1 – Paul McGinley and Alex Ferguson take over at the European Tour
In an inspired move, the European Tour decides to appoint the victorious European Ryder Cup captain from Gleneagles, Paul McGinley, as their Chief Executive following the retirement of George O’Grady. McGinley’s major passion outside golf is business; and as well as a marketing diploma from Dublin University and a four-year degree in international business from the University of San Diego, he spent time in his youth working at the European Economic Community. All this experience turns out to be invaluable, as – from nowhere – the Wentworth-based organisation starts giving Tim Finchem and the PGA Tour a run for their money.
Guy Kinnings, global head of golf for IMG (and the former manager of players like Colin Montgomerie, Paul Casey and Luke Donald) is appointed as McGinley’s deputy. Kinnings is primarily office-based, which allows the charismatic Irishman the freedom to do his job as the front man. “His work ethic and eye for minutiae is second to none,” says former European Tour boss Ken Schofield. “If he can do half as good a job here as he did at Gleneagles, then we are on to a winner.”What’s more, within six months of being in the job, McGinley invites his old mucker Sir Alex Ferguson to be on the European Tour’s Board of Directors. Fergie accepts and his ‘hairdryer’ becomes a regular feature of Board Meetings.
2 – Tiger goes back to Butch
When Tiger misses the cut at Augusta National for the first time ever as a professional, he decides to get rid of Dallas-based swing coach Chris Como. Fevered speculation follows about who will become his next advisor and Tiger shocks the world by announcing he is returning to his first coach, Butch Harmon, a month later.
In a moment of weakness, Butch then tells Sky Sports that the reason he was fired the first time he was with Tiger, back in 2002, was because of an interview he gave the Daily Express in which he said: “I’m like Tiger’s older brother, and when I listen to him now, I hear a lot of me in him and that’s something I’m very proud of.” This was apparently too much for Tiger; and in a no-holds barred interview, Butch promises he won’t be so indiscreet again. Tiger immediately tells Butch that he must give up all his media work, including with Sky Sports.
In another surprise move, Butch then brings in Phil Mickelson to help Tiger with his short game, particularly his chipping. Mickelson rearranges the clubs in Tiger’s bag, getting him to use seven wedges and four drivers (one to fade the ball, one to draw it, one to hit it straight and one to chip with).
Conspiracy theorists reckon Lefty, who has never enjoyed Woods’ company much since the 2004 Ryder Cup, is trying to sabotage his rival’s game, something Butch dismisses as “ridiculous” in another in-depth no-holds-barred interview with Sky Sports.
3 – Ladies storm the R&A
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club has always prided itself on never rushing important decisions (unless its their annual order of Port). But in a rare departure from the norm, they elect their first female members within months of announcing their willingness to welcome ladies.
And so, both Dame Laura Davies and the American, Paula Creamer, become full members of The R&A – and proudly wear their club ties within days of getting in. The Club issue a speedy press release, saying “a tasteful scarf, in the Club’s colours, will soon be available to those of the fairer sex”.
Peter Dawson seems to be making the most of his final year as Chief Executive, before he hands over to Deutsche Bank executive, Martin Slumbers, in October 2015. In April, he announces that in order for an Open Championship to be held at a course, the club first needs to have at least one female member. There follows panic stations at Royal Troon (due to hold the 2016 Open), Royal St George’s and Muirfield. But by the end of the year all three have at least one woman as a member – Jodie Kidd and Lexi Thompson get into Troon, Carly Booth and Charley Hull into Royal St George’s, and Condoleezza Rice becomes a member of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
4 – Tiger and Rory set up their own management company
The two superstars of golf decide to take their blossoming bromance to a new level and go into business together. McIlroy is still counting the costs of his court case with Horizon and Woods is tired of having other people hide his secrets, so the pair set up McWoods Management.
They use their combined bargaining power to renegotiate their Nike deal and make them the highest paid sportsmen on the planet. And as 2015 ends they announce they’re looking for a third player to join their stable. Interest is so high that the pair decide to award the winner of the 2015 Hero World Challenge with a place in their lucrative set-up.
5 – Fowler and Wozniacki hook up – and have a baby!
Caroline Wozniacki starts going out with Rickie Fowler, and after a rushed engagement, they are married at Skibo Castle, where – surprisingly – Rory McIlroy steps up as Rickie’s Best Man. It all means that Caroline once again has to get rid of all her high heels because she is a couple of inches taller than Rickie, just as she was with Rory. As the happy couple leave on their honeymoon, she is heard to shout at her husband “Rickie…” – in a high-pitched squeal which is frighteningly similar to Bianca’s cries in EastEnders.
