CROMWELL, Conn. – Corey Pavin stood in front of a camera taking questions from a local television reporter. He gushed about The Travelers Championship. He gushed about how much he loves the event and the mutual appreciation shared by the players and the fans at the venue.
Pavin wasn’t just playing nice for the camera. The sincerity of his praise for the event was evidenced by the fact that this is one of only four PGA Tour events Pavin is playing this year. He’s a full-time member of the Champions Tour now and plays in only certain events on the “regular” tour.
And the 51-year-old Pavin is taking extra time to enjoy each one. By choice, he will stop playing on the PGA Tour altogether in the next couple of years. He said that next year he might play only two events “and then phase it all out pretty soon.”
“It’s just nice to come out and see guys I haven’t seen for a while, too,” said Pavin Tuesday at TPC River Highlands. “There are still a lot of guys I know out here and it’s fun. I talk to the caddies … I probably know more caddies out here than players.”
Pavin’s career on the PGA Tour has been an illustrious one. He won 15 tournaments, including the 1995 U.S. Open over Greg Norman, and played on three Ryder Cup teams (winning twice in 1991 and 1993). This past year, Pavin served as captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team that narrowly lost to Europe.
He has seen the passing of the torch from Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods and Woods’ fall from grace. The latter has sent the golf world into a place it hasn’t been for some years: without the most dominant player in history at the top of his game, the No. 1 spot in the world rankings has been in flux for the past several months.
Pavin said that, with or without Woods, the game is in fine shape.
“I think either way is healthy for golf,” he said. “When you have a player like Tiger who was dominant for all those years – and, who knows, he could come back and do it again – I think fans like that.
“Then when you have all sorts of guys who are jockeying for No. 1, there’s a group of fans that likes that as well. You’re not going to please everybody all the time, but either way I think is healthy for golf.”
With Rory McIlroy’s victory at the U.S. Open last week, American players have now gone five straight majors without a victory. Additionally, the top three spots in the latest world rankings are occupied by European players (Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer).
All of this has led to some chatter that there’s something wrong with American golf. Pavin disagrees. To him, it’s more indicative of the cyclical nature of the game.
It wasn’t long ago that a European player couldn’t buy a major; Europeans went from the 1999 British Open to the 2008 British Open (a span of 31 majors) without a title.
Couple that, Pavin said, with the growing globalization of the game and there is much greater competition for major championships.
“It’s such an international game now and there’s so many excellent players form around the world now,” said Pavin. “It used to not be that way so much. You’re going to have that tremendous amount of foreign players relative to 20 years ago out here on tour.
“Inevitably, you’re going to have runs like this. I’m sure in a few years you’ll probably see a bunch of Americans doing well again.”
As Pavin tees it up this week at TPC River Highlands – perhaps for the final time – there will be plenty of players in the field who are half his age. Many of them, like Rickie Fowler, Jhonattan Vegas and Brendan Steele, and Webb Simpson, are among the next generation of stars expected to keep the PGA Tour at a high level.
Pavin will be saying farewell to the PGA Tour in the not-so-distant future. When he leaves, he’s confident that the tour – and the game of golf in general – will be in good hands.
“I think what I’ve seen with a lot of the kids now is that they are showing a lot of respect for the game and they are really good young people,” said Pavin. “That’s all I really care about; that’s all I want to see is the integrity of the game and the tradition of the game stay the same.
“I’ve seen a lot of class acts out there, whether they’re Americans or European, Australians, Japanese, whatever. They’re all very respectful, and I like that.”
– Chuck Curti