Tour Confidential: Bold predictions for 2022, players of the year, breakthroughs

Jon Rahm

Jon Rahm won his first major at last year's U.S. Open? Will he win another this year?

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Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we look ahead to everything 2022: bold predictions, potential players of the year, breakthroughs into the world top 100, and more.

1. After so many wild and wonderful golf happenings in 2021 — Phil Mickelson winning a major at 50, Tiger Woods playing golf at a high level again after a horrific car accident, Bryson and Brooks hugging it out at the Ryder Cup — the mind reels at what 2022 holds in store. Give us one truly bold prediction for this year, something no fan could see coming. 

Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): Louis Oosthuizen will win two majors. No need to even play the Open at St. Andrews — Louis will be automatic on Ye Olde Course. He’ll also win at either The Country Club or Southern Hills, a pair of designs that set up well for ball-strikers who can putt.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: That’s not bold. That’s obvious. Hence his nickname, King Louis.

Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): The Internationals win the Presidents Cup for the first time in more than 20 years. They damn near did it in 2019. Host-site Quail Hollow has been kind to some of their best players, too (Hideki, Louis, Abe). But the real secret ingredient to beating the Americans will be creating a team of common countrymen. In 2019, Els sent out 12 guys from nine countries. This year’s team will pair Mexico’s Abe Ancer with Carlos Ortiz. Korea’s Sungjae Im with Ben An. Hideki will finally be joined by another Japanese player in Takumi Kanaya. Joaquin Niemann and Mito Pereira will hold things down for Chile. Trevor Immelman will no doubt bring another South African along to play with Louis Oosthuizen. And then there are the Aussies. It could be a phenomenal week in North Carolina.

Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): Jon Rahm wins the Grand Slam. Check out last year’s results. T5 at the Masters; T8 at the PGA; a win at the U.S. Open; T3 at the British. A few strokes shaved here and there, and he gets it done.

Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): Phil (finally) wins the U.S. Open and retires from pro golf on the 18th green, riding off into the sunset with the career grand slam in hand.

Nick Piastowski, senior editor (@nickpia): All great predictions. Let’s continue the oldie-but-goodie theme and say that Bernhard Langer flirts with Phil’s oldest-to-win-a-major mark, doing so at either the Masters or the Open Championship (if he qualifies).  

Bamberger: Greg Norman becomes the Deputy Commissioner of the PGA Tour in charge of its newest division, Global Golf International.

Bastable: That’s not bold. That’s obvious. Hence his nickname, The Shark.

2. The 2021-22 PGA Tour and 2022 LPGA Players of the Year will be _________ and _________, respectively. Please explain your answers! 

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Bastable: Justin Thomas and Jin Young Ko. JT’s game has quietly been rounding back into form (four top-5s in his last six starts to close out the year), and I love that Jim Mackay is now on his bag. Bones was in a position to be picky about when/if he would return to looping. Clearly, he sees big upside in teaming up with Thomas. They’ll be a dangerous duo. As for Ko, yes, it’s a chalk pick, but how do you steer away from her after a five-win season? Also, that 63-straight greens-in-reg streak at the LPGA season finale still boggles the mind. Tough to short a player who is so staggeringly consistent. 

Zak: Brooks Koepka and Nelly Korda. BK promised us all just a month ago that he hasn’t peaked yet. “Just wait,” he said. I’m listening. And then for the ladies, no one makes it look easier than Nelly. I desperately want to see Yuka Saso make an even bigger splash next year. But the mind says another year of four wins for Ms. Korda. 

Sens: Jon Rahm and Nelly Korda. Rahm opened the floodgates last year. He’ll keep pouring it on. I can’t argue with Sean on Korda. Even if my heart says Lydia Ko.

Melton: Jordan Spieth and Lydia Ko. 2022 is the year of the comeback kids. 

Bamberger: Dustin Johnson and JESSICA Korda. Johnson’s play at the Ryder Cup was a mere reminder of how good he is, when the pressure’s off. (The U.S. team was so good he didn’t have to do that much, except play as he is capable of playing.) The pressure’s off. Nobody is particularly expecting him to do anything. As for JK, sibling rivalry is a powerful thing, and sibling sharing is, too. It’s a family affair. 

Piastowski: Viktor Hovland and Lexi Thompson. Like question one, I can’t argue with any of the above, and I’m adding these two partially for conversation sake. But Hovland continues his strong 2021, adds his first major (at the PGA, in his U.S. “home” of Oklahoma) and tacks on a couple more wins. And while the following may sound like something you’ve heard before, this is the year Lexi figures the short game issues that have plagued her. 

3. Which player not currently in the top 100 of the OWGR has the best chance to be in the top 20 by this time next year? 

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Bastable: My heart says Jason Day; the game is better when he’s in the mix. But I fear despite a couple of flashes of hope in 2021 that he’s still in the wilderness. Instead, I’ll vouch for Danny Willett, another major winner who lost his way before rejoining the winner’s circle (at the Dunhill) in 2021. If Oosty doesn’t win the Open Championship (but he will, see above), Willett might. 

Zak: It would have to be someone who wins multiple Tour events or is a mainstay in contention all season. Really trims the candidates. I’ll invest my hopes in Gary Woodland, your 2019 U.S. Open Champion who, at 37, still has some good golf ahead of him. 

Sens: Matt Kuchar. At 43, he’s getting up there. But he’s still too good not to bounce back from 2021’s precipitous slump.

Melton: Sam Horsfield. Every time I talk with his coach, Sean Foley, he’s hyping up Horsfield to be the next big thing in pro golf. And after seeing how he’s changed his swing recently to protect against injuries, I’m buying his stock. 

Piastowski: Harry Higgs. The fan favorite gets a breakthrough victory this year. 