Having a relationship with golfers doesn’t seem to help Caroline’s tennis as once again she slides down the world rankings. By the end of the year she is pregnant. “If it’s a boy,” she tells Hello magazine, “we’re going to call him Rory.”
6 – Slow play results in Masters Monday finish
The pace of play grinds to new lows in the final round at the Masters, with some golfers taking more than seven hours to complete their rounds. Several high-profile players are put on the clock, but strangely only the three Chinese teenagers in the field are disqualified.
This snail-like progress means that when a play-off is finally required to separate the three leading contenders, darkness means play has to be abandoned after two play-off holes. No one can quite understand why the Green Jackets didn’t bring forward the final day tee times to cope with this possibility, but nobody is brave enough to ask out loud.
The Monday morning play-off sees the media become especially grumpy because the extra holes have got in the way of them playing the course. After all the slow play controversies, John Paramor retires to his golf buggy for a rest, with some fortified consommé, saying: “The last time I felt this stressed was when I had an argument with Seve about rabbit droppings”.
7 – The PGA of America takes the US PGA Championship overseas
The 2014 tournament at Valhalla was the most exciting major of the year, but still, the US PGA is unable to ever shake its three fellow majors from their concrete foundations. It needs a calling card, something that allows it to stand out from an already established and venerated crowd, so the PGA of America decides the time is finally right to take the US PGA Championship overseas.
Seven of the next eight US PGAs are already scheduled, but 2021 is still up for grabs. So it’s announced that a Ryder Cup-esque bidding process will ensue and clubs in Australia, China, Japan, South Africa and the Middle East all express an early interest in breaking the major mould outside America and the United Kingdom.
Rumours that FIFA’s recently deposed President Sepp Blatter will be brought in to oversee the fairness of the bidding process are swiftly denied. Shortly afterwards, several Middle Eastern states move fast to officially withdraw their interest.
8 – Players exploit a loophole in the anchored putters ban
Rule 14-1b comes into force on the first day of 2016. At first glance, its wording seems black and white. The ruling bodies want the putting stroke to be a free flow of the entire club, thus outlawing the use of an artificial anchor – either by holding the putter or your forearm against your body.
There is, however, a rather sizeable grey area. In the ruling bodies’ own explanation of the new Rule, they reveal that ‘a player may intentionally hold one or both forearms against the body in making a stroke.’ That only becomes illegal when the player is doing it with the intention of creating an anchor point. But intention is a tricky thing to prove. When the arms hang so close to the body, how are we to gauge what degree of stability the torso is giving those arms? And the extent to which it is incidental or intentional?
Amongst all this confusion, a renegade band of players who’ve earned millions with an anchored putting stroke come up with a ‘legally-anchored’ technique that their highly-paid lawyers assure them exploits a loophole in the current Rule.
9 – New shaft technology changes the game forever
Rules announced by The R&A and USGA restricting technological advances are now so stringent that future breakthroughs are likely to be very small and insignificant. However, shaft technology is the one place where there are still loopholes; and when the Rosetta spacecraft returns from its latest landing on a comet with a previously undiscovered substance, Barrack Obama, a fanatical golfer, goes into overdrive.
He persuades the Senate to allow some of this substance to be used by a number of shaft manufacturers. The discovery of this new strengthening agent means that the laboratory technicians are able to develop the first ever graphite shaft that has no resin at all. This, of course, brings much greater consistency and several of the world’s top players are suddenly able to find significantly more length. The Green Jackets at Augusta National are especially distraught when Rory finds the green of the 570-yard uphill 8th with a driver and a lob wedge.
10 – A boom in 12-hole courses make golf quicker and cheaper
Canada’s largest golf club operator launched something called KwikLinks in June last year. Essentially, AC Simmonds and Sons have taken the decision to trim a batch of their courses from 18 to 12 holes. In the UK, what 12-hole golf there is mostly limited to game improver set-ups, such as South Petersfield, or Leeds Golf Centre.
The arguments in their favour – less-time consuming, lower fees and cheaper course maintenance – all make sense in the modern world, and increasing interest from course architects in the so-called cloverleaf design of three loops of six sees many more 12-hole options launched in 2015.
The revolutionary idea of maintaining the laws and traditions of the sport we all love while making it cheaper and less time-consuming strike a chord with the paying public and lead to a resurgence for many golf clubs.
11 – Golf tries 15-inch holes to speed up play – it fails miserably
The R&A’s experiment with larger holes is hastily suspended 12 hours into its first day of operation. “We introduced it in an effort to speed up play, but it’s had the opposite effect,” explained a spokesperson for The R&A. “There have been literally hundreds of holes-in-one. One club reported seven before lunch and the resultant celebrations have caused chaos.”
