“‘Tis the season of giving,” they say, and no sport gives more than golf. Headaches, frustrations, heartbreaks, ulcers- golf has plenty to hand out. In turn, we golfers provide the links with ample supplies of errant golf balls, broken clubs, four letter words and fore letter words, divots, shanks, snuffs, hooks, slices, and skulls. Why do we play this game? Because we love it. So too do the professionals. Sometimes that’s lost on us.
We don’t often associate golf with Christmas but the fanciful nature of the holiday appeals to the golfer in all of us. We wish for gifts from the mythical Saint Nick in hopes that whatever we please will settle under our tree on December 25. If only that could be applied to the course. I’d wish for birdies. I’d wish for a straight drive. I’d wish for patience above all.
While some pros might agree with my thinking, they’d likely have their eyes set on higher aspirations. Christmas is a time for giving, sharing, and love but it’s also a time for desperation. The year is almost over. It forces us to sit back and assess the progress we’ve made over the last twelve months. Sometimes all we want for Christmas is a better next year. For these four golfers, that means very different things.
What he wants for Christmas: A Major Championship
Let’s forget the “Best golfer who has yet to win a major” debate. It’s Steve Stricker. In his career, Strick has 12 victories and 101 top ten finishes. In addition to his successes, the Wisconsinite holds steady as the most respected player on tour. His putting advice helped Tiger Woods win five tournaments in 2013. Stricker’s straight armed pitching approach, “Stricker Style,” has not only revamped his career, but also those of other top golfers including Masters’ winner Adam Scott. When you think of Stricker you think of quality and consistency, two things that should translate into a major champion. And yet, he has never won on golf’s biggest stages. Stricker’s performance in majors may be even more surprising. In 60 events, he’s finished in the top ten a respectable eleven times. But he has never been all that close to winning. His second place finish at the 1998 PGA Championship, where Vijay Singh bested him by two strokes, remains Stricker’s best performance to date. At 46 years old, Stricker doesn’t have many chances left to grab that elusive major. He is hoping- and let’s be honest so are we- that 2014 proves to be his breakthrough.
What he wants for Christmas: A US Open
This is one of those gift requests that Santa takes a deep breath, shakes his head, and asks “You sure you don’t want a football?” Phil has the dubious record of placing second at six US Opens including the 2013 event at Merion Golf Club. Now, the man we affectionately call Lefty will play a reduced schedule in 2014 in hopes of saving his energy for another run at the one major that has eluded him. Phil wants the career grand slam. He’s said as much. But with injuries and, frankly, age catching up to him, his window is closing fast. Mickelson likely wakes up everyday wishing for a US Open, maybe more so on Christmas.
What he wants for Christmas: A new Twitter password
Lee Westwood had a really bad day on Twitter. That’s all. We’ve been there. But when you’re a professional athlete- let alone a professional golfer whose sport requires a strict adherence to the rules- a bad day can sway public opinion. Westwood took to Twitter to vent about his latest failure at a major championship in August when he fell out of contention on Sunday at the PGA. He called out his haters in a rant filled with invectives and fueled by alcohol. Although “Westy” eventually apologized, the damage was done. Men in their forties cannot spend time bickering with anonymous fans. So for Christmas, Westwood may request a new Twitter password, perhaps one he can never know. Like Stricker, the Englishman is in the “Best golfer who has yet to win a major” conversation. Would a Twitter-less Westy have a better chance at a victory? Maybe, but we’d sure miss his colorfulness.
United States Golf
What it wants for Christmas: A Ryder Cup Victory
Presidents Cup aside, the United States has been getting dominated in international competition. The Europeans comfortably won the Solheim Cup this past summer. The 2012 Ryder Cup was worse. Ian Poulter and Nicolas Colsaerts led a European charge to complete the Miracle at Medinah. Now the United States team is forced to cross the Atlantic in hopes of reclaiming a trophy it had held as its own for the better part of fifty years. Calling the 2014 Ryder Cup a must win for the US is a bit of an overstatement, but the tournament is paramount to restoring faith in American golf. The 2013 US Open winner was an Englishman. The 2013 US Amateur champion was an Englishman. The Europeans currently hold both the Ryder and Solheim Cups. The time is now for the Americans to take golf back.
Merry Christmas to all! May the golfers in your life get all of their presents this holiday.