20 THINGS WE WANT TO SEE IN 2017

Will the White House get its own nine-holer? Will Tiger make it 15? Any­thing could hap­pen in 2017.

Golf Asia (Malaysia) - - SCENE -

The new golf­ing sea­son has a hell of a lot to live up to. 2016 brought us the best Open tus­sle in years, the first Bri­tish Mas­ters Cham­pion for 20 years, a Bri­tish Olympic Gold medal­list and, in McIl­roy vs Reed, the best Ry­der Cup sin­gles ever – well, un­til Phil and Ser­gio bested it a few groups later.

This said, 2017 has a chance of, ahem, Trump­ing it. There is so much to look forward to in the com­ing 12 months, not least the sight of Tiger Woods re­turn­ing to chal­lenge the new breed of su­per­stars bat­tling it out at the top of the world rank­ings. There is also an ex­cit­ing new set of ma­jors ahead of us, in­clud­ing a de­but for Erin Hills as the US Open venue.

Then, of course, there are the things that are a lit­tle harder to pre­dict. Which play­ers will break through on the world stage like Danny

Wil­lett and Alex Noren did last year? Will the ad­vent of An­drew ‘Beef’ Johnston see more golfers re­veal their true personalities? Will we see a revo­lu­tion in equip­ment and in­struc­tion? And what will hav­ing the golflov­ing Don­ald Trump in the White House bring to the game?

We’ve wracked our brains to come up with the 20 things we’d re­ally like to see in 2017. There’s ev­ery chance some of them will tran­spire, while oth­ers are in­cluded more in hope than ex­pec­ta­tion. But if all of them hap­pen, we’ve got one in­cred­i­ble year ahead of us.

TIGER BOUNC­ING BACK WITH A WIN

Tiger Woods is box of­fice. When the 14-time ma­jor win­ner plays, the world takes no­tice. Ask any Tour pro who’s come through in the last 10 years who their hero was when they were grow­ing up and (at least) 90% of them will say Woods. He’s an in­spi­ra­tion, a phe­nom­e­non, a leg­end. And he’s back!

The 41-year-old’s re­turn to ac­tion at the Hero World Chal­lenge in De­cem­ber gave us a tan­ta­liz­ing glimpse of what could lie ahead of us this year. Sure, he fin­ished 15th in an elite 18-man field, but he was un­der par and there was plenty to ad­mire in his per­for­mance and his 65 in the sec­ond round re­minded us what he’s ca­pa­ble of. It just felt right to see a smil­ing Tiger com­pet­ing again and see­ing those trade­mark fist pumps gave us goose­bumps.

Just pic­ture it. Tiger Woods be­ing Tiger Woods again. That swag­ger down the fair­way af­ter a bul­let stinger off the tee, the laser-guided iron shots and those cru­cial putts that you just know are go­ing in be­fore he’s drawn the put­ter back. Now imag­ine his name sur­rounded by those of McIl­roy, John­son, Day, Spi­eth and Mick­el­son at the top of the leader­board on the back nine of a ma­jor. It’s ex­cit­ing, right?

We’ve spent the last few years wish­ing we could see this tal­ented gen­er­a­tion of su­per­stars go head-to-head with Tiger – and there’s ev­ery chance it could hap­pen this year. Sure, he’s bound to be rusty, but you know he be­lieves he can win again. And, cru­cially, so do the other play­ers. We know how see­ing his name on the leader­board af­fects them. If he can stay healthy and com­mit to the smoother ac­tion we saw in the Ba­hamas, he’ll give him­self the chance to win again.

And how amaz­ing would it be if that op­por­tu­nity came at a ma­jor? The Mas­ters is just three months away and we all know Tiger loves Au­gusta. And with four Green Jack­ets and nine top 10s, Au­gusta loves him too. If Tiger were to win any event this sea­son, let alone a ma­jor, it’d be one of the great­est sto­ries the game’s ever pro­duced.

A HEALTHY JASON DAY

The World No.1 has played some great golf over the last cou­ple of years but he’s been plagued by health doubts in the form of ver­tigo and back pain – the lat­ter forc­ing him to with­draw from the Aus­tralian Open at the end of last year. We’re des­per­ate to see how good he can get if he can stay fit and healthy dur­ing 2017.

