By the time the final putt was holed at the 2016 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, our thoughts collectively shifted to the following spring. It’s all about the majors.
With that, we have four more major championship events to rally around for the 2016 golf season, starting with the Masters this spring. After that we head to Oakmont, Royal Troon, and Baltustrol.
2016 Major Championship Predictions
You wonder how Augusta will change in the coming years if not this April.
A course that has ostensibly been the same since its inception—at least in spirit—has been tweaked and reshaped at different times to counter the progress of the sport. The track that Tiger Woods obliterated in 1997 was not the same one he survived in 2005. Jordan Spieth’s winning -18 last year matched Tiger’s record from ’97.
Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose tied for second at -14 last year. Rory McIlroy finished solo fourth at -12. It didn’t necessarily play easy, but Augusta National certainly gave every golfer an opportunity to chase down Spieth on Sunday. Look for tougher pin positions come April, narrower fairways and other subtle changes to see if the legendary course can take back the fight.
Can't have Masters commercials yet. It's too early
— Dillon Friday (@noclassfriday) January 9, 2016
Here are 3 to watch…
Bubba Watson: It’s the every other year rule. Bubba can shape shots better than anyone in golf. No challenge, therefore, is too great for him.
Hideki Matsuyama: Quietly came in at fifth place a year ago. Matsuyama is still looking for his breakthrough at a major. If you look closely, though, you can see a younger Jason Day in this Japanese budding star.
Zach Johnson: The last time the course played super difficult, Johnson walked off with the Green Jacket. It’s something to keep in mind as the Drake product continues to punch above his weight with his new sticks.
Paul Casey (Dillon Friday @noclassfriday)
This pick is purely a hunch (although I suppose all picks, in a way, are). But Casey’s rebuilt his career following a string of poor play in the last five years. A season ago, he quietly put together a strong campaign. Casey posted eight top-10’s including two playoff losses. Aside from Justin Rose, he was the best England had to offer in 2015.
If you look at Casey’s Masters record it’s a bit spotty. On one hand, there were two missed-cuts, a T38, and two DNP’s between 2010 and 2014. On the other, he boasts a T11, a T10, and a pair of T6’s.
Last year, he tied that best-ever finish despite shooting 74 on Saturday. Three rounds in the 60’s, however, bode well for the rejuvenated 38-year-old. I like him to win in somewhat surprising fashion.
Rory McIlroy (Troy Klongerbo @troy_usgolftv)
The wait for the career Grand Slam and the green jacket for Rory concludes in 2016.
Four years ago, given the state of his game and his play, some would have probably assumed the Masters would have been the first for him to claim. But the green jacket rapidly filed it’s way to the end of the line, behind a US Open, an Open, and two PGAs.
With four major majors already in tow, McIlroy is in pursuit of the only glaring gap on his illustrious resume. And his game fits this place glowingly, as it does most anywhere. Since 2012, he’s progressively faired better as the wounds have healed– T40, T25, T8 and solo 4th last year.
He’ll come in with a mental edge similar to Jordan Spieth in 2015.
He’s finally ready to put this behind him:
"…a major or two." Rory couples confidence and humility about as well as anyone in the sport. Tiger never close. https://t.co/IeKyjctLt8
— Troy Klongerbo (@troyklongerbo) November 25, 2015
US Open: Oakmont C.C.
This has been called by many, to be the most difficult golf course in the world.
Which Oakmont will the players see in 2016? Hopefully a different one than the 2007 version that ate up the professionals.
On a ridiculously long, 7200+ yard, par-70 track, Angel Cabrera won his first major with a 5-over-par score. He shot 76(!) on moving day. That shouldn’t happen. An 11-over score gets you an early exit most places. Nine years ago, you would’ve collected a top-10.
You have to think the USGA will come back with a unique look in June for two reasons. One, they want to capitalize on the excitement of last year’s finish. Two, they need to offset the ill will of the trip to Chambers Bay, which was widely panned by players and experts alike.
Oakmont will still play long with its trademark hills and surrounding trees (planted to help transition the country club from its origins as a links course). Arnold Palmer called this place home. Johnny Miller shot a final round 63 here to win the 1973 US Open. Who will add his name to the folklore in Western PA?
Here are 3 to watch…
Jordan Spieth: He thrived in the pressure and difficult conditions at Chambers Bay. Nothing derailed his pursuit of a second consecutive Major. Spieth is always in contention. We needn’t say more.
