The Golf Travel Guru Blog is my way of giving back and imparting the knowledge about golf travel Ive gained from circling the globe for the past 30 years. Its probably no surprise Ive played in golf travel havens like Scotland and Ireland numerous times, but Ive also teed it up in exotic locals like Kenya, Morocco, China and The Canary islands to name a few.
Let's face it, the Masters is Disney World for golfers. Walk around Augusta National during tournament week and you'll see the same unabashed happiness and gleeful smiles so prevalent at Mickey's place in Orlando.
Whether it's the grins you notice when first-timers see the circa 1970s concession prices or the "wow, look what I just scored" expression when people exit the merchandise store, you realize that while Disney World might be the happiest place on earth, Masters week is a close second.
I've been lucky enough to experience the Land of the Mouse and the Land of the Green Jacket and here are some of the little happy things I enjoyed that often go unnoticed about the Masters experience.
1. Cameras Allowed on Practice Days If you want a wide variety of pictures to document your experience, you certainly won't be taking any shots of Tiger in his back swing on the back nine on Sunday. The good news is cameras are allowed on the Practice Round Days (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday). Everything is a lot less stressed and relaxed on these days and you have the opportunity to take all sorts of pictures that you can use to re-live your experience when you get back home. Click HERE for helpful list of Dos and Don'ts regarding cell phones, backpacks, lawn chairs, etc.
2. Free Picture In Front of the Clubhouse It's not advertised anywhere on the grounds, but you can get a complimentary picture in front of the storied clubhouse complete with the flowers in the shape of the Masters logo in the background. It's easy, too. You get in line near the first hole of the short course, wait patiently (remember, too, never run to get in line) and you step up to the mark and look down towards Magnolia Lane and one of three photographers takes your picture. You pose, the picture is taken and the photographers gives you a small plastic card that allows you to retrieve you image later online.
3. Classic Umbrellas I'm not sure why but I absolutely, positively love the timeless green and white umbrellas behind the clubhouse. They just remind me of a simpler time before smartphones and tablets. The people sitting under them always seem to be happy and contented carrying on actual conversations with others instead of scrolling their phone screens.
4. Egg Salad Sandwich Yeah, yeah, the Pimento Sandwich gets all of the headlines, but my favorite is the Egg Salad Sandwich. First, you can hardly get them anymore as it has been banished somewhat as a 1950s relic sandwich choice. That said, the "Egg Sally" is made to perfection at the Masters. I'm not the only one that thinks so, either. Last year, Golf.com did a feature on the Top 16 concession items at the Masters and the Egg Salad Sandwich was rated No. 1 followed by the Classic Chicken and Pimento Cheese Sandwiches.
5. Hidden Concession Stands Unlike most tournaments where the concession stands are in high-profile positions to sell you $10 beers and $8 hot dogs, the Masters is very discreet in placing their concession complexes in tree-lined areas away from the fairways. You won't believe the prices, either. Think 1972! How about a: A Masters Club Sandwich for $2.50, Pimento Cheese Sandwich for $1.50, a domestic beer for $4.00 and Georgia Peach Ice Cream Sandwich for $2.00
6. Masters Coffee Mugs Out of all the souvenir loot I scored at the Masters Merchandise complex, my favorite is the coffee cup which cost around 12 bucks. Why? Because every single morning I can savor my coffee or tea and be reminded of my favorite golf tournament and all the happiness I experienced there. It's a phenomenal gift too with lots more staying power than a golf shirt or hat.
7. Orange Slices with Blue Moons Think of all the money Masters organizers could save if they didn't include an orange slice with your Blue Moon. But, then again, the Masters never, and I mean never, scrimps on anything. Like Disney, they do everything in the world to exceed expectations. There is a serving tray of oranges next to the "craft beer" tap and you make a simple request and "voila" you've got the quintessential Blue Moon beer experience. Best of all, it's only $5 instead of the $9 to $12 you pay at most sports events (without the orange, too).
8. Moon Pies When was the last time you had a Moon Pie? You can't find them much anymore, but you'll find this wondrous southern delicacy at the Masters. For first-timers, it consists of two round graham cracker cookies with marshmallow filling in the center and coated in chocolate. Wash it down with a Coca-Cola and you've got yourself a sugar high that'll last all 18 holes.
9. Old School Leaderboard Forget digital scoring, the traditional leaderboards are manually operated taking patrons (remember you're not a fan, but a patron at Augusta National) back in time. There's a main leaderboard near the clubhouse and eleven leaderboards set around the course, each listing the 10 lowest scorers at a given time.
10. Significant Signage Since you won't have your phone and you don't want to take time deciphering the layout map in the Spectator guide, the Masters has simple and unique directional signs located throughout the course. They're easy to follow and promote good traffic flow.
Welcome to the "Dream Season" in professional golf! The four majors in 2019 will be played at storied venues like Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland (The Open), Pebble Beach Golf Links (U.S. Open), Bethpage Black (PGA Championship) and, of course, Augusta National (Masters).