TRUMP’S WHITE HOUSE PITCH AND PUTT

It would be amaz­ing if the Pres­i­dent-elect added to his port­fo­lio of golf prop­erty by in­stalling a pitch-and- putt course on the White House lawn. He could get Martin Ebert to de­sign it af­ter he did such a good job with the Turn­berry re­design. El­e­vated tee shot from the Oval Of­fice, any­body?

BEEF PLAY­ING THE MAS­TERS

What an in­cred­i­ble clash of cul­tures this would be. Johnston’s pres­ence cur­rently makes any tour­na­ment more in­ter­est­ing and the Amer­i­can fans love him as much as we do. There could be a bat­tle of the beards if the com­mit­tee paired him with Shane Lowry and Graeme DeLaet too!

MORE HERO CHAL­LENGE-ES­QUE IN­NO­VA­TIONS

The re­turn of the Bri­tish Mas­ters is fan­tas­tic for golf in this coun­try and it was great to see the Euro­pean Tour im­ple­ment­ing some in­no­va­tive ideas and giv­ing the fans more op­por­tu­ni­ties to watch their he­roes at The Grove. At the fore­front of this was the Hero Chal­lenge – a head-to-head night golf par-3 con­test in­volv­ing the big­gest names in the field. It was watched by more than 2,000 peo­ple around the hole and aired live on Sky Sports on the Tues­day of tour­na­ment week.

The play­ers loved it and the fans loved it. It got peo­ple talk­ing and showed the Euro­pean Tour are pre­pared to try some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent to im­prove their tour­na­ments. We’re all for it – and it’s set to con­tinue in 2017. The Tour has added the in­no­va­tive World Su­per 6 Perth event to the sched­ule in Fe­bru­ary and world top 10 play­ers Patrick Reed and Alex Noren have al­ready com­mit­ted to play­ing.

No doubt there will be more en­ter­tain­ing in­no­va­tions added as we move fur­ther into 2017. Keith Pel­ley (left), the Euro­pean Tour’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, is hell-bent on turn­ing the cir­cuit into a gen­uine PGA Tour ri­val and knows they’ve got to of­fer some­thing dif­fer­ent to achieve it. Ex­cit­ing times ahead for play­ers and fans.

RORY WITH A MAGIC WAND

Rory’s best is bet­ter than anyone else’s. The trou­ble is, he doesn’t seem to find his best quite as of­ten as some of the world’s other top play­ers – and it all boils down to his poor putting. He led the PGA Tour in ‘strokes gained – off the tee’ and was sec­ond in ‘strokes gained – tee to green’ last sea­son. But he was 135th in putting, los­ing 0.207 shots to the field on the greens each round. De­spite his cold put­ter, he still man­aged to av­er­age 4.42 birdies per round (sec­ond on the PGA Tour), win three times and take home the FedEx Cup crown and the mas­sive cheque that goes with it. At the age of 27, his CV al­ready boasts four ma­jors and 22 global vic­to­ries. How good would he be if he was just an av­er­age put­ter, let alone a good one?

We want to see how dom­i­nant Rory could be if he finds his groove on the greens. He’s long been touted as the heir-ap­par­ent to Tiger Woods but Jason Day and Dustin John­son’s su­pe­rior putting skills took them past the North­ern Ir­ish­man last year. It’s time for Rory to step up and show ev­ery­one that he re­ally is the dom­i­nant force in world golf. There were pos­i­tive signs when a change of put­ter contributed to his Deutsche Bank Cham­pi­onship and Tour Cham­pi­onship vic­to­ries at the back end of 2016. It could be a very big year for Rory.

