Professional golf has gone through a dramatic transformation in the last few years. There was a time when everyone believed golfers reached their golden years in their late 30s, but that’s no longer the case.
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It’s now a young man’s game with 25-year-old Rory McIlroy considered a veteran, and the chances of someone as accomplished as Tiger Woods, who just turned 39, are being written off. It’s not Woods’ rivalry with a 44-year-old Phil Mickelson people are interested in, it’s between McIlroy and a 26-year-old Rickie Fowler.
World No2 Henrik Stenson, who is now 38, once told me in an interview he never thought he’d have to work so hard on his game, and more so on his body, to remain at the top of the sport. But shown the way by Woods, and pushed by the likes of McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, Stenson felt he was doing at least 10 times the workout he did at the time of turning professional.
And while they have been making their presence felt for some time now, 2015 really is the first year when all the big stories – apart from the comeback of Woods – revolve around the 20-somethings.
Let’s not even talk about McIlroy – the leader of the pack. Like Woods, there is no doubt now that he is a once-in-a-generation golfer, and we really are lucky to have seen two of the very best exponents of the game playing in the same era.
If 2014 was any indication, this could be the breakthrough year for Spieth, Fowler, Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, Japanese Hideki Matsuyama and Kiwi teenager Lydia Ko.
Then there are players like American Brooks Koepka, England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, South African Branden Stone, Frenchman Alexander Levy (winner of two European Tour events last year), India’s Anirban Lahiri, Mexican Carlos Ortiz and Woods’ niece Cheyenne. And I have not even included some of the Chinese prodigies who have impressed massively, and a few of them haven’t even reached their teens.
Golf has never seen such an influx of young talent at the highest level in such a short time.
Of all these players, I am expecting another year of immense achievements from the 21-year-old Spieth. That feeling has obviously been heightened by his storming finish to the year when he beat McIlroy and a quality field at the Australian Open, and then won Woods’ Hero World Challenge by a ludicrous 10-shot margin.
Also, I won’t be surprised if the 17-year-old Lydia Ko finishes the year as the No1 lady golfer of the world. With three wins on the LPGA Tour in 2014, she is already up to No2.
From the Asian Tour, Lahiri should continue his steady move . The world No64 is sure to benefit from the fact that he has now qualified for the European Tour, which means more world ranking points.
Paul Casey’s absence baffling
Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and as part of the celebrations, all past winners of the tournament are returning to Abu Dhabi Golf Club, barring England’s Paul Casey.
I do understand that scheduling events is a very personal matter for every golfer, and can also empathise with new-dad Casey, who is planning to concentrate more on the PGA Tour this year. And yet, I do wish he had made an exception for this one tournament.
Not only is he a two-time champion of the tournament, he really has been pampered by Abu Dhabi these last few years. Even though Martin Kaymer has won the tournament three times, Casey continued to receive five-star treatment. He was also sponsored by Aldar for a couple of years.
In return, it really would have been a nice gesture if he made an effort to come for the 10th anniversary celebration.
Masters gets costlier
The Masters is still well over three months away, but there is enough interest already around the first major of the season. Rory McIlroy could turn it into a career slam if he wins a third major on the trot, and then there is the excitement about a healthy Tiger Woods returning.
Maybe that’s got something to do with the fact that Augusta National have increased their badge price by as much as 30 per cent this year. The 2015 cost of the limited number of badges put out by the club has jumped to $325, compared to $250 last year.
The Masters badges still remain a steal if procured at the original price. Even at $325 (which ensures entry for all four days), it is the most fairly priced ticket globally.
Come April, and this same badge would be selling like hot cakes for prices in excess of $3,000.
Not the end of Duval
The recent announcement that former world No1 David Duval will be joining Golf Channel as one of their analysts has led to some experts hailing it as a great move towards establishing an alternate career for the genial American.
Duval has not won any tournament since the 2001 Dunlop Phoenix Open on the Japan Golf Tour, and has run out of exemption on the PGA Tour since 2011. He also has a highly suspect back that has not helped matters.
But Duval is just 43 years old, and he has at least two great examples to follow from the European Tour in his continued efforts to get back to good form.
David Howell and Oliver Wilson dabbled with media as they struggled with their forms. But both kept the faith in their abilities and continued to play tournaments whenever they could, and were finally rewarded with big wins.
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