by Jeff Skinner
The guys over at Golf.com have ended this year by answering “11 Questions for ’11: Who, What, Why in 2011.” Michael Bamberger, Alan Shipnuck, and Gary Van Sickle give their answers and predictions for some intriguing questions for the 2011 golf season. Their opinions are certainly interesting and worth a read but here is what we all really want to know: my perspective on their 2011 questions. Read on my friends and enjoy this New Year’s Weekend. Our 2011 golf season is just around the cold, wintry corner.
- Have we seen the end of the Tiger Woods era? Absolutely not. Right now Tiger and Sean Foley are in their laboratory cooking up that new swing formula. Woods is too good a golfer and athlete not to be a major force in golf. While we may never see the dominance Woods displayed in 2000 he will surely win again. He’ll have more issues with his mental side of the game than with his physical. Regardless of his play he’ll still be the tours’ and the networks’ biggest draw as long as he wants to play.
- 2. If not Tiger, who will be No.1? I think we will have multiple number ones in 2001. Westwood for sure and Martin Kaymer will very likely have some weeks in the top spot. Will Phil take a turn? I am not too sure about Philly Mick claiming number one. He’ll need to win The Masters again and maybe another major. He just does not play as much as a guy like Kaymer so he’ll have to finish high in each start.
- 3. With the schedule shrinking, a new TV contract looming and the European Tour gaining strength, what’s the prognosis for long term-health of the PGA Tour? Considering the economic environment the PGA Tour is doing fairly well. Some creative thinking involving expansion in Asia and maybe some negotiations with the European Tour are in order. The Euro’s are stronger and more visible than ever and it would be advantageous to have as many of the “world’s best” playing tour events.
- 4. Is Phil Mickelson the new King of Augusta? Absolutely. With three wins at Bobby’s place he owns that course. Forget that he knows each inch of that course as well as anyone who ever played there, including Nicklaus, Phil owns Augusta and its fans, excuse me, patrons. Phil is the fan favorite wherever he tees it up but Augusta is extra special for him. The support he get there is unrivaled and worth a few shots per round. Watch for him to get his fourth green jacket in 2011.
- 5. Can Americans take back the LPGA Tour? That’s not happening. The US has many interesting players but the sheer number of top Asia players is overwhelming. Unfortunately, the US golf fans are color blind. They only see red, white and blue and that is regrettable. There are many interesting foreign players on the LPGA but U.S. fans refuse to embrace them. However, there is a simple answer to this question: Michelle Wie. Wie is the only woman playing that moves the needle in the states. When she plays people watch. When she wins a lot of people watch. There is still plenty of time for her to win, she’s only 21.
- 6. Now that they’re 30, can Sergio Garcia or Adam Scott be relevant again? Scott showed sign of regaining his old form, especially with his putter so yes; he can compete with the big boys. Is there is a player more in need of an effective mental coach than Sergio? He needs help with those five inches between his ears. Without it he is done.
- 7. With the U.S. Open heading to Congressional Country Club, and hard-core golfers running the executive and legislative branches and taxpayer-owned GM reentering the sponsorship biz, will Washington finally embrace golf again? If they don’t it’s their own fault. Congressional is a great place and with Obama playing more than any president since Ike, Washington is ripe for golf resurgence. Here’s a thought: get Obama to play in the Golf Digest US Open Challenge. Have Barrack put his game to the test on the Open layout with Justin Timberlake, Michael Jordan and say, Halle Berry. He would be more effective there then he is with Congress.
- 8. Do aging multiple champions Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Padriag Harrington and Vijay Singh have one last hurray in them? I think all of them could win a regular event somewhere in the world again. But a major win is a different story. Ernie played well last year and is capable of another major and Paddy could compete also if he would stick with one swing. Goose needs to find that putter again before he’ll get another and Vijay may be toast. He’s hit more balls than anybody and it may be catching up with him.
- Does Fred Couples care enough to usurp Bernhard Langer as the dominant player on the Champions Tour? In a word, no. Freddy plays golf because that is what he does. He wins some and loses some and cares about them equally. Langer plays because he wants to win. He’s motivated. Freddy gets plenty of press for his laid back, fan friendly style. Langer gets trophies.
- Will the Olympic golf movement gain momentum? In other parts of the world that have yet to have a deeply rooted golf culture there may be some interest. As far as the U.S. goes there isn’t much that can happen. As we have seen if it isn’t Tiger or Phil, it is just the hard-core golf fans that are interested. I don’t see the Olympics doing much for golf in the U.S. in 2011.
- Now that Martin Kaymer is old news, who is the next big thing? If 2010 showed anything it showed us that we have a great crop of golfers under 30. Dustin Johnson may be the best of the Americans and with Rory, Ryo, AK and Rickie there is no shortage of possible superstars ready to break out. But my two best bets for a fascinating year in 2011 are Matteo Manassero and Alexis Thompson. Manassero won on the Euro Tour at 17 and plays like a veteran but with the enthusiasm of a teenager. I hope he’ll bring his game over to the US so we can all get a view of him up close. Alexis Thompson will turn 16 in February and has already asked the LPGA for six more sponsor exemptions so she can play more on the tour. If Commissioner Michael Whan wants a big shot in the arm for his tour, he’ll figure out a way to get Thompson playing while not offending his current members. She’ll be playing somewhere in the world so it may as well be the LPGA. She is a much fun to watch as any golfer out there and it would be bad for the LPGA to lose her to another foreign tour.