That noise over the Masters
AUGUSTA, Ga. – “The Young Lions,” they were called – Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite. Someone who knew something about what the rising young male lions do when they take over a pride came up with the name. It would be that way in golf, too, if not quite so graphically.
is roar of new Young Lions
Wadkins, Crenshaw and Kite weren’t so much the heirs presumptive as the heirs presumptuous. Who were they to think they would replace Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Trevino, et al.? This was in the early 1970s. They were all in their early 20s, all new to the pros, who had come upon the scene with considerable fanfare, and they would make us forget the Big Three (or Four, etc.). They didn’t, of course, and in fact didn’t even approach the accomplishments of their elders. But they did OK. Now golf has another onrush of youth, and much is expected of them, too, in the Age of Tiger Woods and his supporting cast. But it’s getting a little silly. You can’t even call them Young Lions. These guys are all teenagers – Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, 19, and Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa, 17, both winning pros already, and Korean-born New Zealander Danny Lee, 18, who will turn pro after this Masters.
And they’ve made Anthony Kim an ex-rage at age 23. Kim was the rage 0Alast year, after he’d given up the 19th hole to concentrate on the first 18. Time flies.
Little should be expected of the Young Trio. This is their first Masters, and not all the talent and youthful exuberance in the world can make up for a few trips around Augusta National, with all of her wiles and woes. Of course, a little cold blood could go a long way, as in McIlroy, who said he felt nary a twitch when he stepped on the hallowed grounds for the first time. The only thing ruffled about him was his abundant hair.
“I thought I would be nervous hitting my first shot here,” he said. “I’m not really one to get overwhelmed by much these days for some reason. Don’t know why.”
Then he caught himself, and the gift of the Irish kicked in. “Obviously I’m really excited to be here – don’t get me wrong,” the fluffy-headed McIlroy said. “But I want to get the most out of this week as possible. So you can’t really be in awe of anything.”
The same can’t be said for observers of the golf scene. Apart from an outstanding amateur career, including a course-record 61 at Royal Portrush at age 15, McIlroy first came to attention when opened the 2007 British Open with a 68. If becoming established in pro golf at age 19 is even thinkable, then McIlroy established himself by winning the European20Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic two months ago. You will find him at No. 17 on the World Rankings.
One doesn’t hear much out of the Japan Tour. Even the name Ozaki doesn’t ring that loud. But he brought down the echoes in Japan when he won the 2007 Munsingwear Open at the age of 15 years and 8 months. That made him the youngest ever to win on the Japan Tour. Now, at age 17, he will be the second youngest in Masters history, to Tommy Jacobs, a younger 17 in 1952.
Unlike the steely McIlroy, Ishikawa first was hypnotized by Augusta’s beauty, gazing on the land like a tourist and losing his swing in the process. “I still can’t believe I’m at Augusta,” he said.
Then there were the swarms of curiosity-seekers at Monday’s practice round, there to gawk at the Japanese Wonder. “I got really nervous, even when I was standing on the green, and practicing for the putt,” the kid said. He pulled himself together and ran his impressions of Augusta National through his mind, comparing them to what he saw – like a football coach – going through hours of tape. (Nice try, though how going through tape can give one the Xs-and-Os of a golf course.)
“As I saw everything in person, I thought everything was so small and narrow,” he said. “I know I will be nervous in the real tournament, but I think within20the context that I believe how I can just put myself to concentrate on the game. That will be the key. I’m not going to lie to anybody. I’m not going to hide my feelings. I am nervous. But within that context, I am still trying to do my best, and that’s how I play.”
Ishikawa’s life goal is to one-up Tiger Woods. Danny Lee has already done that, on a limited basis. When he won the 2008 U.S. Amateur at age 18 years and 1 month, he became the youngest ever to win it, knocking Woods back to second-youngest. Then he won the European Tour’s Johnnie Walker Classic in February.
“It feels like I’m dreaming,” said Lee, the limit of whose ambitions at the time was to make the cut, and maybe to make the top 20.
His first real experience at Augusta was a round with Britain’s Ian Poulter, who told him to dribble in his putts – to die them in the hole – rather than charge them. Apart from that, he’s pleased to be sleeping in the Crow’s Nest, the amateur quarters in the stately clubhouse.
“I’m sleeping where Tiger slept,” Lee said. “So maybe that will help me sleep better.”
An apt juxtaposition, to some minds. When he took the Johnnie Walker, there was talk that he would be the next Tiger Woods.
Pshaw, said Lee.
“I can’t compare to Tiger because he’s
the greatest player in the world,” Lee said. “All I want to do is break what he’s done and be the next Tiger Woods.”
Gentlemen, start your Young Lions.
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