Bamberger: Lucas Glover. Still long. Great iron player. He goes as his short-putting goes, and his short putting is getting way better. (One of my favorites.)

4. As recently as a few months ago, at least one new elite professional tour seemed destined to become a reality in 2022. Now, that picture is less clear. In the next 12 months, will a legitimate PGA Tour rival officially come to fruition?

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Bastable: Gosh, with the frequency at which Greg Norman-helmed LIV Golf has been loading up its C-suite, it’s hard to figure they’re not getting close to a big announcement. Then again, we all thought that news was coming three months ago. Did LIV’s would-be signees get cold feet, or did all the new money the PGA Tour is throwing at its top players convince those stars to stay put? Both explanations seem plausible. By the second half of ’22, I think we’ll see a stripped-down version of what LIV had wanted to launch, with fewer events and fewer notable players. 

Zak: Yes, it’ll happen. We’ll see many elite Tour players fly across the world for the Saudi International in early February. The Tour’s reaction to player requests might be a good sign of things to come, too. Big money, elsewhere … play it if you’d like … these are your member-privilege consequences. 

Sens: Events will happen. Big names will play. But not as many as we might once have believed. And not to the point where the events will come off as the existential threat to the Tour that they originally seemed to be.

Melton: I hope so. Competition breeds innovation, and I’d love to see some shake-ups to the structures of pro golf. Do we really need ~45 weeks of the year to be filled with the same 72-hole, stroke-play formats? I’d love to see some variety.

Bamberger: I agree, Dr. Z. Competition would be good for the PGA Tour. A big hit of creativity would be, too. But I don’t see a league starting in ’22. The mindset of the golfer is too pondering and careful.

Piastowski: Yes, and I think we’ll get an announcement from the Norman LIV Golf tour in the first week of February, during the Saudi International. Some of golf’s biggest names will already be there, some (all?) of them will likely be part of the deal, and it’s the week before the Super Bowl, so the news cycle will be dry. What it all looks like is hard to say. Does it go head to head with the PGA Tour? Does it run a fall schedule, which is after the majors, but competing with football. All good questions, and I think we’ll learn the answers in about a month.  

5. Now that USGA CEO Mike Whan has had several months to get acclimated to his new role, what would you like see him make his top action point in his first full calendar year on the job?

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Bastable: It’s hard to figure that a big distance announcement isn’t forthcoming in 2022, in terms of some kind of modification at the elite levels of the game. The Distance Insights movement, of course, long predates Whan’s tenure, but he seems on board with measures to dial back the big boys. He’s on record saying he’s not afraid of bifurcation and that “some degree of reining in” wouldn’t be a bad thing. My guess is Whan has already spent many hours analyzing the topic and discussing with key stakeholders. A local rule on distance is surely coming soon. 

Zak: Make it all make sense. Make all the rules changes make sense. Make it make sense to me, and to Phil Mickelson, and to my father, who plays twice a year but watches most Sundays. Make the greens book changes feel like they were obvious. Give us plain, clear reasons why Bryson’s caddie measuring the slopes of the 14th hole during a Tuesday practice round in Jacksonville doesn’t align with the purity of the game created in Scotland. Same for distance control and how far the golf ball flies due to technology. I think the reasoning is somewhat understood, but the announcements have become controversial enough that it’s still not quite hitting home in the way it should.

Sens: Admirable goals above. Meantime, though, I’ll go with something within easier reach: Strictly enforce a shot clock. Pick up the pace.  

Melton: Give us a clear picture of what the U.S. Open rota will look like. We know Pinehurst and Oakmont will be heavily featured, and I’m curious where else the national championship will stake its roots. 

Piastowski: Set a deadline for the distance decisions. Talk about a bold move in year one, but it’s time to move on from this.  

Bamberger: Recognize that the elite game and the regular-joe game are different. Create a MUCH simpler handicap system. (Write down your scores. You can’t make worse than a triple bogey on a hole.) A stroke, not distance, penalty for lost balls and OB balls. A slower ball for them. A WAY faster game for us. Preach ready golf and proceed to your ball. 

6. From what you saw and heard from Tiger Woods at the PNC Championship in December, do you think we’ll see him make four or more PGA Tour (or major) starts in 2022, between one and three, or none?

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Bastable: I think the 1-3 range sounds right. The big question mark is when and if he can walk 18 holes four (or more) days in a row. That level of recovery feels like it could be six months off. Maybe even another year. Who knows. I’d be surprised if we see Woods make a start before the Open Championship. The lure of the Old Course will be strong for Tiger, not only because of his record there but also because (in good conditions) it’s the most walkable of all the major venues.   

Zak: I think four or more is totally reasonable. But none before March. Once Tiger gets his legs under him, once a month seems viable to me. 

Sens: Augusta and St. Andrews. Beyond that, no guarantees.

Melton: Call me a pessimist, but I don’t see him playing in ANY of the majors. Like Basty said, we don’t even know if he can walk 72 holes in four days. The PNC was nice, but the road to a full(ish) recovery is longer than most want to admit.

Piastowski: Between one and three — he’ll play the Open Championship, the PNC and maybe one more. The swing is good to go. But the legs (and the back) need more time, it looks like. Tiger won’t enter a tournament just to enter a tournament. He’ll play to win, and I think it’ll be a while before he feels comfortable doing that more than a handful of times a year.  

Bamberger: I agree with Nick. Augusta is a very difficult walking course. The Old Course in July if the weather is good — you could imagine that. And he can shoot something in the low 70s there just on guile and experience alone. Asking for more than that is asking too much.

Want to listen to some more bold predictions — and get insight on some undervalued players for the year ahead? Check out the Drop Zone below or wherever you get your podcasts!

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