AUGUSTA, Ga. — Winning a Masters is about as meaningful as it gets when it comes to professional golf. It doesn’t take a Nielsen ratings expert or strokes gained analyst to break that one down. There’s the Masters, there are the other three majors (and maybe the Players Championship, if your preferences bend that way) and then there’s everything else.
So while it’s foolish to ever say a Masters victory isn’t important and impossible to determine who would personally value it the most, we can go through and determine to which star winning it would mean the most. That is, which golfer’s legacy would we think about most differently if they were to win this week at Augusta National?
Obviously you can’t go through the entire field and do this because it would mean far more to, say, Corey Conners to win the 2019 Masters than it would Dustin Johnson. But we’re looking at top-10 quality players only when we’re talking about whose life or career it would be most meaningful to to win the 2019 Masters.
This was an easy and obvious choice. His status — as a 29-year-old, mind you — would be bumped from “historically great” to “all-time legend” with a victory this week. He would make a club of five suddenly six and have ticked every single box there is to tick in the sport after just 11 years as a professional. He might need the fame and spoils the least, but of golf’s stars he might also need the win the most. Such is the beauty of this championship.
The comeback was complete long before he won at East Lake last September, but a win at this tournament in this week would reshape the way we not only think about but also consider and project the rest of his career. The Tiger story would have another apex in one of its last chapters, and Woods would put a comma between himself (potentially five wins) and Arnold Palmer (four), also putting two between himself and Phil Mickelson (three).
Think about how differently we view him if two strokes go differently in 2018 and he wins that Masters instead of Patrick Reed. One of my soapboxes is that the margins of legacies are so preposterously thin that it’s almost painful to think and talk about them properly. A win here would rightly put him in a category many casual golf fans already think he should be (or might already be).
We think we know what Reed is about, right? A good player who found a heater with his putter last year but won’t win multiple Masters or maybe even multiple majors. But what if he doubles down on that and wins two of the most anticipated Masters of the last 20 years?
Currently nine golfers — including Watson — have two Masters. Only eight have three or more. Watson can put himself on a list that includes Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Jimmy Demaret, Sam Snead, Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson.
We keep talking about how McIlroy has four majors by age 30, but Koepka has two more years to jump past Jordan Spieth and join that list. Plus, a win here would mean he’s 75 percent complete with the career grand slam. Speaking of Spieth, I wanted to include him on this list, but I think his major record is a little muddied. People he has two Masters, so I’m not sure we would think big picture that differently about him.
I didn’t know which order to put Rose and Johnson, but to me, if you’ve conquered Oakmont and Augusta National as your two majors, that’s a bigger deal than Merion and Augusta. Not a much bigger deal … but a slightly bigger deal. Toss in D.J.’s 20 career PGA Tour wins, and I think a win here elevates him from really good PGA Tour player to starting to talk about one of the 25-30 best golfers to ever play the game.
Same theory here as D.J. Going from one major to two majors is something you should do if you’re historically great. In fact, you probably shouldn’t even be allowed to be the No. 1 player in the world with just one major.
Sort of like Watson, Mickelson can become the oldest major winner ever and also get on the four-jacket club alongside Woods, Nicklaus and Palmer. Don’t think he hasn’t thought about that.