To The Editor:
Watching the 2019 Masters Tournament was an uplifting experience. While Tiger Woods is no saint, overcoming his personal flaws, public humiliation and serious medical problems is a lesson for all of us. Learning from one's mistakes, accepting responsibility and redirecting one’s behavior with dedication, perseverance and hard work can overcome many of life’s obstacles. Tiger's win, in perhaps the grandest of golf's events, was uplifting.
As for the cocktail party debate of who is the greatest golfer of all time, Nicklaus or Woods: In my opinion, it is Woods hands down for three reasons. Woods has done more for the game than any other golfer. Since his reign he has attracted a diversity of athletes from virtually every nationality and race: white, brown and black. Prior to Tiger, in Jack and Arnold's heyday, golf was primarily of interest to wealthy, white males in private clubs. Because of Tiger, the purses at all major events have increased tenfold along with the popularity and diversity of the game.
Second, athletic greatness can only be measured and calibrated against the quality of the competition and the degree of difficulty of the course challenges. In Nicklaus’ era there were only five or 10 golfers of his caliber. Today there are 25 to 50 golfers that are only separated by the slightest of margins. In Nicklaus’ day only a small percentage of the golfers worked out to improve their strength and endurance. Today most of the professional golfers approach the sport like any other athlete. The quality of the competition today is at least five times greater than in the 1970s and 1980s.
Third, the championship golf courses are considerably more difficult today than in Nicklaus’ era. In 1986, the year Nicklaus won his last green jacket, the Augusta National course was approximately 6,900 yards in length. For the 2019 Masters the course was approximately 7,500 yards long – some 600 yards longer than when Nicklaus won his last green jacket – the equivalent of at least one additional par-5 hole! It is one thing to drive a golf ball straight 230 to 260 yards. It is another thing to drive a golf ball straight 300 to 330 yards. It is one thing to hit a long iron straight 180 to 220 yards. It is another thing to hit a long iron straight 230 to 260 yards. It is simply physics. The degree of difficulty is considerably greater today.
While Jack Nicklaus was the best golfer in his era, Tiger Woods is clearly the best golfer of all time whether, or not, he wins another Major. He has competed against tougher competition on considerably more difficult courses and the last chapter has not been written.