Tour Confidential: Which Majorless Player Will Nab Their First in 2016?

January 3, 2016

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 in the comments section below. This week, to ring in 2016, we will do our best to predict what we’ll see in the next 12 months.

1. Which majorless player is most likely to win a major in 2016? (Bonus points will be awarded for correctly pairing the player with a tournament.)

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Dustin Johnson will win the U.S. Open at Oakmont, getting off the major bagel and becoming the second straight long-hitting, okay-putting national champ (Angel Cabrera) at that historic venue.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Sweden’s David Lingmerth wins the PGA at Baltusrol en route to becoming a Ryder Cup Yankee-killer.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Dustin will win the Open. Into the wind he’s easily the longest player in the world, and the back-nine at Troon is a long slog into a zephyr.

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Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Six players in the current Top 14 have yet to taste a major victory, including some pretty obvious names: Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and Branden Grace. Each is due, and in many ways deserving. Yet, my pick is World Number 15, Hideki Matsuyama. He brings a gorgeous swing, remarkable power and a recent history of popping onto major leaderboards early and often. I like him to win the PGA at Baltusrol, on his way to a medal-winning performance at the Olympics.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Brendan Grace at the British. Low-ball hitter with a game suited for links golf, as we saw last year.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Rickie is the obvious answer — in fact, he’s too obvious. I’ll say England’s Danny Willett, who nearly won the Euro Tour’s Order of Merit in ’15 and threatened at St. Andrews, will break through and score one for the UK this summer at Troon.

2. Which young player not yet on the average golf fan’s radar will make the biggest splash in 2016?

MORFIT: I like Kevin Kisner to have a big year. He had a year of near misses before finally breaking through last fall, which could open the floodgates. Is he young? He’s not in his 20s anymore, but he’s a lot younger than I am.

VAN SICKLE: Ollie Schniederjans has status but the Georgia Tech alum has serious game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn a couple of PGA Tour exemptions into temporary member status and play his way up to the big league. Also, you’ve gotta love that he won’t wear a hat or visor. Cool.

SHIPNUCK: I guess it’s too late to pick Justin Thomas so I’ll say Bryson DeChambeau. He’s the smartest golfer this side of Jordan Spieth, and an incredibly hard worker. I think he’s gonna do big things.

PASSOV: Justin Thomas occupies a prominent spot on the radar of the serious golf fan, not yet on the average fan’s. That will change in 2016. Look for Jordan Spieth’s good pal to enjoy a Spieth-like year, with multiple wins and double-digit top 10s. He’s got the length, the attitude and the college pedigree to win big. Already up to World Number 37 after his first PGA Tour win (November’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia), he’s the real deal.

SENS: Patton Kizzire. player of the year. That old saw about the importance of winning at every level. It applies here.

RITTER: Justin Thomas sure has the look, and talented friends, of a future star. I also think Matthew Fitzpatrick is the real deal and will win somewhere on U.S soil this year.


3. Phil Mickelson has committed to both the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. Mickelson was winless for the second straight year in 2015. Do you see him snapping his slump and winning in 2016?

MORFIT: If Phil can convince the powers that be to hold every tournament at Augusta in 2016, I think he’ll win at least five times. If not, well, he might still bag a W somewhere, maybe even at Augusta. He’s too talented to write off, as long as he’s relatively healthy.

VAN SICKLE: Phil is the king of the unexpected. Like last year, when he was at the bottom of the proximity to the hole stats–shocking for a guy who was arguably the best iron player in the game. He could win again, sure, but I don’t think his body will let him.

SHIPNUCK: Phil’s runner-up at Augusta in ’15 is proof that he’s still dangerous on any given week, and I think the Presidents Cup gave him a big boost heading into the offseason. No one really knows how much the arthritis affects Mickelson and since he’s being paid big-bucks to tout a related drug he’s never gonna admit if he’s hurting. It’s fun to imagine him having one last run but I guess I need to see it to believe it.

PASSOV: A runner-up at the 2015 Masters and a defining performance at the Presidents Cup reminds us that when Lefty is healthy and motivated, he remains a supreme talent. Even at 45, he has the length, the short-game wizardry and the experience to win anytime he tees it up. The question is–does he want to anymore? More and more, he seems committed to his family, and consumed with health and other personal issues. Does he still have the desire? Yes. Phil will win in 2016.

SENS: Word from spies on the range in Scottsdale is that Mickelson had gotten really handsy while trying to get more width under Butch. Now working on shortening his swing and adapting well to the transition. That bodes well for a big bounce back this year.

RITTER: Phil looked nearly cooked last year, but I think he might have one last run in him. With a Ryder Cup spot dangling as a carrot, this year seems like his last best shot. I think he’ll threaten at Augusta again and win a Tour event somewhere en route to qualifying for the U.S. team on points.

4. Just one week separates the Open Championship (July 14-17) from the PGA Championship (July 28-31) this summer, and the Olympics come just two weeks after the PGA (and fall on the same week as the John Deere Classic). How will players respond to the crowded and demanding schedule? 

MORFIT: If I’m a star, I’m taking extra time to map out the summer season. The Deere could suffer. And I’m probably skipping an early season event or two if I have designs on playing in the Olympics.

VAN SICKLE: The Olympics will affect only three or four players. Akron is going to lose some European players to the opposite French Open and I wouldn’t be shocked to see some of the big names skip one of the first two FedEx Cup events.