Further aggravating the situation has been golfers asking for the pin to be attended before teeing off. “We never anticipated that players would walk the whole length of a par three to attend the flag. It’s an absurd waste of time,” the spokesperson added.
On a happier note, bar takings have soared at golf clubs right around the country as players celebrated their aces, thus prompting the Vice President of the Golf Course Owners Association to demand the experiment be continued: “Since we’ve been digging ourselves into a big hole for years, how ironic it is that a bigger hole could now save us. The R&A must re-instate the 15-inch hole immediately.”
12 – Greg Norman chokes during final round US Open commentary
It couldn’t be a more compelling story. The US Open, being played at Chambers Bay in Tacoma, Washington, has come down to the wire. As the sun begins to descend over gorgeous Puget Sound, two of America’s finest – Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler – are tied at 10-under-par playing the last.
Fox Sports, covering its first US Open for American television, can’t believe its luck – its US Open debut promises to be the most memorable US Open in living memory. Spieth has a putt for birdie and his first major title. Fox’s lead analyst Greg Norman has the microphone. Spieth holes and America waits for a profound reaction from Norman. But he is silent, tongue-tied. The Australian, it seems, has choked.
13 – Mike Ashley takes over retail market but big guns fight back
This year will see a big bang moment in the golf equipment market as the business model pursued by the major manufacturers reaches breaking point. A constant diet of new product launches has created over-supply in the shops and online, driving down prices and slashing already thin profit margins still further.
The rumour is that Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley will buy the troubled American Golf chain, the dominant UK retailer, which still represents 35 per cent of the UK market. Ashley recently bought a stake in Golf Direct which sells its ‘own brand’ clubs such as Progen and John Letters.
In response, premium brands such as Nike, Callaway and adidas-TaylorMade will seek to avoid a price war in Ashley’s stores. They will do this by opening Apple-style stores that sell directly to the consumer, so reducing supply and creating greater scarcity for their products.
14 – US Task Force revolutionises its Ryder Cup policy
The PGA of America’s 11-man Ryder Cup Task Force (RCTF) gathered at the association’s HQ in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on December 9th, to discuss how on earth America might ever win the Ryder Cup again.
The association’s new President and RCTF co-chairman Derek Sprague, reported afterwards that all 11 members (Sprague, CEO Pete Bevacqua, PGA Secretary Paul Levy, Ray Floyd, Tom Lehman, Steve Stricker, Davis Love, Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler) were engaged and that the meeting had been ‘productive’. He gave no specifics, but it’s safe to assume they discussed the process for selecting the captain and vice-captain, and player qualification. The RCTF’s first tactics and stratagems will become known soon and we will learn if the PGA is now willing to listen to the players/US fans/past results/reason and re-appoint Paul Azinger as captain or plump for the even more popular Fred Couples, or come up with its own scheme it concocted by keeping its head in the clouds.
Fear of further ridicule (a Task Force to ensure Ryder Cup success? Really?), plus the fact there are plenty of experienced, rational, non-self-serving voices on the RCTF surely mean Azinger or Couples will be appointed, and followed by Mickelson then Woods. They will also announce a situation that enables the captain to accommodate players coming on strong late in the season. Might having FedEx Cup winner Billy Horschel on its team at Gleneagles rather than the fairly ineffective Keegan Bradley or Webb Simpson have proved beneficial for the Americans? Who knows, but at least some team members wouldn’t have boarded the plane to Scotland asking ‘Er, where’s Billy Horschel?’
15 – The Internationals actually win the Presidents Cup
For the first time since Melbourne in 1998 the Internationals actually win the Presidents Cup – and it’s a week in Korea the American team are unlikely to forget. Things start badly when the American Captain, Jay Haas, wildcard picks his own son – Bill – even though the 33-year-old hasn’t made a cut all year.
Things get worse at the Gala Dinner when Bubba Watson loses an arm wrestling contest with the Internationals’ vice-captain, KJ Choi, which ends with the American dislocating his shoulder. Upset, Watson’s team-mate, Patrick Reed, has an argument with Choi and puts his finger in front of his lips, telling the Korean he doesn’t want to hear another word. The normally placid Choi punches Reed’s lights out.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the final singles match on Sunday, which sees Tiger Woods up against the young Chinese star Ye Wocheng. The match turns at the final hole when Tiger chunks two consecutive chips and then slams his club so hard into the turf that it takes the help of three marshals to extricate.
Still running hot, Tiger uses the post-match press conference to vent. “We had a great formula for the past 11 matches. I don’t know why we ever strayed from that,” he snaps. “There were two things from the past that allowed us to play our best in the Presidents Cup. One was the captains always got everybody invested in the process. And two, they all always had a game plan.”
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