A very wide stripe of humanity has become very good at this very hard game of golf.
Into the great unknown
Anonymous major winners seem to be the norm in golf these days. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Questions and answers after the US PGA Championship and the completion of the four golf majors of 2011:
Had you heard of him before?
Yes, but I had to remind myself I had. I follow golf ardently but not maniacally. I read a feature last winter reminding me he's the nephew of Pat Bradley of the LPGA Hall of Fame and that he had finished 14th on the feeder Nationwide Tour to debut on the PGA Tour. It briefly passed my frantic eyes that he won a PGA Tour event this year, the Byron Nelson in Texas, and nobody should sneer at that.
Does it annoy you that with so many anonymous winners, you would have to follow golf maniacally to keep abreast of the majors?
Somewhat. It annoys the old portion of my brain but not the new. The old portion says majors should reward sustained excellence rather than fleeting flourishes. And with 11 first-time winners in the last 13 majors, with this whole exercise turned into something unpredictable and a hotchpotch, we live in a world in which Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel have major titles but Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood do not, in which YE Yang and Keegan Bradley have majors but Steve Stricker and No 1 Luke Donald do not, in which Lucas Glover has a major and Jason Dufner a play-off for a major (in fading to Bradley), but Adam Scott and KJ Choi do not. Rather than your odd Ben Curtis here or Todd Hamilton there, it is rampant, anonymity just rampaging over the manicured earth.
Is this the fault of Tiger Woods?
Most everything is, these days.
OK, so it's a weird era, but what says the new portion of the brain?
A very wide stripe of humanity has become very good at this very hard game. After winning on Sunday, Bradley brought up names such as "Chris Kirk, Jamie Lovemark," names completely unrecognisable to anybody but next-of-kin and hopeless golf freaks, and lumped them in among "all of these guys who are just so good. They are so good, any one of them can win [any] week." Clearly.
So, what is the coolest thing about this Bradley?
I would call it a tie between the oddity of his cold-weather home state, Vermont, and his affinity for his aunt, who hoarded six majors and 31 titles. Here is another of those young males - 25 years old - with an appreciation for the female athlete, another cog in this considerable change in worldwide culture. He grew up "totally idolising her," he said, and added: "I remember as a kid going to her tournaments and literally staring her in the face, and I'm her nephew, and she was so into it, she would not even recognise me. And I thought that was cool."
OK, but what becomes of these upstart champions after they win their majors?
That's the thing. The 10 first-time winners in the last 11 majors have played an aggregate 48 major tournaments after their crescendos. They have missed 20 cuts, posted only five top-10 finishes, landed in the top five just twice and the top three only once. The best finish among the lot of them? Yang took third at the 2011 US Open, when taking third behind Rory McIlroy was a lot like taking third behind Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters: you're so far behind that your score ought to appear on a different page. They have not exactly cemented their major statuses.
Is this bad for the game?
I love the game and find it so remorseless that anybody who can master it impresses me but, yes, from a general public standpoint I find arguing that it's good to be decidedly uphill. Television viewers like television stars.
Has one of these from-the-shadows newcomers done the best?
Schwartzel of Vereeniging, South Africa, has followed up on his 2011 Masters title with finishes of T-9, T-16 and T-12. Commendable.
Does Woods finishing outside the top 100 for the first time in a major mean anything special?
It means we should have heard the last residue of any argument that this swing change lull in any way resembles the past two swing change "lulls" that did not really qualify as lulls. This would be much deeper, much more severe and much more of a shambles.
What about the belly putter and Bradley becoming the first to win a major with that?
Now, that is one fair question. In addition to signalling the decline of all human civilisation, it warrants the removal of the PGA as a major, on that basis alone.