Golf's on a run of good luck. The game that seemed so dull and homogenous just a few years ago may now be more worthy of our attention than it's ever been.
Bernhard Langer's victory at the Masters, on top of Calvin Peete's win at the Tournament Players Championship, continues a welcome trend. When it comes to providing vivid characters, fine drama and good sportsmanship, golf can hold its own among our games.
True, the sport has no single dominant personality in the kingly role that Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus once played. But golf has almost everything else we could ask of it.
Looking at the Masters field showed how rich the game has become in recognizable personalities.
The major champions of '84 were all on hand at Augusta National: Ben Crenshaw, Masters; Fuzzy Zoeller, U.S. Open; Seve Ballesteros, British Open; and Lee Trevino, who won the PGA. What an ideal blend of contrasting personalities and styles.
Crenshaw, the perfect antithesis of a John McEnroe, showed that a gentle temperament couldn't keep an athlete from winning a great title.
Zoeller, waving his towel to Greg Norman at Winged Foot, was the epitome of what we mean by a sportsman. What game wouldn't be graced by his natural humor and his determination in the face of a career-long back injury?
Ballesteros' victory at St. Andrews matched a classic player with a classic setting. The Spaniard is an original -- charismatic and as gifted as any living golfer, but a man ruled by his moods and prone to disasters.
The victories by Peete and Langer just add two more appealing characters to our pantheon of palatable victors. Who said golf was a rich man's game? How could anyone's origins be more humble than those of Trevino or Peete? Langer, like Ballesteros, came up through the European caddie ranks. Both think of themselves as children of the working class.
At the moment, golf almost has too many interesting players to watch, too many stories in which we want to hear the next chapter.
Tough Tom Watson is still very much with us. He returned to the top of the money winning list in '84 after a winless season on Tour in '83. At 35, he knows he only has a few more years to carve the final shape of his fame.
Nicklaus won again in '84 and picked his own Memorial Tournament to do it. He's proved he can still contend with the best, but he's also a somewhat more appealing figure now that he's fighting the inevitable losing battle with age. He needs to be rooted for after all those years of being the overdog.
On Sunday at Augusta National, he said, "That's the best Masters round I think I have ever played. I hit all 18 greens in regulation and reached two par-5s in two . . . I had birdie putts on every hole, none longer than 25 feet (and 10 of 15 feet or less). I shot 69 and it easily should have been 65 or 64, or lower . . . It could have been a win."
Who thought Nicklaus would ever need a gallery to beg his putts to -- oh, pretty please -- drop in the hole?
This Masters also proved a suitable showcase for such stylish young stars as Gary Hallberg and Payne Stewart, who wear Indiana Jones hats or pastel plus fours. We were also visited again by the game's menagerie. "The Walrus," Craig Stadler, made a run, and "the Shark," Greg Norman, made an appearance.
If golf is a gray game, then why do the names of so many players conjure up clear images? Is that Lanny Wadkins slashing an iron at a tight pin placement with Isao Aoki, in the same group, rolling in a 30-foot birdie putt? Can anyone hit a ball further than Fred Couples or swing with a more fluid rhythm than Raymond Floyd?
Surely we've mentioned all the game's key players. But we haven't. Tom Kite can't hit it out of his shadow but his short game can beat anyone on the right week. New stars such as Mark O'Meara and Denis Watson have made an enormous impression on the money list but aren't our first-name friends yet. When Bobby Clampett isn't hitting trick shots off his knees, then Peter Jacobsen is doing imitations.
Will either Hale Irwin or Johnny Miller, both in the game's all-time top eight in money, crank it up for one last great victory?
Just when we think we've reached the end, we realize that the game's No. 1 money winner this year hasn't been mentioned. Curtis Strange. He may have made even more friends with his grace and honesty and wit in defeat than he did with his 45-hole Masters rampage in which he came back from a first-round 80 to take a four-shot lead with nine holes to play.
Not so many years ago, golf was being called the sport of clones.
Are Langer and Ballesteros, Zoeller and Trevino, Stadler and Norman, Watson and Nicklaus, Crenshaw and Peete, Hallberg and Stewart, and a dozen more, clones of anyone or anything?
Maybe it's time to reevaluate.