The glass-half-full golf community is downright giddy after a weekend that saw the first major step towards a potential blockbuster year in 2017. A year removed from questions and deceptions (Olympics, USGA ruling blunders, no Tiger), the last weekend of January was the tastiest appetizer the professional game could deliver.
Starting in the Bahamas, nobody was hiding from the buzz created by Brittany Lincicome’s playoff win at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic. The week started with multiple players flirting with sub-60 rounds. It ended with a final round shootout of drama. All of it featured American players.
In a sport that has become so starved for domestic stars, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan deserves a ton of credit for growing the tour into a more profitable entity by capitalizing on global interest. But the real earning potential of the sport rests on the ability to produce consistent, American stars.
The top five finishers on the leaderboard in the Bahamas were Americans. It was the first time that had happened in an LPGA event since 2011. Six years! The group also featured another teenager, as 18-year-old Nelly Korda (yes, Jessica's sister) quickly got up to speed in her first LPGA start.
It’s only one tournament (with just eight of the top 20 in the field), but it’s the best start American women’s golf could have hoped for. With only one golfer (Lexi Thompson) ranked inside the top 12 in the world (four in the top 25), maybe there is momentum. In a Solheim Cup year, every little bit helps.
“I love seeing the Americans playing well, being an American, and it’s not like we don’t try to play well,” Lincicome said afterwards. “We obviously all work very hard on our game, and it just shows how many wonderful players are out on the LPGA and how deep the field goes.”
Meanwhile, to the west, the Farmers Insurance Open was everything a golf tournament should be on the PGA Tour. Tiger Woods returned. He looked old, but he looked comfortable. His body didn’t break down and, apparently, he still has enough intimidation in him to help two of the top three players in the world miss the cut alongside him.
No matter what he shot, the ratings and galleries proved how needed he is at this stage of his career. Golf was abruptly stripped of Tiger. Now, his masses may get a prolonged twilight stretch of him. Maybe that will help transition fans to the real spectacle.
At one point on Sunday afternoon, 20-plus players were within three shots of the lead. A young trio of former college stars led, all of whom were once number-one ranked amateurs in the world. Golf has been overrun by electrifying prep players the last decade. Their time is now. No waiting.
Jon Rahm seized the tournament by the jugular and ended it with no mercy. He punished any fans’ thoughts of drama. It was exactly what many peers expected, including a gushing Phil Mickelson.
The old guard is still fighting, the world’s best are historically great and the growing crop of twenty-somethings are winning at a record clip. Are you not entertained?
2017 is on the verge of being awesome.
The Other Winner
Each week during the PGA Tour season, I will offer up one player who, while not winning, escaped unnoticed with a big finish.
(Note: It’s not the new TaylorMade ‘M’ hats. Gulp)
Keegan Bradley – The 2011 PGA Championship winner was relevant this weekend for the first time in a while. Life post-anchoring ban was not kind to Bradley, who had just five top-10s and 15 missed cuts the last two seasons, bottoming out last year when he ranked 183rd on Tour in strokes gained putting.
While his putting numbers this week weren’t stellar (110th in the field), you can’t argue with his play this season. Sunday’s tie for fourth was his third top 10 of the young season, putting him on pace to top his career best of seven in 2013. He’s currently 15th in FedEx Cup points, recently married and, seemingly, more comfortable.