As we say adieu to 2015 and hello to 2016, I thought I’d whip out my crystal ball and see what my magic crystal ball has in store for golf this coming year.
PGA Tour: With the season starting on Thursday of this coming week (in Hawaii so get ready for lots of pictures that will make you want to get on the first thing smoking to Hawaii), it’ll be interesting to see who gets off to a hot start and generates much of the early ink. For the life of me, I’ll never understand why someone wouldn’t play in the Kapalua event (no cut, limited field, plenty of FedEx Cup points).
I know that everyone has a hot nut all over Jordan Spieth, but he’s coming off of a 12-month stretch where he was the dominant player in the world. I see him struggling early on and don’t see him repeating at Augusta. The schedule is brutal especially from June onward with three of the four majors being played from mid-June through the end of July.
What’s interesting (and worth keeping in mind) that the last PGA Tour event to make the top 60 for the Olympic tournament is the Greenbrier Classic (the cutoff date is July 11th), so players will go into the Open Championship the following week already knowing who is or isn’t qualified for the Olympics (and will also play the PGA Championship after the cutoff date for Olympic qualifying, which means that half the majors this year won’t count towards Olympic qualifying.
I’m also curious as to what the attitudes will be toward the Olympic tournament. It’s a 72-hole stroke play event (same as the week-in, week-out tournaments on the PGA Tour). Remember- this is a course that was built for the Olympics, so it’s really a case of nobody really knowing what to expect.
Predictions: I think we’ll see a dark horse/first timer win at Augusta; my crystal ball thinks one of Jason Day (has played well there), Patrick Reed or Ian Poulter will be the last man standing. It would be great for golf to see Rory McIlroy win the Masters and complete the career grand slam, but I don’t see it happening this year.
At the US Open, thankfully they go back to Oakmont. Hopefully the USGA will manage to not f*** the course up that much (they don’t need to, and they should resist any attempts at trying to gin something up). I don’t know why, but I have a wild hunch that this will be the year Phil Mickelson finally gets over at the US Open. I like Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka to contend. I’d scratch anyone who changed brands in the off season; historically that rarely ends well.
At the Open Championship, the last three times that the Open Championship has been held at Royal Troon (this year’s venue), it was all won by first-time Americans who had not won majors previously. Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed are, for me, the guys this year (your previous winners at Troon were Todd Hamilton, Justin Leonard, and Mark Calcavecchia). The last time a non-American won at Royal Troon. Bobby Locke in 1950.
The PGA Championship is held in late July (two weeks after the Open Championship and the week after the Canadian Open) at Baltusrol in New Jersey. The last time it was held there (2005) Phil Mickelson won. I think this will be the major that Spieth wins this year, which will put him an Open Championship shy of the career grand slam.
Ryder Cup: When last heard from, the Europeans won (again) and the US team spent several months trying to figure out what the hell happened (Europe played better). So this time we go to Hazeltine National in Minnesota. Seriously? This is the best we can do? Is it beyond the PGA of America to play the event on the West Coast or somewhere in the Rockies? Your US captain is Davis Love III, the European captain is Darren Clarke. Barring injuries, I think the Europeans will win yet again.
I think at least one fairly well-known public course doesn’t survive 2016 barring a sea change in the economy. It could be in Maryland or Virginia, but I really have a bad feeling (and I hope I’m wrong).
I think at least one private course either goes public or goes to some kind of a public-private relationship where they allow more non-member play. I’d like to see the gong show that is Turf Valley open themselves up to public play during shoulder months or at least release tee times within 72-96 hours to the public.
To that, with private courses struggling to attract new members, they could do worse than start to try to attract new members by selling tee times inside 48-72 hours that would otherwise go empty.
Four Wishes for the local area:
1) With the PGA Tour’s annual stop moving around (it’s at Congressional this year and 2018…2017 is up in the air), I’d like to see the LPGA return to the DMV. I’m not counting their event in Williamsburg; I’m talking something within an our of DC or Baltimore. The LPGA Tour has done so many things right in the last few years that I’d like to see locals get to see what a fantastic tour they have. Ideally, you’d shoehorn an area event before the tour stop in Atlantic City which would be an easy trek for the players to make.
2) I’d like to see public courses step up their game in terms of playing conditions (talking to you, Renditions and Timbers at Troy) and start to enforce pace of play and time par (pointing at you, Waverly Woods). Yes- you might make a few golfers upset, but you’re going to make dozens more happy.
3) On a personal level Howard County needs an additional public course. Ideally you’d look to Western Howard County where you have cheaper land than you would in the Columbia/Elkridge/Ellicott City area. I’d also like to see a MCG-type situation in the county, where you’d bring several courses under one jurisdiction and one umbrella. MCG isn’t perfect but there’s no doubt they’ve improved playing conditions at their courses. Even if you went in with some kind of partnership with Baltimore County, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it meant better course conditions and improved pace of play.
4) To see Golfdom or some form of competition come into the Maryland suburbs and compete with the Golf Galaxy/Dick’s Sporting Goods duopoly. I remember the old Washington Golf Centers and mourned the demise of Mammoth Golf. It’s not that Golf Galaxy and Dick’s Sporting Goods are bad, it’s that I’d like to see competition and more options.
Two Wishes for me:
1) I know that the schedule makes it hard, but I’d like to see the PGA Tour do a better job of giving the Canadian Open a better spot on the schedule. What they’re doing this year is particularly offensive. The event always does great attendance, and their National Open deserves better.
2) To play more, and improve course reviews. The first one is simple, the second part isn’t. I want to have course reviews that you, as a reader, would find useful. I’m not sure how this will look, but I’m looking at changing how I review courses to make it relevant to ordinary golfers and ask the kind of questions an average golfer might have. I’ve long argued that Golfweek and Golf Magazine’s course reviewers aren’t bad at their job, but 99% of their course reviews are destination tracks, and some of their ratings sound a bit jaded. When it’s your job it’s one thing, but when you’re paying out of pocket to play somewhere, you want to know you’re seeing something worth your dollars. Nobody reimburses me for my green fees and my guess is if you’re reading this you’re in the same boat I am.
My sincerest wishes to all of you for your best year ever in 2016. Hit ’em straight, and make lots of pars and birdies.
Song of the day:
Before they became huge, U2 did one of their first US tours in 1983 to support the War album. They did a concert at Red Rocks Ampitheatre and filmed it. Below is my favourite track of theirs. Hard to believe this is 30+ years old. Still sounds great.