In golf, this demand is no different. Until you win a tournament on the PGA Tour, your reputation is always followed by the "but...". Then, even after you've won a tournament, you are judged on whether you have won a major or not. Is this a fair way to assess a player's skill? That is arguable. Take Lee Westwood or Luke Donald, for example. Both are world class golfers who in the past year alone have been ranked #1 in the world, yet neither has won a major. Does this make them less of a golfer than, say, Ben Curtis, Y.E. Yang, Lucas Glover, Michael Campbell, Shaun Micheel, and others of that ilk? Some would actually argue yes.
Regardless of how you feel about the necessity of a golfer winning a Major Championship to be considered among the greatest, it is hard to argue that one need not even win a PGA Tournament of any kind to be considered one of the best. This becomes especially harder to argue when you review the long list of golfers who have won tournaments. For example, I felt compelled to write this post after watching John Huh win the Mayacoba Classic down in Mexico for his first PGA Tour victory in only his fifth PGA Tournament. John was playing in a tournament that did not feature any of at least the top 65 golfers in the world as they were all playing in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship the same weekend. While that might take a little of the shine off the win, young Mr. Huh still had to hold off a proven PGA Tour winner, Robert Allenby, by making Par on all of the eight playoff holes it took to resolve the tournament.
So, one question to ask is, where does the win place John Huh among the rest of the golfing universe? Well, winning 20% of the tournaments that you enter would be an incredible, likely Hall of Fame career, if that kind of expectation of the man was anywhere near realistic. He could just as easily never win a tournament on tour again. Perhaps that leads us the a more compelling question to ponder. Who is the best golfer in the world without a victory on the PGA Tour?
This has been written about many times before, so obviously I am not looking to be original with this, but I believe that we are witnessing a bit of a golden age of golf right now, one which features young golfers who have grown up being classically trained in the game and having been afforded the greatest technological aids that any golfers have ever known to help them hone their craft. I think it was Byron Nelson (I could be wrong), who when asked what was the greatest technological advancement in golf, responded with "the lawn mower". With these advancements in this potential golden age comes an incredibly diverse group of competitors with the skills and desire to win on the most prestigious level in the sport. In 2011 alone, we saw 13 different golfers win their first PGA Tournament. One of those, Charl Schwartzel, won The Masters, and another, Keegan Bradley, went on to win the PGA Championship later that season. Already in 2012 we have seen both the aforementioned John Huh, and Kyle Stanley win their first PGA Tournaments, Stanley in storybook fashion storming back from an 8-stroke deficit entering the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open after blowing the same sized lead the previous week, but that is another story.
So, who are the best golfers without a PGA Tour victory, and will 2012 be their year to break through? Here is my list, but please share your own thoughts - I love a good sports argument!
- Rickie Fowler - The talented So Cal native and 2011 PGA Rookie of the Year has played in only 65 events, and has already been the bridesmaid 4 times, but has yet to break through with an official PGA Tour win. He has made the cut in nearly 75% of the events he has entered, and has finished in the Top 25 37% of the time. Most people probably believe that it is only a matter of time before he wins, and wins often, but there are no guarantees, just ask...
- Jeff Overton - Jeff has played in 164 events, and has finished 2nd four times as well, most notably losing to Stuart Appleby's improbably final round 59 at The Greenbrier last season. Jeff has made the cut in 68% of his events, and finished in the Top 25 26% of the time. Perhaps with Jeff it is only a matter of time as well, but do you think we could be saying this same thing about Rickie still 100 tournaments from now?
- Steve Marino - Perhaps an improbable name on any "best of" golfers lists, but Steve has proven his mettle with 4 2nd place finishes in his 144 events, most recently at the 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational. Steve has made the cut in 73% of the tournaments he has played in, and finished in the Top 25 38% of the time. If you hadn't been paying attention, perhaps it is time to put Steve on your list of probable winners in 2012?
- Jason Dufner - Oh, so close to not being eligible for this list with his final three hole mini-meltdown at last year's PGA, losing to Keegan Bradley in a playoff. Jason has finished 2nd 3 times in his 158 events. Jason has made the cut in 59% of the events he has entered, but finished in the Top 25 22% of the time. My guess is the Jason has that legendary "fear of winning", and will need to break through just one time before we see him hoisting trophies with some regularity.
- Briny Baird - What? Briny Baird, seriously? The king of the second rate events? While it is hard to make an argument for Briny Baird being named among the all time greats, it is hard to keep him off a list of potential tournament winners. Briny has actually chalked up 5 2nd place finishes in his PGA career that has spanned 354 events! Briny has made the cut in a respectable 65% of the events he has played in and finished in the Top 25 25% of the time. How can you not root for this guy to just get that coveted first win? Don't weep openly for old Briny, however, as he has raked in almost $12.6 Million in his under-the-radar career.
- Robert Karlsson - No stranger to success on the world stage, this talented Swede plays infrequently on the PGA Tour, but is still overdue for a first place finish. Robert has played in 87 PGA Tour events over the years, and his finished second twice. He has made the cut in 71% of his events, and finished in the Top 25 28% of the time.Look for Robert to have success at the FedEx St. Jude tournament where he placed second last season.
- Tommy Gainey - C'mon, really? Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey of Big Break fame seen most recently knocking golf balls from rooftop-to-rooftop in the dry Las Vegas air? Sure, why not? Tommy plays A LOT, 34 events in 2011 alone! Tommy does have a second place finish among his 80 events played, and has made the cut in 41% of those (50% last season). Tommy has placed in the Top 25 only 15% of the time, so his opportunities are few and far between, but based on the sheer number of tournaments he enters, and his propensity to "get hot", I would not put winning a tournament beyond his reach.
- Ricky Barnes - Son of an NFL Football player, and master of an odd swing, Ricky has been close before on the big stage, finishing 2nd in the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black along with 9 other top 10s, including 2 3rd place finishes in his 104 events played. Ricky has made the cut in 60% of his starts, but finished in the Top 25 only 17% of the time. Got to work on that consistency, Ricky - some would argue that consistency will always evade him with that swing, we'll see.
- Ryo Ishikawa - This 20 year old Japanese sensation has done some spectacular things. In 2010 he won The Crowns tournament on the Japan Golf Tour by five strokes after shooting a 12-under 58 in the final round! In his 30 events on the PGA Tour, Ryo has only 2 Top 10s, his best being a 4th at the WGC Bridgestone in 2010, and has made the cut only 53% of the time, finishing Top 25 17% of the time. I would argue that despite his age, that his PGA Tour results thus far have been disappointing, but he is obviously incredibly skilled, so could easily turn it all around in 2012.
- Spencer Levin - Last on this list, but far from the only other golfer that could have taken up residence here, Spencer has recently suffered some heartbreak blowing up in the final round of the 2012 Waste Management Phoenix Open, blowing a big lead on Sunday to finish 3rd. Spencer has one 2nd place finish in his 106 career events, but has held the lead after more than a large handful of rounds. Spencer has made the cut in 71% of the events he has played, and finished Top 25 28% of the time. Spencer is known to have a frothy temper, and a penchant for late tournament collapses, but is still young, and getting close.
Let me hear what you think...
Fairways and Greens!