With golf’s silly season now over (Is it just me, or has the Father-Son Challenge gotten really serious, and better?), we have a full four weeks to cram in as many year-end and looking-forward columns as possible.
What happened in 2015? What might happen in 2016? There are, literally, too many articles to count. This isn’t one
of them. Sort of.
For everything we thought would happen in 2015 (Jordan Spieth breaking out), there were plenty of things that didn’t (Tiger breaking back in). Rory, Phil and Sergio found more positive print than Kisner, Streb or Berger. We were worried about how we would better pick a Ryder Cup squad (the answer: more vice captains!), when guys would start tinkering with short putters (more on that below) and how a young course would host the U.S. Open (the answer: brownly).
So, as we polish the crystal ball and look forward to 2016, I offer the 5 Things That WON’T Happen in the Upcoming Year:
1. There will be a ton of noise about the anchoring ban
Seriously, wasn’t this supposed to be a really big deal right now? The way governing bodies went full-onslaught in the media after the initial announcement of the change, you felt like it was a storm brewing.
In the professional ranks, players linked with the long wand have tinkered enough in preparation for the switch that they’ve approached the switch like, well, pros. Take David Hearn, who has risen to the top of the list of guys waiting for their first win. He went back and forth late in 2015, and when asked about it said, “Putting is
pretty simple: Speed and direction. As long as your speed is good and your ball is going off that line, doesn't matter what you're putting with. It's going to go in the hole.”
Adam Scott’s practice with it didn’t take and he dropped 100 spots in strokes gained putting. Keegan Bradley has gone from 47th, to 126th, to 216th this year in the stat, but they both are owning the need to change. In fact, the only person who really raised a public stink about it in 2015 was Bernard Langer.
“If it's an advantage to use a long putter or anchor it, why aren't they all anchoring it?” he asked during a rant about the rule change prior to the U.S. Senior Open. “Because it's not an advantage.”
There you have it. It’s not an advantage. The best quinquagenarian golfer in the world says so. There are maybe a dozen needle-moving players who are affected and with only one player in the top 50 of the world impacted, the world has moved on.
Plus, be honest, if you’re an 18-handicapper at home anchoring, you aren’t stopping either. Much ado about nothing.
2. The Olympics will be underwhelming
I, like Adam Scott, believe that Olympic organizers and the International Golf Federation missed a golden opportunity to create a wonderful team event in handing out medals in Rio. Copy the current NCAA championship format and you could have individual champions and team/country champions all within a week.
Instead, we will have a men’s and women’s 72-hole stroke play event. Bleh.
But, you know what? It will still be awesome.
I don’t care if it is crammed within a constricted summer schedule of majors and WGC events. I don’t care if Scott or others sit it out. I don’t care if it rains toxic water from the kayaking venue. It will be must-watch golf. Why? Because it’s the Olympics. An institution that has made gymnastics, curling, table tennis, bobsledding, diving and ski jumping part of our viewing schedule every four years. For the same reason we drive ratings up for the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, we flock to cheer for any sporting event where USA is across the chest.
Also, golf may provide more room for surprises than any other sporting event. The short, pudgy sprinter from Iceland won’t qualify for the 100-meter dash finals, but who’s to say Wu Ashun from China won’t have a two-shot lead with three to play, trying to hold off a charging Rickie Fowler? There will be a story. And we will watch.
3. Tiger will be relevant
This is not a statement about his health, nor is it a prediction on when he will be back and how he will play. This is actually a positive.
Tiger’s revealing interview with Lorne Rubenstein gave us a better glimpse at his reality. Maybe we all needed to read those words to convince ourselves of what we have been thinking for a while: vintage Tiger is done, and winning Tiger may be done too.
I’m not saying Tiger Woods will be irrelevant in 2016. What I am saying is that golf no longer needs him to be relevant to generate interest. We have stars that stepped in to fill a void last year and delivered incredible (gasp, Tiger-esque) golf that reshaped our imagination of what can be done to a little white ball.
Heal up, Tiger. The game will be thriving for you when/if you get back.
4. Jordan Spieth will win a major
Yes, this is a prediction, not a contradictory statement, masquerading within this article. Spieth will go 0-for-4 in the majors this year. I’ve got my eyes on The Players, two or three Texas events and maybe a WGC (Match Play in Austin, anybody?!) for Senor Numero Uno.
Rory should scorch some Earth this season. Jason Day is now validated as elite. Bubba is still left-handed at Augusta. Dustin Johnson has to figure it out mentally.
There is a list of veterans still lurking. And the young crop is only getting deeper.
Tiger won’t catch Jack, and I’d be shocked if anybody catches Tiger. It’s just too deep.
5. Golf will struggle to recruit new players
Participation in the sport has reached a plateau in the last couple of years after a steady decline from the sport’s peak in 2003. But, it feels as if we are on the cusp of a new boom within the sport.
We are saturated with programs to bring other audiences and sports enthusiasts to the game. While you may label ‘foot golf,’ or the 15-inch golf hole as gimmicks, the philosophy that any activity that puts bodies on a golf course is a good thing. There is traction.
The increased market share of GPS and app technology is giving die-hard golfers even more reason to run back to the course. Analyzing the game is easier than ever before.
And, lastly, there is a social explosion of places like TopGolf, which plans to double its size to nearly 50 locations in the next two years, including a much-anticipated spot on the Strip in Las Vegas soon.
All of these things don’t fix the issues with maintenance costs, property taxes, pace of play, course saturation and other hurdles to keep traditional courses afloat, but the game is gaining with a younger audience, will always be valuable in the business sector and now has an influx of young, marketable, professionals to build around for
another 20 years.