Conversation: Will Tiger Break Jack’s Record?

January 12, 2011

Posted 12/4/2010 by JK:

Here’s an interesting topic. Some have postulated recently that Tiger’s golf regression means he won’t catch Jack Nicklaus for the all-time major championship wins record. Jack Nicklaus won 18 professional major championships in his career. At one time, it seemed like an absolute lock that Tiger would pass Jack. But Tiger hasn’t won a major since the ’08 US Open at Torrey Pines, and with the impressive young talent right now (Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Ricky Fowler, Anthony Kim, Martin Kaymer, etc.), it seems that Tiger will have even fewer chances to win going forward.

For my money, I can’t see any reason how Tiger would not pass Jack, and here’s why: statistics. It used to be that golfers over about 42 years old were generally just biding their time, waiting for the Senior Tour (or, now, the Champion’s Tour). But that has changed, in my opinion, and it will affect Tiger’s ability to challenge Jack.

Tiger is now 35 years old, and many of today’s great golfers are playing well even into their late 40s (Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh). Even Fred Couples is still competing at 50+. If he follows that trend, Tiger’s got a good 10 years of very competitive golf left in him, and with modern conditioning, weight training, equipment, and medical attention that he has experienced his entire life, he may go even further without a hitch. If he goes 10 more years, he has until 2020 to complete the feat. Even considering he only makes it 10 more years of truly competitive golf (45 years old), he’ll still have 40 more majors to play in. That means he’d have to win only 10% of the majors to tie Jack’s record. If he averaged 2 majors every 3 years–2 wins out of 12 tries, or fewer than one per year–he’d still tie Jack’s record by 2016 and beat it by 2019. In 14 years, he’s won 14 majors (exactly 10%), finishing second or tied for second 6 times, and finishing in the top 10 but outside of 1 or 2 another 14 times. Plus, he was out for half of 2008 with knee surgery and was dealing with “off-the-course” issues during 2010. If he has one more stretch like 00-02 (6 majors) or 05-07 (5 majors), he’ll pass jack over a 2-year span. And, he has 10 years in which to get it done!

Moreover, it has to be considered that Tiger no longer has the stress of keeping up extramarital affairs in the background of his already complicated personal life. The same thing that made him a scumbag to a lot of the world probably hurt his ability to focus on his job. How else would you explain Tiger shooting 75 in the final round of a major to be caught by YE Yang? Moreover, now that he’s “single” again, he doesn’t have the constant need to put his family ahead of his professional endeavors. Many athletes perform better after divorces–sad to say, but it’s true. And Tiger’s swing already looks better, and his competitive drive seems to have returned along with it.

Thus, I can’t see any way that Tiger doesn’t break Jack’s record.

Any thoughts, LG?

Posted 1/11/11 by LG:

Thanks for the intro, JK.  I agree with you that it’s likely (for me, nearly inevitable) that Tiger will one day hold the record for most major championship titles owned by a single golfer.  The more interesting questions to me are whether Tiger needs to break this record in order to go down as the greatest golfer that’s ever played the game and whether people want this record to be broken.

As to the first question, I’m sure much debate and defaming would go down if I were to take a firm position on the matter.  For me, I’m not honestly sure what entitles someone to call themselves the “greatest golfer in the history of the game.”  Bobby Jones championed the cause of the amateur golfer during a time when professional golfers were despised.  Arnie brought the game to the people:  He is the King.  Jack won the most majors and exemplified the true competitor.  Tiger has destroyed the field, redefined the game for the next generation, and brought the game to its largest known audience in history.  For me, No one besides these four should be considered for the title.  Forced to choose between them, I would pick Tiger.

My reasons are selfish.  I never once thought I’d play golf while I was growing up.  I took lessons for one summer and enjoyed them but never pursued the game.   I took up pool in college and thought that golf was what people did after they busted out of a pool tournament (happily mistaken).  At the end of the day, when I think about why I play this game, it is because of Tiger.  His dominance over the game was something I had to experience to believe.  Only after playing golf could I begin to understand the magnitude of his accomplishments.

Sport to me comes down to one thing: competition.  Whether it’s putting a ball into a hole, shooting a ball into a basket, or sending a puck into the back of a net, the game is played to decide who wins and who loses.  Therefore, the greatest golfer to me must be the greatest competitor.  While Jack did win the most majors,  Tiger has won more dominantly than any other player in history.  If Tiger wins more majors, it seems untenable to argue that Jack is the greatest golfer on this theory, but I’m sure there are those who will try.  Before that happens, however, I find it difficult to decide between the greatest number of wins and the dominance in those wins.  The question remains, who is the greatest?

As to the second question, I don’t believe there could be any greater stimulus to the game of golf in this nation than for Tiger to break this record.  The chase toward the record, and the manner of Tiger’s wins thus far, has been the single reason (like it or not) that golf has achieved the notoriety and cool factor that it has with the international sports community.  Tiger’s dominance created an aura of invincibility that has likely not been paralleled in individual competition in modern history.  The solitary nature of golf, with one man controlling his fate, renders Tiger’s achievement even more awe inspiring.  If and when Tiger wins another major, we will not only find golf ratings shooting through the roof at near 2000 rates, but the game will feel new again.  I, for one, am waiting for the day when Tiger begins his run again.  Just thinking about Tiger in contention to win the Masters in April with a 12 footer to win on 18 already has the hair standing up on the back of my neck.  Kobe held up five fingers at the end of the NBA championship last year to celebrate his 5th title.  How do you celebrate your 5th green jacket?  A fist pump?  a high-five (that, for once, hopefully looks somewhat coordinated) with your caddie? Holding your (Scotty Cameron) putter in the air?  I can’t wait to find out this April.

One Response to “Conversation: Will Tiger Break Jack’s Record?”

  1. […] when ThePowerFade posted this article debating a topic that was much talked about at the time. The topic, like so often is the case with […]

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