What could be better than that? How about the four winners being marquee names that will elevate golf interest and have the media salivating with countless story angles.
Here is my foursome of dream winners:
Tiger Woods -- The Masters
Let's face it, not everyone wants Tiger to wear another Green Jacket. He's a lot like the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees and Notre Dame Irish. You either love'em or hate'em and their doesn't seem to be much middle ground. I'm a big Tiger fan for the same reason everybody in the golf industry likes the Big Cat. He's made us all a lot of money. Whether you admit it or not, the golf universe still revolves around Tiger and a victory at Augusta would be the crescendo on his comeback from four back surgeries. America loves a great comeback and Tiger wearing green in the Butler Cabin would be the ultimate dream scenario for many golf fans.
Rory McIlroy -- The Open Championship
Rory grew up in Northern Ireland and played Royal Portrush on several occasions in his youth. He's the sentimental favorite and the storylines would be off the charts if he can somehow snare the Claret Jug at this magnificent seaside links layout. McIlroy, a 4-time major winner, knows how to close the deal at the Open. He bested Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia in 2014 at Royal Liverpool to capture the Jug. Guess who holds the competitive course record for a round at Royal Portush? McIlroy shot a 61 on the Dunluce Links in 2005. He's definitely got a home field advantage so he'll be an obvious favorite.
Brooks Koepka -- U.S. Open
While Koepka isn't exactly a media darling with his methodical, boring press conferences, his power game speaks for itself. My gosh, this Florida blond bomber is going for a three-peat in the U.S. Open. Sports Betting Dime has Brooks Koepka as one of the favorites at +1400 and with good reason. He is the two-time defending champion who seems to thrive in front of the home crowd. Often overlooked because of his length off the tee is Koepka's overall game. He spent a few years playing around the world before fully engaging on the PGA Tour and he enhanced his short game skills and putting on all types of surfaces and courses around the world. When he's on his game, Koepka looks like a modern day Jack Nicklaus. He overpowers golf courses and is not intimated by anybody, anywhere.
Rickie Fowler -- PGA Championship
A victory would finally put to rest the notion that Fowler is all hat and no cattle with more style than substance. Golf needs more youth golfers and a Fowler victory would, in a small way, help propel that movement. Most of the teenage and younger golfers grew up idolizing Rickie not Tiger. With his flat brim hats, colorful outfits, fancy shoes and strong social media presence, Rickie is the most appealing golfer to Generation Z (youngsters born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s). Fowler is charismatic and his skill level is equal to the best players in the world. If he could snare a Wannamaker trophy and hoist it high in his bright orange outfit, the future for golf will look just a little bit brighter.
It is probably worth mentioning before going on that one thing is for absolute certain; you are never going to get a general consensus in favor of one golf course being more picturesque or easier on the eye than the other. That’s just the way it is and for good reason given how subjective the matter is. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it very much depends on where you grew up in the world as to what has shaped your tastes.
Any honorable Californian will tell you Pebble Beach is the most beautiful course in the world while any Scot will tell you there is no better sight than St Andrews on a summer's evening in June. The list of personal favorites according to different nationalities is an indefinite one and really it is good for golf that there are so many breathtaking courses around the world.
So, you will never be able to agree on one but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few that are better than the rest; that’s as close as you will get to any sort of agreement. When the European Tour swings around to South Africa every December, it gives golf fans the world over a chance to see the wonders of Leopard Creek.
Based four and a half hours outside of Johannesburg, Leopard Creek is situated in South Africa’s Lowveld and in the town of Malelane. Malelane is renowned for its blisteringly hot temperatures and for the famous Kruger National park which is home to the Big Five: Lion, Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo and, of course, Leopard. The Kruger National Park is a massive game park that is bigger than both Israel and Wales and it is there, in the park, that you will find the Crocodile River traversing through its borders.
It is on the Crocodile River that the golf course Leopard Creek is built, which gives it one of the more dramatic landscapes and backdrops you will ever see surrounding a golf tournament. The timing of the event on the European Tour calendar makes it an ideal getaway for the players and their partners to enjoy arguably the best safari in the world with a bit of golf thrown in for good measure. Local hero Charl Schwartzel says Leopard Creek is his favorite golf course in the world but, then again, he would, as he has won on four separate occasions at the course.
The 2016 winner of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek Brandon Stone took home a cool £170k for his troubles and got to go out into the park most days after the golf had ended. There really isn’t a tournament like it and host Johann Rupert does go out of his way to spoil the golfers and even goes as far as to host a few of his favorite South African players in his salubrious digs looking overlooking the Crocodile River. You can be sure lots of the wonderful wine from the vineyards in Cape Town is flown up well in advance of the arrival of Ernie Els or Louis Oosthuizen at Rupert’s house.
