Come-from-behind victories. Sunday meltdowns. Thrilling major championships. Dominance. An indescribable Ryder Cup.
To many golf fans, 2012 brought a whole new level of excitement to the game. The unpredictability and element of surprise hopefully also attracted new fans to the sport. Either way, everyone who followed professional golf this year had something draw them in.
The 2013 season is on the horizon, teeing off Jan. 4 in Kapalua, and there are tons of storylines heading into the new year. Predicting outcomes for the season ahead is near impossible, but it’s always fun to speculate on a broader range. So, what should we look forward to in 2013 in professional golf? The topics are wide and the lists are long, but here are 10 things to watch for in the upcoming year.
Structural Shake Up
In 2013, the PGA Tour will embark upon its newest schedule set-up which, in effect, alters the Tour’s structure as a whole. The 2013 season will conclude with the final event of the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedExCup , the Tour Championship in Atlanta on Sept. 22. Then, three weeks later, the 2014 season will begin with the Frys.com Open, the first of the Fall Series events.
Of course, the scheduling change to the Tour also leads to changes for the Web.com Tour and Qualifying School. The Web.com Tour will now be the primary feeder for the PGA Tour, while Q-School will send its top finishers on to the Web.com Tour.
Fifty PGA Tour cards will be awarded to Web.com Tour players: 25 based on the final money list and a final 25 cards based on cumulative earnings from four Finals events. The Web.com’s Finals events will coincide with the FedExCup, with the exception of the last event, which will take place the week after the Tour Championship.
The newly formed PGA Tour Canada Tour, as well as the PGA Tour Latinoamerica Tour, will add additional playing avenues to the equation for professional golfers. The top-5 finishers on both tours gain direct access to the Web.com Tour. Also, Nos. 6 through 10 on the PGA Tour Canada will be exempt into the finals of the Web.com Tour Q-School.
Throwing the Anchor
In late November, the USGA and R&A proposed a rule change to prohibit anchoring the club during the stroke that will likely be approved this spring and go into effect in 2016. With the announcement, a range of storylines surround this topic for the upcoming year. At what point will players make the switch? Will fans support players who decide to continue anchoring? Will the PGA Tour move quickly and make a local rule, eliminating the three-year gap before the rule is changed. Will new techniques develop for putting woes?
Webb Simpson has openly admitted practicing at home with a regular putter and will put it in play when he’s comfortable. Adam Scott has already been seen without his typical flat stick. Keegan Bradley plans to keep his anchored stroke in play and has the option to do so despite already getting flack from a fan at the World Challenge.
Meanwhile, equipment makers such as Odyssey are already marketing forearm-anchored putters, giving belly-length putters a second wind.
As World No. 1 Rory McIlroy departs Titleist for Nike in 2013, his ability to adapt and grow comfortable with his new clubs will be closely watched. Some people downplay the move, saying equipment is similar nowadays. Others, such as Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods, suggest that the change could put a lot on the line and take a lengthy amount of time to get comfortable with.
Whether it is an easy or hard transition for McIlroy, we’ll most likely see his first competitive round with the swooshes in his bag at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, Jan. 17-20. From there, he’ll have lofty-as-ever expectations to live up to, after taking 2012’s PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.
Another majorless year has come and gone for Tiger Woods. And while Woods went oh-fer in 2012, he had his chances at getting closer to Jack Nicklaus’ all-time mark of 18 major championships.
Woods was tied for the 36-hole lead at both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, and sat in third place through 36 holes at the British Open. However, a weekend scoring average of 72.83 in those three majors knocked Tiger from contention in each event. His best major finish was a tie for third at Royal Lytham & St. Annes where he still sat four shots back of champion Ernie Els.
In 2013, Woods’ best chances at majors will come early. April’s Masters present a great opportunity for Woods due to his historic prowess at Augusta National, but he hasn’t won a Green Jacket since 2005. He has never played Marion Golf Club, the 2013 U.S. Open venue, and doesn’t exactly have fond memories at this year’s British Open and PGA Championship venues. He plummeted out of contention after a third-round 81 at the 2002 British Open at Muirfield and never shot lower than 72 at Oak Hill in 2003’s PGA Championship.
Brandt Snedeker vs. FedEx Cup Curse
Ironically, each of the first five winners of the FedEx Cup have failed to return to the Tour Championship the following year. In 2013, Brandt Snedeker will look to snap that streak and be one of the 30 players who take on Atlanta’s East Lake Country Club for the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus.
It seemed as if Bill Haas would end the trend in 2012, but Haas shot a final-round 78 in the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick. Haas finished 45th in the 70-man field and dropped to 32nd in the FedEx Cup points standings. Haas was positioned to move on, but he bogeyed four of the last five holes, leaving him outside the 30-man Tour Championship field.