GOLFERS SHOW­ING US THEIR TRUE CHAR­AC­TERS MCIL­ROY & REED CON­TIN­U­ING TO LOCK HORNS

The sin­gles bat­tle be­tween Rory McIl­roy and Patrick Reed at the Ry­der Cup was one of the high­lights of last sea­son and it was in­spir­ing to see the pair play­ing with such pas­sion – and hav­ing a few cheeky digs at one another. Of course, it was all done in the right spirit (the pair fist-bumped af­ter that fa­mous mo­ment on the 8th green) but golf would be far more in­ter­est­ing if there was a bit more nee­dle be­tween the play­ers, at least when they’re on the course. We don’t want to see friendly chats and mu­tual ap­pre­ci­a­tion as stars bat­tle it out for ti­tles. We want to see ri­val­ries! Rory and Reed has the mak­ings of a good one and it would be awe­some if a few more of these lit­tle bat­tles emerge as the year un­folds. No one wants to watch a bunch of bland, emo­tion­less ro­bots plot­ting their way round the course and rolling out the same tired clichés in ev­ery in­ter­view they do. Golf needs personalities – on and off the course. An­drew Johnston was a shin­ing light in 2016 and we want other en­gag­ing char­ac­ters to emerge over the next 12 months.

The good news is that most of the world’s top golfers do ac­tu­ally have in­ter­est­ing personalities and sto­ries. Per­haps they’ve been wary to show their real char­ac­ter or ex­press their true tastes and opin­ions for fear of an­noy­ing a spon­sor or get­ting them­selves into hot wa­ter in the tra­di­tion­ally con­ser­va­tive world of golf.

But times are chang­ing. As well as ‘Beef’, the likes of Rickie Fowler and Ian Poul­ter have also dared to of­fer fans a glimpse be­hind the cur­tain into their real lives. It’s no co­in­ci­dence that these are some of the most pop­u­lar and mar­ketable golfers on tour.

We’d love to see more of what the world’s top play­ers are re­ally like as peo­ple hear them talk can­didly and hon­estly about them­selves, the game and their in­ter­ests.

ROSE’S GOLD MEDAL MARKER

What’s the point in hav­ing an Olympic gold medal if you can’t whip it out to mark your ball?

It’d cer­tainly have an in­tim­i­da­tion fac­tor, though it might per­haps set a dan­ger­ous prece­dent – Beef could start us­ing a burger and Jimenez a cigar.

AL­LENBY TO TELL HIS STORY

Whether he’s mak­ing up cover sto­ries for get­ting into bar fights or get­ting into bat­tles with fel­low tour pros on Twit­ter, the Aussie is al­ways in­ter­est­ing and must have some fan­tas­tic sto­ries to tell. A tell-all au­to­bi­og­ra­phy would surely be the most en­ter­tain­ing read of 2017.

NO MORE RULES CON­TRO­VER­SIES

Dustin John­son’s break­through US Open vic­tory last year was over­shad­owed by a rules con­tro­versy af­ter the USGA en­forced a point­less penalty. This was by no means the only re­cent rules in­ci­dent. It does not help golf’s rep­u­ta­tion so let’s hope the pow­ers-thatbe show more com­mon sense in 2017.

AN INTERNATIONAL VIC­TORY IN THE PRES­I­DENTS CUP

It’s high time the In­ter­na­tion­als won a Pres­i­dents Cup. Amer­ica have won nine of the 11 times it’s been played and the only International vic­tory came nearly two decades ago in 1998 – there was a tie in 2003. Led by Steve Stricker, Amer­ica will have home advantage at Lib­erty Na­tional

GC in late Septem­ber. Of course they will be strong, but Nick Price’s team has world class tal­ent with Jason Day, Hideki Mat­suyama, Adam Scott and the big three

South Africans. If emerg­ing stars like Emil­iano Grillo, Byeong-Hun An and Si Woo Kim can step up, the In­ter­na­tion­als could spring a sur­prise.

LOTS MORE MATCH­PLAY EVENTS

Stroke­play might be the purest test, but you can’t beat the im­me­di­acy and drama of match­play. With only 18 holes to beat each op­po­nent – as op­posed to a 72-hole marathon – ev­ery shot mat­ters that much more and you can see the play­ers’ com­pet­i­tive instincts from the first tee. The fact you can only lose one hole at a time gives play­ers the free­dom to take on riskier shots, and they are so good that more of­ten than not they pull it off. There were only two match­play events on the PGA and Euro­pean Tours last year – the WGCDell Match Play and the Paul Lawrie Match Play – but that num­ber has in­creased to three with the ad­di­tion of the World Su­per 6 Perth on the Euro­pean Tour. There’s a hunger from the fans and play­ers for more.

