Golf's new era is here
Golf changed Sunday. Rory McIlroy changed it. What happened at Congressional Country Club changed it. There is a new golf order, starting now. Better get used to it.
1. For the first time in his life, Tiger Woods isn't the one being chaste er, chased.
You know the idiot who hollers "You Da Man!" in the nanosecond after impact on televised tournaments? For the first time in 14 years, he's not referring to Woods. The Man is McIlroy now.
And it's the first good thing to happen to Woods in three years.
Finally, The Big Cablinasian is the pursuer, not the pursued. For once, he's the underdog. He hasn't been the underdog since since ever. Imagine the possibilities here. You know how pissed off he's played as the God of Golf? Imagine how motivated he'll be as the Has Been.
This is a guy who won three U.S. Juniors and three U.S. Amateurs before he even hit the tour. This is a guy who won in a playoff in his fifth pro tournament, who won four times in his first full year alone, who won his first pro appearance in the Masters by 12 shots.
Chubby Chandler is the new Man to See in golf. And if you want to see him, you have to go to London.
He's never had to do the "also playing" thing.
Can't you just see Woods on Sunday, getting up on his crutches, clicking off the 80-inch flat screen, swearing at the dog, kicking over the gold-plated elephant-foot umbrella stand and cranking the spin bike up to about Everest?
Tattoo this on your forehead: This will light a fire under Woods the size of Mount St. Helen's. He'll be back someday and he'll be pissed.
And THAT'S why he'll still have a chance to catch Jack Nicklaus.
2. Phil's window just closed.
Phil Mickelson had three years to become sheriff of golf. From the 2008 U.S. Open, when Tiger won on a hollow leg, through the Fire Hydrant Incident, past the Parade of Porn Stars Era, and again through this most recent Leg Troubles Part IV, the position went unfilled. It was all pretenders and temps.
Mickelson won a Masters in that three-year window, but arthritis, a driver that won't listen, some crummy life luck and too many cockamamie I'm-going-to-hit-this-roided-up-2-iron-all-week! plans sunk him. Instead of moving up to his rightful throne, instead of stepping up from No. 2 to No. 1, Mickelson went as backwards as his famous trick lob-wedge shot. Disappointing for us Phil Phreaks.
And now it's too late. Master McIlroy has arrived, with a game to dominate -- and, scarier, at 41 it's never going to happen for Phil in this lifetime. But he's going to be a terrific Secretary of the Treasury someday.
3. Jason Day is the new Phil.
The handsome Aussie with the violent swing finished second in his first Masters in April and now second in his first Open. Perhaps Day will play Mickelson to McIlroy's Woods? Plus, in keeping with the Mickelson role, Day's wife is hotter than a Venus oven.
4. Chubby Chandler is the new Mark Steinberg.
Steinberg, Tiger Woods' agent, was flushed by IMG and is on his own now.
Chandler is the very round, very thirsty and very clever British agent for not only McIlroy but Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and many more. If you're counting, that means Chubby's Champs have won three of the last four majors.
Remember when Chubby kept McIlroy and Westwood out of the Players Championship this year? Expect more of that.
All of which makes Chandler the new Man to See in golf. And if you want to see him, you have to go to London.
Hint: Bring very good wine.
5. The USGA has lost it.
Whatever that was -- couples-outing rough, bunkers more shallow than David Spade, and easy bailouts everywhere -- it wasn't a U.S. Open. It was maybe a Honda Classic, but not an Open.
I never saw a single player have to hack it out sideways from boot-hiding rough. I never saw a single pin position that didn't have acres of room to make a mistake. I never saw a course more neutered by media day tee boxes.
You say, "Well, it rained."
I say, "Yeah, but not much."
You say, "This McIlroy kid just went nuts."
I say, "Most everybody went nuts. That was probably the lowest-scoring weekend in Open history. My God, Day's 8-under second-place finish would've won or tied every other Open ever played but Tiger's epic week in 2000 at Pebble Beach."
It's also time to get rid of these cutesy Thursday-Friday pairings the USGA finds so adorable. You know, Swedes getting to play with Swedes, Spaniards with Spaniards, Molinaris with Molinaris. Hello? It's an advantage to play with the same guys you play practice rounds with. You know their yardages, you know their tempos. And if you think one Molinari is going to call a rule violation on another Molinari, I've got a golf ball that won't slice to sell you.
We watch Opens to see multimillionaires clobber themselves with their putters in frustration. Give us those Opens again.
6. Accent the positive.
We are living in an era when a 7-foot German is the happy Kleenex story of the NBA. When the three best tennis players (of both genders) in the world are all from Europe. When the Boston Bruins win Lord Stanley's jug behind a team of 22 non-Americans out of 25. When the best sprinter is Jamaican. When the best soccer team is Spanish. Hell, even Green Bay is almost in Canada.
Last week, American golf fans in America's capital chanted the name of a 161-pound Ulsterman on every fairway. Meanwhile, the best young Americans came out with whatever this is on Wednesday -- and then three-fourths of them missed the cut Friday.
But so what? The digital age has shrunk the planet. You can find somebody to Skype with in Fiji faster than you can find help at Home Depot. This is the new normal. Learn to love the accents.
And next time your buddy says he can't get behind McIlroy because he's not American while scarfing a panini and chugging Heineken and ogling Penelope Cruz on a Sony, understand you're talking to a troglodyte.
7. Tim Finchem has a par-5-sized problem.
McIlroy is not a member of Finchem's PGA Tour. He's played in the U.S. only five times this year. It's possible America won't see him but twice more this season.
Without Tiger, the tour is already dying for star power. This only makes it worse. The top four players in the world are European. The Heritage Classic had to turn to the Royal Bank of Canada just to stay alive last week. And now golf's abiding dude lives near Belfast. Finchem better get the archaic 15-tournament-minimum-for-membership rule slashed if he wants McIlroy to be a member.
And, unless he has had his cerebral cortex removed, he wants McIlroy to be a member.
8. Golf owes Northern Ireland now.
Northern Ireland is to golf now what India is to cricket. It's a nation that is only about 5,400 square miles, total, and yet it's home to the last two U.S. Open champions, McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. That would be like getting two straight British Open champions from South Dakota.
So who does Northern Ireland have to sleep with to get a British Open? It's ridiculous that a nation with courses like Royal County Down (mystical), and Royal Portrush (mythical) hasn't hosted one in 60 years, and yet Royal St. Georges, the motocross track we're going to this year, will host its 14th.
Next open slot is 2016. As I say to my bartender while holding my mug, fill it with something Irish.
9. The world rankings are dumber than a bag of hair.
We haven't had a No. 1-ranked player win a major in three years. How can that be? The rankings need to be jiggered more to the majors and less to the Dubai Opens of the world. Otherwise, they are as useless as Mexican earmuffs.
Of course, not everything has changed in golf. There's one thing that remains truer than ever:
10. America will still stink in the Ryder Cup.
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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "SportsCenter" and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.
Feel like taking a detour from sane sports? Try Rick's new book, "Sports from Hell."
LIFE OF REILLY
RICK REILLY, 52, has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times. His latest book is called "Sports From Hell: My Two-year Search for the World's Dumbest Competition." A finalist for the 2011 Thurber Prize for Humor, it's the account of his search for the dumbest sport in the world.
Not to give anything away, but a good bet would be either Ferret Legging or Chess Boxing. It also includes embarrassing attempts by Reilly to try Nude Bicycle Racing, Zorbing, Extreme Ironing, the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships and an unfortunate week on a women's pro football team.