Joy of Golf: A 2016 golfing review

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Quality: Henrik Stenson

With just one small tournament remaining in the year that counts towards the world rankings, the top-10s in men’s, women’s and amateur rankings are now set in stone.

Among the top-five of the men’s ranking, the biggest fall was by Jordan Spieth (down five from No1), while the best rise was by Dustin Johnson (up to No3 from eighth).

The women’s rankings were more volatile even though Lydia Ko remained the world No1, with Ariya Jutanugarn climbing to second from No63 and only Ko and Lexi Thomson maintaining their place in the top-five.

As we have done in the past, it is now time for our end-of-the-year report card for some of the biggest stars in the game…

JASON DAY (7/10)

The Australian world No1 enjoyed yet another sensational year, but three early wins by the 20th week, including the Players Championship, was undone by his injury issues towards the back-end.

Day missed nearly a third of the year and he will have to do a much better job of managing his body if he wants to continue his domination of world golf.

RORY MCILROY (8/10)

In a year in which he won the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open for the first time in his career, as well as the FedEx Cup – thus filling two huge gaps in his otherwise impressive CV – the Northern Irishman will definitely rue the fact that he struggled in the majors.

Of his three missed cuts this year, two were at the US Open and the PGA Championship.

DUSTIN JOHNSON (8.5/10)

It was a breakthrough season in the majors for the American, who won his maiden major title at the US Open, apart from winning the WGCBridgestone Invitational and a FedEx Cup Playoff event.

His only missed cut came at the PGA Championship, and he let go of a brilliant opportunity to win the FedEx Cup. Was also named Player of the Year on the PGA Tour. Also won the maximum world ranking points

HENRIK STENSON (9/10)

For the consistency he showed throughout the year, and the amazing quality of golf he displayed at both the Open Championship and the Olympics, the Swede is my choice for the Male Golfer of the Year.

In addition, he also won the European Tour Race to Dubai for the second time and would have done much better in the FedEx Cup had he not kept European interest uppermost in his mind and pulled out of the final two Playoff events before the Ryder Cup.

JORDAN SPIETH (7.5/10)

The only reason Spieth is facing criticism is because everyone is comparing his 2016 to his 2015, which was as phenomenal a season as Tiger Woods’ 2000.

Otherwise, the American gathered 420.08 points – the fourth best effort of the year – and won three tournaments.

LYDIA KO (7/10)

The young Kiwi had a superb start of the year, winning three tournaments including the ANA Inspiration, but struggled in the second half with several mediocre outings.

She managed to retain her No1 ranking at the end of the season, but sacked her coach, David Leadbetter, and caddie.

ARIYA JUTANUGARN (9/10)

Apart from an exceptional month of May, when she won three LPGA Tour titles in back-toback starts, the phenomenonal Ariya won the Women’s British Open to become the first-ever major champion from Thailand.

She was named Rolex Player of the Year on the LPGA Tour ahead of Ko for her five titles and five other top-five finishes. The world No2 is also our choice of the Ladies Golfer of the Year.

INBEE PARK (8/10)

The South Korean struggled throughout the year with her left thumb injury.

For someone who did not break par since April, Park showed just how deep her resolve and determination was by winning the one tournament she was desperate to win last year – the Olympics – and that too by a whopping five shots over Ko. She has not played since then.

SHANSHAN FENG (7/10)

The world No4 Chinese superstar’s season went the other way of Ko. The four-time Omega Dubai Ladies Masters champion looked completely out of sorts in the first half of the year, but after winning a bronze at the Olympics, she was in contention in every tournament she played.

ADITI ASHOK (8/10)

It will be a mistake not to put the 18-year-old Indian in this piece – easily the standout performer on the Ladies European Tour.

An amateur in December last year, she won the LET Qualifying School final stage, then qualified for the Olympics, won twice on Tour including her home Open, finished second in the Order of Merit and was the Rookie of the Year.

CURTIS LUCK

Our Amateur Golfer of the Year is the young Aussie, winner of this year’s Asia Pacific championship and the US Amateurs. Luck will play the Dubai Desert Classic but has postponed his plans to turn professional so that he can play the Masters, the US Open and the Open Championship – the three majors he is exempted to.

RAYHAN THOMAS

And finally, the 17-year-old Rayhan is our MENA Tour Golfer of the Year. It really was an incredible year as he became the first amateur winner on the Tour, and also improved to No106 in the World Amateur Ranking.

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Joy of Golf: DeChambeau's trademark side-saddle stroke

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During the Franklin Templeton Shootout last week, American Bryson DeChambeau unveiled his much talked about ‘side-saddle’ putting stroke.

For those who haven’t yet seen the video, DeChambeau stands facing the hole with the ball slightly right in front of his body. He then swings the putter forward.

Of course, what you’ve got to take care of during putting is that you are not straddling the line of

the putt. That would make it illegal.

The purists can close their eyes in horror, but ‘The Scientist’ made it work for him. He drained short putts consistently and poured in a few 15-20 footers.

But I bring DeChambeau up, just to segue into what’s happening with ladies world No1 Lydia Ko. Most people who watched DeChambeau putt had just one question – why? It’s not as if he was struggling massively on the greens.

At 1.757 average putts, he would have finished tied 38th on the PGA Tour. However, DeChambeau’s big change is nothing compared to what Ko has done towards the end of the season.

It started with the 19-year-old not having the best of finishes to the year. Despite ending as No1, her last of four wins in 2016 came way back in the Marathon Classic in mid-July.

In October, she fired long-time caddie Jason Hamilton. She did not even wait for the season to end, doing it with just three tournaments remaining.

In November, she reportedly agreed to a deal with new equipment manufacturers Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG). She will therefore end her relationship with Callaway, who have been a part of her ascent to the top right from her amateur days.

