Changing of the Guard and Inspiration

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have dominated professional golf in the United States for most of this decade. They have clearly been #1 and #2 on the PGA tour. At this point, they are still ranked 1 and 2 in the world, but they may have reached a point in their careers where we will see a changing of the guard. In Tiger’s case, his personal life is clearly a preoccupation and he no longer possesses the total focus necessary for 72 holes over 4 days that defined him for most of his professional career. He has not won a major in two years and it is starting to look like Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, which at one time was within Tiger’s grasp, is slipping out of reach. He is going to be an old 35 in December of this year and has been playing this game almost from the time he could walk. When you combine the physical toll on Tiger with the difficulties he has experienced in his personal life, the odds become very long for him to catch or surpass the Golden Bear.

In the case of Phil Mickelson, he won his 4th major championship at this year’s Masters in Augusta, but he turned 40 in June and we learned after the PGA Championship that he was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis just prior to the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. While he is still capable of posting a round in the 60s, Mickelson has not been able to make a move during Tiger’s slump to take over the #1 world ranking. His wife Amy’s ongoing battle with breast cancer remains an obvious concern.

Let’s look at this year’s majors starting with the Masters, where Mickelson won and Lee Westwood came in 2nd. Westwood, today, reminds many of Mickelson, who had many #2 finishes at the majors prior to finally winning his first major championship at Augusta and donning the fabled green jacket. Graeme McDowell of Ireland won the U.S. Open when Dustin Johnson imploded on the final day. (Yes, this is the same Dustin Johnson who was penalized 2 strokes when he grounded his club in the fairway bunker on the 18th hole and missed a 3-way playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.) McDowell, who is 31, was trailed by Ernie Els, Mickelson and Woods, but none of them was able to make a move as McDowell stayed steady and won his first major. At the British Open, 27-year-old South African Louis Oosthuizen ran away from the field and never faltered. At last week’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, 25-year-old Martin Kaymer of Germany held steady to defeat Bubba Watson in a 3-hole playoff.

As we enter the home stretch of this year’s PGA Tour, the focus will be on the FedEx Cup starting next weekend with The Barclays at Ridgewood Country Club. Corey Pavin, captain of this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, has stated that he will not announce his final four selections (the other eight earned their positions on the team through points this season) until after the Deutsche Bank Championship, which is played over the Labor Day weekend. Tiger Woods has expressed his interest in being on the team, but he will have to wait with the others for a final decision from Pavin. On the European side, Colin Montgomerie is captain of the favored team. Thirty-year-old Sergio Garcia, who not that long ago seemed to be a young phenom, announced that he was taking several months off and should not be considered by Monty for the European team. (Garcia never realized his early potential by winning a major, but has been a very effective member of previous European Ryder Cup teams.) The generational challenge has been laid down to Tiger Woods by the Irish golfer Rory McIlroy, who on May 2nd, just before his 21st birthday, ran away from the field at the Quail Hollow Championship. He made it clear last week that he hopes Pavin selects Tiger so he can face him at Celtic Manor in Wales. I trust that some more trash talk will emerge as we get closer to the Ryder Cup tournament, which will be played October 13 at the Twenty Ten course. This course was designed to host the Ryder Cup and opened in 2007. It is 7,493 yards from the back tees and par is 71. It will clearly provide plenty of length and will allow us to see if the next generation of U.S. and European golfers is clearly in charge as we move forward in the new decade.

In closing, I would like to share with you a story in which I find great inspiration. Last week I received an email from Anthony K. Shriver, Founder and Chairman of Best Buddies International. He wrote, “As many of you know, last week marked the first anniversary of my Mother’s passing. However, her spirit lives on through our continue commitment to making her vision of full inclusion for individuals with intellectual disabilities a reality. Accordingly, we are launching the inaugural Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day in her honor. On September 25, 2010 Special Olympics and Best Buddies will lead the world in a celebration of my Mother’s inspiration, impact and indomitable spirit. Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day will become an annual celebration of her life, and a global call for people to carry out Eunice Kennedy Shriver Acts of Unity - acts of inclusion, acceptance and unity for and with people with intellectual disabilities…” I was introduced to Best Buddies a number of years ago by my director of business development at pennNet, James Stankard. He and his wife Laura are the devoted parents of Vincenzo Stankard, who at 1 1/2 years old is truly inspirational! Last year, Anthony Shriver wrote, “I was sincerely impressed with the amount of money raised by individuals soliciting donations from their friends and family this year. It has never been higher at any event we have ever done. Our top fundraiser, Vincenzo Stankard, a six-month-old baby with Down syndrome, raised $56,000! His parents, Laura and James have been friends of our organization for many, many years. In fact, James was the student leader of the Best Buddies chapter at Boston College. It just goes to show that you never know what life may have in store for you.”

Your support of Vincenzo Stankard and Best Buddies would be greatly appreciated. You can go directly to his donation page at the Best Buddies Challenge website.