With the Race to Dubai being decided this past weekend I can officially declare an end to the 2015 professional golf season. Quite a season it was. What did we learn from it? What future message is it sending? Are we on the brink of a cataclysmic change in this game we haven’t seen since 1997? The answer can be derived from an old North Carolina basketball game radio broadcast. I forget who the announcer was but in a heated moment during the contest a Tarheel player got a steal and raced towards his basket. On the fast break the announcer yelled out, “Does he shoot or pass?!? He does!!!” In 2016, anything can and will happen.
If you’re the Golf Channel, CBS, NBC or SkySports you can’t wait for the calendar pages to flip to April. If Rory can put down the soccer ball for a bit, if Jordan doesn’t lose his silky putting stroke, if DJ can close on a weekend, if Jason can manage to keep the dizzy spells at bay, If Bubba can just quit being so uppity, if Justin Thomas can discover a second swing speed, if Kisner can keep it rolling and if Rickie can hoist a major trophy, this should be one helluva year. It is a marked change from the Tiger era where he dominated fields and left them content playing for second. We are likely never to see another player as dominant as Woods simply because today’s talent is so deep. Turn the calendar pages, turn the history pages, golf is gonna be a blast next season.
There are rules changes to greet players in January, most notably the anchoring ban. You can keep the long putter. Just don’t allow it to touch anything but your hands or lower forearm. The Champions Tour will become a free-for-all. How will Peter Senior, who just captured the Australian Masters and Bernie Langer fare? As Bob Dylan sang, times are a changin’.
With major championships the focus of this new, young, talent pool it will be captivating to see them tackle the old traditional layouts of Oakmont and Baltusrol. No matter how the USGA chooses to set up Oakmont, it will be a survival contest. The only thing that can derail the sadistic intents of the members will be an early summer stormy pattern that can soften the place. Even then it will still be a stern test.
Royal Troon returns to the Open Championship rota this coming year. Not a particularly long course compared to other major venues, scores will be solely dictated by the elements or lack thereof. With the exception of Tom Watson in 1982, the last three champions crowned at Troon have been one hit major winners — Mark Calcavecchia, Justin Leonard and Todd Hamilton. The last six to hoist the Claret Jug have all been Americans. There is definitely a pattern here.
Baltusrol will receive a fair and rigorous setup from the PGA. I doubt they want to see -20 take the prize at their major. What Jason Day did to Whistling Straits last August was undeniably the best major performance of 2015. Yeah, I know Spieth took it deep at Augusta, but he finished second there the year before. He was familiar with the course. It’s hard to become familiar with the Straits because Pete Dye is always tinkering with it. Back to the drawing board for the 2020 Ryder Cup, huh Pete?
While I’m a bit out of order I decided to save the best major for last. The Masters is the pinnacle of all others simply due to its spot on the calendar and the familiarity it lends to its viewers. Everyone, whether or not they are a golfer, will catch a glimpse of the tournament in April. They have heard the horror stories of Amen Corner. They know about the Green Jacket. It is an annual rite of spring. There is no better sight than the emerald green conditions being splashed across a high-def wide screen just after the snow has melted. It gets the golf blood pumping.
Predictions are always fun to make and rarely do they come to fruition. But as I sit here staring the upcoming winter in the face I need something to keep me counting down the days until the first full week in April. As I said, it’s going to wide open for this next wave of professional golf. The Tiger and Phil show is now in syndication.
I will go in order in predicting my winners for 2016. Here they are:
Masters — Rory McIlroy. Let’s face it, he got the juices flowing in Dubai at year’s end and he needs a new jacket. His power and the ability to drive it consistently in the fairway are his strength. When he is on nobody can beat him. Naturally it will come down to putting but when you’re putting for 4 eagles each round something has to fall. The Irishman will be jacked up for the Masters. Rory at -13.
US Open — Hopefully Oakmont can come to the dance with some firm and fast conditions. A thunderstorm is inevitable and perhaps it can skirt the course early on in the week. This course demands length, patience and experience. After last year’s heroic effort at Chambers Bay, there is no doubt that Jason will seize the Day! But it will be close. There will be a playoff with Robert Streb and Louis Oosthuizen after a 72 hole regulation score of -4. Day shoots 70 on Monday to earn the victory.
Open Championship — Continuing on with the theme of American dominance at Troon how can you not go with Rickie Fowler. He has embraced the quirky bounces of links golf and has shown he can handle the elements as well. Book it at Ladbrokes, Rickie conquers the conditions and takes the jug at -14.
PGA — The classic playing lines at Baltusrol give the old boys a chance for one final time in 2016 but it won’t happen. Matt Kuchar will shoot an early number but fade on the weekend. Jason Bohn marches up the leaderboard but he too falls back on Saturday. Kisner is in the mix down the stretch but once again comes up short. This golf course is fit to crown a recent major champion, a young one at that — Jordan Spieth. His methodical approach and putting prowess allow him to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy for the first time. He walks away with it at -13 loving the old venue.
There you have it. Four worthy champions, three past major winners, will walk away with the accolades in 2016. You can feel the momentum of youth. There will be epic dogfights at the regular Tour stops but in the end the cream rises to the top in the majors. The page has indeed turned on a new era of professional golf and is ready to be rewritten. Golf comes back to the Olympics, the Ryder Cup comes back to America and
Let’s watch and welcome it with open arms. PurePlayGolf will be an interested spectator.