#AskAlan: Could a Rory McIlroy-Jordan Spieth hybrid beat Tiger Woods in his prime?

August 8, 2017

Glory’s last shot is finally here…until 2019, when the British Open has that honor. Anyway, I’m still excited. Until it’s balls in the airs on Thursday morning, all we have is each other…

“If you took Spieth’s short game and Rory’s long game, would that player beat or equal Tiger in his prime?”-@MattJarchow

Spieth is and has been putting at Tiger’s level, and Rory is driving it better than Tiger ever did, so that would indeed be a formidable combination. But to equal the Tiger of 2000 you’d have to throw in Hale Irwin’s long irons, Seve’s wedge game, Nicklaus’s course management and Hogan’s iron will. So I still like Tiger’s chances.

“Do players like a regular Tour stop venue hosting a major?”-Wyatt (@WJZangl)

Depends on the player, and the venue. Obviously guys like Rory and Phil Mickelson are thrilled to have a PGA at Quail Hollow, where they have enjoyed so much success, just as Tiger was delighted to have a U.S. Open come to Torrey Pines. The purists and traditionalists are somewhat less thrilled. To me a key question is how differently the course will play than during its normal spot in the Tour schedule. Torrey (and Pebble) host their traditional events during the cold, wet winter months and play long and soft. For their U.S. Opens both courses have been reborn as firm, fast racetracks and so they play drastically differently. Will Quail Hollow feel pretty much the same in hot, wet August versus hot, wet May? Sure, there have been lots of tweaks to the layout, so that is a differentiator. But I fear not enough of one.

“Why does the USGA and PGA of America continue to choose venues that typically have weather issues such as thunderstorms etc.?”-Jeff (@ByrnesJbyrnes)

It’s utterly baffling, especially when you consider West Coast venues can play deep into prime time across the country, significantly boosting ratings. This goes back to part of my 9,000-yard course argument, that the firm and fast conditions that make for a compelling setup at the majors are often compromised by the predictable weather issues in the summer in the Midwest, South and Northeast. Both the USGA and PGA are based on the East Coast and stocked with staffers from that part of the world, so that might help explain some of the bias. But it’s bad for business on any number of fronts. Luckily the pendulum will swing west in a few years: Pebble (’19 U.S. Open), Harding Park (’20 PGA), Torrey (’21 Open), L.A. North (’23 Open).

“Is the golf world better with Trump in it, or out of it? #AskAlan” -David (@daver40)

Well, if he’s spending 2.5 days at the U.S. Women’s Open and sending eight tweets about it around the world then that’s clearly a good thing. If Trump is still president in 2022 when the PGA Championship goes to one of his courses it will be a huuuge deal; in the post-Tiger era it’s always a good thing for golf to expand beyond its niche audience. In this era of golf courses getting plowed up and turned into tract houses Trump is one of the few people still investing in the game. So clearly he brings value in different ways. There are also plenty of downsides to Trump’s prominence in the game, as was recently chronicled in the pages of SI. So like a lot of the things with the president, we’re in a gray area.

“How can someone with Rory’s talent not hit a wedge within 15ft consistently?!” -@MrEdwardLight

Well, no golfer has everything. Nicklaus wasn’t a great chipper, and even at his peak Tiger could be wild off the tee. But I agree it’s maddening to watch Rory repeatedly squander such prime position afforded by his driving. Of course, it wasn’t until early last season that Dustin Johnson began diligently dialing in his wedge game, and he’s five years older than Rory. I asked DJ why it took him so long to concentrate on such an obvious weakness. “You can’t do everything all at once,” he said, with typical Zen simplicity.

“Do you ever think an Olympic gold medal will be considered a major? #AskAlan” -Matt (@mkwiat54)

Dude, it already is. Justin Rose has said many times that he considers the achievement to be on par with his U.S. Open win. When I’ve had occasion to write about Rose since Rio I instinctively mention the gold medal. There will be 16 majors played between Olympics – winning gold will only become more coveted.

“If the PGA Championship and Players were both majors, which do you think would be more meaningful to win?” -Daniel (@68shooter)

The PGA, of course. We are all aware that Big Jack won five PGAs, but who knows (or cares) how many Players he has? The PGA is the one tournament Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson would both trade a kidney for. Anyway, even if Jay Monahan puts out a press release declaring the Players a major, the keepers of the flame (including yours truly) ain’t having it.

“Of the last 44 women’s majors, 25 (57%) have been won by players from Asia. (Another five were won by Asian-Americans.) Over the same span only one Asian man has won a major. In 10 years how similar will the mens’ stats be?” -Mark (@mocycling)

Significantly higher, if for no other reason than Hideki Matsuyama is clearly going to win the Grand Slam next year. S.W. Kim is already knocking on the door, Haotong Li looks like a future star and there are a bunch of other good young players from Asia. Here, too, Olympic golf is an important catalyst. Japan and China, among other countries, are already pouring money into their national golf programs ahead of the Tokyo Games. Anecdotally, there is a wave of teenaged talent being nurtured across Asia. It remains to be seen how many of these players can make the long journey to becoming a major championship winner, but no question pro golf’s demographics are going to change in the next decade.

“If Rory never gets fully back on track (no more majors), is his career a rich man Johnny Miller? #askalan” -Mike (@mcaverhill)

Welp, it must be PGA Championship week at Quail Hollow if we’re all obsessing this much over Mssr. McIlroy. Let us not forget he’s only 28 and has 10 top-10s (including two wins) in his last 15 major championships. I don’t think his time has passed just yet. But it’s clear Rory’s focus and motivation come and go, and he’s been much more injury-prone than a man of his age should be, so I shall entertain the question. For starters, there’s a massive difference between winning four majors, as McIlroy has, versus Miller’s two. Thirty six men have won two major championships, including plenty of Andy Norths and John Dalys; only 28 men in history can claim four or more, and it’s very rarified air. Rory has also been much more relevant around the world and in the Ryder Cup than Miller ever was. So, the comparison doesn’t hold. But there’s no doubt the last three calendar years have been frustrating for both Rory and his fans, and it feels like he’s underachieved given what Jordan Spieth has accomplished in the same time frame. McIlroy can salvage this lost season and dramatically change the narrative he pulls it all together and wins this PGA. And if not, we get to obsess over what that means for the next eight months, and beyond. Sounds like a win-win to me.