2014 has been a fascinating year in golf. In the pro game, it’s been a great season for European fans. After breaking off his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniaki, a reinvigorated Rory McIlroy won both the Open Championship and USPGA, establishing his position as World Number 1. Martin Kaymer of Germany claimed his second Major at The US Open and Europe won the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles with something to spare. A bewildered U.S. side was left to scratch heads and play a destructive blame game.
Peter Dawson announced he was stepping down as Chief Executive of the R&A. He’ll be succeeded by Martin Slumbers next September. Dawson has been head of golf’s governing body for 16 years and has been progressive in his approach to the development of the sport. He was at the helm as the R&A was separated from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club for the purposes of governing and growing the game, he was heavily involved in the expansion of Open Qualifying internationally, he was a key figure in securing golf’s inclusion in the 2016 Olympics and he oversaw, via a members’ ballot this September, the admittance of women members into the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. His are significant shoes to fill.
On the other side of the pond there was a less distinguished, and more hurried departure by a man in a position of golfing authority. Ted Bishop was removed as President of the PGA of America after he directed an abusive tweet at Ian Poulter.
What with Bishop’s dismissal and the public airing of Ryder Cup laundry that threatened Tom Watson’s status as respected older-statesman, it was a torrid second half of 2014 for the Americans. They’ll be hoping for better news to report on in 2015.
So what might next season witness in the world of pro golf? Here are some predictions:
The Young Americans to step up
As described above, the U.S. golfing establishment has endured a tough few months at the end of 2014. But there’s a new generation of American players who are looking to light up the world stage and start a new era of U.S. excellence.
Rickie Fowler finished in the top-five in every Major in 2014; he was runner-up in The Open Championship and The U.S. Open. He has the all-round game, the creativity and dynamism to be a multiple Major winner. Look out for him to contend Majors and World Golf Championship events in 2015, particularly The U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
Then there’s Jordan Spieth – He’s only 21 but he plays with the maturity of a far older golfer. He’s not intimidated by the big stage, as his second place finish at the 2014 Masters proved. He’s another potential winner of significant events in 2015.
Billy Horschel will go into next season full of confidence after claiming victory in the FedEx Cup. Patrick Reed never struggles for confidence, as his performance at the Ryder Cup confirmed. Both those young men could contest the big tournaments in 2015.
Also, keep an eye on Brooks Koepka. The 24-year-old can hit the ball unfeasible distances and has shown his ability to mix it with the best – tied fourth at the 2014 U.S. Open and now winner of the Turkish Airlines Open. He could be a factor in the 2015 USPGA Championship at Whistling Straits (a course that will measure over 7,500 yards.)
The return of Tiger
Woods has been out of action since missing the cut at the USPGA Championship in August. In the past he’s made the mistake of returning from injury too quickly and pushing his body too hard, too soon. This time, he’s going to wait until he’s properly recovered before returning to the competitive fray.
Woods is no longer able to outhit his rivals. In fact, he’s nowhere near matching the likes of Rory McIlroy in terms of distance. But he still has an incredible golfing brain and superb strategic ability. We might well see him come back with a different on-course approach. He needs to find a swing that doesn’t hurt him and enables him to get the ball into play. His short game is still as good as anyone’s so, if he can get himself within range of the putting surface in a sensible number of shots, he can still compete and potentially win Majors.
Rory to push on and win two Majors
Rory McIlroy was on another level for the second half of the summer in 2014. When he plays his very best golf, there are few (if any) who can keep pace with him. He seems more settled and comfortable in his position as World Number 1 and it’s hard to see him giving up the top-spot in 2015.
He can certainly win at Augusta. He should have done so already in 2011, when he capitulated under pressure in the final round. His game is ideally suited to the course – the layout favours a draw and he has the power to easily reach the par-5s in two: Rory to win The Masters by five shots.
The Northern Irishman also has the right game to win the Open at St Andrews. Again, he should have won there already. In 2010, he opened with a 63 to lead by two, but followed up with a second round 80 in strong winds. Despite that, he fought back to finish in a tie for third. The Old Course is another layout that favours players who draw the ball. If he keeps it left off the tee, finds the right spots on the greens and holes some good putts, he could walk it.
The ideal scenario at St Andrews would be to have Tiger back and on form. Then we might see a great showdown between him and McIlroy. Like McIlroy, Woods’ game is ideally suited to The Old Course and he’s won the Open twice at The Home of Golf.
Predictions for 2015 Major champions
The Masters – Rory McIlroy
U.S. Open – Rickie Fowler
Open Championship – Rory McIlroy
USPGA Championship – Brooks Koepka