Everybody has a few golfers out there that they just like for seemingly no reason. It could be because they won in your hometown, they are sponsored by your favorite brand, or because even the dress in a strange way. Much like picking favorite sports team, picking a favorite golfer doesn’t have to be rational. In fact, a friend of mine from northern New Jersey is a die-hard Miami Dolphins fan. Why? Because as a kid he liked their team colors.
With parity becoming more and more prevalent in sports, stories like that (or at least the golf version, say, Ian Poulter’s love of pink) are becoming more popular. Tiger and Phil haven’t done as much as we were accustomed to over last few years, and their poor play has paved the way for many new faces to get time on T.V. Thanks to the PGA Tour’s lenient rules that allow past greats to hang around, older guys have been able to stay on the radar.
Though I consider myself primarily a Tiger fan (which shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who reads our forum), I love the game of golf more than anything. But when the big names aren’t playing and there is no one to root for, it can be tough to stay interested. Watching Webb Simpson maintain the same demeanor for 72 holes isn’t worth the time cost of admission. But I love seeing golf, and I enjoy watching even mediocre (by Tour standards) golfers circle the world’s best courses, so I’ve end up picking a few other players to root for. The reasons aren’t always logical, and sometimes my reasoning isn’t iron-clad, but it’s fun to always have a dog in the fight. From John Feinstein’s dog Matt Kuchar, to The Big Fijian, here is my list of five golfers that, for better or for worse, I just like.
Number Five: Matt Kuchar
The first I ever heard of Matt Kuchar was in John Feinstein’s book, The Majors. As the name implies, the book chronicles the four major championships of 1998. Kuchar didn’t win any, but as 1997 U.S. Amateur Champion he was entered into the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the Open Championship. Feinstein didn’t write a whole lot about Matt Kuchar, but Peter Kuchar (now known for the Bridgestone golf ball commercials), Matt’s father, did make quite an impression on the golf writer. According to Feinstein, Peter was a little too exuberant a cheerleader/caddie, and he was out of place at tradition-loving Augusta. When I read the book I felt that one thing was lost in translation; the 1997 U.S. Amateur champion. Matt was seldom mentioned absent of his father, and in my opinion Matt’s own attitude deserved better. Since then I have rooted for Kuchar to make a name for himself, and it was great to see him win the money title in 2010.
Number Four: Jim Furyk
I have no real reason to like Jim Furyk. In reality, we are total opposites. Furyk is old(er), while I’m younger. Furyk is tall and wiry and I am, well, not. I consider myself a very mechanical golfer and someone who aims to learn as much as I can about the golf swing, while Furyk is the only pro golfer whose swing could legitimately compared to an eight-legged mollusk. In fact, Jim Furyk’s swing is often used as a counterpoint to the golf swing. “You need to be on plane here? Jim Furyk isn’t. You need a good tempo? Jim Furyk’s swing looks like random flailing.” Furyk’s swing is anti-perfect but it works for him, and I suppose in some weird roundabout fashion, that is why I like him. Because he has so much talent, he can swing the way he does. Because he has practiced so hard over his career, he can make all of the compensations that he wants to, and still get away with it. And because he trusts his swing, a swing that takes a lot of balls to have any sort of faith in.
Number Three: Vijay Singh
I’ll make no bones about it, I’ve always been a fan of Tiger’s game. Thus, when Vijay eclipsed Tiger for the number one ranking back in 2004, I did not think I would like Vijay. But you know what? Vijay earned that top ranking with nine wins in 2004 and four more in 2005, which is a lot more than some of the recent world number ones can say. No matter who you are a fan of, that was impressive. Fast forward to 2008, when Tiger was out with a knee injury following the U.S. Open. That summer showcased Vijay’s epic battles with Sergio Garcia, and his subsequent winning of the FedExCup kept many of us watching. His victory in the Bridgestone, one of my favorite events of the year, early in August was exciting, and he made the FedExCup fun to watch with his playoff win at the Barclays. It was even more exciting seeing Vijay will himself to victory at the Deutsche Bank, telling himself “I am the greatest putter in the world.” That event is played just 20 minutes from where I live, and the area is always abuzz with golf fever. Here’s hoping we see Vijay Singh atop the leaderboard a few times this year.
