He's a nice guy. Really nice. So nice he cries tears of joy every time he wins. I can buy that. Actually I can root for that. A pro athlete who really cares, whose default emotion is to weep, rather than throw a club and drop F-bombs on live TV. Steve Stricker's the opposite of everything I can't stand in His Tigerness, so in theory I should be president of the Stricker fan club.
But that's where I'm stumped. I see Stricker's name on the leaderboard and I might as well have taken an Ambien. There's no spark, no sizzle, no swagger, no pop. So what is it I look for as a golf fan?
I guess the best way to define it is to run down the list and see if there's a pattern.
I never saw Arnold Palmer in his prime. Never even saw him competitive on the senior circuit. But I saw him at a charity skins game with Michelle McGann in the 90s and knew right away why he's so beloved. He connects with the fans and he's number one in the hearts of the gallery.
From the minute I started watching golf, I felt the same with Mickelson. He's fallible, as all his disappointments prove. And he's always on the verge of something amazing, like the front nine at last year's Masters. Follow him at a tournament and he'll fist bump between greens and tees. He'll acknowledge a "keep your head up Phil" after a bogey. Unlike Tiger who stays as far from the ropes as possible, Phil relishes the crowd. Sure, he's more successful making friends than winning majors, but that's just fine by me, although there have been simply too many duds and not enough roars since Winged Foot.
Verdict: Unabashed Phil fanatic, but need more payoff for all the heartbreak.
In theory, I can't stand him. In reality, I can be as captivated by him as any. He's robotic, he's aloof, and he acts like a child on the golf course. Just like pro wrestling, sometimes it's more fun to root against a so-called villain, and for me, Tiger fits this mold. He's the best, he's so far and away the best it's not up for debate. It was so easy to root for Y.E. Yang as he took down Goliath, just as we will root for San Houston State to beat Duke during March Madness. Although I'm the first to admit there are certain Sundays I'm left with jaw on the floor and Woods works his magic.
Verdict: The perfect villain. Respect his greatness, hate his act.
Another villain, you really need to love a bad boy to jump on his bandwagon. He's got charisma and he'll be anything but boring, but for a guy who's accomplished nothing, he gets a lot of attention. He comes across as one of the most self-important guys out there. From spitting into the cup to ripping Augusta National, he never seems to have left his teenage immaturity behind.
Verdict: Golf would be far more boring without guys like Sergio, but I'd love to see him beaten down the stretch any Sunday.
Here's a guy who has crept up on me the past couple years. I think he's got a bit of Greg Norman to him. Foreign mystique, sweet swing, commands a presence. They say Norman was someone guys wanted to be, and women wanted to be with. I'd say Scott fits this mold. Check out his site and it just screams class, jetsetter, and a cool customer - and not in a table service, Vegas nightclub, d-bag way.
Verdict: If my wife and I can agree on watching someone play golf, he's got to be doing something right.
First, as someone whose played Wilson Staff irons for 15 years, there's a connection. Second, the guy is real. Seeing him in person work the crowd last summer was astonishing. He's a multiple major champion who spent 30 minutes getting from the clubhouse to the range because he stopped to sign every single autograph request (the same walk Ernie Els, Mike Weir, and many others navigated without breaking stride). Third, the guy can flat out win. Fourth, he sure can lose, and losing in shocking fashion (bladed flop shot into the pond anyone?) can be just as endearing.
Verdict: A proven winner who's well grounded is hard to beat.
The "Who Cares" Crew
Scanning the top 20, there are more names that make me hunch than get my juices flowing. Jim Furyk is the king of this group. Kenny Perry, Robert Allenby, Geoff Ogilvy and Zach Johnson all induce a yawn. Westwood's always intrigued me but he's choked more times than Mickelson without the tragedy. And world number 20 - Retief Goosen - gets a place in my all-time Boring Hall of Fame. Between him and Vijay Singh, I couldn't tell you who puts me to sleep first.
Verdict: Need to do something more than rack up Top 10s to gain my love.
The "It" Group
There are a bunch of players who get a lot of buzz these days, and I can see why. I'm far from an ageist, because I'd love nothing more than see Ernie Els reach the top five again, but there's no coincidence I find myself rooting for the young guns. Maybe it's the desire for something fresh, or the fact they've got the pizzazz I'm been yammering on about. But give me Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Anthony Kim any day. Hell, I'll even toss Ryan Moore on this list. Can't stand his wardrobe and he looks like he's too cool for school, but I'm warming up to him, because he stands out.
Verdict: The Tour is desperate for excitement and so am I. These guys can inject it.
I'm not sure it's possible to apply any sort rationale to what sort of guy I root for. I know he's got to have charisma, and carry himself with class. He might be a big winner, or a lovable loser, but whichever it is, it's got to be dramatic. All in all, I guess it's all about the personality, and simply enough, it's a gut feel. Am I missing a common thread? If so, I'd love to hear it.
Photo Credits: © Erik J. Barzeski / The Sand Trap .com.