THERE were plenty of lessons tucked within the compelling storylines of 2016:
Jason Day is the world’s best player* (*when healthy).
He’s a better driver than Jordan Spieth, a better putter than Rory McIlroy and his mental application is superior to Dustin Johnson’s. Day’s Achilles’ heel, however, is not technical but physical – whether it’s his troublesome back, vertigo or some other ailment. A fit, strong Day borders on unbeatable; at all other times he’s vulnerable.
The Rules of Golf desperately need a re-think.
That farcical situation on Oakmont’s fifth green in the final round of the US Open was emblematic of golf’s broader problem with its rules. Geoff Ogilvy, among others, put it best when he said that in these situations, if there was no advantage gained by the player then there should be no penalty. That the fiasco and subsequent botched deliberation by the USGA didn’t impact the outcome was the largest ‘get out of jail free’ moment of 2016.
There is no tournament like the Open Championship.
The Henrik Stenson/Phil Mickelson duel at Royal Troon was a classic, but it is the vagaries of links golf, the Scottish weather and the sheer unpredictability of the bounce of the ball or its flight through the breeze that should be equally lauded. Nothing else comes close.
The Ryder Cup still rules.
The Open is golf at its purest but – crowd behaviour issues aside – there is no more heaving, pulsating spectacle than the Ryder Cup. We can only hope the Presidents Cup reaches the same heights one day, but don’t hold your breath.
Mickelson deserves more credit for his durability.
The Tiger vs Phil ‘match’ has never really been a contest in the career stakes, however Woods’ constant injury woes coupled with Mickelson’s verve and drive this far into his 40s says Phil wins the longevity battle.
No lead is safe at Augusta. Ever.
I was at the Masters. I had the bones of the story written by the time Spieth made the turn with a five-shot lead on Sunday. Forty-five minutes later I was hitting ‘Select all’ and ‘Delete’ as Spieth imploded with a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 12th hole. That a player noted for his grit and guile would come unstuck is surprising, but serves as a potent reminder of how Augusta can instantly humble those pursuing a green jacket.
While Tiger Woods still fascinates, golf needs him less than ever.
The circus around Woods’ ‘Will he, won’t he?’ false start at the US PGA Tour’s Safeway Open in October indicates that Tiger still moves the needle in golf in a huge way. That might never change. However, the rise of the current fleet of talented twentysomethings has made Tiger’s relationship with golf fans more a case of ‘wanting’ him rather than ‘needing’ him.
‘Big’ talk is small.
The fluid, volatile nature of the top echelon of players renders obsolete any ‘Big 3’ or ‘Big 4’ analyses. No one had Dustin Johnson in their ‘Big’ conversations 12 months ago and now he’s a Major winner with the tools to win more. Odds are the complexion at the top will change again in 2017.
Lydia Ko is fallible – and has true rivals.
The Kiwi wonder was only one more strong weekend away from sweeping all the important LPGA awards, yet ultimately came up short. The rise of Ariya Jutanugarn and the emergence of Brooke Henderson masked, to a degree, the malaise of the American contingent but didn’t hide the fact Ko has company at the top of women’s golf.
True Majors don’t have naming-rights sponsors.
The ANA Inspiration? The Evian Championship? We’d like to think it’s not possible to buy Major championship prestige, although apparently on the LPGA Tour you can try.
The European Tour is ready to ignite.
I like Keith Pelley. The new Euro Tour boss is prepared to break some deeply entrenched traditions and genuinely innovate. Night golf, players in shorts, a schedule shake-up and an overall attempt to stick it to the behemoth that is the US PGA Tour – it’s all good stuff.
Australia is still lagging behind.
Our Masters has gone the way of the dodo, which is a shame but far from surprising. Reaction to next month’s World Super 6 Perth tournament will provide a litmus test for its future, while still plaguing the game here are the lingering remnants of OneAsia, a disagreeable global schedule and a dearth of sponsorship options. The risk is the rest of the world passes us by.