Previewing 2017 in golf
In case you didn’t realize it, the golf world had a pretty incredible year in 2016. It’ll be difficult to top it in 2017, but the good news is that there are plenty of intriguing players and storylines to follow over the next twelve months, and it all starts this week as the PGA Tour heads to Kapalua for the Tournament of Champions. So, what can we expect? I’ve answered some questions, discussed major storylines to follow and made some predictions below.
Are there any new events or courses on the schedule?
The first change that we’ll see on the PGA Tour comes in March, as Doral was given the boot in favour of taking the WGC event down to Mexico. Club de Golf Chapultepec, which has hosted the Mexican Open on multiple occasions, will be playing host in 2017. The Wells Fargo Championship is moving to Eagle Point in North Carolina thanks to the PGA Championship being held at Quail Hollow, while the Quicken Loans National will be moving from Congressional to TPC Potomac, which hasn’t hosted a tournament since the 2006 Booz Allen Classic, formerly known as the Kemper Open. The last new course that we’re seeing (aside from Erin Hills at the U.S. Open) is Glen Oaks Club in New York, which was added to the rotation of the tournament formerly known as the Barclays, which is now the Northern Trust.
The biggest change though are a pair of format switches. The Zurich Classic is moving to a two-man team format instead of individual stroke play, while the European Tour is going to combine both stroke play and match play at the World Super 6 Perth.
When are we seeing Tiger?
After looking decent at the Hero a few weeks ago in his first tournament in sixteen months, Tiger’s not really deviating from his typical schedule. He’ll start his year at Torrey Pines, with the Farmers Insurance Open at the end of January before going off to Dubai for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic the following week. After that, he’ll take one week off before heading to Riviera for the first time since 2006 for the Genesis Open and then follow that up the next week at the Honda Classic. That means that Tiger will be playing four events in five weeks, and as Bob Harig noted, doing quite a bit of travel to do it.
We really shouldn’t be surprised that Tiger is following what he’s always done, but he’s certainly not making life easy for himself in his return with not only the difficulty of those courses, but with the amount of travel. In any event, we won’t have to wait much longer to find out how prepared he is, especially physically, to make a proper return to competitive golf.
What new faces could make an impact in 2017?
Kevin Prise and Adam Stanley did a great job a few months ago talking about the players making the jump from the Web.com to the PGA Tour for the 2016-17 season, so I recommend checking that out. I don’t need to tell you guys to keep an eye on Bryson DeChambeau or Jon Rahm, but some of the ones I would watch are Grayson Murray, J.J. Spaun, Trey Mullinax, CT Pan, Seamus Power and Brandon Hagy.
Where are the majors being played?
- The Masters: Augusta National, which I don’t think needs much explanation.
- U.S. Open: Erin Hills in Wisconsin will play host this year, and it’s an absolutely massive piece of property that can stretch out to over 7800 yards. Not a whole lot is really known about how the course is going to play, but with the yardages we’re seeing, distance is obviously going to play a big part in who comes out on top. The only other men’s tournament they have hosted is the 2011 U.S. Amateur.
- Open Championship: Royal Birkdale will host for its tenth time, and it has produced a pretty stout list of winners.
- PGA Championship: As mentioned above, Quail Hollow in North Carolina will host their first major championship this year with the season’s final major. It’s worth noting that the course record of 61 at Quail Hollow is held by Rory McIlroy.
Who should I follow on Twitter?
Twitter has made significantly enhanced my golf watching experience over the last few years, and most of that is because of the people I follow. I’m sure that most of you are already on board with the following names, but if not, they come highly recommended:
- No Laying Up
- Kyle Porter
- Shane Bacon
- D.J. Piehowski
- Brendan Porath
- Kevin Van Valkenburg
- Chad Coleman
- Jake Nichols
- 15th Club
- Data Golf
- Chris Chaney
- Tron Carter
Phil Mickelson is approaching the fourth anniversary since his last win
It always sounds crazy, but it’s true that Tiger has won more recently than Phil but it’s not from a lack of chances on Phil’s part. He probably should have won twice last season, getting nipped at Pebble by Vaughn Taylor and having to deal with an all-time crazy performance from Henrik Stenson at the Open and he couldn’t even win his singles match at the Ryder Cup when he shot 63, picking up a halve against Sergio. The game is still there without question, but four years is a long time without a victory for someone with his ability, and as Phil gets ready to turn 47 in June, it’s only going to get harder from here on out if he’s going to get some more wins under his belt. I think he does it in 2017, but not in a major championship.
Alex Noren is a top 10 player in the world
In the current OWGR, Alex Noren is ranked in the ninth position thanks to an incredible second half of 2016 that saw him win four events from July to November. Noren’s always been a good player, but thanks to some nagging injuries over the last few years, he wasn’t really able to play consistently in Europe which allowed him to fall down to 653rd in the world at the end of 2014. We can argue all we want about how the OWGR is flawed, but you can’t argue that Noren’s a super talented player. Is he actually a top 10 player? I tend to believe that he isn’t, but seeing how he plays over the next twelve months in the biggest events against the best players is something to keep an eye on.
Jay Monahan is the new commissioner of the PGA Tour
Tim Finchem left the PGA Tour in a pretty good place for Jay Monahan. There aren’t any major disasters for him to clean up, the game is full of young and entertaining stars and there’s a slight chance that Monahan might be able to squeeze a little more value out of Tiger than I think any of us thought possible a few months ago. That’s not to say that things are perfect of course, and to that end, it sounds like Monahan is going to try and do some things differently over the next year, particularly with digital coverage and a potential schedule change. It feels like he’s the right guy to lead the PGA Tour going forward.