BIG SUP­PORT FOR EURO­PEAN TOUR

A healthy Euro­pean Tour is good for the game. It takes golf to more coun­tries around the globe than any other tour, and gives emerg­ing tal­ents another place to ply their trade at the top level. But the PGA Tour has be­come the dom­i­nant cir­cuit.

The fact Hen­rik Sten­son (top) won the 2016 Race to Dubai and Rory McIl­roy, Bran­den Grace and Louis Oosthuizen (be­low) all fin­ished in­side the top 10 by play­ing no more than 16 events is an im­pres­sive achieve­ment, but it high­lights a prob­lem. The game’s elite sim­ply aren’t play­ing enough Euro­pean Tour events. When you take the fact that three of the ma­jors and all four of last year’s WGC events were in Amer­ica into ac­count, it paints a bleak im­age for ‘our tour’.

It’s about time the high pro­file Euro­pean and International play­ers – many of whom owe the start of their lu­cra­tive ca­reers to the Euro­pean Tour – stepped up and started re­ally sup­port­ing it rather than just play­ing the bare min­i­mum of events. The in­flated purses of the Rolex Se­ries events should at­tract more top 50 play­ers; but it would be nice to think our he­roes, who have earned more money from the game than they’ll ever spend, might opt to play more in front of their home fans for more than just fi­nan­cial gain.

SPIRANAC TO MAKE A CUT A MA­JOR FOR GAR­CIA OR WEST­WOOD

Ok, we just wanted to men­tion Paige so we could gra­tu­itously use a photo like ev­ery­one else made an ex­cuse to do in 2016. But it would be nice to see her get some re­sults to jus­tify the at­ten­tion she gen­er­ates. She’s got a good swing so there’s ev­ery chance she’ll break through this sea­son.

A RAIN-FREE OPEN

Can you re­mem­ber the last time we had a week of warm, sunny weather for an Open? Okay, it was Hoy­lake in 2006. That’s over a decade ago! We don’t think it’s too much to ask to wear short sleeves at a sum­mer golf event. In fact, a full six months of sun wouldn’t go amiss.

MORE LAUNCH MON­I­TORS

We love see­ing all the num­bers when we’re work­ing on our swing and test­ing new clubs – and it re­ally adds to the ex­pe­ri­ence if you know what you’re look­ing for. The abil­ity to use a mon­i­tor in ev­ery les­son and fit­ting would be a bonus for coaches, fit­ter and golfers and it would surely help us all lower our scores. Ask anyone who the best cur­rent play­ers never to win a ma­jor are and the chances are they’ll say Ser­gio Gar­cia or Lee West­wood. The pair have been be­he­moths of Euro­pean golf for the last two decades, demon­strat­ing truly world class abil­ity and con­sis­tency. The bot­tom line is they each de­serve a ma­jor vic­tory in their ca­reers.

Gar­cia has won 29 times around the world and notched 12 top-fives in ma­jors, in­clud­ing los­ing an Open Cham­pi­onship play-off to Padraig Har­ring­ton at Carnoustie in 2007. At 36, Gar­cia still has time on his side. His best chance in 2017 will prob­a­bly come in The Open again as it’s been his most suc­cess­ful ma­jor. Time is run­ning out for West­wood, how­ever. The 43-year-old for­mer world num­ber one has 42 ti­tles to his name but he’s never man­aged to get the job done in one of the big four. Six of his 18 ma­jor top 10s have come in the Mas­ters, in­clud­ing a T2 last year and five in the last seven years, so he’ll be a dan­ger­ous com­peti­tor once again at Au­gusta Na­tional.

MORE FAM­ILY IN­TER­VIEWS

It’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore more relatives and old friends fol­low in the foot­steps of Pete Wil­lett and start cash­ing in on the fame of their friends and fam­ily. Hope­fully their com­ments won’t rile an en­tire na­tion and in­flu­ence the out­come of one of golf’s big­gest events, though.

SOME­ONE TO SHOOT 57

Record-break­ing rounds are oc­cur­ring with in­creas­ing fre­quency and Jim Furyk (left) shoot­ing the first 58 in PGA Tour his­tory was one of THE mo­ments of 2016. It’s only a mat­ter of time un­til some­one goes one bet­ter.

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