The official start of the 2019 golf season was way back in October but for the casual golf fan the season starts this week at the Players Championship; the first glamorous tournament of the year.
With The PGA Championship moving from August to May, golf now has a marquee event each month from March through August. The run of tournaments starts today in Ponte Vedra, Florida at TPC Sawgrass. The Players Championship is known for two things: the treacherous 17th island green and the fact that every good-looking Southeastern Conference sorority girl shows up there on the weekend. Some in golf are pushing for the idea that it should be golf’s 5th major championship. It’s a ludicrous idea and one that will never take hold. The LPGA has 5 majors so that alone should disabuse anyone that it’s a good idea. Still, it’s definitely the most prestigious golf tournament aside from the four majors and that should be good enough.
It’s been five, cold and lonely months since Phil Mickelson conceded victory to Francisco Molinari at the 2018 Ryder Cup thus effectively ending all interest in golf for the year. Let’s check in on some of the offseason story lines and who to look out for this upcoming season.
Paul Azinger will be taking over for Johnny Miller as NBC’s lead golf analyst. Azinger won the 1993 PGA Championship and was an excellent 4-time Ryder Cup player. He’s got the credentials to be a good analyst and I think he will be. But that’s all he can be…good not great. He’s sort of a spaz and doesn’t have the understated humor of Johnny Miller, nor his career resume. Miller was the best analyst in any sport. He was the first analyst to criticize players with brutal honesty. Most analysts don’t want to be too harsh because they want to be liked by the athletes they cover. Johnny didn’t care. “If Ben Hogan saw that swing he’d puke” Miller said of Craig Parry’s unsightly stroke. “Guys with the name of Rocco don’t get the trophy. He looks more like the guy who cleans Tiger’s swimming pool.” That was Miller’s assessment of Rocco Mediate’s chances verse Tiger in the 2008 US Open Playoff. In the current year, I think Johnny Miller would have been brought up on hate crime charges. Most importantly, Johnny Miller was also an excellent family man with a loving wife, 6 wonderful kids, and 25 grandchildren! Enjoy your retirement Johnny. Well earned.
Matt Kuchar- Matt made quite a stir when he only tipped his local Mexican caddie “El Tucan” 5,000 dollars after winning 1.3 million in the Mayakoba golf classic. This story has been done to death but one point I haven’t seen made is that many successful guys are brought up differently than the vast majority of us. His dad probably instilled in him that a contract is a contract i.e., a bond. When Kuchar agreed to pay the caddie 5K regardless of how he finished, that is what he honored. Of course, people bitched and moaned and turned up the heat on social media. I would have paid the caddie 50K immediately after winning even if we agreed on 5K because I wouldn’t want to deal with the negative PR regarding my thriftiness. I’d figure…oh what the hell, I’m rich anyway; who needs the headache, I’ll just pay the guy his unearned money. But that’s because I’m weak. So are you most likely. But Matt was strong. He was raised with strong values and adhered to what he was taught. A deal is a deal and a man’s word is his bond. That’s what his dad taught him and he acted accordingly. What a hero! That is until the full weight of America’s feminized culture took hold and demanded he acquiesce and submit to the mob. How dare he honor the contract that was readily agreed to by the caddie, they shouted?
He has a chance to make this guy’s life so much better. How could he not? So what if 5K was what they agreed on, this would be pocket change for Kuchar. Pay the man his money! Well not surprisingly, he caved. Not only did he end up giving his rental caddie 50K but he apologized to him as well. He Kuched! Matt had a chance to stand strong against the outrage mob. He gave it a shot but eventually caved. I can’t say I blame him but he would have had my undying respect if he held firm. Instead, he gets my scorn. He’ll never win again. I’m going to burn my Sketchers in protest.
Rickie Fowler- Rickie is my pick to win the Masters this year. His closing birdie on the 18th hole at the 2018 Masters was another example of how he delivers in big moments. He needed birdie to put the pressure on eventual champion Patrick Reed and he came through with a masterful approach shot and clutch putt. He needed Reed to bogey 18, but it didn’t happen. Reed got a couple lucky breaks down the stretch so Rickie was once again denied his elusive first major championship. At the 2015 Players Championship, Fowler put on one of the greatest clutch performances in golf history going 6 under of the last 6 holes and birdieing the island green 17th twice in a playoff to edge Kevin Kisner. At some point the golf Gods will smile on Rickie and I predict it will be in April at Augusta. The one true God, however, has already smiled on him bestowing the company of his now fiancé, fitness model Allison Stokke.
Brooks Koepka- In a 14-month time-span, “Stone Cold Koepka” vaulted from a highly touted but under-performing power hitter into the most cold-blooded golfer of his generation. Three major titles including back-back U.S. Opens. “ZFG Brooks” also stared down Tiger to win the PGA Championship in August. He not only seems immune to pressure, he thrives on it. Koepka has now won three major championships and only one regular tournament. “Big Game Hunter Brooks” needs a nickname but maybe I’m trying too hard. He just appeared on David Feherty’s interview show and had this nugget to share: ”I’ve never tried coffee, in fact I’ll go one further, I’ve never had a hot drink.” How is that possible? He did grow up in Florida so he probably never needed to warm up after a snow storm. Did he have access to hot water? Maybe he really does have ice water in his veins. So many follow up questions I’d like to ask “Cold Drink Koepka.” Brooks, are you devoid of any curiosity whatsoever? What if you had a hot drink and it made you elated- would you feel like you wasted half your life?