SHIPNUCK: It would be awesome if Spieth skips the Olympics in favor of the Deere. Short of that, I think the Barclays and Deutsche Bank will be most affected, as burnt-out players cut back their FedEx Cup schedule, especially with the Ryder Cup looming. I can see folks also scheduling lighter in the spring, so Quail Hollow, Memorial and the Texas events may be missing some familiar faces.

PASSOV: The great ones always adjust, and the losers make excuses. Yes, it will be a grind, but these guys are healthy, hungry and adrenaline-fueled. Cynics scoffed when Jordan Spieth chose to defend at the John Deere last year, leaving him a long flight and little prep time for the Open. And then he nearly won the Open. These guys think nothing of playing Phoenix one week, skipping the next Tour stop in California and instead flying to Dubai, then returning to California the week after. No problem.

SENS: The wimpy ones will whine. The ones with winning attitudes will not even give it a second thought, knowing as they do that jet lag endured on Gulfstreams does not even remotely qualify as adversity. In sports. Or anywhere else.

RITTER: A few guys will undoubtedly whine, but the vast majority will embrace the packed summer schedule. New stars will emerge in a flash in June-August. Can’t wait.


5. The Ryder Cup heads to Hazeltine, in Minnesota, this fall. Last week European captain Darren Clarke said the U.S. squad is the favorite despite winning just once in the past seven meetings. Is Clarke right? And will the U.S. finally get another W this year?

MORFIT: Like any good coach, Clarke is already busy talking up the opposition. It’s just Psych 101. I don’t know how anyone could argue he’s right, though. Europe always wins. It’s become an immutable fact of golf that no longer eludes even the most casual observers.

VAN SICKLE: Neither Ryder Cup side is shaping up as all that formidable at this time but it’s way too early to call. A lot of new faces could be the infusion of talent without the bad memories the U.S. team needs. It feels like a U.S.A. year.

SHIPNUCK: This makes me question what Clarke is stuffing inside those oversized cigars. The U.S. often has an advantage on paper but Europe is clearly the favorite until the Americans start actually winning the Cup consistently. But this could be the first Ryder in two decades in which Tiger, Phil and Furyk all aren’t on the team, and given their abysmal records, that would be a good thing for the U.S. Clearly Spieth is gonna be the alpha male and with Patrick Reed as a wingman/enforcer I like this grittier version of the U.S. team. But Europe is still favored.

PASSOV: Darren Clarke is right. Based on the Official World Golf Rankings, the U.S. Ryder Cup squad should and will be favored. Yet, based on the results of the past 14 years, a U.S. win would be an upset. The U.S. will win the Ryder Cup in 2016. Without Paul Casey, Europe has no chance. And Hazeltine produces upsets (see Beem, Rich and Yang, Y.E. versus Woods, Tiger). Just as it was an “upset” that Number 1 and unbeaten Clemson beat favored Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, the favored U.S. team will upset Europe at the Ryder Cup.

SENS: Of course he’s going to say that. That’s not even Psychology 101. It’s a rule so widely known they don’t even put it in the textbooks anymore. That said, I do think the Americans will win, as a growing wave of young talent washes away the bad juju of the recent past.

RITTER: I think Clarke’s just playing a little psychological game, but the U.S. team tends to be its sharpest during home games. A lot can happen between now and Hazeltine, but my gut feeling is that this year the Americans end the drought.

6. The ban on anchoring finally is in effect. What sort of impact do you suppose the new rule will have at the tour level? And which player will most suffer?

MORFIT: I don’t know what Tim Clark is going to do. Kevin Stadler is another one I worry about. And Bernhard Langer. That said, it doesn’t matter much in the big picture, at least not on the PGA Tour. None of the Big Three are anchorers, nor are Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson, and most of the other super-elite guys on the flat-belly circuit.

VAN SICKLE: You already saw the impact. Players like Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson went conventional in 2015 and dropped out of sight. Adam Scott had trouble sustaining putting success either way. The Champions Tour may feel a greater impact. You will see a few more players putting like Matt Kuchar and somebody will break out sidesaddle–i.e. face-on-putting–before the year is over. It may be a better way to putt.

SHIPNUCK: Minimal at best. All the guys who anchored were, before that, mediocre with a standard stroke. They’ll merely go back to what they were before.

PASSOV: Most of the anchorers spent considerable time in 2015 messing about with alternate forms of flatsticking, so the impact won’t be profound. Most affected will be Bernhard Langer, the dominant Champions Tour player of the past 10 years. He’ll undoubtedly return with the Kuchar-style claw that he employed long ago, but he won’t have the same success. Adam Scott concerns me most on the PGA Tour. He peaked as an anchorer in 2012-13. His attempts to wean off it in 2015 were mostly dismal. Of course, he still has the best swing in golf, so I’m not discounting his chances–just saying he’ll suffer.

SENS: Hank Haney has said it already and it’s hard to argue with him. Players who adopted the long-putter did so for a reason, and the reason wasn’t that they thought it looked cool. They did it because they’d developed the yips, or some other malady with a conventional flatstick, and desperate times call for desperate measures. Those sorts of ailments don’t just vanish, so it stands to reason that any player transitioning away from an anchored stroke is going to struggle. Keegan Bradley. Adam Scott. Ernie Els. Tim Clark. Take your pick. You’ve got to figure there’s a challenging year ahead for all on the greens.

RITTER: The biggest impact will probably be on the Champions Tour, where so many guys dabbled with them. On the regular Tour I’m most intrigued by — and fearful for — Adam Scott. The stats indicate he may be in real trouble without anchoring, but I’d love to see him prove me wrong and have a big year.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.