So, you’re probably aware that the PGA Tour has a peculiar schedule now and the season officially started back in October. While not the most exhilarating viewing, the first tournaments are generally shining moments for rookies and young talent, as well as veterans fighting to keep their Tour cards. With somewhat weaker fields, it opens up opportunities for less well-known players to make a name for themselves and cement their place in the top 125 (and an invite to the FedEx Cup Playoffs).
While us Midwesterners consider The Masters the kick-off to the golf season (for us and for tour pros), we can all watch with envy as the best in the world frolic in warm locales and launch golf balls against the majestic backdrop of the sparkling ocean (lucky club, isn’t it?). It’s hard not to love Justin Thomas’s chances this year, as he carded the seventh 59 in Tour history yesterday and obliterated The Plantation Course in Kapalua. Jordan Spieth’s good buddy has a shot at Player of the Year, and possibly making a move towards Spieth’s historic 2015 season. Yes, it’s early, and Thomas has a knack for stringing together birdies on easier courses, but he has the flair and length to compete with anyone.
I’ll offer some bound-to-be-wrong predictions for the upcoming majors, a few fantasy golf beasts to roster and my pick for the top awards. Here’s to a thrilling 2017 season.
The Masters (April 6 – 9) Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Georgia
Defending Champ: Danny Willet
With the smallest field of any of the four major championships, Augusta is bound to offer some surprises. The course can be attacked a variety of ways, but often favors bombers who can work the ball from right to left. Of course, putting is at a premium on the nasty Augusta greens, so tactical short-gamers can keep pace. I’d imagine Spieth, Day, Matsuyama, Rory, Stenson and DJ to all be in the hunt come Sunday, but I’ll take a gamble on…
Prediction: Patrick Reed
The Ryder Cup hero has the complete game to finally establish himself as a major champ. A lengthy clutch putt on 17 will win it for him.
The PLAYERS Championship (May 11 – 14) TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Defending Champ: Jason Day
No, it’s not a major, but does boast the best field of any golf tournament. It also ends on Mother’s Day, which is a great excuse to get your mom into the game. This seems to be the contest that whoever’s hot at the moment wins, so it’s fairly tough to predict. Rickie Fowler seems to like this course a lot, and I see him in the top 5. Day and Adam Scott tend to play well there, but if I was a betting man…
Prediction: Hideki Matsuyama
I absolutely love this dude’s swing, and am pretty jealous of how cool his pause at the top is (I’ve tried it, with ghastly results). The best iron player in the world could have a giant 2017.
U.S. Open (June 15 – 19) Erin Hills, Erin, Wisconsin
Defending Champ: Dustin Johnson
DJ does not have fond memories of Wisconsin. His infamous bunker gaffe in 2010 cost him a playoff spot in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, and his second-round 73 dropped him into a tie for 7th in 2015. I expect him to be in it at the end, but Wisconsin’s specter will haunt him again for another runner-up. Erin Hills has hosted the U.S. Amateur and Women’s Public Links, but not a men’s professional major. Look for it to be wicked, as always. I like when you can actually play these courses, and Erin Hills will be the sixth public course to host the U.S. Open. I’m not sure what that means for a prediction, but I’ll take…
Prediction: Rory McIlroy
Rors has equipment changes to contend with, but by this time he’ll be ready. He should be flat-out devastating in 2017. Very few players are capable of what Rory is when he’s on, and this is a good time of year for him to sizzle. I’m going with an audacious prediction that he wins this by 7+ shots.
Open Championship (July 20 – 23) Royal Birkdale G.C., Southport, England
Defending Champ: Henrik Stenson
This will be Royal Birkdale’s tenth time hosting The Open. Padraig Harrington last won here in 2008, successfully defending his title. I don’t see it happening again. The best story would be another Stenson-Mickelson shootout like last year, but that’s probably an isolated incident with so much talent invading Britain. Royal Birkdale is only 20 miles north of Liverpool, which tempts me to take a John, Paul, George or Ringo (couldn’t find one), but I like…
Prediction: Rory McIlroy
My guess is he’s going to have one of the best 2-month stretches in the history of golf. You may be thinking I’m a hysterical Rory superfan, but really I’m just going with the best overall player. If he’s rolling putts, no one’s better. Another swing I envy greatly.
PGA Championship (August 17 – 20) Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, North Carolina
Defending Champ: Jimmy Walker
Normally reserved for The Wells Fargo Championship, Quail Hollow will host the most unpredictable major of the year. This is often a spot where someone wins their first major, so I was tempted to put Patrick Reed or Justin Thomas here. Even though I want to, I’m not going to pick Rory (but he’ll probably contend). The random name I drew out of a hat is…
Prediction: Dustin Johnson
No, I didn’t pick it out of a hat. With only five big tournaments to choose from, it’s hard to find a spot for everyone you’d like to win. It’s tough to count out DJ in any of these tournaments, and there’s a good chance he picks up more than one major this year. I’ll take him winning by a narrow margin.
How many tournaments will Tiger win? Zero. I hope I’m wrong. Next.
Up-and-Comer: Wesley Bryan
You probably know him mostly from his trick shot videos, but this fella can play. I see him winning on a short-game friendly course, and possibly grabbing a top ten in a major. He won three times last year on the Web.Com Tour, and his wedge game gives him an edge over everyone not named Zach Johnson. Maybe there’s something to a reactionary style of play. Do yourself a favor and check out a couple of his trick shot videos, although that’s not all he’ll be known for.
Player of the Year: Rory McIlroy
Read previous. I foresee a monster year as he moves closer to his prime.
Star Who Falls Off the Map: Bubba Watson
His putter has been so brutal, distance won’t matter.
Fantasy Golf Picks:
Top Tier: Rory, DJ, Matsuyama, Day (if healthy)
Second Tier: Rickie, Reed, Thomas, Spieth, Scott
Third Tier: Mickelson, Walker, Snedeker, Grillo, Knox, Moore, Kuchar, Woodland and many more.
Sleepers: Wes Bryan, Beef Johnston, Bryson Dechambeau, Jamie Lovemark, Patrick Rodgers, Jon Rahm
I’ll conclude by saying if I’m right on any one of these, I’ll consider it a win. Golf is too mental, fickle and unpredictable at the highest level to have any idea of what might happen. With so much talent on Tour, we will have some high drama in the big tournaments. Hopefully you’ll be watching…I know I will!