When Jason Day went on his phenomenal run this year — winning four out of six starts and (briefly) ascending to No. 1 — we endured endless hours of debate as to who should be Player of the Year. Everyone was busy making a case for either Jason or Jordan. And then Spieth emphatically answered the question by winning the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.
All the quibbling reminded me of two of my favorite quotations. The late, great CBS producer Frank Chirkinian used to say, “All comparisons are odious!” And Theodore Roosevelt is said to have noted, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Our need to compare has grown overwhelming. Really, how useful is it to constantly debate which player is the best at a given time? This year, three players — Rory, Jordan, and Jason — have been playing musical chairs atop the world rankings. We even saw Rory reclaim the top spot from Jordan after McIlroy skipped the Barclays. Who’s the best player in the world?
It seems the smart answer is to be silent and wait. We’ll find out. Yet golf is obsessed with comparisons. Rory vs. Jordan. Jason vs. Rickie. Tiger vs. Jack. It goes on and on.
As fodder for 19th-hole conversations, the need to compare is understandable. But we’re becoming obsessed with it. We denigrate players because they’re not as good as Ben Hogan. Or we build up players, only to knock them down again when they don’t measure up to our expectations.
Jack’s record doesn’t need to be justified by comparing him with Hogan or Snead, and Tiger’s career doesn’t need to be compared to Jack’s. All of their accomplishments are tremendous. And I really dislike LPGA and PGA Tour comparisons. What does Annika Sorenstam’s record have to do with anyone on the PGA Tour? What do Lydia Ko or Inbee Park’s achievements have to do with Annika? There’s no need to validate the women by comparing them to men, or to each other.
The other difficulty with comparisons? It’s nearly impossible to judge the past by the criteria of today. The reason you can’t compare Willie Mays to Mike Trout is the same reason you can’t compare Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods. The game is played differently today. Some say that Woods in his major-winning heyday beat a bunch of nobodies like Bob May, while Jack vanquished greats like Trevino, Palmer and Player. Here’s a reality check: All majors are difficult to win, regardless of who you beat.
You’re probably thinking, Peter, if we shouldn’t make these comparisons, how do we determine who’s No. 1? Right now, we have three extraordinarily good players fighting for supremacy, and no one has separated himself — yet. The future will decide. Golf is in a great place. Don’t let needless comparisons obscure the brilliant play unfolding before our eyes. Let’s just sit back, appreciate it, and savor some incredible golf.