Who’s Your Favorite Golfer? And Why Even Have One?

By James A. Frank

Arnold Palmer (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
We’re doing a survey. Two questions, very easy.
First question: Who is your favorite golfer?
Second question: Why?
Okay, maybe it isn’t so easy after all. Because while I’m pretty sure you have a favorite golfer, explaining your rationale can be difficult.
Fandom is a curious thing. Why do average folks go gaga for celebrities? It makes sense when we like their movies or songs or even political philosophies: Those are concrete things we choose to associate with.
Sports teams are similarly relatable. We root for teams because they represent a city/region we associate with, a university we attended (or wished we’d attended), maybe a record of success or failure. We’re also prone to inherit allegiances from family members. Or maybe we just like the uniforms.
Jordan Spieth (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
But with golf—and other non-team sports—such built-in allegiances are rare. Did anyone root for Jack Nicklaus because he attended Ohio State, or Tiger Woods because he spent a few years at Stanford? Do you even know where—or if—your favorite golfer went to college?
I suppose Minnesotans might have a warm spot for Tom Lehman and Wisconsinites for Steve Stricker, two favorite sons who rose above their chilly hometown climates to achieve golf success. But that means Floridians, Californians, Texans, and other warm-weather staters are overwhelmed with dozens of locals (often transplanted) to choose from.
It used to be that the most popular golfers won us over with how they played. Think Sam Snead’s silky swing, Ben Hogan’s steely demeanor, Arnold’s slashing, Seve’s miraculous saves, Jack’s then-prodigious length, Gentle Ben’s putting. More recently, Tiger and Phil, in particular, played in a way that, good or bad, kept us interested and kept us in their corners. But today, with everyone crushing the ball ridiculous distances and bringing courses to their knees, skill seems less important in making fans.
Tiger Woods (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images for The Match)
There’s another problem: Money. I’ve asked amateur golfers for years who they like and why, often posing it as a single question: Why do you care if Phil Mickelson wins another million dollars?
And, of course, there’s the question of personality. Or lack thereof. It may be a generalization to say that the vast majority of golf pros on all the major circuits are cookie-cutter clones, regardless of age or gender. Yet despite their taking to social media all day, every day, it seems that we know less about them than we did the great players of a few decades ago. Or perhaps it’s just that with so many players playing so well, it’s hard to see distinctions. It’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you name golfers on the Champions Tour as your heroes. (As movie buffs often say about the old days of Hollywood, “They had faces then.”)
Which gets us back to asking, in all seriousness, who are your favorites and your reasons for supporting them. Tell us in the comment section below and we may leave a few comments of our own.