Tour Confidential: Which Star Will Have the Most Impactful 2017?

November 14, 2016
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. Jordan Spieth said he is playing and traveling less at the end of 2016 to help him ramp up for what he hopes will be a big 2017. From the current world top 5 — Jason Day (1), Rory McIlroy (2), Dustin Johnson (3), Henrik Stenson (4) and Spieth (5) — who do you foresee having the most impactful 2017?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: McIlroy, followed by Spieth. McIlroy is the most talented and is playing spectacular golf again. Spieth is the hungriest.

Josh Sens, contributor, GOLF (@JoshSens): That seems right to me, especially given Day’s lingering struggles with injuries. With the best-to-never-win-a-major title off their backs, it’s not hard to imagine Johnson and Stenson laying off the pedal a bit. But of course, now that I’ve said that, the opposite will happen, forecasting golf being a fool’s errand and all.

Chris Solomon, (@NoLayingUp): Well, I’ve got Spieth winning the Masters, DJ winning another U.S. Open, and Rory winning the PGA at Quail Hollow. So my answer is… Yes? If you’re pinning me down for an answer, a Rory that could be potentially adding 15-20 yards off the tee with new equipment, a sharper focus on his wedge game, and a putter that he seems to have figured out, I’ve got him slightly over DJ, and returning to the number one ranking.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): I’m expecting a big year from Rory. He’s been relatively quiet for too long, and I believe he draws motivation from seeing so much attention being directed at the other stars.

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Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): I don’t think you guys are giving Dustin his due. He has reordered his life in the pursuit of excellence and I think 2016 is only a taste of how dominant he can be.

Shane Bacon, golf analyst, Fox Sports (@shanebacon): The answer to every question about predictions for 2017 starts and ends with Rory McIlroy. He gets to spend the offseason messing around with new equipment from any manufacturer he chooses, has finally seemed to find a putting mentality that works under pressure and for whatever reason seems to have a lot still to prove as we sit two years and change since his last major victory.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF (@joepassov): Like most of you, I’m thinking that Rory will re-establish himself as “the man,” so that would qualify as “most impactful” in ‘17. Yet, it’s hard to overlook that Rory has endured some wildly severe ups and downs over the years; I might be persuaded to go with someone equally long, equally talented, and newly relaxed over not carrying the burden–and that’s Dustin Johnson. He’s won at least one tournament per year for well, many years, and he now seems poised to win three or four each year.

2. Donald Trump’s deep ties to the game, both personal and financial, have been well documented. Will having him in the Oval Office be a boon to golf in any meaningful or quantifiable way?

Bamberger: No. I don’t think he’ll be a very active golfer as president. His clubs, even as they host events, are a blip in the grand scheme of golf. But golf will be fine. There has always been, for as long as the game has been around, some percentage of the population that has the golf gene in their DNA. As long as people get exposed to the game, some people will get bit by the bug. Those people are golfers. Everybody else is dabbling.

Sens: I agree that the impact won’t be earth-shifting on the hardcore golf market. But I think that for many dabbling on the margins, the Trump connection will confirm some of their less favorable impressions of the game.

Solomon: The most likely potential impact is an increase in overinflated handicaps, gimme ranges stretched out to eight feet, unlimited mulligans, and fabricated club championships. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it.

Godich: I don’t know why it would. Going all the way back to Ike, our presidents have shown a passion for the game. And I expect Trump to be busier than he ever imagined, so I don’t think we’ll see him teeing it up much if at all.

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Bacon: I guess I don’t see it changing anything in terms of the way golf is perceived other than the extremely strange debate some will have when deciding on which place to play over the weekend: “Do you want to play the muni down the street or the president’s course?”

Shipnuck: Trump is nothing if not a masterful promoter. I expect most heads of state will be entertained at Doral and press conferences staged at his various other courses. Why miss out on such an easy branding opportunity?

Passov: I’m a little fearful that some will protest the entire concept of golf, given how closely Trump is aligned with the sport, but overall, I think we’ll see a small boon, if there is such a thing. Trump is inexorably linked to the game and its championship courses, and at the very least, we’ll have a guy in the Oval Office who truly loves the game. That can’t hurt…I think.

3. Trump’s divisive statements on the campaign trail led many of golf’s governing bodies, including the PGA Tour, the PGA of America, the USGA and the R&A, to distance themselves from him. Now that a Trump presidency will become a reality, how do you expect those organizations’ relationships with the next Commander in Chief will evolve?

