The Ryder Cup is over but dry your cryin’ eyes and get ready. Another golf season is ramping up. While the 2017-18 season was good rollicking fun, there’s reason to believe that the year ahead will be even more riveting than the last. Actually, there are many reasons. Here are nine that come to mind.
The Tiger Tracking
Do Big Cats have nine lives? All but written off 18 months ago, Woods returned in ’18 in yet another incarnation, capping a remarkable comeback season with a victory at the Tour Championship. The question is no longer whether Tiger can win. It’s how many titles he can capture, and which ones, at that. In 2019, the chase for Jack’s 18 career majors will resume in earnest. So will Tiger’s pursuit of another mark that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves: Sam Snead’s 82 career Tour titles. Every time Tiger tees it up will be an opportunity to start counting down.
The Compressed Schedule
With the Players Championship moving to March and the PGA Championship bumped to May, the big events start early and the calendar is stacked. All that adrenaline, packed into five successive months, will give way to a modified FedExCup Playoffs series that ends before the NFL gets going. Translation: more excitement condensed into less time, as opposed to a season that goes on and on.
The Career Grand Slam Watch
Only five golfers have won all four majors (Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods). But in the coming year, three players have a chance to join that list. We’ll be looking at you, Phil Mickelson, at the U.S. Open, just as we’ll be watching Rory McIlroy at the Masters and Jordan Spieth at the PGA Championship. Could this be the year that one of them gets it done?
The Major Venues
Talk about a Murderer’s Row. Starting with the MacDaddy of Augusta, the majors will unfold at an epic line up of historic courses. We’re talking Bethpage Black, that magnificent Long Island municipal, for the PGA Championship, followed by the U.S. Open at—ho-hum—Pebble Beach, which happens to be marking its centennial this season. To cap things off, the British Open will return to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years. The hosting duties go to Royal Portrush, a majestic links that last staged the event in 1951. If that doesn’t get you pumped, nothing will.
The Bad Blood Brewing?
You’ve got to hand it to contentiousness. It sells better than collegiality. And the good news is, the latter is no longer a problem on the PGA Tour. On the very same circuit where everyone used to seem a bit too chummy —sharing private jets, exchanging Twitter shout outs, playing tipsy shirtless rounds together in the tropics — we now have gripping signs of friction and dysfunction. For instance: Patrick Reed. Apparently not content to merely play the role of surly loner, Mr. Congeniality sharpened the edges of his reputation by venting his post-Ryder Cup frustration not only with Captain Furyk but with Jordan Spieth, a move about as popular as kicking a puppy. For fans who need a villain to brighten their days, Reed should suffice in the year ahead. As if that weren’t enough, we also have the prospect of escalating tensions between Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, erstwhile buddies who reportedly nearly came to blows at a Paris afterparty. (Koepka denies it ever happened.) Adding to the titillation is word that their girlfriends were involved. Where the truth lies, we may never know. But it stands to make for good copy and conversation as 2019 gets underway. Better, anyway, than social media accounts of yet another cheerful spring break getaway.
The Young Guns
Two words: Cameron Champ. Ok. A few more words. If you haven’t heard his name, you’ll soon be hearing the explosive sound his driver makes at impact. Champ averages 325 off the tee, and at 23, he’s part of a tidal wave of young talent we’ll get a chance to gawk at in ‘19. Further fleshing out the fresh-faced ranks are the likes of Sam Burns, the 22-year-old who outplayed Tiger Woods at last year’s Honda Classic; Joaquin Niemann, the precocious 19-year-old Chilean; and Cameron Davis, the 23-year-old defending Australian Open champ. To cite just a few. The talent pool is deeper than the Marianas Trench.
The New Rules
As a general rule, rules discussions are about as exciting as watching sod take root. But 2019 will bring a slew of common-sensical simplifications that should cut back on confusion and controversy while quickening the pace of play, not only on Tour but at your home course, too. And that’s something to get fired up about.
A Koepka Three-Peat?
Speaking of major-watches, Koepka will arrive at Pebble Beach with a crack at an unprecedented third straight U.S. Open crown. Though the man himself tends to go about his business with a kind of stone-faced boredom, it would make compelling theater to watch him go in for another bloodless kill.
Ladies in Waiting
As with the men’s game, women’s golf is loaded with young, unbridled talent. In 2019, we’ll be tracking the emergence of 19-year-old Angel Yin, an amiable American who hits it forever, as well as the progression of former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Emma Talley, who had four top-seven finishes as an LPGA Tour rookie in 2018. Throw in Lexi Thompson, the top-ranked American player; Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand; South Koreans So Yeon Ryu and Euen Jeong, among others, and the race will be on up the Rolex rankings. And we didn’t even mention a resurgent Lydia Ko, who has been around so long and won so often that it’s easy to forget she’s only 21.