Justin Rose: The Englishman’s lone major came at another hallowed Pennsylvania course. Merion bottled up the pros like few tournaments before or since. Rose was able to make a charge with composed play and precision drives. He’ll do the same at Oakmont.
Brooks Koepka: Koepka can go low at any round. The US Open presents a paradox of sorts for players. With thick rough and narrow fairways, the tournament has little room for error during rounds. But because of that, one bad round won’t knock anyone out of contention. If Koepka posts low-to-mid 60’s, regardless of when, he’ll stick around.
Dustin Johnson (Troy Klongerbo @troy_usgolftv)
Revenge in the sweetest way.
Given the scope of his talent, I’m not sure anyone in golf would have placed high wagers in 2009 that Dustin Johnson would still be without a major championship. His fans can identify with Sergio fans.
A bomber in every true meaning of the term, few in the world of game play a game similar to Johnson’s. Adherently, few golf courses in the world play the way Oakmont does. With long, arduous fairways and large, waving greens, something about this golf course sets up wonderfully for Dustin’s game. Remember the tee shot Dustin hit at the 72nd hole of the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay?
Thread the needle.
With the ability to hit that drive, some of Oakmont’s fairways will stand no chance.
Here’s a semi-reminder of what this guy was able to do in 2015:
Rory McIlroy (Dillon Friday @noclassfriday)
You get a sense that McIlroy thrives when the drama ticks up as well as the pressure. Just look at his closing stretch at Valhalla a year-and-a-half ago. McIlroy looked agitated. He looked downright pissed off that someone was going to rob him of a second consecutive major. And then he bludgeoned a three-wood, sank an eagle putt and the rest is history.
I believe that Jordan Spieth’s 2015, coupled with Jason Day’s ascension, bothered Rory in the same way.
As his competitors were out winning majors, McIlroy was stuck nursing a bum ankle he more or less injured goofing off. He’ll be back this season with a vengeance and to reclaim his position atop the golf world. And Oakmont, the hallowed ground of Arnold Palmer, with all its history and glory, provides the perfect setting.
The Open: Royal Troon
Located in Scotland, just off the western coast of the United Kingdom, Royal Troon Golf Club exists as one of the oldest courses in GB. For those of you curious, the courses boasts a 4.4/5 rating on Google (which I can’t imagine is accurate), but does rank at #76 of Golf Digest’s top-100 courses in the world.
Among the many interesting things of Royal Troon, one which stands alone is the “Postage Stamp” par-3 8th hole. World-famous, the hole sits below an elevated tee box, playing only 120 yards– it’s the shortest hole in Open Championship golf. It reminds many of the 7th at Pebble Beach, where perhaps there was inspiration.
This year’s course will be dependent, yet again, on the weather and the conditions leading up to. Last time we were here, it was Todd Hamilton winning in possibly the most odd Open Champion in history (throw Ben Curtis into the mix). Justin Leonard and Mark Calcavecchia also got on the board here.
The club’s professional from 1887-1924 was named Willie Fernie. That is all.
Here are 3 players to watch:
Phil Mickelson: “What the hell,” you’re probably thinking, “Phil??” But at age 45 (he’ll be 46 by the Open), Phil still has the game to hang with the youth of today’s game. He’s shown with his win in 2013, that his game can travel and compete in Open Championships. Also, in 2004, Mickelson finished T3 only one stroke out of a playoff the last time the Open came to Royal Troon.
Rickie Yukuata Fowler: Yes, his middle name is Yukata. But Rickie will again find contention at the Royal Troon this summer. Two top-5 finishes in the past 5 playings of the Open bodes well for Rickie’s style of play and given his breakout 2014 and 2015 seasons, he’ll keep finding success year after year in these events which suit him.
Matthew Fitzpatrick: One of England’s rising stars, Fitzpatrick has the talent to start contending in majors as soon as 2016. The 2013 United States Amateur champion played Royal Troon in 2012 for the British Amateur, failing to qualify for the match play portion of the event. His course experience will aid him into contention.
Matt Kuchar (Troy Klongerbo @troy_usgolftv)
Phil was burned above in our “3 players to watch,” so I’ll have to go with someone else–dammit. Following the trend at Royal Troon, I’m going to pick Matt Kuchar. This will be his breakthrough in the major championships.
With Americans winning a suspicious 6 consecutive Open champions played at Troon, Kuchar is the player to fill in for 2016, the 7th installment of American winners. What about this course appeals to American-style play? It’s a true links course, down to it’s roots. But there must be something.
