Pros and Cons of Parity Becoming the New Norm in Golf
Parity, and the progress toward parity, on the PGA Tour is a mixed blessing to be sure.
However, as the Tiger Woods era begins to wane (Woods is 38), the next generation of golf stars has started to emerge. In the absence of a successor, and in an environment in which players seem to graduate from the Web.com Tour with the ability to win on the PGA Tour, parity will be the order of the day.
What's good about parity? What's bad? Read on to find out.
Pro: More Good Golfers
From a bell curve standpoint (You remember the bell curve from high school math, right?), increased parity means the disparity between the best golfers and the worst golfers is decreasing, and the gap between the median golfers on the PGA Tour and the best is shrinking at an even more rapid rate.
With the rise of the Web.com Tour as an increasingly competitive proving ground, the growth of the game internationally and the continued improvement of the junior golf system, more good golfers are making it onto the PGA Tour than ever.
Thus, the overall level of play is becoming objectively better.
In 2004, the 100th-best scoring average on tour belonged to David Gossett: 71.15. The 150th best: Greg Chalmers at 71.74.
Last season, the 100th best scoring average was 71.05. The 150th best: 71.55.
Con: A Less Potent Tiger Woods
Of course, a rising tide will not lift Tiger Woods' boat. Unfortunately for the world No. 1, at the same time his off-course behavior caused him major problems, his injury troubles arose and his game declined, the overall talent level on the PGA Tour rose.
Going forward, we'll be presented with a less dominant Tiger Woods. There will be no more stretches of play like the golfer's 2000-02 season or his 2006-08 campaign. While this may be good for the competitiveness of the PGA Tour, it likely won't translate to better ratings for tour broadcasts, which will be a real problem if the tour seeks to maintain the status quo going forward.
Pro: Seemingly Anyone Can Win
During the past 20 years, we've attempted to codify the world's leading golfers with terms like "The Big 3" and "The Big 5." Really, though, the only two golfers to consistently place in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking during that time are Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. This is not the era of Jack Nicklaus and friends dominating the PGA Tour, nor is it the era of Snead, Hogan and Nelson winning seemingly everything.
Thus, it's a very exciting time in professional golf. Indeed, last season, there were 13 first-time winners on the PGA Tour. First-timers won nearly half the tour events last season. It's a fun time on the PGA Tour, as young guns such as Russell Henley, Jordan Spieth and Billy Horschel can stare down tour stalwarts down the stretch on Sunday.
Con: Seemingly Anyone Can Win
Of course, the star power of the game's best is necessarily dimmed when supporting cast members begin seizing starring roles.
In an environment in which more golfers are winning, and with a finite number of wins to go around, players who may have won two or three tournaments across a two- or three-year period may only win one, thus creating the perception that some no-name golfer is winning every week.
One assumes golf fans like a degree of predictability in their results. This guy can win. This guy can't. This guy is usually lucky to make the cut. This guy rarely does.
Parity upsets this order, which could be bothersome to golf fans.
Pro: Deeper Fields at Traditionally Weaker Events
If the tour's biggest stars aren't winning and recording high finishes as regularly going forward, they'll be forced to play in less prestigious events and/or events with smaller purses. This will provide them with a better chance at both winning and accumulating the maximum amount of cash and FedEx Cup ranking points.
So, does this mean you could see Tiger Woods teeing it up at the Valspar Championship? Probably not. But might another premier player tee it up at the Crowne Plaza Invitational following an appearance at the Byron Nelson and prior to the Memorial? I think so.
Con: Fewer Dominant Players
We're likely entering a period in which multiple-major winners will be scarce and golfers recording more than three or four victories per season will be a rarity. While this may be exciting, it also means the dominance of the game's most dominant players is, well, less dominant.
For example: Assuming Tiger Woods returns from his back surgery and returns to his winning ways, he'll likely be winning three or four tournaments per year rather than eight or 10.
On the one hand, who cares? More players capable of winning means more drama down the stretch on Sunday.
On the other hand, we love great individual athletes more than balanced teams. Increased parity means the best players will necessarily be less dominant. Whether fans will embrace such an environment with the same fervor as the Tiger Woods era is unclear, but it seems unlikely.