blond guy from Ohio was not only here to stay, but his career was going to leave us spellbound for a long time.
Tiger’s career was a bit different.
Although he held the same intimidation factor among the other players, he simply had too much game on Sunday. Regardless of whether he exerted enough pressure on challenging players to cause an effect on their performance, he also posted lower scores lower than others.
In winning 79 times on the PGA Tour he won by more than one stroke over 2/3rd’s of the time. He did have “it” as we saw many times accompanied by his fist-pumping celebrations. Woods could conjure up all kinds of magic exactly when it mattered the most.
You cannot teach the components of “it” and you cannot learn it. Stephen Ames once called him the “chosen one.”
Another of Ames’ famous remarks alluded to Tiger’s incredible gift for finding his ball in very favourable circumstances after his physical talents deserted his tee shot swing.
Wood’s had a knack for always having a shot, regardless of how far off-line he hit the ball. However, you must concede that capitalizing on such situations requires two superior skills. The ability to recognize an opportunity and the ability to pull it off, including sinking the putt after such heroics.
The days of Tiger Woods are gone, lost to the villain we will all succumb to, that being time. He is past his best before date.
Nobody will ever know why his career ended before we think it should have. Some will speculate about his vigorous weight training, his bizarre lifestyle, his vicious golf swing or simply that’s all he allowed to have.
Regardless, he did have “it.”
He was a Champion because he had the physical talent, the upbringing, effort, desire, hard work, luck and he had the heart, but more than anything he had “it.”
“It” isn’t charisma. It isn’t definable. It comes along rarely. Jack, Arnie, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Tiger Woods and now Jordan Spieth all were given “it.” We have seen great golfers and great champions, but only a limited few have had that one thing completely out of the grasp of most.