Bamberger: Very, very cautiously. I don’t see the Trump courses getting any more major events in the United States, or in Great Britain. The reason Bedminster is signed up for the 2017 Women’s Open and the 2022 PGA Championship is because (among other reasons) Trump is an irresistible salesman. But as president he won’t be doing any selling, at least not of golf.

Sens: Political winds shift so swiftly these days, and I think a lot depends on how Trump’s presidency plays out. If it unfolds as some of his staunchest critics are hoping/predicting (indictments, impeachment hearings), I’d expect more pressure on the governing bodies to distance themselves. If he somehow becomes the great unifier, not so much. Hey, more surprising things have happened, like, for instance, last Tuesday’s election.

Solomon: The PGA Tour should do what is in the best interest of their players, whatever that is. It’s not their role to choose sides politically, and their decisions in that realm should not materially affect their players. If players want to sit out in protest, that’s their prerogative. Take a straw poll on the thoughts of Tour players on moving the WGC from Doral to Mexico and that will tell you how much those guys care about making political statements.

Bacon: It will be interesting to see what happens if a Trump golf course does come up in conversations about another major championship in the coming years, but I don’t see any organization taking a serious side on this with Trump moving forward unless he does an incredibly solid job as commander in chief or falls flat on his face in the early months.

Godich: It will be business as usual. If these organizations didn’t move events when Trump was a candidate, I can’t see them taking action after he takes office.

Shipnuck: Did you see all the LPGA players congratulating Trump on Twitter on election night? Golf-wise, they’re the big winners, as the ’17 Women’s Open will be one of the yugest events of the season. I could see the LPGA doubling down and adding more events on his courses – he has relationships with some of the top players, and it can only help attract attention to the events.

Passov: Regardless of who you or I voted for, the result is that the country elected Donald Trump. It’s hard to imagine that any ruling bodies and organizations would now willingly distance themselves. Yes, the road ahead is laced with speed bumps, but if Trump surprises everybody, we could see a mad rush to align big-league tournaments with his facilities.

4. The PGA of America is considering moving the 2020 PGA Championship to May to ease the scheduling crush around the Summer Games in Tokyo. “It’s very much on the table,” PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua told Golf Channel. But Bevacqua also added that “to protect the PGA Championship … we can’t just bounce the PGA Championship around every four years.” That would suggest that the tournament might permanently move to May. Would you be on board with such a radical schedule change?

Bamberger: May would be a good month for the PGA Championship if the Players went back to March. But I’d prefer to see the PGA played in late February in place of the AT&T Pro-Am in Olympic years, held at Pebble Beach. How cool would it be to go there once every four years for a major?

Bacon: I’ve always liked you, Michael, and this idea is the best one I’ve heard yet. The majors are bunched together as it is, and the momentum that the PGA Championship and FedEx Cup playoffs can drum up for the sport of golf, like it did in 2016 with Rory’s reminder to the world he’s the best around, is all lost when the next relevant event for non-golf nuts isn’t for six months. Move the PGA to February, give players a bit of a break before the playoffs so everyone is fresh and ready to go, and put a ton of relevance on the start of the season.

Godich: Exactly. Move it to the start of the major season, and the PGA becomes exponentially more relevant.

Shipnuck: I don’t love February for the PGA – guys are just easing into the new year and there’s not much time to get excited about a major championship. The Players has been a dud in May so sliding it back to March would make sense, opening up May for the PGA.

Sens: Either way, there’s going to be a schedule crunch if golf remains an Olympic sport. But May would bring the benefit of opening up more venues for consideration that are in hot-weather regions. I could live with that. If we go with Michael’s idea of replacing the AT&T Pro-Am every four years, maybe Bill Murray could come on board as someone’s caddie, given that he’d have the week off.

Solomon: August is a tough month weather wise in most places where the PGA is played, with the thunderstorms in ’16 at Baltusrol as a recent example, and the 90+ degree days we’re almost guaranteed to see in Charlotte next year. I would be on board with a May date, but would the PGA Tour? May is the month they shove the Players Championship down our throats, so unless they move that back to March (which is also rumored?) I don’t see the PGA being moved.