If Snedeker wants another shot at the bonus, he’ll have to finish in the top 125 of the points list, then successfully advance on different courses than he did this year. The Barclays moves back to Liberty National in Jersey City, N.J., opening the four-event series. The Deutsche Bank Championship remains at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., as the second event, while the third leg is the BMW Championship at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, Ill.
Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village will be in the spotlight on two occasions during the upcoming year, as the course will host the 2013 Presidents Cup in addition to its yearly Memorial tournament. Fred Couples and Nick Price will captain their respective teams in the 10th playing of the Presidents Cup, which takes place Oct. 1-6. It will be Couples’ third-straight U.S. captaincy, while Price is getting his first attempt with the International squad.
The U.S. has dominated the cup, winning seven of the nine previous meetings. The International’s sole victory came in 1998 by a 20.5 to 11.5 margin, while the squads tied in 2003. The Presidents Cup may not ignite passion in ways the Ryder Cup does, but it has gained momentum through the years as an exciting and entertaining event.
It is fitting that the event will take place at Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village, given the history behind both the man and the course. Nicklaus has captained the U.S. Presidents Cup team on four occasions (1998, 2003, 2005, 2007) and Muirfield Village has hosted the Memorial Tournament annually since 1976. The venue will become the first club in the world to host the Presidents Cup, Ryder Cup (1987) and Solheim Cup (1998).
Teens took the golf world’s spotlight on several occasions in 2012, especially at the U.S. Open at Olympic Club. Fourteen-year-old Andy Zhang first made news as he became the youngest to compete in the USGA event. Then, 17-year-old Beau Hossler stole the show the first three days, even holding a brief solo lead Friday afternoon at 2-under-par. Unfortunately, a final-round 76 dropped Hossler from contention and the claim of low amateur. That distinction went to 19-year-old Jordan Spieth, who played the weekend in 1-under-par (69-70) and turned professional Dec. 14.
On the ladies’ side, 15-year-old Lydia Ko became the youngest to ever win an LPGA Tour event, claiming the CN Canadian Women’s Open by three shots over Inbee Park. Ko erased Lexi Thompson’s youngest age record — Thompson was 16 when she won the 2011 at the Navistar LPGA Classic in Alabama.
We already know of one teen who will surely be in the golf news in 2013: Guang Tianlang of China. The 14-year-old won the Asia-Pacific Championship this fall to qualify for the Masters. With the youthful talent pool of golf, chances are good that many more teens will make golf headlines in the year ahead.
Furyk’s Bounce Back
Jim Furyk arguably endured a career’s worth of heartache in one season alone. The U.S. Open, WGC-Bridgestone and Ryder Cup certainly left the deepest gashes, while close calls at Transitions, Tour Championship and the McGladrey Classic were added to his list of “what ifs.”
Furyk still has years of PGA Tour experience to use as motivation and can look no further than the 2009 season for similarities. That season, Furyk had five top-five finishes before jumping back into the winner’s circle in 2010.
PGA Tour rookies have performed quite well over the past two years. In 2011, rookies claimed seven victories including major championships from Charl Schwartzel (Masters) and Keegan Bradley (PGA Championship). Four rookies — John Huh, Jonas Blixt, Charlie Beljan and Ted Potter, Jr. – earned victories on the PGA Tour in 2012.
The 2013 class, made up of Web.com money leaders and graduates of Q-School, features a variety of heralded players. Luke Guthrie, Russell Henley, Ben Kohles, Morgan Hoffmann, Scott Langley and Patrick Reed, to name a few, have gained attention in the professional realms already and look to excel during their first year on Tour. There are also many experienced European Tour players such as Nicolas Colsaerts, Ross Fisher and Martin Kaymer who will each take up PGA Tour membership for the first time next year.
Golf on the Global Stage
Golf’s worldwide popularity has been on an upward trend over the last decade or so, and we are now seeing the effects of it being a global sport. More and more young, elite players are beginning to display their talents on the world stage and one could expect that to continue with golf being part of the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
The PGA Tour’s support for the global game will step up a notch during the latter part of 2013, as three of the first six events for the 2013-14 season will take place outside the United States. Most notably, the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and the WGC-HSBC Champions in China will both be official Tour events for the first time. While each of those events have drawn the biggest names, entrants are also qualifiers from the Asian Tour or hold other special distinctions.
Additionally, the success of young talents will continue to push the game to new heights. It seems as if Ryo Ishikawa has been in the spotlight for years and years, yet he’s still just 21 years old. With other young players such as Andy Zhang, Lydia Ko and Guang Tianlang being successful on the world stage, we can only expect more to come in the future.