Ever since Eve listened to the charming snake instead of boring old God and Adam, style has initially triumphed in its endless battles with substance.
But of course, substance always wins out in the end. Such is what we’re seeing in the new breed of golfing superstar. This new era seems to have accelerated in the events of the last week.
Tiger Woods’ fearsome accident and multiple injuries have certainly put a huge question mark on whether he will play competitively again.
Even when he was capable – I would never say “fit” because he hasn’t looked that for years – Tiger’s time was clearly running out.
While Tiger was in an LA hospital bed contemplating the long battle simply to get on his feet again, Phil Mickelson was off playing with the Seniors instead of a WGC event.
The two most readily identifiable golfers – in the US market at, least – of the past 20 years. The end of this era may have come already.
The headliner isn’t even the best player
So who’s next? If you weren’t totally cognisant of the week-to-week workings of golf and just stumbled in blind, you’d be forgiven for thinking that super-sciency Bryson DeChambeau was the heir apparent to be chief man in all of golf.
Bryson “moves the needle”, and we’re told this is the primary purpose of all things.
Even last week, as he played decently but modestly for a tied-22 finish at the WGC Workday at the Concession, Bryson was still getting the attention.
As players queued up to make their tributes to the stricken Woods, it seemed in many outlets that Bryson’s “heartbreak” was second only to Jack Nicklaus’ as worthy of reference.
"Heartbroken and shocked to hear about Tiger Woods' accident today."
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) February 24, 2021
In the tournament itself, Bryson shot a first round 77 followed by a course record 64. Spectacular stuff, and as we’ve said before countless times in T2G while poking fun at DeChambeau, there’s a really good golfer there under all the bluster and noise.
Morikawa’s quietly superior year
But in my mind the new breed was better represented by the top of the leaderboard and especially the winner of the title. Collin Morikawa has in almost every measurement – save driving distance – been better than DeChambeau in the last year.
Bryson won an early post-lockdown event in 2020, but so did Morikawa. Bryson won a major in 2020, but so did Morikawa. Collin finished 6th in the FedEx Cup in 2020, Bryson was 22nd. And on Sunday Morikawa won from the front in the first event of the year where everyone who is good shows up.
Of course, the 24-year-old Californian with Japanese heritage doesn’t have much of an Instagram presence. He doesn’t feel the need to radically change his body or style of play, and indulge in resultant promotional activities.
He’s invariably modest and unassuming, witness how his post-victory interview was mostly about Tiger and not about himself.
Generations pass quickly these days
It seems that generations pass in golf now at bewildering speed. It doesn’t seem ten years since Rory McIlroy was the brightest young star in the firmament. Now he seems almost at the pre-veteran stage.
Of course Rory and current World No 1 Dustin Johnson – who is nearly Methuselah at 38 – and others who are barely through the 30-something barrier like Patrick Reed and the (resurgent) Brooks Koepka are far from done yet.
But the even the latter twenties grouping of DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are looking over their shoulders now.
You’d have thought they would have had at least a couple of years to cash in. But now Morikawa, Scottie Scheffler, Viktor Hovland, Matthew Wolff (at just 21) and more are suddenly sprinting up.
Viktor Hovland is a breath of fresh air
Hovland in particular looks to be the most fun player produced from Europe in some time. The Norwegian plays with a huge grin on his face 90 per cent of the time.
Viktor’s unfailingly honest – “I suck at chipping”. He has a pleasingly swashbuckling style which can be calamitous at times but is inspired at most others. He’s already a lock for Padraig Harrington’s Ryder Cup team this September, surely.
Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre and Denmark’s Rasmus Hojgaard aren’t quite in this new breed group yet in my view. But it wouldn’t take much for both of them to join it. Hojgaard isn’t even 20 until next week.
In today’s world, unfortunately, you have to be a full-on, hyper-promotional vehicle like DeChambeau Inc to get properly noticed.
But modern golf’s new breed are a hugely talented and appealing group beyond the hype. Here’s hoping the game can promote them properly to be stars recognised beyond the game’s traditional strongholds.
A complex legacy
The cellphones of orthopaedic surgeons the world over have been buzzing since last Wednesday morning as we all try to put the broken Tiger back together again.
Most seem to agree – you can’t, at least not to be an elite competitive golfer.
The career obituaries seem to have been pre-written. The legacy is being assessed.
It’s a lot more complicated than simply “we owe everything to Tiger” as seems to be the consensus. The figures show that this damned pandemic has done more for golf’s grassroots growth than Woods ever has.
The prizemoney went crazy, of course. But it did in every other major world sport because of the TV rights scramble, and few had a Tiger figure.
His is a complex legacy. Golf, it has to be said, never did truly exploit having the greatest athlete in its history.