Tour Confidential: Who will break out and win their first major in 2018?

December 31, 2017

GOLF.com conducts a weekly roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine. Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. Which major-less player will nab his or her first major title in the coming year, and at which tournament? (Congrats to Mr. Shipnuck, who correctly predicted Brooks Koepka to win a major in ‘17.)

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Brandt Snedeker will win the Masters.

Josh Sens, writer, GOLF Magazine: Xander Schauffele wins the PGA.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Patrick Reed, British Open.

Sean Zak, associate editor, GOLF.com (@sean_zak): Hideki Matsuyama’s putter is just-good-enough for him to win the PGA.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, GOLF.com (@Jeff_Ritter): I’ll take a shot on Kuchar at Augusta.

Dylan Dethier, associate editor, GOLF.com (@dylan_dethier): Dethier: Okay fine, you left him to me? I’ll take the bait: Fowler wins the British.

2. Tiger Woods posted a lengthy blog to his website on Friday saying, among other things, that he would love to play a full schedule in 2018 but did not yet commit to play in any event. Finish this sentence about the now-42-year-old golfer: “In 2018, Tiger Woods will…”

Shipnuck: “…continue to be the most interesting and enigmatic athlete on the planet.”

Sens: “…play without injuring himself but also without winning.”

Bamberger: “…announce that he is taking over the Arnold hosting role at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.”

Zak: “…walk off the 18th hole at Bellerive having made the cut in three of the four majors.”

Dethier: “…show enough life to be selected as a captain’s pick for the U.S. Ryder Cup team.”

Ritter: “play a dozen events, win none, but stay healthy enough to set himself up for multiple titles in ‘19.”

3. After the 2018 Masters, we head to Shinnecock Hills for the U.S. Open, Carnoustie for the British Open, Bellerive for the PGA and Le Golf National in France for the Ryder Cup. Which event — for the venue, storyline or another reason — are you most looking forward to and why?

Shipnuck: Shinnecock and Carnoustie have always been considered among the toughest tests in championship golf but both are now way too short for the modern game. It will be fascinating to see how they are set up and how the players attack them. But for me personally, it has to be the Ryder Cup. Europe’s old guard will be making a last stand against the young powerhouse American team at a really cool venue. I’m already on record predicting a U.S. victory and a continent of trolls will be up in my business all week. It’s gonna be a blast.

Sens: The tribalism of the Ryder Cup will no doubt be good fun, and a fitting event for our current political climate. But I always look forward to the Masters most for all the cliché reasons. The return of spring. The rites of renewal. The revisiting of the same grand old venue. Oh, and this year, it looks like we’ll have Tiger playing in it again.

Bamberger: Agree with all of the above, but this U.S. Open is so important for the USGA. This is one the organization needs and should get right. I mean, it’s Shinnecock Hills. Let them play the course and shoot what they shoot and the world will be fine.

Zak: For me, it’s the Ryder Cup. Europe will not get enough love in the run-up to the event, but when the Americans tee off early on that Friday on foreign soil, their world ranking will be irrelevant. Rory and Rose and Sergio and Stenson will be just as good (I presume) as Johnson and Spieth and Thomas and Fowler/Koepka/Reed. It’ll be phenomenal theater, just like Hazeltine.

Dethier: The buildup to this year’s Masters is going to be FANTASTIC. Who’s the best player in the world? DJ holds the crown but Justin Thomas was the best in 2017, Rory is hungry, and Spieth is still Spieth — not to mention that there’s nobody playing any better right now than Rickie and Justin Rose. Tiger could play his way into contention and it’s hard to ever count out Phil at Augusta, all of which combine to make the first weekend in April must-see TV.

Ritter: Each year I love how the Florida swing identifies the hottest players and sends them on a collision course toward Augusta. But this year’s Ryder Cup, with the U.S. swaggering in as favorites, is going to be the closest thing golf gets to bloodsport. I for one can’t wait.

4. The 2017 year in golf is officially in the books. When we look back at it in 20 years, will it be memorable, forgettable, or somewhere in between?

Shipnuck: Very memorable. Jordan’s and Sergio’s major championship victories were all-timers, we minted enduring stars in JT and Koepka, Tiger began an intriguing comeback, and Lexi emerged as the women’s game’s most compelling performer. That’s a lot for one season.

