By Tyler Olson
Everyone for one reason or another seems to have had a rough time in 2016. On New Years eve, there were far more people out celebrating 2016’s eminent demise as opposed to reflecting positively on the events of the past 365 days. 2017 is now upon us and with it comes a clean slate, a whole bunch of New Year’s Resolutions that nobody is going to keep, and a fresh year of great golf ahead. So what have we got to look forward to?
Every year people try to predict which players are going to win which major and every year they’re wrong. Especially recently, as the sheer depth of the Tour has increased exponentially.
However, I will make one exception for this year. Hideki Matsuyama will win the Masters. Period. In his past six starts he has won four of them and his other finishes were runners up to Justin Thomas, who we’ll get to in a minute. Matsuyama is playing the best golf out of anyone in the world right now and it’s not even close. The question is how long can he sustain it? Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and others all got on streaks that had us comparing them to mid-2000’s Tiger and then cooled off. If Matsuyama can carry the momentum just a few more months, it will be difficult to stop him at Augusta National. He also has the advantage that English is not his native language so he’s not as susceptible to the hype machine that is modern media as guys from the US or Europe are. Besides, even if he were American, all the focus this Masters will be on Tiger Woods comeback.
Besides Matsuyama, here’s a list of players who are due for a major and why this could be their year.
- Justin Thomas- As we’ve covered, he has two victories in the past few months in which he beat the hottest player on earth, so it seems as if his game is finally realizing the potential we all knew it could reach. Thomas, a childhood friend of Jordan Spieth, made the cut at the Wyndam Championship when he was sixteen. He has the talent to be up there with the best in the world, now he just has to take the next step. His crazy consistent driving is a tool that will help him keep it together when the pressure is on.
- Dustin Johnson- DJ is nearly unstoppable. His distance off the tee and with his iron is almost unmatched. His wedge play has evolved into one of the best on Tour. When his putting gets going, it’s hard to think of anyone outside of McIlroy or Day who could hang with him. Erin Hills, the location of the US Open this year, is an absurdly long course that could play right into his hands. Then again, no matter the layout, is tough to beat.
- Sergio Garcia- He’s due. There’s only so many times you can collapse on the back nine on Sunday at a major, right? Through his career he has 22 top-10’s at majors with no victories. Something has to give here.
- Jordan Spieth- After an unreal 2015, professional overreactors in the media wondered what the heck happened to Spieth in 2016, where he only won 3 tournaments and no majors. Well, if he were to continue his 2015 run for a 20 year career, Spieth would amass 40 majors and 100 wins. Nobody can sustain that forever. If he can get his mental game right in 2016 and block out the media hype, there’s no reason he can’t take home another major, or maybe two.
- Rory McIlroy- McIlroy took home a couple victories in late 2016, possibly the beginning of some hot golf in 2016. He’s gone two straight years without a major and for a person with his talent, that’s an eternity. Oh also he’s already won twice at the site of the PGA Championship this year.
- Patrick Reed- So, anyone watch the Ryder Cup? If Reed, not as superbly talented as many on this list, can make it to the back nine on a major Sunday, he has the killer instinct to close, even against better golfers.
- Bubba Watson- While he hasn’t been playing particularly well as of late, Augusta National lines up so well with Watson’s game that he is almost always a factor in the Masters. If anyone is going to beat Matsuyama there, it’s Watson. Also, the Open Championship is at Royal Birkdale this year, which in 2008 played only 7,173 yards. Watson is one of the best in the world at taking advantage of short courses with his driver.
- The field- The PGA Tour is so deep nowadays that any player can beat any other player on any given day. It’s possible a young and talented player like Tony Finau or Brooks Koepka or someone a little older like Kuchar, Furyk or Mickelson summon up four good rounds and beat the titans of the game.
The location of the non-Masters majors this year are Erin Hills for the US Open, Royal Birkdale for the Open Championship, and the PGA Championship will be at Quail Hollow.
Erin Hills, mentioned regarding Dustin Johnson’s chances there, is brutally long course in south central Wisconsin. It’s fine fescue fairways, however, allow for firm ground and extra rollout on drives to make it play slightly shorter. It hosted the 2011 US Amateur which was won by Kelly Kraft. Also in the field were Harris English, Russell Henley, Brooks Koepka, and Jordan Spieth.
Royal Birkdale last hosted an Open Championship in 2008, when Padraig Harrington took home the Claret Jug. It’s a traditional links test with few trees and waist deep grass looming on the side of wide fairways ready to make any wayward drive unplayable. Whoever keeps the ball in play off the tee here will have a shot at taking the Claret Jug.
Quail Hollow, the site of the PGA Championship, will lend itself to a dearth of drama. As it is a yearly stop on the PGA Tour for the Wells Fargo Championship, many players are familiar with the course and have won there in the past. Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, James Hahn, and J.B. Holmes all have a win each at Quail Hollow. Rory McIlroy has two, including his first PGA Tour victory in 2010. McIlroy already has a couple PGA Championships under his belt and this would be the perfect location to add a third.
Whether you love or you hate the hype that comes with it, Tiger Woods is going to be back playing what looks like will be a full schedule in 2017. He said after a middling performance at the Hero World Challenge that he was going to be “smart” in the leadup to the Masters with how he scheduled his tournaments. He needed reps in live competition but didn’t want to get reinjured. Well, Woods must be feeling good because in late January through February he’s now scheduled to play four out of five weeks. This includes the Farmers Insurance Open in Torrey Pines (where he’s won eight times) Jan. 26-29, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic (rather than the WM Open) February 2-5, The Genesis Open Feb. 16-19, and the Honda Classis Feb. 23-26. He’s not committed to any other events thus far but it’s probably a safe bet he will be at the Players, the WGC events, the Quicken Loans National, and the majors.
It’s unlikely that Woods pulls off a win in this early season schedule, as he will still be trying to knock off some of the mental rust we saw in Albany. However, a WGC event or possibly his own QL National might present the right timing for Woods to pull off his first win after the extended leave of absence.
The Presidents Cup
After a 2015 American win of 15.5 to 14.5, the International team will look to get ahold of the Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey.
As things stand, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas are the far and away points leaders on the American side while Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama are on top for the Europeans.
Notable names on the outside looking in, at least for now, are Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Anirban Lahiri, and Marc Leishman. They will about nine months to either make their way onto the top of their respective points lists or woo captains Steve Stricker and Nick Price.
Lydia Ko’s Coaching Change
After a mediocre end to 2016, Lydia Ko fired her swing coach, David Leadbetter. She finished in the silver medal position at the Olympics, but managed only one top-5 in her next eight tournaments. She then let Leadbetter go in December.
Leadbetter alluded in an interview with the No Laying Up podcast that the decision to look for different instruction may have come more from her parents than Ko herself. There was also a philosophy difference between he and the parents. Leadbetter mentioned that he thought Ko should get some rest and take a break from the game, especially with how grueling her schedule had been all year. He also was an advocate of Ko spending lots of time in the gym with personal trainers to makeup for her relative lack of athleticism compared to other LPGA golfers. Her parents, however, believed Ko should continue with her busy schedule and keep practicing on the range and course until her play improved. Ko has defended the decision to cut Leadbetter as fundamentally hers and not that of her parents.
While Ko has not announced a new coach for 2017, she did change sponsors from Callaway to PXG.