As golf moves closer to the return to Shinnecock for the US Open, there are pressing questions to be answered in regards to some of the story lines this season. The PGA Tour has been a bit wide open as well, as we also move toward the playoffs. This week James Caruana and DeVaughn Townes take on five questions on hot button issues in golf.
1. Who has not won a tournament this year, but might be playing stellar golf?
Caruana: Out of 14 events this season, Marc Leishman has made twelve cuts, six of which he finished in the top ten. He finished second at the Byron Nelson classic as well as ninth in this year’s Masters. The smooth swinging Australian is twenty-sixth in strokes gained: Approach to the Green and fifteenth in stokes gained: Around the Green. He ranks eleventh in birdie average and his only true weak point is driving. So any week where he is finding the fairway on a consistent basis, he will be around the top of the leaderboard.
Townes: Brian Harman is lethal as he is ranked 26th in the official golf rankings for a reason. He is first in top 10 finishes with seven and has made 14 cuts. The guy is just unlucky as he always seems to be coming up short this year. He has been slumping lately so you wonder if a hot start to the season took a lot out of him.
2. Who is a golfer outside of the top 50 that deserves some attention?
Caruana: Chesson Hadley is thirteenth in the FedEx Cup standings with six top tens this season. He has finished in the top twenty in each of his last seven starts. He is thirteenth in total shots gained, especially excelling in approach shots and putting. It seems like only a matter of time before he is back in the winner’s circle. He won the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2014. Since 2014, it seems like he has been trying to regain his confidence on the tour.
Townes: Luke List has five top 10 finishes, has made 14 cuts, and is 17th in the FedEx Cup points with 1,002. He is sneaky good, but ends up getting himself into trouble at times with errant shots. List averages the third longest drive at 316.1, but he needs to improve his drive accuracy. This will put him in better putting situations as well as winning spots.
3. Should wins and losses define success?
Caruana: Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus are the two greatest golfers of all-time and most of of their success is based off major tournaments. Players like Lee Westwood and Luke Donald held the number one spot in the rankings, but they will only be remembered for their shortcomings in the major championships. Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott were able to win the Masters and get rid of the stigma surrounding them.
Townes: It depends on the stature of the golfer. Tiger Woods deserves to be measured in that light along with Phil Mickelson as they are proven winners. In the case of Rickie Fowler, you have to judge him by where he is finishing in tournaments as well as consistency. If he goes too long without winning a major, then his career needs to be looked at with a microscope.
4. Can a short hitter win or will the US Open be dominated by the big hitters? What will the winning score be?
Caruana: Shinnecock went from 6,900 yards in 2004 to 7,400 yards this year. They removed a number of trees on the course, but also added in a number of new tee boxes giving different challenges off of the tee. This caters to the big hitters and will probably rule out any guys who are not capable of bombing it with the big stick. The score in the last open at Shinnecock was four under and that was with the putting surfaces playing more like concrete than grass. I am going to go out on a limb and say the wind will not show up everyday allowing for some low scores. Winner finishes at six under despite the USGA’s best efforts to keep it around even par.
Townes: Big hitters would appear to have the advantage, but the biggest hitters, in terms of yards per drive, are wildly inaccurate in those drives. The best barometer seems to be a solid putting average along with a 290 to 310 yards per drive average for the Open. A lot of the best golfers have a combo of the two skills. The winner should emerge from that bunch with a score of eight-under.
5. Golf is in a good place right now with loads of young talent, but will we see another Tiger Woods-like level of dominance or is golf better off without it?
Caruana: Golf needs some sort of dominance in order to keep the average fan interested. Tiger still attracts the average sports fan and there is not a golfer out there besides him who does the same. Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have given us some hope, but in the future someone will breakthrough and flash moments of dominance. It may not be for another ten years, but someone will come through the ranks and surprise us all.
Townes: Golf definitely needs a player or two to have their run of dominance like Tiger once did. The problem with that becoming a reality is that the golf courses are always being worked on in a way to prevent having a steady repeat of champions at a particular course. Also, we might need another five to 10 years to sort through the young talent of golfers like Spieth, Fowler, Emiliano Grillo, young Aaron Wise, and even a few stars coming through the collegiate ranks.