And then came the biggest shocker last week when she dumped coach David Leadbetter. They have worked together since 2013 and the partnership resulted in 12 LPGA victories, including two majors.

People close to Ko say she believes Leadbetter’s decision to change her swing – so that she hits more draws and increases her distance – has led to the loss of form.

If that is the real reason, the sacking of Hamilton seems inexplicable. And if she feels that she is struggling with her golf, this isn’t the best time either to change her clubs.

Leadbetter has another theory – he believes the problem is Ko’s interfering parents. In an interview, Leadbetter said: “Her parents are lovely people but I think they’re a little bit naive.

Lydia’s not a machine — she can’t play well week-in and week-out. She’s not going to win every week.”

Whatever the reasons for the split, it will be extremely interesting to see what decisions Ko takes
next. The spotlight will be firmly on her in 2017, and her being the world No1 won’t be the only reason.

The putting genius

Talking of putting, Harold Swash, famously known as ‘Britain’s Putting Doctor’ passed away last week aged 83.

Swash was one of the first coaches to focus solely on putting. A production engineer by trade, he was fascinated by the art and science of putting. Not only was he a coach, he also designed putters, and established the Harold Swash Putting School of Excellence (HSPSE).

During his time, Swash coached several European greats, including Nick Faldo, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood.

The HSPSE is now owned by Phil Kenyon, one of the foremost putting experts in the game who
works with the likes of Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson.

The ranking game

With just one tournament remaining in the year that will count towards the world ranking – the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship on the Asian Development Tour – all eyes will be on who finishes the year inside the top-50.

It’s important because it guarantees a start at the Masters and the first couple of World Golf Championship events.

There is only one player who can make a difference – Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee – who is currently ranked 52nd and will probably improve to 50 if he wins the tournament, which is scheduled for December 22-25.

The three biggest jumps in the elite group of world rankings have all been achieved by European Tour players – Alex Noren moved from 96 at the start of the year to nine, Tyrrell Hatton jumped from 104 to 24 and Rafael Cabrera-Bello from 114 to 27.

Stat of the Week

308 – yards, the drive of Lexi Thompson while playing the 17th hole during first round of Franklin Templeton Shootout. She then hit a 5-iron from 200 yards to seven feet for an eagle.

Earlier this year, Thompson recorded a 359-yard drive on the LPGA Tour’s Lotte Championship.

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Joy of Golf: Tiger showing his stripes

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Winning mentality: Tiger Woods

One of the things I admired greatly about Tiger Woods in his heyday was his utmost belief going into any golf tournament that he would win the title come Sunday.

All he looked for was a ‘W’ – that’s what Woods always called a win. It didn’t matter whether he was playing a golf course for the first time, whether he was coming from completely different set of playing conditions, or whether he was sick or injured.

Woods aimed for nothing less than a victory, and history is proof that he more often than not achieved what he aimed for.

As the 14-time major champion makes his comeback to competitive golf today at the Hero World Challenge, exactly 466 days after he hit his last shot in a tournament at the 2015 Wyndham Championship, it is impossible not to compare his outlook on golf this week, as against exactly one year ago during the 2015 Hero World Challenge.

It wasn’t vintage Woods at the press conference in the Bahamas on Tuesday, but he sounded so much better than the Woods which turned up at that venue last year. Just sample some of his comments from back then: “I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy” – when asked about his future.

“There’s really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build toward” – when asked if he knew when he’d start hitting balls again. I have followed Woods since he announced ‘Hello World’ back in 1996, but I have never heard him being that downbeat and fatalistic.

To hear someone of his stature talk like that, was quite sad. So, even though he did not say he was going to win this week, his positivity and talk of following a process which should, hopefully, lead to several wins in the future, meant we saw a version of Woods the golfing world has missed.

Most critics have been harsh on his decision not to play the Safeway Open in October, where he pulled out at the last minute saying his game still felt vulnerable. And they also feel he has chosen a soft start by playing in a limited-field event which has no half-way cut.

I personally feel we need to give Woods some space and more time. One back surgery can ruin a golf career, and he has now undergone three. Add one knee surgery as well. Let’s not expect him to start winning and playing at the level we have become accustomed to seeing him at.

This week in the Bahamas, Woods’ score and finish do not matter. What matters is the mindset with which he plays his golf. If he does not back out of playing shots which we all know he can hit, it will be a massive step in the right direction.

ASHOK IS THE REAL DEAL

Hot property: Aditi Ashok.

Hot property: Aditi Ashok.

Aditi Ashok first served notice four years ago, when as a 14-year-old amateur, she not only made the professional cut playing the Hero Women’s Indian Open, but actually finished tied for eighth place in the Ladies European Tour event.

Fast forward to today, she is 18 and in her first season as a professional. The Bangalore-based girl has taken over from Hideki Matsuyama as the hottest golfer in the planet, winning her last two starts – at the Indian Open, followed by the inaugural Qatar Ladies Open.

That’s some achievement considering Ashok turned professional this year after securing her LET card by winning the Qualifying School. She is now No2 in the LET Order of Merit, and also assured of finishing the season as the Rookie of the Year.

Only one debut has been better than Ashok in the history of LET – Spain’s Carlota Ciganda winning both Order of Merit and Rookie of the Year crowns in 2012. Ashok chose the platform of Olympics to announce her arrival of the global stage – wowing the fans by grabbing sole lead in the tournament after 27 holes, before finishing tied 41st.

Since August, she has been unstoppable, turning out one top-10 finish after another. And this week in Daytona Beach, she is trying her hands at the LPGA Tour Qualifying School, having made it to the final stage.

If she manages to get her LPGA Tour card, that would be some icing on the cake.

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