Rory McIlroy- something is amiss for the Northern Irishman and it has nothing to do with his golf swing. He has failed to close out numerous tournaments he’s led and hasn’t won in over a year. This from a man who most believe has the most talent of anyone since Tiger. It has become mental and once a lack of confidence takes hold of a player, it’s tough to recover. To his credit, Rory keeps putting himself into contention only to fall back on Sunday. That means he’s not afraid of the big moment, he’s just not coming through when it arises. Rory is the face of golf world-wide and generally considered one of the more likable superstars. So it would be nice to see him get back in the winner’s circle. It would also be nice to see golf have a winner’s circle. They could parade the golfers in front of the crowd and drape them in roses or chrysanthemums. Winning the Masters would give Rory the career grand slam. But to try and get over his mental issues by winning at the most pressure-packed tournament in the world is a tough ask. I don’t see it although I do think he’ll win a major this year.
Francesco Molinari is another guy with ice water running through his veins. I saw this back in 2017 at the PGA Championship. Molinari finished just before eventual champion Justin Thomas and needed to make a 15-foot putt to give himself a chance to win. It was a pressure putt that most guys would miss and console themselves by saying they gave it their best. Not Molinari, he drilled it dead center. He would finish two strokes off the lead but you could tell that he thrived on the pressure. Cut to the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie where he stared down Tiger and made clutch putt after clutch putt, including a birdie on the treacherous 18th to win his first major. Then he went 5-0 in the Ryder Cup and just last week he put on a brilliant final-round performance at the Arnold Palmer invitational to snatch that championship. This included a bomb on the 18th green that is one of the 10 most clutch putts I’ve ever seen made. I like his chances anytime he’s in contention. You have to love his affect as well. He is always even-keeled and humble in victory which is really astonishing for an Italian.
Sergio Garcia- Sergio was last seen causing a major disturbance at the European Tour’s Saudi International. He damaged at least 5 greens with his putter and by dragging his golf spikes across the green. There is also video of him throwing a hysterical fit in the bunker. He looks completely psychotic. This comes at a time when people were starting to like him after his redemption in winning the 2017 Masters. That good will is likely gone after this display. Expect more heckling from American fans and you can’t say he doesn’t deserve it after this display. Did Sergio have any idea what types of punishments are often meted out in Saudi Arabia? They are not above cutting off a man’s hand for stealing. He’s lucky to he got out of the country in one piece although he probably would have learned his lesson if he didn’t.
Justin Rose is my pick to win this week at The Players. His recent form has been great and he’s placed in the top 5 at TPC Sawgrass in the past. He’s the #2 golfer in the world and is positioned for a much higher profile with a set of commercials for MasterCard with golf legend Tom Watson. Expect to see a lot of Justin whether on the course or on television. Rose has also taken the surprising step of, after ascending to #1 in the world of golf, changing clubs to a new, relatively unknown brand. Rose has switched to Honma, a Japanese luxury equipment club maker. He will play Honma driver, irons and wedges. Previously, Honma’s top-ranked male endorsee was Hideto Tanihara, who was ranked 174th in the world. For some reason obscure golfer Hideto Tanihara’s endorsement of Honma’s golf clubs did not grow their presence in the United States and Europe. Maybe Justin Rose will have better luck.
Dustin Johnson is still the number one ranked player in the world and has solidified that ranking with two wins already this year. He won once in the aforementioned Saudi Arabian tournament and again at the WGC-Mexico Championship. Still, his most impressive feat is having two children with Paulina Gretzky and never having to settle down and actually get married. He should write a book. The offseason has not been without drama. Dustin and his good friend Brooks Koepka reportedly got into an altercation on the plane back from the Tour Championship, over Koepka allegedly getting too cozy with Paulina while consoling her over relationship problems. “Steal your girl Brooks” played the old “I’m there for you” angle- very crafty. The drama is silly but it does beg the question who would win in fight between Dustin and Brooks? I’d pay to see it.
My picks for the *5 majors this year:
Players Championship- Justin Rose
Masters- Rickie Fowler
PGA Championship- Dustin Johnson
US Open- Rory McIlroy
Open Championship- Francesco Molinari
*denotes non-major championship
The Golf Hot List- Good content you need to seek out
Tiger Woods and Conor Moore’s Bridgestone commercial. Moore’s impersonations of famous golfers are incredible and a must see on YouTube. His latest commercial with Tiger is hilarious and manages to make Tiger look likeable.
Club Pro Guy on Twitter- @clubproguy is a must follow. The trials and travails of the Mexican-mini tour legend
Feherty on the Golf Channel. David Feherty is way overrated as a comedian but way underrated as an interviewer. His staff comes up with great questions in a tightly-packaged 1-hour show. The Fred Couples two-episode interview was excellent.
Dan Redmond covers Golf for Breitbart and can be found @danfromdc