Maybe golf isn’t so doomed after all. On a day where Rory McIlroy took home his second PGA Championship trophy, fourth Major, and third straight win, golf once again has a reason to look forward to the future. Nearly everyone is rushing to anoint the imminent, or now current, ‘Rory Era’ that is officially ending the ‘Tiger Era.’ And for good reason–Rory is tearing up the tour and dominating in a way reminiscent of Tiger. He’s bombing drives well over 300 yards, right down the middle of the fairway, sticking irons feet from the pin, and knocking down putts when he needs to. Rory is being hailed the savior and new face of the struggling sport.
Since Tiger’s demise in the past five years, golf has struggled to attract viewers. Hard-core fans will watch no matter what, but the casual fans only tune in to see Tiger. They tune in to see something special happen. But that problem may be fixed with Rory’s latest surge, as well as up-and-coming stars like Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, just to name a few. For the rest of his career, fairly or unfairly, Rory will be compared to Tiger. Whatever Rory accomplishes will be judged relative to Tiger. And while Rory may never win 14 majors, he will be the face of golf and have something Tiger never truly had: rivals. Tiger faced off against Phil, but those two didn’t go head-to-head for majors as frequently as you might expect, considering how dominant they are. And besides Phil, Tiger really didn’t have any rivals. Rory though, has a number of players near his age, who are good enough to routinely challenge him. Rickie Fowler is the first name that comes to mind. He finished in the top 5 of every major this year, and despite being unable to win any of them, Rickie is only 25 years old, just like Rory. His time will come and he should consistently be in contention from now on. Beyond Fowler, Rory will also face 21-year old youngster Jordan Spieth, who almost brought home the green jacket in April. The Australian Jason Day and Frenchman Victor Dubuisson will also pose threats to Rory in the future.
The future is bright. Rory will inevitably be compared to Tiger. And even if he doesn’t surpass Tiger, Rory is more than good enough to carry the game to its next stage. We will never forget about Tiger, but Rory is good enough to at least do what Tiger did: bring in casual fans, who want to see greatness above all else. Rory most likely won’t get quite as much attention as Tiger–after all, Rory is not American, and fans here want to see a great American superstar like Tiger. But Rory does have more of a personality than Tiger ever did. That may be part of the draw to Tiger, his almost robotic drive and focus, but fans also want to see someone more likable than Tiger. Rory is that. He’s by no means perfect, and he doesn’t have the personality of a fan favorite like Phil, but Rory is more candid with the press, and a little bit more open in general than Tiger.
None of this is to diminish what Tiger did for the game or to close the doors shut on his career. It’s impossible to ever count Tiger out. He’s struggled with injuries, but if he gets himself healthy, Tiger is still one of the best players in the world. It is, though, to say that Rory McIlroy is exactly what golf needs. He’s young, supremely talented, likable (for the most part–sorry Wozniacki fans), and honest. That’s more than anyone could hope for in golf’s newest big star.