John Huggan: Is 2015 the year golf gets it right?

Perhaps 2015 will be the year when the likes of Lydia Ko will have the chance to be members of Royal Troon and its ilk. Picture: Getty

Perhaps 2015 will be the year when the likes of Lydia Ko will have the chance to be members of Royal Troon and its ilk. Picture: Getty

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A month-by-month look at what might happen to the game in 2015 (but let’s be honest, probably won’t)

AT least for this column, the beginning of a new golfing year has always provoked a wildly contrasting combination of anticipation and dread, and 2015 is no exception. As ever, there is much to look forward to. The rise and rise of Rory McIlroy, below, will surely be worth watching. How Tiger Woods performs (or not) will be one of the game’s great stories over the next 12 months. And the women’s game continues to make big strides, carried by appealing personalities such as Michelle Wie, Stacy Lewis and Lydia Ko. All while the wider game battles 21st-century challenges. Despite new club and ball technology making good shots easier to hit than ever, participation – at least in established markets – is falling and courses, even in Scotland, are closing.

So where are we headed exactly? Here is a sometimes tongue-in-cheek, occasionally serious look at what we might see (or would like to see) happening in 2015.

January

Finally. After keeping their female equivalents waiting for who knows how long – it seems like decades – the dinosau… sorry, men of the Scottish Golf Union give themselves a long-overdue shake and merge with the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association. In a parallel announcement, the newly formed organisation pledges to spend the vast majority of its money at grassroots level and not in the “training” of future professionals. “If we get things right at the bottom, the top will largely take care of itself,” says a non-gender specific spokesperson.

Bucking a wider trend, a new golf magazine is launched: World Golf. In the first issue is a piece by Phil Mickelson on “Tact and Timing”.

February

At a press conference in the clubhouse at Royal Melbourne – the best course in the southern hemisphere – the European Tour announces it will spend the month of February 2016 in Australia.

“Instead of taking a short-term commercial view and playing our events on (at best) mediocre venues where our members are unable to display the full range of their talents, we will in future be taking a more enlightened view,” says head of media, Scott Crockett. “As far as is possible and, even if we have to compete for a little less cash, European Tour events will only be played on really good courses, a policy that will start here in Australia. In the long-term this will enhance the quality of our product and, in due course, provide more prize money for our members.”

World Golf cover-line: Tom Watson – “Man Management Made Easy”.

March

Much to the relief of all who love the Old Course at St Andrews, the R&A announce that no new tees will be built – either on or off the course – before this summer’s Open Championship. “Even if the vast majority of players will have no need to carry their drivers this July, we feel that the course will represent a tough enough test for the world’s best,” says R&A chief executive Peter Dawson. “Besides, just wait until they see where we intend to put the pins.”

Darren Clarke is appointed European Ryder Cup captain and, in a surprise move, 92-year-old Jackie Burke is to be his American equivalent. “Tom Watson was just too young last time,” says a PGA of America spokesman.

World Golf cover-line: “Make More Short Putts” by Jason Dufner.

April

Speaking on the eve of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National, club chairman Billy Payne announces that the event will in future be known as the Paul Lawrie Masters. “This brings us into line with just about everything else going on in golf at the moment,” says Payne.

Completing his own personal version of the “Grand Slam”, Rory McIlroy wins the Paul Lawrie Masters and heads to the US Open holding three of the four major championships. His attempt to complete what is now known as the “Ulster Slam” thus becomes the biggest golf story of the year.

World Golf cover-line: “Hit More Fairways” by Tiger Woods.

May

Scotland’s Catriona Matthew wins the LPGA Championship, to record her second major victory. Far away across the ocean, the BBC immediately decides not to invite Scotland’s highest-ranked golfer to its end-of-season Sports Personality of the Year awards show.

Following on from the R&A’s historic decision in 2014, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Royal Troon and Royal St George’s announce they will each admit female members. Thus, every club on the Open Championship rota now has a non-discriminatory membership policy.

World Golf cover-line: “How to Beat First Tee Nerves” by Webb Simpson.

June

Rory wins the US Open and completes the “Ulster Slam”. In ante-post betting for the BBC’s SPOTY he now ranks fourth behind the captain of the English netball team, a Formula One chauffeur and his own caddie.

After withdrawing from the US Open with back pain, Tiger Woods announces he will “definitely” be at St Andrews for next month’s Open Championship. “I’ll be there even if I have to grimace dramatically after every shot,” says the 14-time major champion.

World Golf cover-line: “Perfect Pitching” by Tim Clark.

July

In something of an upset, Rory does not win the Open. He finishes second. Englishman Danny Willett wins in dramatic fashion, making a birdie two on the long par-3 18th hole. Tiger collects a special award for most grimaces.

World Golf cover-line: “Long Breaks Can Help Your Game” by Dustin Johnson.

August

An American whose name no one can remember wins the USPGA Championship. Immediately afterwards, a re-configuring of the four majors is announced. From now on the Grand Slam will consist of the US Open, Open, Players Championship and a World Match Play Championship that will travel the globe. Next year: South Africa.

World Golf goes out of business. “I don’t know what happened,” says the editor.

September

European Ryder Cup qualifying begins. Captain Clarke takes the opportunity to announce he will have 24 assistants in attendance at Hazeltine. “Two for every team member,” he says. “Or one guy to hold each hand.”

Colin Montgomerie hires swing coach Denis Pugh after a disastrous season on the Champions Tour. One day later, Pugh is fired. “It just wasn’t working out,” says Monty.

R&A chief executive Peter Dawson, inset, retires. Amazingly, he is unable to find employment with any reputable course design company. Something about those changes to the Old Course.

October

Follow on from the 2014 closures of Lothianburn and Torphin Hill, more (bad) Scottish courses go out of business. Which is, whisper it, a good thing.

November

In a dramatic twist, it is announced that golf will not be a part of the 2016 Olympics. “Boredom” with the whole thing is cited as the main reason. Well, that and the presence of proper drug testing. Just saying.

December

In a joint statement made “for the long-term good of the game”, the USGA, R&A, PGA Tour and European Tour, along with every significant equipment manufacturer, “fix” the ball and knock 50 yards off drives hit by leading professionals. At a stroke, many of the world’s leading courses are again available for tournament play. The expectation is that allowing youngsters to watch big events on great courses (rather than rubbish courses) will see a significant jump in participation levels inside five years. It’s called coming to one’s senses. Finally.

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