Passov: I’m with Alan on this one. May sounds great–provided the Players moves back to March. That gives the PGA the relevance it deserves. February, Jack Nicklaus’ 1971 triumph notwithstanding, just seems too early. Most of the country is still shivering and they want to see birdies and celebrities that time of year. I’ve never understood how NASCAR runs their most recognized “major,” the Daytona 500, as the first event of the year. Let’s build up to it.

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5. The Zurich Classic of New Orleans will reportedly become a two-man team event in 2017. (According to Golf Channel, the top 80 qualifiers will be permitted to pick their own teammates, and both members of the winning team will receive most of the ranking points and other perks that come with a Tour win, with the notable exception of a Masters invite. The format will include one round of foursomes and one round of four-balls before the field is cut to the low 35 teams.) The consensus in this forum over the years has been that the Tour would benefit from more variety in tournament formats. Does this event check all the boxes? Also, which two players would you most like to see play together in New Orleans?

Bamberger: I think two-man events, which have had a great past, would be fantastic. Tiger and Daly? Spieth and Reed? Johnson and Johnson? It’s all good.

Sens: I also like the idea of mixed doubles. Spieth and Ko vs. Johnson and Creamer. And so on.

Solomon: It’s a solid start. The Euro Tour has been green lighting half baked ideas at an astounding rate, to the point where I’m ready to offer consultancy services to them for what seems to be my dream job. It’s nice to see the tour at least partially following suit. As much as I want to get excited about this team idea, I’m immediately reminded that I don’t think I’ve ever tuned into a shot of the Shark Shootout, or other somewhat similar team events. I’m more excited about the friendships that are gonna get tested as the players buddy up. What if Bubba can’t find a partner? Do they pair him with Allenby? I’d give PGA Tour Live my paypal password and tell them to just do whatever they want with it if they live stream that.

Bacon: Team events work for sure, and I guarantee you at the end of the ‘17 season fans will remember the Zurich Classic over any other non-major because of this format. I don’t want to sound like Hal Sutton, but why wouldn’t a healthy Tiger Woods and a 46-year-old Phil Mickelson pair up to give these young whippersnappers a run for their money? I know the Zurich people would be totally on board with this.

Godich: I love the idea. And I second the motion on Tiger and Phil.

Passov: Fine idea, for more variety, but that time of year just seems to yield a lot of skippable events, and I’m not sure how the team format will compel the stars to play. Maybe juice the Champions Tour a bit by pairing the Senior Set with the juniors. I’d pay to see Daly and Bubba take on all comers.

6. Fans who tuned into the OHL Classic at Mayakoba might have caught a glimpse of the “Cave Bunker” at El Camaleon Golf Club, a gaping, hellish fairway bunker on the 7th hole. What’s the scariest bunker in golf?

Bamberger: Greenside bunker on the par-3 10th hole at Pine Valley Golf Club, Clementon, N.J. If your tee shot lands in this funnel-shaped pit your best bet is to play three from the tee.

Godich: Michael is spot on. I speak from experience.

Sens: Purely from a design standpoint, the Himalayas bunker at Royal St. Georges is the harshest one I’ve had the misfortune of finding myself in. But at the Bay Area munis I most often play, the sand is often so hard-packed or pocked with footprints that you’re pretty much doomed to scull or fat your shot from any of them. Compare that to Tour event-conditioned sand and you realize, Yeah, those guys are good. But they also HAVE it good.

Solomon: The Road Hole bunker. It’s tiny, but the ball funnels towards it, forces you to take on the OB right with your second shot, and if you go in it, you’re playing your third directly towards the OB from an almost guaranteed awkward stance. Part of my soul is buried in that bunker.

Bacon: It’s either the Road Hole bunker or the less-sexy but equally terrifying Strath bunker on the par-3 11th at the Old Course. They’re so small and deep that bad luck means a few extra squares on the scorecard.

Shipnuck: It’s kitschy but the Mineshaft bunker at Scottsdale National has to be the choice – it’s something like 15 feet below the putting surface and has a winding staircase to get to the bottom. Bob Parsons’s wife somehow got up-and-down, so he had the bunker lowered another two feet!

Passov: I might go with the Himalaya bunker that patrols the right side of the fairway at England’s St. Enodoc–but for the humiliation factor combined with the difficulty, the Road Hole bunker–17th hole, Old Course at St. Andrews–is toughest of all. Potentially so many spectators on hand to take in your misery, it amps up the tension in your swing and decision-making process that much more.