There’s a building excitement as we approach the premier tournament of the year. We’ve never seen anything quite like this year in the history of this game. We’ve come to recognize fans as an integral part of the pro tours. And their presence does affect play, from vociferous cheers at majors and the Ryder Cup to stopping wayward shots from bounding into trouble to hitting someone who was sitting greenside on a camp chair to snapping a photo of a player at the top of his backswing driving a caddie to near homicide. Fans create a certain hype as little kids vie for autographs from their favorites, and older folks line the fairways three or four deep to catch a glimpse of Tiger or Phil or Rory or JT or Rahmbo or catch a glimpse of Matt Wolff’s helicopter backswing.
But, in practice, this year–this pandemic year–having no fans has worked out pretty well. I think the top guys have missed the cheers and applause but overall, the quiet has been a boon to many of the players, aiding in their ability to focus on the matter at hand: putting that little ball into the cup in as a few strokes as possible in this daunting game. And as is the case with all golf seasons, some have done well while others have not. But all–players and fans–were certainly better protected against catching the coronavirus.
Rory. He’s a bit of a mystery. A guy of tremendous talent and golf skills but thenhe goes and hits a wayward iron, just a bit left off the green and suddenly, in anger, snaps that iron in two pieces. That’s a sign that all is not right with Rory’s game. His swing looks perfect to me. I’m sure a Chamblee talking head could pick it apart and find some flaw, but I wouldn’t change a thing. So I’d guess it’s a timing issue, in a game that requires precise timing. I know, for myself, it doesn’t take much to throw off timing: fatigue, a lack of confidence, illness of some sort, some personal issue–perhaps a financial or domestic challenge. I don’t know what’s going on with Rory, but I am pretty sure of one thing: He may contend, but he’s of a questionable state of mind to win the Masters and complete a career Grand Slam.
Tiger. The maestro of the Masters in 2019 where everything fell into place. And unbelievably so. Could he do it again? Probably not, but possibly, sure (it’s Tiger, after all). And the key has nothing to do with his form. He’s hitting the ball wonderfully. His irons are mostly spot on. His chipping is a bit funky at times. It’s his putting that concerns me the most. It’s been streaky this year, not so much his stroke, which looks as great as ever, but his green reading. Once the greatest green reader in the history of the game, I think it’s a problem for many who’ve past 40. Maybe the eyes just aren’t as sharp or perhaps the confidence starts to wane ever so slightly. Will Tiger surpass Snead’s record for total wins? Will he inch ever closer to Jack’s amazing record for majors? We’ll see. You can never count this guy out. Oh, one other thing: How will his back hold up? That may be the key of keys. His will to win has not diminished; and the thought of his little one running into his arms after victory has to be a tremendous motivator.
Bryson. This young man has been the story of 2020, besides the pandemic, of course. The Scientist’s last experiment in his golf lab at home produced a swing that surpassed 400 yards. But he’s also greatly improved his iron play, his scrambling, his sand saves, his chipping, and his putting. He has had the perseverance and motivation to literally change his body for the sake of improving at his profession. And he was an excellent player before he took on this demanding regime. If I had extra change around to bet, I’d put it on BDC. He won the U.S. Open in decisive fashion. He could win the Masters.
DJ. A wonderful player with a wonderful record, save for one thing: the shadow of only one major win that stalks him. There’s something about majors that rattles the nerves on this player who otherwise seems without nerves.
Brooks Koepka. On the other hand is DJ’s friend who approaches majors like Patton approached the German army. Brooks thinks he’s a sure bet for every major he enters. If he’s healthy, he’ll be a threat, for sure. He’s got the whole game, plus nerves of steel.
JT. This young phenom is definitely in form this year. He’s already won twice, has a great caddie, and his game is solid, including, as the stats show, the best iron game on tour. That’s key at the Master: knock your approach shots close and you increase your chances for birdies. Paul Azinger calls him “the pin-hi master.” JT can putt too, as the stats also show. He’d be a good pick.
Jordan Spieth. JT’s good friend, and three time major winner. But, sad to say, Jordan’s in a slump, which I think is a rut you can get into from poor performance leading to a lack of confidence. And if it’s one thing the tour demands (and golf in general) it’s confidence. I’d love to see Spieth come back and win this year’s Masters. Will it happen? Probably not.
Xander Schaeffle. Here’s a guy who can play golf. Small in stature but capable of big, accurate drives. I can find nothing wrong with his game, other than getting hang-dog at times when things are not going his way. He’s a highly competent, competitive player, but he doesn’t look like he’s having much fun.
Patrick Cantley. An impressive winner this past weekend at the Zozo, with a barrage of birdies and very few bogeys. This kid from UCLA doesn’t have much of a personality but he can sure play. Solid game, all around, and now has three wins under his belt so he knows how to get it done. He’s a longshot, but a short longshot, if you know what I mean.
That’ll do it for now. More as we get closer to… the Masters (accentuating and raising the voice slightly on Masters, as the member powers that be proudly say it).
This week it’s the Bermuda Championship on a Robert Trent Jones designed course. Defending champ is Brendon Todd. Harry Higgs, whom I recently blogged about, was runner-up to Todd. Enjoy!