It was a great weekend for the McIlroy family.
The 25-year-old Rory won the biggest tournament in his eyes, The Open Championship, set in the heartlands of his home territory in Europe. It was McIlroy’s third major championship, along with the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Tournament titles, but this year’s British Open will serve as his greatest achievement thus far. Every young European golfer dreams of hoisting the Claret Jug someday, and McIlroy achieved that goal on Sunday.
Speaking of young, Rory’s father, Gerry, and three of his friends bet 400 pounds ($683 for our currency) ten years ago that his son — 16-years-old at the time — would win the British Open before he turned 26. The odds at that time were 500-1, so do the math…that’s $341,000 being paid out to each man.
But Saturday wasn’t just an outstanding afternoon for those across the pond. McIlroy’s victory is huge for the entire sport all over the world.
Golf isn’t exactly a spectator sport that people will tune in to watch every weekend. The PGA needs stars to bring ratings up, even if it’s just one or two names. Those players are Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson currently, but clearly aren’t the golfers they once were. Mickelson is 44, with just two majors since 2010. Woods is 38, and this doesn’t seem real, but he hasn’t captured a major title since 2008. Mickelson finished T23 on Sunday, while Woods barely missed the cut, only to finish in 69th.
Obviously, Woods has struggled with his body’s health over the years, and it has left a huge void for the tour. As you might expect, television ratings are much higher when Woods plays. At the Players Championship in May, Woods was forced out of golf’s “fifth major”, as it is considered the biggest non-major tournament on the recognizable TPC Sawgrass course. Mickelson missed the cut after two days, so the field lacked the star power that casual fans want to see. As a result, the event only had a 2.6 rating, compared to a 5.7 in 2013 when Woods won it.
It’s time for a new generation of golfers to carry the game, even though the talk will still be about Woods. McIlroy has been called a “young Tiger” ever since he won his first major in 2011, and has the talent to become one of the faces of the PGA Tour. Sure, it’s cool to see players with great underdog stories come out of nowhere to win big tournaments, but relevance is what the game needs. Relevant stars who will consistently be there at the top of leaderboards.
Going forward, assuming people can get over the “Tiger watch” phase, golf is in good hands with the number of stars that are beginning to shine. You have McIlroy, the number one player in the world in Adam Scott, who is marketable and the ladies love him, and the very popular Bubba Watson is still crushing the ball.
The list doesn’t stop there, as a large group of young players are sitting among the top 25 in the world. Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, and how about Rickie Fowler? He’s not just the kid on the course who wears the bright outfits anymore. In 2014, Fowler has finished in the top 5 of all three majors, including two runner-up finishes at both the U.S and British Opens. He may have just one win on the PGA Tour, but Fowler is my pick to win the PGA Championship in August.
Sure, hitting a white ball into a cup may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and some people may never watch golf on television. It’s going to take big names to keep casual fans into tuning in, and after watching McIlroy win wire-to-wire from Thursday to Saturday, it’s clear he’s the man to play the lead role.
Photo: Rory McIlroy holds the Claret Jug (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)