To be strictly accurate, of course, the whole year doesn’t quite lie ahead of us. There have been a couple of PGA Tour events in 2017 (both in Hawaii) and one on the European Tour (in South Africa), but nevertheless I’m sure you’ll get my drift – even though it’s not as if nothing much has happened yet.
In the South African Open at Glendower, Rory McIlroy began the season the way he would have wanted after 72 holes: atop the leaderboard. Unfortunately for him, Graeme Storm was alongside him, and after a playoff that went three holes the 38-year-old Englishman, who looked to have lost his player’s card last year until Patrick Reed failed to play in enough events to be eligible for Tour membership, beat the world No. 2 in the first tournament of the new season. It was his first victory on the circuit since the 2007 French Open.
All this occurred after McIlroy had told the Sunday Independent in Ireland that he may never play in the Olympic Games because he’d feel unhappy to be representing either Great Britain or Ireland because that would mean he wasn’t representing the other. “I’ve fought with myself over [this issue] for so many years,” he told the BBC. Clearly, he needs a clone. Or at least one more week to possibly regain that No. 1 spot. Almost as happy as Storm was the man in third place, 24-year-old rookie Jordan Smith, who topped the EuroPro Tour Order of Merit in 2015 and the Challenge Tour last season. As Storm suggested: “What a player he is going to be.”
In the States, Justin Thomas opened the season by beating Hideki Matsuyama by three shots to win the Tournament of Champions. Matsuyama thus made it two seconds and four wins from six consecutive starts; Thomas looks ready to step up to the plate to meet the predictions of greatness many have made on his behalf. “I think it’s potentially floodgates opening for him,” said his good friend, Jordan Spieth. “The guy hits it forever and he’s got a really, really nifty short game.”
The next week, Spieth witnessed at first hand as Thomas fired an opening 59 at the Sony Open. After that he collapsed completely with rounds of 64-65-65, which meant he only won by seven from Justin Rose. Spieth was a shot further back. So Thomas is two-for-two in 2017: how that’s, Hideki?
The Ryder Cup in Paris is a long way off but already the newly announced American captain, Jim Furyk, must be figuring Thomas will be part of his team at Golf National. “It’s no secret,” said Furyk, “this has been my favourite event throughout my entire career.” This even though he won the 2003 US Open and has a Ryder Cup record of being on the winning team just twice in nine attempts, during which he’s lost 20 matches. The words ‘glutton’ and ‘punishment’ do spring to mind.
Two days after the announcement regarding Furyk we learned of the passing of John Jacobs, aged 91, one of the genuinely great men of British and European golf. (And a past Ryder Cup captain, as it happens.) He was responsible for initiating the creation of the European Tour, in 1971, and he was one of the best golf teachers who ever practised the profession. But it wasn’t just what he achieved that mattered; it was the manner in which he went about it: determinedly and kindly.
From a personal perspective, there won’t be any golf this week, and maybe not this month: preferred lies I can handle (literally) but temporary greens are not worth the effort in my view. But with the next three tournaments on the European Tour being in the Middle East – including Tiger Woods playing in Dubai the week after he first tees it up this year, at Torrey Pines in 10 days time – there is a lot of warm-weather golf to look forward to. Including, no doubt, more from the Justins and Jordans. (And Rory.)
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