Is 2014 the Year of Mr. Nobody?

Many of the winners in the 2014 PGA Tour season are unknowns to even the most regular golf fans.

Thrash TalkIf you are a steady golf fan you surely share my opinion that 2014 is off to a slow start. We’re already at the end of April, and most of the tournaments have been won by guys we’ve hardly heard about prior. Sure, Bubba won the Masters again, but outside of him and Jason Day winning the Match Play, I am relatively unfamiliar with any of the other winners.

Matt Jones in Houston, yup, never heard much about him before. Jimmy Walker with two wins in 2014, I mean I have heard of him before, but I can’t say I really know much about him. Russell Henley, I watched him play on the tour, and it is great to see someone like him carry on that success to the PGA Tour but I really don’t know much about him. Same with Steven Bowditch. Kevin Stadler, without his famous Dad I am not sure I would know much about him as well. The PGA Tour is being taken over by unknowns, a parade of Mr. Nobody.

There is the argument that this is cyclical. That there was a lull from when Jack Nicklaus was dominant to when Tiger hit the scene. You could call this period basically 1985 to 1995. This period was not devoid of characters, as we had Seve, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Payne Stewart, and the tail end of the careers of Tom Watson and Lee Trevino. Only Tom Watson and Lee Trevino from this group even crack the top 20 of all-time winners on the PGA Tour. For all the hype that Greg Norman generated during his prolonged run at World Number One, he is tied with Davis Love III and a few others at 33rd for all-time wins on the PGA Tour.

This ten-year period 1985 to 1995 appears quite dry for PGA Tour winners. It may be that we are entering another cycle such as this. There are guys who can be contenders such as Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, but it is unlikely that they will dominate as Tiger has. Tiger has brought so much money to the game of golf that he has made it easy for guys to make a living winning a few tournaments, maybe even less than one per year, and have a good career. This has led to stagnation among the better players on the PGA Tour. Other than Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els there are no golfers in the top 50 from the current generation of golfers. I am going to dub this new period that we are entering now “The Mr. Nobody Years.”

Russell Henley

It is not that I don’t like the current crop of winners on the PGA Tour. I watched an episode of “Inside the PGA Tour” hosted by Russell Henley, and he seemed like a nice enough guy. Actually a pretty down-to-earth guy. Still, it does seem that he will be very comfortable winning a tournament every couple of years and if he is lucky grab a major whilst he is at it. Mostly a middle of the road type player. It seems that any of the current crop of winners, Matt Jones, Matt Every, could easily be substituted in there for Russell.

The PGA Tour needs to do a better job helping us to get to know these guys, and in addition these guys need to remember that they are also on a stage. I am not saying they need to act like people they are not, but how about acting with some flair? Look a generation ago no farther than Chi Chi Rodriguez. After a birdie or towards the end after any long putt went in, we got a show. He’d swing his putter around like he was attacking a bull. As a young golfer, I watched this and it made me think what a great game golf was! Look at this guy having so much fun while he played the game. I became a fan and watched golf just to see him put on the show. I can remember watching Craig Stadler and waiting for the guy with the walrus mustache to miss a shot just to see his animated response. It was always an instant classic. It was great theater.

Miguel Angel Jimenez seems to understand this a bit. He has these crazy stretching routines then goes out to play smoking a cigar and being a great character. I think the PGA Tour needs more of this type of guy. One of the other two current guys I can call out are Boo Weekley. I think he could do much more, but he has the basis of a great character. Backwoods hunter with a thick accent who rides his driver down the fairway at the Ryder Cup. Same with Bubba Watson, the back-home golfer with the homemade swing that has never taken a lesson. I am hopeful as Boo and Bubba get a bit older they get deeper into their character and make the show as good as their golf games are.

Sadly, I think we are going to see less guys like Jimenez and more like Henley. Nice guys but lacking a character that draws people to watch the game. This will hurt the PGA Tour. Less people will tune in especially kids because there is not much to watch other than a robots wearing visors and giving a curt tip of the cap when a birdie goes in.

Photo credits: © Marco Garcia.

2 thoughts on “Is 2014 the Year of Mr. Nobody?”

  1. I assume you’ve heard of Matt Kuchar, right? But I agree… it really looked like we wouldn’t have to suffer thru a period of ‘down’ years when Rory starting winning Majors, but it just feels like he doesn’t have the mental fortitude that Tiger had at that age to deal with the stress that comes with the $$ and fame and criticizm. Opposite side of the coin for Spieth… he seems to that same killer competitive attitude Tiger had, but lacks the phenom talent of a guy like Rory… Tiger was essentially Rory’s talent combined with Spieth’s head… but better.

  2. How do we differentiate between Mr Nobody and a changing of the guard though? Every multiple winner has to win their first tournament once. Almost by definition, if some of these named go on, then they won’t be Mr Nobodies. Will they go on though?

    I’m not completely sure of the validity of the 1985-95 haitus argument. What I sense you’re describing is the lack of American winners. It sounds more nationalistic than golfistic. A fair few of those named weren’t full time on the American tour, so I’m not sure that PGA career wins is the correct baramoter to use anyway. As you say, Norman achieved a world ranking of number 1 (so did Woosnam if you stretch the time frame to the late 80’s). Faldo won 6 majors (more than Mickelson), and Ballesteros needs little advocacy

    We’d probably tend to view things through the prism of the Open championship a bit more by contrast, and with the benefit of temporal horizons, would say that the period 1999 – 2004 would be the Mr Nobody. Paul Lawrie, Todd Hamilton & Ben Curtis. If memory serves me right, had Tiger not gone through an injury stage again in this period and we suddenly had quite a few different winners of the majors in the Hamiton/ Curtis window? I do recall reading something which suggested that advances in equipment was the reason, and that courses hadn’t responded in this age-old arms race. The idea was simple enough. If equipment design allowed 95% of a field to reach a green in regulation, then all you create is a glorified putting competition, and that this was responsible for a spate of previously unheralded winners who just happen to hit the zone when it mattered. It became a bit of a lottery

    I think your wider point about lack of characters however is fair enough and its always been an issue for golf given that it isn’t a naturally demonstrative sport capable of generating passion to the same extent that a faster moving game, or long standing team with geographic identity and history can.

    I always had the impression that Faldo was more popular in the US than he was the UK. In the UK he was regarded as being semi-android and pretty well anodyne (despite having a very colourful personal life) but he did little to get the public imagination fired up.

    I suspect you’re right however, in that the American structure in particular (probably guided by sports management companies anxious to protect the market value of their commodities) is churning out a production line of identikit, clean living, must say the right thing, polite young gentlemen etc Send for John Daly!!! I don’t really see that Europe has got characters either though other than someone who desperately wants to draw attention to himself like Poulter, or the ageing Jiminez, or perhaps Darren Clarke who has been known to enjoy a drink

    Dubisson might have the potential to allow his flair to do the talking (Ballesteros) but there does seem to be something going on when yet another white trouser wearing, clean living college kid appears to proclaim his love for his family and faith.

    Final thought on this, is that I wouldn’t point the finger at Woods quite so much (although I recongise that you’re saying he brought the money into the game rather than prescribe a role model of behaviour). Personally I suspect the player who has most cultivated this ‘all-American’ image and handed down a template as to how to make money from doing so (not always by winning as Woods has tended to) is actually Phil Mickelson. I suspect he’s the player (or brand) that the new generation are trying to replicate most. I don’t sense we fall for it quite so much on this side of the Atlantic, and adopt an altogether more cynical view of this kind of posturing.If its the lack of character that you’re bemoaning though, I’d tend to look at Mickelson as the genesis and the dead-hand of groups like IMG

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