The best player in the world without a major championship win is…
It has to be Hideki Matsuyama, right? He’s by far the hottest player in the world entering 2017, winning four of his last five worldwide starts and finishing as the runner-up in the other. His major championship history doesn’t line up with his talent, but he still has five top-10 finishes in majors at just 24 years old. If you had told me last year that we’d have four first time major winners and none of them would have been Matsuyama, not to mention Sergio and Rickie, I would have thought you were crazy. 2017 though feels like the year of Matsuyama, and I can’t wait to watch it happen.
2016’s first time major winners
Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Jimmy Walker became first time major winners in 2016, and in the case of Johnson and Stenson, it’s hard to see how they don’t have continued success over the next twelve months because they’re just way too talented not to win tournaments. I’m less sure about Willett and Walker, both of whom are very talented but have far less of a track record in comparison, and as we’ve seen in previous years with other players, it’s not always easy to back up a major winning season the following year. I won’t be surprised at all if either plays really well, but I also won’t be shocked to see some regression either.
The Presidents Cup should be competitive again
The 2015 Presidents Cup was one of the best tournaments of the year, and it pretty much had everything to do with the International side making it competitive. The Americans won the event by a single point, and while the Internationals remain a little top heavy, there’s no doubting that the back half of their roster has improved significantly over the past few years. As it stands right now, here are the top twelve players on the International point rankings for the Presidents Cup: Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Emiliano Grillo, Yuta Ikeda, Byeong Hun An, Thongchai Jaidee, Si Woo Kim and Marc Leishman.
Now, is that the best possible group of players? No, but at the very least, we should see something competitive again which is exactly what this event needs to be every two years. Also, if you’re reading this Nick Price, please make sure to make room on your team for this guy:
Keith Pelley’s European Tour shakeup
The European Tour has been a clear number two option to the PGA Tour over the past few years, but with Keith Pelley now in charge, they’re making some interesting moves to challenge that thinking. New event types like the Super 6 Perth and mini events like the Hero Challenge are only going to expand and get better in 2017, and while they’ll never take the place of a major championship, they do offer nice alternatives and diversions that golf desperately needs to break up the stroke play monotony that we see every week.
Lydia Ko is changing an awful lot
In the last few months, the top women’s player in the world has changed caddies, switched coaches and changed club manufacturers from Callaway to PXG. That’s an awful lot to change for someone who has had a stunning amount of success at such an early age, and while I still think she’s way too talented to not have a ton of success at the pro level, it is something to watch. Throw in the fact that players like Ariya Jutanugarn and Brooke Henderson are ready to take the next step and challenge Ko, and you have potential for change at the very top of the women’s game.
The European Ryder Cup selection process
Darren Clarke has already hinted at changing the Ryder Cup selection process, potentially allowing players like Paul Casey to be eligible without being European Tour members, and I would bet that we hear something on this decision in the next twelve months. I don’t think that having Casey was going to be the difference between a win or loss for the Europeans, but this has the potential to be big going forward, and when you don’t have the best possible players on the course, it not only makes for a worse team but a worse event overall.
Now that we know he’s going to play, the big storyline as always, is going to be the performance of Tiger Woods. If he can come back and play well, it’s good news for everyone involved in the game, but the best possible news for us is that even if he doesn’t, golf is in a great spot without him. With his already announced schedule, you can bet that he’s going to be a major focal point regardless of performance, but I think I can speak for just about everyone when I say that we’d all like to see him at the very top of his game.
- The Masters: Jordan Spieth
- U.S. Open: Hideki Matsuyama
- Open Championship: Sergio Garcia
- PGA Championship: Rory McIlroy
Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan win PGA Tour events
I don’t think I’m going out on too far of a limb with any of these, and while Bryson and Rahm will have more expected of them, don’t sleep on Bryan. He showed last year that he is much more than just a trick shot artist, and if he putts like he did last year, one win for him might be a conservative prediction.
Tiger goes winless, but plays well and is a Presidents Cup captain’s pick
I want to say that Tiger wins a tournament, but I just don’t see it happening. I do think that he plays well enough to contend a few times, which is enough for Steve Stricker to make him a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup team.
Jim Nantz goes 3-for-3 with the Pebble Beach sweater
Slow play becomes a major talking point
We’ve already seen it become a talking point in the last few weeks, with Jordan Spieth talking about wanting to speed up and Jason Day apparently wanting to get even slower, which I didn’t think was actually a thing that was possible. If the European Tour keeps penalizing players for slow play, it’s a step in the right direction even if Jay Monahan doesn’t seem to be on board.
Players you’ll hear more about: Renato Paratore, Si Woo Kim, Harold Varner III and Soomin Lee
I’m partially using this as an excuse to post Soomin Lee swing GIFs, but I really do believe that all four are set for big things in 2017.
Sang-moon Bae makes his return in the wraparound portion of 2017
The two year military stint should be complete near the end of this year, so let’s hope that Bae can make a successful return to the PGA Tour in the wraparound.
We hear about more plans for golf’s digital expansion
Thinking that this is just the beginning, folks:
Jim Furyk is named 2018 American Ryder Cup captain
He’s the current betting favourite, and while I still think Fred Couples deserves a chance, that doesn’t appear to be super likely at this stage. I think it goes to Furyk, who will lead a team that will definitely be the favourites heading into France in 2018.
Rory McIlroy ends the year at number one in the world
It really comes down to this and this alone: he’s the best player in the world, and I think he reminds us of that over the next twelve months.