Being No. 1: Enjoy It

Shakespeare, a scratch playwright way back when, shrewdly observed in Henry IV, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Seems His Highness wasn’t getting much sleep while running the kingdom and while it’s not certain that Henry was really hot to be king anyway, it was a dead lock that he was weary from the weight of the office. About 300 or so years later, Mel Brooks – not as well-known as Shakespeare but 100 times funnier – declared “It’s good to be the king,” in the movie, History of the World, Part I. (If you don’t know it, rent it.) So, follow me here, whether you want to be No. 1 – and stay there – seems to depend on how much of a sense of humor you have about the whole thing. Tiger Woods, No. 1 in the world for the umpteenth time, for a total of a million or so weeks, displaced his newest best friend, the uneasy Rory McIlroy. And Tiger being Tiger, he texted his bud in Houston and said, according to Rory, “Get your finger out of you’re a** and win this week.” Rory said he laughed. That’s what he said. There appears to be three types of professional golfers: (1) Those who just want a good living and all the free stuff; (2) those who aspire to win majors; and (3) those who have what it takes to reach No. 1 and take on all that goes with it. There are 10 times more Type 1 players than Type 2 and 3 combined and at least 20 times more Type 2 than Type 3. In fact, in the men’s game there’s only one Type 3 and he is currently the top-ranked player. Tiger loves being No. 1 and no matter what he says, he’s always working to be No. 1 or stay that way. Nike just came out with an ad that features a Tiger quote: “Winning takes care of everything.” He doesn’t love everything that goes with the top spot but he has learned to be a grownup about it and he fulfills most of the obligations without any visible complaint. McIlroy was No. 1 for 32 weeks, 592 fewer weeks than Tiger. And it appeared that the young Northern Irishman was totally and severely uncomfortable with the top spot for 31 of those weeks. During the time McIlroy was No. 1, he got rich, traveled the world with his hot celebrity girlfriend, went through a mini-slump, won two majors and for most of this season hasn’t been able to find his backside with both hands, much less pull his finger out. In fact, to hear him tell it, it has been quite a relief to fall out of the No. 1 spot and back to comfortability. “I guess at the minute, yeah, with me trying to get my game back to where I think it can be,” McIlroy said in Houston. “You know, it’s nice to just go – not just go about my business and no one cares, but you go about it and not be, I guess, the most talked about person in golf. It’s a nice thing.” The other players who have had held the No. 1 spot in the history of the Official World Golf Ranking are Bernhard Langer (three weeks), Seve Ballesteros (61), Greg Norman (331), Nick Faldo (97), Ian Woosnam (50), Fred Couples (16), Nick Price (44), Tom Lehman (one), Ernie Els (nine), David Duval (15), Vijay Singh (32), Martin Kaymer (eight), Lee Westwood (22) and Luke Donald (56). There are no more than four players on that list (maybe three) who really embraced being No. 1 and gracefully carried on all the responsibility that went with it. The discomfort with No. 1 is not just limited to the men’s game. Yani Tseng was No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings since February 2011. And just lately, she has been talking a lot about how much more pressure she felt carrying around the millstone that being the best player in the world places around your neck. Tseng lives in Annika Sorenstam’s old house near Orlando and would do well to seek Annika’s counsel about being No. 1. Sorenstam worked her whole career to reach No. 1 and while she didn’t love everything that went with it, she embraced it and used it to continue to get better as a player. Now that Stacy Lewis is No. 1, for three whole weeks, we’ll see whether she learns to embrace it or loathe it. McIlroy had a chance to regain the No. 1 spot with a victory at the Shell Houston Open. And he knew it. How much that entered his mind while he played is a question to which only he knows the answer. He’s 23, and perhaps it will take time for McIlroy to mature and grow enough to one day wear No. 1 like a loose garment. It’s one thing to be handed the keys to the kingdom. It’s quite another to figure out whether you want to walk through the doors they open.


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