Sens: I agree with Alan. It was a jam-packed season. But the truth about our hyper-saturated sports and entertainment culture is that everything blends into everything else. Memories shrink. The years blur. Most of us are too distracted by the frenzy of the moment to spend much time reliving last weekend, much less what happened 20 years ago. And it’s only going to get more like that, not less. I’m not sure what it would have taken for 2017 to etch itself deeply in our collective minds. But to answer your question with another question: Will ESPN be making a 30 for 30 about 2017? No.

Bamberger: Well, maybe not the whole of 2017, Josh, but you could drill deep into any of the events — including Tiger’ s year, on and off the course — and have an incredible story to tell. Lexi and the rules changes, rooted in societal changes. Sergio’s bar mitzvah (as we call his 2017 Masters in this bureau). Jordan at the Open. Dustin Johnson at the Masters.

Zak: I hope we remember it as Justin Thomas’ coming out party and not Justin Thomas’ peak. If it’s just his coming out party, we’ll have had one helluva friendly yet sort of fierce rivalry between him and Spieth. That’d keep me pretty happy in this business.

Dethier: Zak’s right that since 2017 was JT’s year, how he does going forward will dictate how we look back on it. But it’s hard to imagine he’ll drop from the top of the world rankings: take a look back at players that have won five times in a season and you won’t see many flukes.

Ritter: All of the men’s majors were epic, and Lexi’s ANA controversy led to much-needed rules changes. But if Tiger is able to one day win tournaments again, his surgery/DUI/return in the Bahamas may go down as the preamble, and the most-discussed aspects of 2017.


5. What was the best course you played for the first time in 2017 and why?

Shipnuck: I’m sad to say I didn’t play any new ones, marooned as I was at Pebble, Cypress, Spy, MPCC, Pasatiempo, and Bandon. I really need to expand my horizons.

Sens: The best new course I played was Sand Valley. The best old course I played for the first time was Mid-Pines. And the most fun course I’d never seen before was Green Hills, a Mackenzie layout near the San Francisco airport, which many people had described to me over the years as “tricked up.” I didn’t find it to be that at all. A small, hilly plot of land with some quirky bounces and elevation changes. But as you might expect from Mackenzie, great green complexes and bunkering, and all kinds of fun shots required. And most importantly of all: killer dim sum on the clubhouse menu. If Bay Area traffic weren’t so brutal and I didn’t still have to put a couple of kids through school, I would join.

Bamberger: I got to play LACC’s North Course. If you like Pine Valley for its ruggedness and Augusta National for its swoopiness, you’ll love LACC. (If you don’t play it you can at least see it, with the U.S. Open on the docket.)

Zak: Pinehurst No. 2. I’ve said it on this forum before, but I’ve never had a more enjoyable round than on that Monday of PGA Championship week, as the sun set over Payne Stewart’s statue. Our group of three didn’t play phenomenal, but we didn’t lose a ball the entire round. I couldn’t get up and down from a waste area to break 90, but after those four hours, I couldn’t care.

Dethier: The day after Thanksgiving was unseasonably warm in western Massachusetts, and just one local course had stayed open: Forest Park GC in Adams, Mass. It’s a nine-holer, par 34, and unlikely to win any design awards, but a friend and I played 18 holes and had two beers each for $40 — combined. Cheap, fun, unexpected fall golf in small-town New England is tough to beat.

Ritter: Babymoon with my wife in Bermuda, played the great par 3 course, Turtle Hill, and the rugged Mid-Ocean GC. Both are great courses, and it was a perfect cap to the pre-children chapter of our lives. And now, as they like to say on one of my favorite TV shows: winter is coming.

6. Leave us with a New Year’s resolution or two for our great game.

Shipnuck: May all of us can play almost as much golf as our sitting President.

Sens: That’s a good one. While we’re at it, let’s all play a bit quicker. 3 and half hours is enough, no matter how many strokes you take.

Bamberger: Carry fewer clubs. Mark my ball with something other than a pine needle.

Zak: Those clubs that Bamberger has you take out of your bag, give them to a buddy who has always said they’d want to try picking up the sport. Give them the clubs, give them a quick lesson and then give them some space as they get addicted to this wild game.

Dethier: Have more fun! Now that I spend much more time in an office than on a golf course, I’m working on managing my expectations and making sure to enjoy the good that comes with every precious round.

Ritter: Take a kid to the golf course. You might change a life. And finally, eat less at the halfway house. That’s a hidden secret to a strong finish — for both a round of golf and the year 2017.