Kuchar has had success in Opens before. In 2 of his last 4 starts, he’s finished inside the top-15 and has made the cut in 5 of his 6 starts.
The Open has a way of crowning the unlikely winners. It has a way of creating champions of older players, players seemingly who’ve missed their windows of opportunity. I wish so much I was saying this about Steve Stricker, but I am saying it about Kooch. With another 7 top-10s in 2015 (including two top-15s in majors), his game is still alive. He has a major in him.
He’s your 2016 Open Champion.
Matt Kuchar is 37. Does he seem older or younger?
— Troy Klongerbo (@troyklongerbo) January 14, 2016
Jason Day (Dillon Friday @noclassfriday)
Over the years, the British Open has produced the most opportunistic winners. Take, for example, Zach Johnson. With several players at the top of the leaderboard, Johnson closed with a dramatic birdie to put himself into a winning position. He earned his second major with a playoff victory.
I’d argue that no golfer, not McIlroy nor Spieth, capitalizes on opportunity better than Day. He’s downright lethal when he’s determined. Just look at his performance at Whistling Straits. Day left no doubt. And the way he played in the playoffs? Same story.
He’ll lift the Claret Jug at Royal Troon.
PGA Championship: Baltustrol
Consistently ranked inside the top-20 courses in the United States, Baltustrol is as classic of a design as there is in golf. Located in New Jersey, the course is home to the richest movers and shakers in the greater New Jersey/Pennsylvania area. Oh yeah, and no cell phones on the grounds, please.
This course was made to be a PGA Championship design. It fits in beautifully with the courses which typically find themselves in PGA Championship ilk. But throughout it’s history, Baltustrol’s Lower Course has only hosted one PGA Championship–an event won by Phil Mickelson in 2005.
According to Wikipedia, the course was named after Baltus Roll (1769–1831), a man who farmed the land where the club is built. In 1831, he was murdered by two thieves who thought he possessed a treasure. The course wasn’t built until the late 1890s.
A true relic of American golf.
Here are three to watch:
Jim Furyk: Does this not just seem like a Jim Furyk type golf course? Baltustrol is a big, plod your way around type venue with thick, classic rough and demands accuracy. Depending on how Jim’s game makes it through the summer, this is a place I could see him doing well.
Pat Perez: If he makes it into the field, he could be a player to watch. Ranked currently 163rd in the world, the PGA Championship is the only major Perez has competed in in the past 5 years. His 6th place finish at Baltustrol in 2005 is the only top-10 of his major career.
Fun fact. When the Philadelphia Phillies won the 2008 World Series, Perez, who had befriended many of the players, considered himself a member of the team. He has an affinity for this area.
Henrik Stenson: Still majorless, this ball-striking king will still be a striker come August. Stenson is a player who should find his way into contention often given his style of play and utter consistency. He has top-10s in 4 of the past 7 PGA Championships and made the cut here in 2005.
Dustin Johnson (Dillon Friday @noclassfriday)
It has to happen eventually. Right? That’s all I can say.
I know I left Spieth off this list. I left out DJ’s fellow major-less star Rickie Fowler, too. I just get the sense that at some point Johnson will slay the dragon. He’ll post a score so low that even he can’t give it away.
And Baltusrol, which will host the 2016 PGA Championship, sounds like the name of a Lord of the Rings baddy or a video game boss. This is Johnson’s monster to conquer.
Patrick Reed (Troy Klongerbo @troy_usgolftv)
His ascent into the world’s top-10 will only continue throughout the 2016 PGA Tour season. By the time August rolls around, he will be seething from his mouth thinking about the Ryder Cup. I don’t doubt for a second that his game won’t be in tip top shape when the players roll into New Jersey.
He has limited experience in majors, but in two starts in the PGA, he’s made the cut both times. He has no top-10s in majors, but we all know the floodgates will get let out soon enough. This may be the year.
I remember back to the way Patrick managed his game at Doral winning the first WGC event of his career, before proclaiming himself King of the World. On a difficult course under difficult conditions, he held off the best players and managed his game impeccably. When the tough conditions kick up at Baltustrol, unlike what we saw in 2015 at Whistling Straits, I think it will be Reed puffing his chest out in a serious way.
Already getting fired up for the2016 Ryder Cup! pic.twitter.com/GQ9celEWSa
— Troy Klongerbo (@troyklongerbo) January 14, 2016