No one has reached the heights of Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus in golf, but another with the same bizarre names, Owes Nelson, has a leg up on everyone in the history of the game.
Nobody had come close to matching his tournaments finishing statistics. Not even Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus or their close relatives, and the recent victim of Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, a classy young man with a sterling record was regarded by his rivals as the “Rain Man of golf.”
It was Owes Nelson who beat Arnold Palmer at the Invitational at Congressional in 1977. Palmer, a master of conventional slowpokes, called it “a good card by a big talent.”
Ows Nelson will be enshrined into the World Golf Hall of Fame at Pebble Beach next year, a place he had a lot to do with founding.
The former can also be seen as the ultimate embarrassment to the revered PGA Tour, which operates from the heart of an affluent city, with a world-class golf course and a good charter school. It also takes a back seat to the NFL and ESPN and many other high-profile sports.
Years ago golf was the thing to do and people would come to get their name in the history books. Alas, a good deal of the world has moved on, and golf as a form of entertainment has been in steady decline, even if the main national networks don’t admit it.
Most famous of all was Tiger Woods’ home run attempt at the 1997 PGA Championship, a rock-star spectacle that got him into a firestorm, replaced by Woods babbling, an athlete more intent on his celebrity, his position in history, than its definition.
Tiger is not alone in boxing. Notorious pugilist Ray Arcel lost his final six bouts, all to guys who were better than him, and never was more infamous than after he and an acolyte were caught with a package in a South Boston apartment.
From the time of Johnny Long, the legendary Irish manager with Charlie Sifford and Mickey Murrah in the Harlem Globetrotters days, it was a sport people rallied around. That’s probably not always a good thing, especially today.
At the very least, it has fallen into disrepair. Before Martin Kaymer got into the last two majors, no major championship winner ever won a $10 million prize from a golf sponsor.
The World Golf Championships of the 1990s were supposed to be the next step in tourism for a sports system largely dedicated to a monotonous show that suits a country that has developed a love for the game.
Instead, they are largely forgotten, which is why one of the stars of next week’s Northern Trust Open in Old Westbury is a Californian named Jim Furyk.
“I got to meet a number of people during my years in the game of golf that I didn’t have the chance to meet and they helped me the most out of anyone,” said Furyk, who finished a career-best fifth in the final major of the year, the PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
“Like the big tournament guys who care about the game of golf as much as they care about winning, and what you’re doing. They’ll always be the most appreciated players.”
Furyk didn’t even know how many players there were in his generation until the new FedEx Cup system was put in place. This was a man with 13 career wins who, just a few years ago, might not have known he was starting to feel the heat.
“You can get discouraged and you can get up and rise to the occasion,” he said. “You can start losing hope and you can rise above all that.”
It would be easy to blame the Tiger Woods years.
One of those ringside members at Congressional that caused such a stir was Danny Willett, who can realize his dream of winning a major title when he defends the British Open at Carnoustie.
“It doesn’t look like he’s Tiger, I know that,” Willett said of his youthful adversary. “But he has done a lot for the game and I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and I think anyone who has faced him, hopefully. He’s certainly helped the game of golf.”
It would be wrong to say golf has fallen on hard times. It’s over-rated, perhaps, and the allure may be fading.
But just as many people tell you your tomatoes taste a lot better after you’ve picked ’em the day before, maybe golf too.
(The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fox News.