Let the word go forth that the torch has been passed to a new generation of professional golfers.
Jason Day’s record-breaking 20-under-par win in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits established a new triumvirate in professional golf.
The World Rankings released after the tournament results were posted listed Jordan Spieth as the new No. 1. He supplanted Rory McIlroy, who slipped to second. Day rose to third.
Day’s the old man of the group. He’s 27. McIlroy’s 26, and Spieth just turned 22. Imagine the thrills and excitement they’ll provide over the next decades as they battle each other for supremacy.
History reminds us that golf’s popularity surges when three great players share the stage. The ‘40s gave us Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, and Ben Hogan. The ‘60s offered Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus. They even had their own television series, thoughtfully called “Big Three Golf.”
It remains to be seen whether this trio can replicate the enthusiasm generated by those other great threesomes. If Sunday’s final round of the PGA is any indication, we could be enjoying the onset of another terrific era of golf.
After posting 10 finishes in the top 10 at major championships, including four times the runner-up, Day burst through with a score that broke the scoring record, in relation to par, formerly held by Tiger Woods.
“I had no idea about the record until it was over and someone told me about it,” Day revealed at his post-tournament press conference. “There’s been so many fantastic golfers throughout the history of our sport, and playing so many major championships, but for me to be able to get to 20-under par and hold that record…I mean, some of the names I never thought I would be able to put my name with.”
He arrived there by shooting a 67 on Sunday after sitting on the 54-hole lead in his third consecutive major. And he was paired for the final round with Spieth.
“It was tough,” Day admitted. “He said to me in the scoring hut, he goes, ‘There’s nothing I could do.’ It’s a good feeling when someone like Jordan, who is playing phenomenal golf right now, says that, because it means that he left everything out there on the golf course, and my play this week was just so much better. Well, better than everyone else.”
To put that statement in perspective, Spieth closed with a 68 and finished 17-under par. He managed to break another record formerly held by Woods. He played an aggregate 54-under par in this year’s four majors.
But that record wasn’t on Spieth’s mind.
“I also accomplished one of my life-long goals, and in the sport of golf,” Spieth revealed at his own post-tournament press conference. “That will never be taken away from me now. I’ll always be a No. 1 player in the world.”
While Spieth was still on the course, McIlroy told Bob Harig of espn.com, “If he was to get to No. 1 today, I’d be the first to congratulate him, because I know the golf you have to play to get to that spot, and it has been impressive this year.”
Impressive, indeed. And riveting. Good as Spieth has been all year—he came within four shots of winning the Grand Slam—you just knew he’d give Day plenty to ponder on Sunday. But after the fourth hole, he was never closer than three shots.
“It was fantastic,” Spieth gushed. “We play a lot of golf, and we played a lot of major championship rounds together, and that was the best I’ve ever seen him play.”
The best of all probably came at the 11th hole. Day blasted his drive 382 yards, or about 80 yards further than Spieth.
“The tee shot on 11, if he gets a little off line there, either way, he has to lay up,” Spieth said. “But when he hit that tee ball and I walked up and saw where it was, I actually out loud turned to him and said, ‘Holy----’ you know, and I yelled over to him and I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ And then he gave me a little bicep. I knew I was going to be playing uphill from there.”
After watching Day play Mr. Cool all afternoon, we were shocked when he was reduced to tears before sinking his final putt. Little did we know that Day was recalling his father dying of cancer when Day was 12; drinking and fighting at school; his mom mortgaging their home, and borrowing from relatives, to send him to a golf academy seven hours away.
He thought of his mom cutting the grass with a knife, because they couldn’t afford to fix the mower. Of boiling kettles of water to take a hot shower.
“So just to be able to sit in front of you guys today and think about those stories, it gets me emotional knowing that I’m the PGA champion now,’ Day said. “And it feels good!”
And we have every reason to believe the good times have just begun.