Martin Dempster: Why golf fans should cherish awesome generation, led by Collin Morikawa

It’s awesome! Apologies but, after spending a week in a part of the world that is popular with our American cousins, that’s the word I simply can’t get out of my head.

Collin Morikawa of the United States lines up a putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course.

They even use it for the most banal things you can think of when, in actual fact, there is nothing whatsoever that is awesome about the task or matter in question.

I have to say, though, that word really does sum up the state of golf at the top of the ladder at the moment and, in particular, the calibre of the majority of the game’s leading lights.

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It’s a thought that was strong in my mind during this year’s Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club and my week in the Bahamas at the Hero World Challenge merely rubber-stamped it.

Throughout my time covering golf, I’ve come across lots of outstanding individuals and the mere mention of his name in a conversation last week reminded me that Nick Price is probably still at the top of that list.

I think I can safely say, though, that the current crop of top players beat the vast majority of their predecessors as a group when it comes to being approachable, engaging and interesting.

It was a joy during this year’s Scottish Open to get the chance to listen to the likes of Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele among others.

They all seemed happy to a) be teeing up in the Rolex Series event and b) willing to talk about not only what they were looking for that week but anything and everything.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some players in the past who have similarly ticked that box, but Tiger Woods, in particular, was a master of attracting a crowd and saying nothing of interest at all.

The cynics will say, no doubt, that the likes of Rahm, Thomas, Morikawa and Schauffele will all change, but I don’t think so because they come across as genuine guys, as does Rory McIlroy and, of course, our very own Bob MacIntyre.

Morikawa showed his class with a brilliant winner’s speech the week after that Scottish Open when he became an Open champion at Royal St George’s and he was every bit as impressive more recently when he won the DP World Tour Championship to become the first American to be crowned as the Race to Dubai No 1.

On the back of that, lots of people, myself included, wanted to see Morikawa rise to world No 1 for the first time on Sunday, as would have been the case if he’d also come out on top in the Hero World Challenge.

Alas, it wasn’t to be as the normally machine-like Morikawa had a rare off day in 2021, one that will hurt like hell but hopefully for not too long.

Make no mistake, Morikawa is the real deal and shame on the individuals who took to social media on Sunday to gloat over the fact he’d been unable to seal the deal on this occasion.

It has to be acknowledged, of course, that those individuals use Woods as their barometer when it comes to judging the new wave of top professionals and, sorry, but that’s not fair because we are talking about a phenomenon there.

Who knows what Morikawa can go on and achieve in the game and it probably won’t come close to matching Woods’ achievements, though I hope he proves me wrong, but it’s the overall package that excites me about these new dudes (oops, sorry again!).

You can add Jordan Spieth to that list along with several others and, no matter what lies ahead at a potentially prickly time for the game, we can feel confident that the sport is in good hands as far as the players are concerned.

Yes, there are a couple of notable names missing, but I’m not convinced about Bryson DeChambeau in that respect and I wish Brooks Koepka would go back to being able to smile again, as he did as he was using the Challenge Tour as a platform to become a four-time major winner.

It might not be quite as straightforward as this, but why doesn’t he look at someone like Viktor Hovland and realise that it’s nice to be able to smile now and again?

I remember sitting in the media centre at Emirates Golf Club during a Dubai Desert Classic, I think it was 2019, and seeing Hovland in the flesh for the first time and thinking wow!

The Norwegian is an absolute gem in every sense and golf is lucky to have him. Think about this for a second or two. Norway not only has a world top-10 player at the moment but also Europe’s Solheim Cup captain in Suzann Pettersen.

If you’d predicted that happening, say 20 years ago, you’d have raised more eyebrows than you could probably count.

Right now, my own eyebrows are being raised about what people are actually thinking about lies ahead for Woods in a competitive sense following the leg injuries he sustained in a car crash earlier.

Yes, of course, it’s fantastic to see the 15-time major winner hitting balls again, as he did for two days in succession and three in total on the Albany range as the Hero World Challenge was taking place around him.

Doing that, though, is going to be the easiest part of his recovery. How’s he going to fare when he needs to walk 18 holes and somewhere like Augusta National just doesn’t seem as though it can be a realistic goal straight away.

The 150th Open on a flatter Old Course at St Andrews might be a more realistic open in terms of him being back on the game’s biggest stages, but that, too, is very much up in the air at the moment.

You know, though, that it will be “awesome” and probably even “awesome, awesome and awesome again” if he does return as a competitor to the scene of two Open wins in 2000 and 2005.

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