Golf’s galaxy arrives and tees off today in the Farmer’s Insurance Open at the beauty that is Torrey Pines.
We will see the stars, the ones who hope to be, and sadly, the fading ones too.
The PGA Tour is so very diverse now. No longer dominated by the future Hall of Famers, splashed instead with a cross section of young college stars from America, and an international roster of the best there is out there.
The names still draw the big galleries, and the network coverage, but for every Martin Kaymer, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson that groups follow, there will be an entourage stretching fairways, jamming around the tee, and sitting five rows deep on the greens to see the favorites, remembering what they used to be, hoping there is still some left.
They follow, cheer, hope for the best for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. The historical polls would say the Orange County native, Woods, and the Rancho Santa Fe son, Phil, are still the favorites of the fans, and the poll says Woods and Mickelson love playing at Torrey Pines, Tiger with 7-wins here, Phil with a trio.
But that was then, and this is now. Neither is what they used to be, and chances of them ever dominating in the future grows dimmer by the week.
Woods most heroic win was at Torrey in the US Open, playing on one leg. The scenes of him limping, dragging a broken leg around the course, and making shots are forever burned in the mind of fans. Mickelson, the fan’s man, makes shots, hits ball into the gallery, and is loved for his self critique “I am such an idiot”.
But these are tough times. Tiger has changed clubs, changed coaches, changed swings, trying to get his game back to health. But getting his physical health back may be the bigger challenge. The Achilles, the calf, the knee, the back surgery, has diminished his game. The violent torque of his swing has taken its toll. The enormous weight training program as a young stud, may have damaged him permanently.
The stare and glare, and the blazing red-shirt on Sunday, has been replaced by curses, frowns,failed shots and soaring scores in red on the leaderboard..
An 82-last Friday in Scottsdale drove home the sad fact, his best days may be forever gone. His scorecards read missing the cut in the PGA, at the Congressional, and last week’s Phoenix Open; pulling out at Firestone and the Honda: a 41st at Dubai, a 69th at the British Open. He hasn’t won a major since 2008. In chunks of time, he is wild off the tee, horrible chipping it, and missing what used to be slam dunk putts.
And of course his trophy hunting golf game has been damaged by his trophy hunting game for women reputation. I don’t think he ever recovered from the lies of life, to his wife, to his fans and then to his sponsors. Selling an image, buy my car, my gear, my clothes, my sales pitch. In modern day sports, no one, not even Mike Tyson, has taken a bigger fall down the elevator shaft of credibility. .
For Mickelson, though still wildly popular, it has been a drought almost equal to the drought in California. Since winning the Open in Scotland in 2013, Lefty has had only 2-top ten finishes. It’s not so much aches and pains, but maybe age. The completeness of his game seems to have gone away. He makes fewer and fewer tourney appearances, and it appears the twilight of his career is almost upon us.
But the excellence of the husband helping his wife battle cancer, his charity work, his smile, his autograph sessions, his self-effacing personality still sells his greatness.
So we walk the Torrey Pines course the next four days, waiting to see which phenom puts up a good round, and who makes a run. You applaud Tiger and Phil, not for what they are doing now, but what they did in the past, and how much you appreciate their personalities, whether it was prickly (Woods) or the every-man can (Phil).
Wishing that Rory McIlroy would make San Diego a stop on the tour, and bring his flair and fine shot making to this course. Of course, when Dubai offers a huge appearance fee, plus big prize money, you know why McIlroy and his relentless game and persona play abroad.
The galaxy is upon us this weekend, even if our favorite stars don’t shine as bright as they did before.