Number Two: Sean O’Hair
I started liking Sean O’Hair the first time I heard his story, which was back at the 2008 Bay Hill Invitational. Most golf fans know the events of that tournament. Tiger makes a 72nd-hole curling putt to win, he throws the hat down, forgets he threw the hat, and wins again next year. What many people don’t know is that Sean O’Hair came in third in that 2008 tournament, and second the next year (after blowing a five-stroke lead). His finish at the ’08 Invitational came hot off the second win of his career at the PODS Championship. But that’s not really why I like him. During those high finishes, the commentators were given a chance to tell the tale about his life, and it’s an interesting one.
Sean O’Hair was born July 11th, 1982, in Lubbock, Texas. After rising to the number two junior golfer in the country, Sean turned professional during his junior year of high school in 1999 at the age of 17. The family moved to Florida and Sean was entered into the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. O’Hair’s father Marc claims to have spent two million dollars on Sean’s career. So far, not so bad, right? Well Marc O’Hair was an alcoholic, and after quitting in 1995, Sean says that he “gave up one obsession for another.” That other obsession was Sean’s golf game. Sean was subjected to a military-style training regimen that “would make drill sergeants blush,” and his father devised a contract that would give him ten percent of Sean’s career earnings.
Only in 2005, when Sean had established himself as a regular PGA Tour player, did Marc O’Hair break that contract by faxing a 17-page letter to media outlets, the ultimate act of cowardice. Sean hasn’t spoken to his father since 2001 outside of a brief conversation at Sean’s 2002 wedding. O’Hair’s relationship with his father has been the subject of pieces by Golf Digest, GolfWeek, and 60 Minutes. But the reason that I like Sean O’Hair isn’t just what he went through, it’s because he went through all that he did and came out the other end. At 29 years old, Sean is one of just a handful of players in four PGA Tour wins in their 20s, and his career looks to be on the up and up. O’Hair, under the tutelage of Sean Foley, has what Johnny Miller and many others consider to be one of the best swings in golf, and despite an up-and-down 2011 that included a win and eleven missed cuts, he’s gotten off to a solid start this year.
Number One: David Duval
Again, there is no rational reason I should like David Duval. He won his first and only major in 2001, when I didn’t even watch golf. Duval hasn’t made a cut yet this year, and he made just nine cuts in 24 events last season. He has had the odd high finish here and there (almost exclusively in Fall series or west-coast swing events), but after his British Open, his career fell off fast, and hard. He even registered what has to be one of the worst seasons in history in 2005, making just one cut (at the Valero Texas Open) in 20 events. Four years after making nearly three million dollars in 2011, Duval scrapped together less than eight thousand in ’05. What made Duval’s bust to boom and then back to bust story nearly come full circle was the 2009 U.S. Open.
After coming out of the gate with a rounds of three-under and even par on Thursday and Friday, Duval was five strokes back going into the weekend. With Tiger Woods over par and Phil a few back, Duval slogged through the rain and posted another round of even par on Saturday. Behind only Ricky Barnes and Lucas Glover, Duval watched player after player post high numbers. Barnes imploded and Glover posted an above-par round, but Duval was unable to capitalize. His one-over round left his two shots back. Though he didn’t win, the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage was one of the most memorable U.S. Opens in recent memory not won by Tiger Woods.
Closing and Your Thoughts?
Outside of everyone’s favorites players Tiger and Phil (and, increasingly, Rory McIlroy), the personalities seem to drop off rapidly. While that’s true for most guys (it might be more interesting to talk to a wall than converse with Webb Simpson), some players would shine if they got the television coverage. I’ve taken to rooting for a bunch of the lesser Tour players; a few has-beens, a few never-wases, and even an up-and-comer. So those are my favorites, who ya got?