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Brooks Koepka & Tiger Woods or Hannah Green & Stewart Cink: Which era is better?


Jeongeun Lee

Jeong-un Lee6 became the 16th player from South Korea to win a major, the most of any country other than the United States

Is golf more interesting when a small group of elite players dominate the biggest events or when victory seems within the grasp of pretty much anyone?

The question arises after Hannah Green claimed the Women’s PGA at Hazeltine last Sunday to become the 11th different player to win the last 11 majors in the women’s game.

No-one was predicting a Green victory at the start of the week in Minnesota. The 22-year-old was ranked 114 in the world and had never won on the LPGA Tour.

A month ago South Korea’s Jeong-un Lee6 celebrated her maiden tour victory. It also happened to come at a major, the US Open in Charleston.

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Contrast this with the men’s game, where Brooks Koepka is dominating, winning four of his last 10 majors. The 29-year-old American has finished in the top two of his last four starts in the events that define careers.

Yes, Koepka has struggled to make an impact commensurate with his results but he is getting there; he is increasingly becoming the focal point of the men’s game.

Outside Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, Koepka’s will be the best-attended news conference at July’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

Woods always commands the biggest audience and McIlroy is the inevitable poster boy for an Open staged in Northern Ireland. But at the men’s majors, the narratives are currently pretty clear.

Koepka is top of the world rankings and threatening to dominate the men’s majors

Koepka, Woods, McIlroy, Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari and Jordan Spieth all provide talking points and hooks to generate interest.

But it was not always so. The male game has had similar periods to the current scenario in women’s golf.

Between Angel Cabrera’s Masters win of 2009 and McIlroy’s win in the 2012 PGA Championship there were 15 different major winners, with the Northern Irishman ending the sequence when he added to his 2011 US Open triumph.

There were times in that spell when the men’s game felt rather rudderless as Woods struggled for fitness and suffered the scandal of his extra-marital affairs.

In his absence it was hard to identify who was the new top dog, the man around whom pre-championship stories could be built. It made the game a harder sell but it also spread the the joy of victory to less familiar quarters.

This was the period when less heralded Americans such as Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink and Keegan Bradley became major champions.

Korea’s YE Yang, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel and the German Martin Kaymer also added their names to golf’s roll of honour.

Tiger Woods remains the box office draw at majors

All of those wins stirred emotions in their respective territories in the way that Green’s triumph is doing right now.

This was the first Australian victory at a women’s major since Karrie Webb won the 2006 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

In the current spell of different winners, four have come from the powerhouse of South Korea, there have been two American wins, two Swedish triumphs and victories to celebrate for Britain via Georgia Hall and Thailand through Ariya Jutanugarn.

But who does the women’s game promote as its lead character? Is it Lexi Thompson, despite the American not winning a major since the 2014 ANA Inspiration?

And how different might the LPGA Tour feel had Michelle Wie not been beset by such a miserable wrist injury? She is the same age as Koepka and was tipped to be the dominant figure of the women’s game for generations.

Instead she has just five LPGA Tour wins to her name, including a lone major – the 2014 US Open. No-one can question her courage nor the immense promise she possessed when she first made the cut at a major at the age of 13.

Last week she launched her latest comeback and it ended in tears with rounds of 84-82. “I’m not entirely sure how much more I have left in me,” Wie acknowledged mournfully.

She clearly wants to be on tour and competing once again. Were she to come back from this it would be one of the great sporting stories – akin to that of Woods’ renaissance.

It is an entirely personal battle, but what a boost it would be for the women’s game in general if she were to win it.

A well-known figure as such as Wie would be welcome among the less familiar names that currently populate leaderboards at the biggest tournaments.

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