The 2017 calendar is on the wall and the resolutions set (surely to be scuppered within weeks), but what’s in store for the year in golf? On the eve of the first US PGA Tour event of 2017, here are nine compelling questions with pending answers this season.
What will Tiger do? It’s at the top of this list for a reason. Tiger might not be as ‘needed’ by golf as he once was, but he’s most certainly still wanted. His year on-course – whether good, bad or indifferent – stands to define 2017, especially if none of the current top five or 10 players fire. We can expect a little more competitive rust from Tiger but likely some brilliance. If the latter dominates the former, TW will chalk up at least one ‘W’.
Who has the better year, Day or Scott? The smart money says a healthy Day wins that duel, but if Scott can get his putter to fire while maintaining his peerless ball-striking – and captures the same form he found in Florida last March – it’s not a foregone outcome. On the strength of his hot fortnight, Scott rose five places in the world ranking during 2016 but was still eclipsed by Day’s three-win season. Which suggests Day in top gear trumps Scott’s best.
Is this the year Marc Leishman emerges from the shadows? He was oh so close to claiming the British Open two years ago and was part of the picture in every sense at the 2013 Masters, but Marc Leishman still owns only two tournament victories of note globally. He’s relaxed, in his prime and wife Audrey’s health scare is largely behind them, plus Leishman now owns a sense of balance and perspective that only comes with experience of life on tour. “If you spend too much time on the golf course, you miss out on what’s happening at home and, vice versa, if you spend too much time at home, your golf game goes down and you don’t have a tour to play on,” he said late last year. “There’s that balance, and I feel like I’ve done a pretty decent job of that, just being a dad and a husband and still being a somewhat successful golfer. I’ve always said to my family and wife that I want to be known as a person, I don’t want people to just think of me as a golfer. I want to be a personable person and I feel like so far I’ve done a good job of that.”
Is Erin Hills another Chambers Bay in waiting? A second debut US Open venue in three years hasn’t occurred since Hazeltine National in 1970 and Pebble Beach two years later, but the Chambers Bay (2015)/Erin Hills (2017) double is far more novel. Chambers Bay near Seattle was widely lambasted for the state of its greens, while the design received positive and negative reviews. Some say that US Open got lucky with a ‘good’ winner in Jordan Spieth, so make of that edition what you will. This year at Erin Hills in rural Wisconsin represents another departure from the Oakmonts, Olympics, Shinnecocks, etc. that we’ve become used to for the year’s second Major. Designed by Dr Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Golf Digest’s architecture editor Ron Whitten, the fine-fescue Erin Hills course will be a largely unknown quantity for most of the field when they show up in June. One clue: it hosted the 2011 US Amateur, won by Kelly Kraft, so it wouldn’t surprise if one of the players in the field that week performs well at this US Open.
Did Ko make the right calls (any will Ariya have an encore?)? That Lydia Ko would eject her caddie, coach and chosen equipment while winning four times and retaining her world No.1 status is as impressive as it is intriguing. The Kiwi teen’s 2016 was great by anyone’s standards but merely very good by her own, so the new year begins with a fresh approach. Whether or not the raft of changes helps will be one of the key storylines in women’s golf – as will Ariya Jutanugarn’s ability to recapture her breakthrough form in a new season. Jordan Spieth struggled to reclaim his 2015 momentum in 2016; will the Thai phenomenon encounter the same challenges?
Will our Open malaise end? If this year’s British Open wraps up without an Australian winner, next year at Carnoustie will officially mark a quarter of a century since the last Aussie victor (it’s already our longest drought since the 21-year hiatus between Peter Thomson’s last Open triumph in 1965 and Greg Norman’s first in 1986). Of the four, it is already the Major with the longest gap between Aussie winners, which is unfathomable given our national record at The Open. It seems incongruous to think nearly 25 years have passed since Norman’s second Open victory. It’s the Major with the largest Down Under contingent and the one where the Australian style of play is historically rewarded most – or is the fascination with American golf harming our Claret Jug chances each July?
Will the US PGA Championship feel like just another tour event? Venerable Quail Hollow gets its first Major with the PGA Championship this August, yet the club is already well known to US Tour fans as the host of the Wells Fargo Championship each May. The subtleties of the North Carolina weather between late spring and late summer might provide a point of difference, as will the impact of PGA of America set-up guru Kerry Haigh and his penchant for a less penal set-up than his USGA counterparts. Yet there’s a growing sense the Major championship with the least ‘major’ feel will be even more so this August.
Does the Presidents Cup matter? The tournament with the most lopsided ledger in all of golf returns to American soil for what will surely be more of the same – a sea of red, white ’n blue numbers on the scoreboard. The contest became closer last time in South Korea but the tightness of the 2015 matches masked the underlying problem: when your side plays foursomes and fourball matches only once every two years and your opponents do so annually, you’re perpetually behind team golf’s 8-ball.
Who is golf’s true king? For eight straight years a different man has finished the year as world No.1. Jason Day has held the loftiest perch since the end of March, but the reawakening of No.2 Rory McIlroy, the persistent threat of Jordan Spieth, the undeniable talent of Dustin Johnson and the rise of Hideki Matsuyama – plus the lurking subset of Stenson, Watson, Fowler, Scott and co. – will make that streak tough for Day to break.