March 11, 2014
Player of the Year Revisited
So who was golf’s Player of the Year? First consider the definition. Classically it has come to mean the person who won most majors titles, or sometime just total titles accumulated during a season. In other words, choice is limited to a decision between four or five players, normally names you’ll find atop the world rankings.
This year that meant choosing between Tiger Woods, five wins but no majors, Phil Mickelson, whose Open Championship heroics gave him the third leg of a career Grand Slam and Adam Scott, resurgent winner at Augusta after a mind-shattering collapse in the 2012 British.
Yet for my Player of the Year it was none of the above, although my choice did receive the “Atta-Boy” lesser acknowledgment of Rookie of the Year. Considering he wasn’t even a member of the PGA Tour until a couple of months before season-end, that seems faint praise for one of the most outstanding seasons in recent history.
Yes, my choice is Jordan Speith: and because my definition of POY is the person who achieved most in the annual timeframe, 20-year old Speith is the runaway winner.
I can’t produce much historical evidence to support this, which to be clear is not identifying the greatest player, or the most sustained player, or even the most electrifying player but merely as the title asserts, the person who did most in a twelve month period to identify himself as a truly great competitor. History does however suggest a couple of examples.
In 1868, at age 17, Young Tom Morris won the first of his four consecutive Open Championship titles, beating his father and perennial Golfer of the Year, Old Tom, by making up a two-stroke deficit in deciding round. In 1922, 20-year old rookie Gene Sarazen won both the US Open and the PGA Championship in his first attempt, sweeping aside perennial Player of the Year Walter Hagen. True, Morris and Sarazen won ‘majors’ but in such very different times I hold the analogies at least partly valid.
Perhaps the up-graph curve best illustrates Speith’s extraordinary nine months. In December 2012, at age 19, he turned professional without status on any tour. In April he was fortunate, as a result of a friendship with fellow Texan Tim Kite, to receive a sponsor’s exemption to the Puerto Rico Open, where he finished second. That led to a temporary Tour Card, a field spot the following week in Tampa, followed by top-10s at Hilton Head, Colonial, Congressional, yet still a Tour temporary member.
In mid-July Speith recorded his first win, the John Deere Classic, leapfrogging into the major leagues and full Tour status, followed by a title playoff (loss) at the Wyndham Championship, then a final-round 62 at the Deutsche Bank Championship to get into the Tour Championship and finally, chosen by Fred Couples to represent the US in the Presidents Cup.
True Woods, Mickelson and Scott had stellar seasons, but did theirs match Speith? Well, not in my book.