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Golden: Would a bitter rivalry or two drive more interest in golf?

By Cedric Golden
Published on

AUSTIN, Texas -- Golf needs a rivalry.

Something that makes Sunday afternoons mean that much more.

Hall of Famer Shooter McGavin captured that sentiment in oh-so-perfect fashion when he famously told that hack Happy Gilmore, "I eat pieces of (dung) for you for breakfast."

To which Happy responded, "You eat pieces of (dung) for breakfast?"

You get the point. Rivalries enrich the experience while giving the gallery something else to chew on besides a juicy Hat Creek cheeseburger.

It's part of the allure of events like the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play bring. The mano-a-mano format is high-pressure because it forces the players to compete not only against the course, but against each other. Competition doesn't always breed contempt, but it can produce great storylines.

The sport is really lacking in a true rivalry, even though there is no shortage of great young players. There's nothing resembling Ali vs. Frazier, Carl Lewis vs. Ben Johnson, Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson, Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova or Michael Jordan vs. the world.

The last real golf rivalry of note was Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, two long-hitting Americans with seven green jackets between them.

They owned the sport for the better part of 15 years and took turns landing haymakers against each other to the delight of the nation, but the thing that made their rivalry must-see TV was that little undercurrent of dislike for each other. Any time Lefty and Tiger were paired in the final round with a title on the line, there was that palpable tension that never strayed too far away from the proceedings.

It takes two to tango, or better yet, to create a rivalry worth talking about.

It's something along the lines of Lefty criticizing Woods' Nike golf clubs back in the day. Or when he hired Tiger's former swing coach Butch Harmon in 2007. Or when Tiger's former caddie Steve Williams said he didn't like Mickelson in an interview.

Now, that was drama.

The rivalry was so tense that when they were paired up twice in the 2004 Ryder Cup, they struggled, losing both matches. I guess they just weren't comfortable being on the same side.

Sport is about conflict, and they brought it out of each other. That isn't the case in today's game, where players all seem to be best buds on the course, with not a lot of angst being shared.

"I don't ever think of rivalries," Bubba Watson said. "All these guys are trying to to do the same thing I'm trying do. If they putt better than me this week and they hit the ball better, then they beat me."

Thank goodness Watson has guys in the media who can do that sort of thinking for him.

Golf is ready for the next great rivalry.

Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy would be ideal.

They're arguably the two best players in the game and poised to remain as such for the next 10 to 15 years. You remember a few years back when McIlroy was ready to become this generation's Tiger, in the minds of some? That is, until Spieth emerged to capture the first two majors of 2015. McIlroy's 95 weeks atop the rankings came to an end, thanks in large part to Spieth and Australia's Jason Day.

But did a rivalry emerge from that takeover? Maybe in the minds of the fans, but not so much with the participants, who are regarded as two of the nicest players on the PGA Tour.

It's a gentleman's game, to be certain, but there's nothing wrong with mixing a little blood rivalry into the proceedings.

"It's never a bad thing," Mickelson said after Tuesday's practice round. He added that today's young players are great guys who are enjoyable to be around.

My translation: Can't we get some of those young studs to square off?

This article was written by Cedric Golden from Austin American-Statesman and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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