PHILADELPHIA -- I think it's pretty obvious after January who the early favourite for Rookie of the Year is.
Jhonattan Vegas, the first Venezuelan golfer to earn his PGA Tour card, already looks like a seasoned vet in his inaugural season on tour. After three events in 2011, he's the first rookie to hold the FedEx Cup standings lead.
In the last two weeks alone, Vegas has provided enough thrills to hook this amateur golf fan, especially now that Tiger Woods appears to have (temporarily) lost his luster. He won the Bob Hope Classic in a three way playoff after faltering on the 90th hole, then nearly won the Farmers Insurance Open before faltering down the stretch on Sunday.
"I've been playing great golf," Vegas said after the Farmers Insurance Open. "I'm enjoying the moment, and enjoying everything about the PGA Tour so far. It's been a dream come true. I'm just loving it, having as much fun."
Now I'm not going to sit here and write that Vegas is the next Woods; he's not. But he's well on his way to becoming one of the most exciting fan favourites on tour.
Besides his name, which will produce pun after pun (like the amateur attempt in the headline here), he's got a big personality to go with it. And unlike Woods, who walked down a path blazed for him by previous Americans, Vegas is making his own way in a country that doesn't exactly embrace golf.
For a look into how Vegas got to this point, look no further than this WorldNewsAustralia report about Vegas, golf and Venezuela on youtube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7651OrnJ8.
It's one thing to make it as a professional in a sport, but it's another to make it in defiance of a dictator who does everything in his power to sweep it under the rug. And now that he's made it, an entire country can look up to him as a role model, even to Venezuelans who have already made it in the sports world.
For example, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen tweeted that Vegas' emergence was the "best thing to happen to (our) country in (a) long time."
Over here on the American side, Vegas is a great attraction for people like me that are making their way into the golf world. I'm a relatively new fan, and taking this new position as a golf editor recently has helped me begin a fandom that I hope lasts a lifetime; however, I feel like I have to gravitate toward a couple favourite golfers.
A couple weeks ago while being introduced to the European Tour, I jumped on the Charl Schwartzel bandwagon. Although Schwartzel has been great, I'm really enjoying Vegas' charisma and success on the PGA Tour so far, and our dual rookie status makes him even more likable for me.
IS WOODS THE VILLIAN?
Joe Posnanski wrote an article earlier this week for CNNSI.com detailing how Woods might officially be on the downswing of his career. It's a great piece and posed the question of whether people have "quit" on the 14time major champion.
I don't think everyone will ever really quit the guy -- I mean, he is the sport's Michael Jordan. He put golf on his back in the 1990s and 2000s and made it "cool." Before Tiger Woods, golf wasn't golf. Sure, there were guys like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, the all time greats, but Woods brought it to a whole other level in the new technological age.
But has he, like LeBron James in basketball, Barry Bonds in baseball and Brett Favre in football, become the villain of golf?
To me, he's certainly heading that way. Along with Twitter and Facebook and The Golf Channel and every media orifice available comes inevitable saturation. There hasn't been a span of two or three days over the last few years where James', Favre's or Woods' name hasn't been uttered in some fashion. It's a sports turnoff for a lack of a better term; there are more important stories I'd rather discover.
So it's now gotten to the point where I'd like Woods to lurk in the shadows. Let me know when he gets back to his immortal stage. If Superman suddenly lost the ability to fly, I wouldn't want to hear about him again until he was back in the air. In the meantime, let's celebrate the guys who are making their mark -- like Vegas.
Golf's greatest challenge is going to be marketing the game after Woods' final decline, much like the NBA has trailed off since Michael Jordan left the game as a player. Whether the beast is hibernating temporarily or permanently now is the time to market the new batch of players. Riding Woods' coattails too much may prove to be a costly mistake.