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.
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.