Golf loves its legends

Jack Nicklaus shows some of the old fire as he competes against Gary Player and Arnold Palmer in...

Jack Nicklaus shows some of the old fire as he competes against Gary Player and Arnold Palmer in Texas recently. (AFP files)

Jon McCarthy, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:44 PM ET

There is no other sport that cherishes its legends like golf.

It’s not even close.

But why?

In many sports, retired players are often swept under the rug. Their declining skills and advancing age seem too harsh a reminder that time doesn’t stop for anybody.

In baseball, fans wince when they see that their childhood hero can no longer throw the ceremonial pitch off the mound.

In football, former players are engaged in a massive lawsuit with the NFL over head trauma issues.

In basketball, even Michael Jordan’s legacy took a hit as fans watched him slip from Greatest of All Time to minor league baseball player to Washington Wizard to a laughing stock of a general manager.

This doesn’t happen in golf.

Coming off last weekend’s Byron Nelson Classic, the PGA Tour heads to Colonial in Fort Worth, Tex., where Ben Hogan is still the most popular player in town. Next week, it’s off to The Memorial tournament at Jack Nicklaus’ masterpiece Muirfield Village built in his home state of Ohio.

Golf fans never grow tired of talking about the game’s greats.

Is it because of the length of their career?

Can’t be. Nelson retired at 34 years old and here we are 66 years later paying respect at his annual tournament.

Is it because golf fans don’t have to see their heroes’ skills erode dramatically like in other sports?

Well, wait. Hogan’s putting stroke toward the end of his career was plenty heartbreaking.

Is it a case of everyone being fondly remembered after they’re dead and gone?

Nope. Nicklaus is alive and well.

What is it then? Why, in a sport that is so heavily influenced by technology, are ties to the past so strong?

It’s because golf is a game of stories.

Whether it’s weekend duffers, golf nuts, country club members, top amateurs, mini-tour players or major champions, golfers love sharing stories.

It’s Nelson asking who holds the course record before he started a round because if it was a local or a club member he didn’t want to beat it.

It’s a 55-year-old Hogan bringing the gallery to tears as he limped up the 18th fairway on Sunday at Augusta in 1967 during his final Masters appearance.

It’s seeing Nicklaus’ competitive nature sparked earlier this month while paired up with Arnold Palmer and Gary Player during a “fun” exhibition at a Champions Tour stop in Texas.

It’s strange that in a sport where everything boils down to a number, the story is rarely told on the scorecard.

In golf, like life, the best moments are inevitably when you stop worrying about the score and stay in the moment. There will always be someone there to tally it up at the end.

So, why do golf fans worship the legends like no other?

It’s simple — they have the best stories.

TIGER TRACKER

What will Tiger Woods’ legacy be?

After all this talk about how warmly the legends are treated, the 14-time major champion is facing the harshest on-course criticism of his career.

Don’t expect to hear Woods admitting his game is in trouble any time soon, though. On Monday during a press conference to promote next month’s AT&T National at Congressional, Woods insisted he is close to regaining his form.

“I think I’m headed in the right direction,” Woods said.

‘’I won a tournament (four) tournaments ago,’’ Woods added. “If I get more efficient at what I’m doing, then I’m going to win golf tournaments.’’

Whether Woods ever becomes a universally beloved figure in the game’s history is anyone’s guess. It’s worth remembering that there were points in Hogan and Nicklaus’ career where they weren’t exactly fan favourites.

ENGLISH IN THE BRITISH

Everybody has played with someone who has shot 120 in a round of golf.

In fact, PGA Tour rookie Harris English just shot 123 in his efforts to make it into the British Open … over two rounds.

The young American shot 60-63 in the international qualifier in Texas to easily qualify.

Also qualifying was Canadian Stephen Ames, who shot an opening-round 71 and nearly gave up before shooting a second-round 61 to qualify, according to ESPN.

“I was ready to walk off when I looked at the numbers and I went, ‘You know what? If after nine holes we don’t have it four or five under, we’re going home,’ ” Ames is quoted as saying in an ESPN article. “After nine holes, we were five under.”

Both players will now tee it up at Royal Lytham and St. Annes in July.


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