Stars in Our Eyes
Posted Sep 08 2011, 10:54 AM by Cathy Erickson
Last week Sam Johnson wrote about golf Super Stars...or the lack thereof on the PGA Tour as the FedEx Cup playoffs get started. I give him credit for acknowledging that the definition of super star is in the eye of the beholder, because I think the measure of a star can be looked at in many ways.
It's hard to argue with Sam's list of stars...and when you have the opportunity to include a career's worth of accomplishments, it's going to take a lot be worthy of recognition. If we teleported ourselves back to say 1921 instead of 2011, would we still put Bobby Jones on the list of all time super stars back then?
Everyone knew Jones had talent well beyond his years, but it took time for him to mature and realize what it took to win at the highest level. According to his biographical information on http://www.bobbyjones.com/, it took him 7 years of playing competitively (as an amateur!) before he won his first major championship in 1923. One of the other things mentioned in Jones' biography was that he was such a perfectionist and wanted to win so badly that his self-imposed stress would often cause him to lose up to 15 pounds during a tournament...he also struggled with a terrible temper. No wonder he quit playing competitive golf at 30 years old.
When you read back into the stories of many of golf's super stars (according to Sam) they all have a story of sacrifices, challenges, and failures that happened on their way to achieving their successes. I haven't read them all, but the stories are there. They weren't always super stars. And more importantly, if super star is based on a whole career, then why in the world would Sam expect to see them playing last weekend?
And it seems to me that it's a little unfair to compare accomplishments from 80 years ago, or even 40 years ago, to today...the environment, the accessibility, and the golf stage was completely different than as it is today. I'm not saying it belittles the accomplishments, but no one is playing on the same scale anymore. I think that's why we often see the phrases "of his time" or "in that generation" or "in his prime" following being described as a "star".
Greg Norman, on my all time-favorites list and worthy of super star status, I think will best be known for what he didn't accomplish more than what he did. The improbable shots made against him and the epic collapse at the Masters will be stories shared for golf generations to come. When I was at the golf course earlier this week we were talking about the fateful Masters and I mentioned that Norman spoke of the thousands of cards and letters of support he received after what he endured. My friend Ted said, "seeing that is what made me take up golf again." He explained that seeing a professional having the same experience average Joe golfers go through regularly made him realize that everyone can play golf...and he's been playing ever since...he even has a driving range in his back yard! I'm thinking, being an inspiration has to be a lot cooler than being a star.
I love it when Sam writes stories about the great accomplishments of players from past generations...if you haven't read them you need to go through his archive of articles. I especially enjoyed the story of Babe Zaharias, one of Sam's favorite super stars. She was an amazing woman and athlete. I wonder what she could accomplish with a titanium 460cc driver with a UST shaft in it?! But that's the thing, we'll never know.
Being a Minnesotan, I'm a bit partial to Patty Berg (who was born in Minneapolis, MN and attended the U of M)...according to her biography on http://www.lpga.com/, Berg won 28 amateur titles before turning professional in 1940. But a car accident in 1941 kept her away from golf for 18 months (who knows what could have been accomplished!). Then after regaining her health she served 3 years in the Marine Corps as a lieutenant during World War II. Beginning in 1948 and running through 1962, Berg won 44 titles, including 9 majors. She ended her career with 60 victories and 15 Majors, with her Major wins being a Tour record. Berg, along with Zaharias, were founding members of the LPGA, which for women golfers today, may be their greatest accomplishment.
It's funny, as I am pondering Sam's super star golf list, and how the world generally looks at "super stars" it's almost the opposite...you don't have to look much farther than Michelle Wie to see how hype and media exposure can impact perceptions. Remember Ty Tryon? No? Well, he was once the next big thing in golf. Now that I think about it, I'm not even sure the title super star does any justice to the likes of Nicklaus, Palmer, Jones, Berg, and others when that same term is used to describe the cast of Jersey Shore.
What I do know is this...the fact that we search out super stars and create lists of people that have influenced the game or ourselves shows that a passion for golf stirs within us...and I think we owe it to golf to continue to recognize those in golf that make it exciting to watch, that inspire us to play and improve, and that show us that honesty and character are attributes that make us better players and better people. It won't ever be all about wins for me.
So, while I agree with most all of Sam's list of "all-time" super star golfers, I would add to my list of super stars (in my own eyes)... Patty Berg, Tom Lehman, Payne Stewart, Davis Love III, Fred Couples, Juli Inkster, Betsy King, Pat Bradley, Meg Mallon, Erik Compton, and of course my two current favorite players, Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar. Sam can't tell me my list is wrong because each of these people, along with many others, inspire me to keep loving the game...that makes them super stars in my book.
Filed under: Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Sam Johnson, Steve Stricker, Tom Lehman, Matt Kuchar, Golf, Cathy Erickson, Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias, super star, inspire, Bobby Jones, Betsy King, Pat Bradley, Juli Inkster
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