Given the highs 2017 brought with it, 2018 promises even more excitement. And why not? Irrespective of the sport and discipline, as a fan, the new year or season is always a time to enthuse and look forward to many a great occasion – and it needn’t just be restricted to breaking (or setting new) records. On that thought, Karthik Swaminathan of Golf Digest India highlights five potential talking points that golf aficionados will likely be hooked to as the year unfurls. After all, wasn’t it Ogden Nash who rightly muse how the spectator’s bashful spirit feeds on an athlete’s heroic deeds!
EXPECTING BETTER SHOW FROM TEAM EUROPE
The Americans might have won the last edition of the Ryder Cup, but European golfers struck a rich vein of form in 2017, with Sergio Garcia reigning at Augusta National, Tommy Fleetwood clinching the Race to Dubai (closely followed by compatriot Justin Rose) and the rise of young Jon Rahm (current World No. 3). United States has never won in Europe since 1993 and has, in fact, triumphed on just three occasions since (1999, 2008 and 2016). Besides, 2018 will also see the return of Rory McIlroy. All said therefore, with 8 months to go for the duel at Le Golf National, Paris, the fans have every reason to expect a better display from Team Europe.
MCILROY’S STRONG COMEBACK
Not long ago, Rory McIlroy seemed to be destined for great things. Instead, he has battled injuries for close to two years, invariably leading one to wonder if the Irishman’s best playing days are behind him. He finished 2017 ranked 11th in the world and it was the first time, since 2008, that McIlroy had failed to end the year inside the Top-10. It will help that he isn’t even 29 yet, leave alone 30, and can always look to the Tour for inspiration. The four-time Major champion only needs the Masters to join the select league of golfers who have at least one title at each Major. McIlroy also took 3 months off to prepare for 2018 – time will tell what else awaits the former World No. 1.
ROSE’S CAREER SLAM ASPIRATIONS
Justin Rose has been outspoken about his ambitions. He made the 2016 Olympics his focus, publicly, and went on to win gold – his biggest triumph since clinching the 2013 US Open. The 37-year-old went on to win the WGC-HSBC Champions and the Turkish Airlines Open in 2017, apart from recording a handful other top-10 finishes (including a runner-up finish at the Masters), and also gave countryman Tommy Fleetwood a run for his money in last season’s Race to Dubai. Not long ago, Rose talked about the other boxes he wants to tick over the course of his career and it included accomplishing a Career Slam. Given the form he has been working himself into, one wouldn’t put the feat beyond him in future, commencing 2018.
MATSUYAMA BREAKING INTO WORLD TOP-3
For a brief while in 2017, following his runner-up showing at the US Open to be precise, Hideki Matsumaya rose to World No. 2. He finished the season as the fifth best golfer in the world – the second time in as many years that he had finished in the Top-10 of the global rankings (he ended 2016 ranked sixth). Already a superstar in Japan, the 25-year-old’s stock would soar further should he win a Major (would be a first, for Japan). Another realistic goal would be finishing the season within the Top-3. He is, of course, only too aware of the expectations. “All I can do is my best”, Matsuyama said following his win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. And try he will.
A DOMINANT JOHNSON
With victory at the 2016 US Open, Dustin Johnson looked set for more glory. The American started 2017 with wins at the Genesis Open, WGC-Mexico and WGC-Dell Technologies but a twist of fate ahead of the Masters – he suffered a freak injury to his back on the eve of the tournament – not only ruled him out of Augusta but also blunted his season overall. Johnson returned to winning ways later, collecting The Northern Trust (August) and Sentry Tournament of Champions (last month) titles. Not one to doubt himself, the 33-year-old sounded typically upbeat in a recent interaction with The Associated Press’s Doug Ferguson, “I definitely think I can [record an 8-win season]. There’s a lot of really good players out here on tour, and for me to do that, I’m going to have to play some really good golf. But I’m definitely capable of it.”
(Read more in the February issue of Golf Digest India. Download here.)