by G. Rennie
Phil the Thrill is perhaps the most liked golfer around even though he’s played most of his career in the shadow of the Tiger Woods phenomenon. The contrast between those two both on the course and off couldn’t be more sharply drawn than they are now. One aspect of their differing styles of play is that Tiger is extremely calculating in managing his way around a course. Phil has, for the most part, been less disciplined and has built a reputation as a gunslinger, in the Arnie mold, who will often take on the improbable shot and occasionally the truly impossible shot.
In his classic blues lament, the one and only B.B.King, claims that “the thrill is gone.”
Given some recent play, many in the golf community had seemed to reach this conclusion about Phil’s game. Last week, prior to the start of the Scottish Open, John Feinstein talked about the possible deterioration of Phil’s physical skills due to the psoriatic arthritis he has been treated for in the past couple of years. Phil never alibi’s nor makes excuses for his play when it doesn’t meet his – or our- standards. But I think Feinstein is on to something here. As a fellow arthritic, I know that some days I haven’t a clue about how my swing will work. And the change or lack of feel is most pronounced in the short game and especially on the greens.
Although I’m a charter member of the “hands of stone club” Phil has been an exceptional artist with exquisite touch with the scoring clubs, except when, inexplicably he isn’t, like the last round of the Scottish Open this past Sunday. Phil seemed as mystified as any onlooker about his sudden ineptitude with the putter after he scorched the Castle Stuart Links with rounds of 64 and 65 the previous two days.
The duration of careers on tour has been lengthened with the new standards of fitness and the revolution in equipment and many golfer’s will remain competitive well into their forties now which was a rarity in early days (with a nod to the exceptional Sam Snead ). We’ve seen Vijay and Kenny Perry have exceptional success late into their forties. Unfortunately, I don’t think Phil is going to be able to keep up his level of elite play for much longer. I believe he’s still capable of having a great week now and then and I’m rooting for him every time he tees it up. However, I do think we’ve see the best Phil has to offer. It’s awfully tough to overcome chronic physical ailments and play this game at an elite level. I don’t think the Thrill is gone yet, just that it will be a rare occurrence.