Els is a longtime friend of Rupert and it is the businessman’s influence in Els’ life that has been integral to some of the success the Big Easy has enjoyed. Of course, all of South Africa would love their favorite golfing son to win another major, with his best chance probably coming at the Open in 2019 but, even then, Els is at odds of 200/1 in golf betting to do so. Still, even if Els doesn’t win another major, his loyal fans in the rainbow nation can watch him turn the clock back at Leopard Creek every year.
Leopard Creek underwent massive changes in 2017 as Rupert decided droughts could become more of a regular occurrence in South Africa and opted to switch the grass from Kikuyu to Bermuda. This meant the event didn’t take place as planned last season as the changes were put into effect.
By and large, the changes have been very well received by the players and, if anything, it has made Leopard Creek even more of a world-class establishment.
Some things have to be seen to be believed and a trip to Leopard Creek should be on every golfer's bucket list. There will be few better sights you will ever see than rounding the dog-leg on the par five 13th to see the majestic Crocodile River lying below the green. Even if you’ve managed to put your golf ball into the river with the crocs, nothing will stop you from enjoying one of the best moments you will ever experience on a golf course.
If you're planning a golf group outing or just attending one, check out what the Guru and other experts predict will be the leading trends in 2019 in the December issue of Meetings Today. Click to: Meetings Today Digital Magazine
A strong U.S. economy, a record number of Baby Boomers retiring and golf cruise popularity are a few of the reasons 2019 will be a great one for golf travel. With more discretionary income, a trusty set of golf clubs and a passport, golf travelers are primed to travel and play golf around the world next year.
Here are ten golf travel trends The Golf Travel Guru highlights for 2019:
1. Boomer Power According to AARP more than 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day. Baby Boomers are projected to have 70% of all U.S. disposable income over the next five years. As more and more Boomers retire or semi-retire they'll have more time and flexibility to travel. We'll see an uptick in Boomers traveling to play golf with their spouses, who also will have more time to travel. Boomers play more golf than any other age-group and many avid golfers are intent on playing the golf courses at the top of their bucket list. In 2019 and beyond, more Boomers will travel in off-peak seasons to capitalize on discounted trips. Many trip offerings like golf cruises, packages to majors like the Masters and British Open and pro-ams are designed to appeal to Baby Boomers. Millennials don't have the time, inclination or disposable income to take golf trips, but Boomers have all of these and a distinct passion for the game of golf.
2. Cruising to Golf
Grab your sticks and head for the open seas! Cruising is wildly popular with passenger growth from 17.8 million in 2009 to more than 27 million in 2018. For those who like to cruise and play golf, there are an increasing number of options. Companies like Kalos Golf Cruises and PerryGolf offer luxury cruises to a variety of destinations around the world. Golfahoy Golf Cruises are offered on 193 cruise ships, including European riverboats and luxury charters. At the 2018 Ryder Cup in France, Premier Golf Travel partnered with Viking River Cruises for a 10-day itinerary that included attendance at the Ryder Cup and cruising from Paris to Normandy. Premier Golf recently introduced a cruise to the Eastern Canada Maritime Provinces (Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island). Fore! Anchors Away!
3. Exclusivity and Personalization Golf travelers increasingly want golf trips designed to accommodate their personal preferences. They're willing to pay more to get special access to certain golf courses and personalized experiences. Getting clients on, say, Muirfield and the Old Course in Scotland, Sunningdale in England or Shadow Creek in Las Vegas rewards them with an exclusive golf experience that few others get to enjoy. According to Virtuoso's 2018 Luxe Report, luxury travelers are seeking experiences not found in a guidebook, advertisement or brochure. In golf travel, that translates to finding clients exceptional, off-the-beaten path or highly exclusive golf courses with limited play offered to the public.
4. Emerging Destinations France will see more golf travelers as a result of the massive exposure it received by hosting the 2018 Ryder Cup near Paris. Italy continues to promote golf more enthusiastically and will increase in popularity, especially for those who want to incorporate wine tours and tastings with golf. Two of my favorite Italian regions to tee up and sip vino are the Fruili-Venezia Guilia and Tuscany. Other emerging golf travel destinations include Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand and Dubai. In the U.S., Branson, Missouri has built several impressive courses in the past few years with designer tags like Gary Player, Tom Fazio and Ben Crenshaw and it's ready to take its place as a viable golf destination
5. Social Media Deals Golf Travel companies are increasing their presence on social media and they often post information and package deals on unique golf destinations, special event trips and tournaments or pro-ams. They also frequently post about discounted last-minute deals as they try to fill the remaining spots on a trip or cruise. Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin are popular outlets where you'll find postings on packages and events. Instagram is a great resource to see images of the golf courses you might be playing and the pubs where you might be celebrating after a round.
6. Improving Golf Travel Websites Golf Travel companies are continuing to expand and improve their websites to give golf travelers easier ways to find information about destinations and courses and get quotes. With online request forms, online trip calculators, website blogs, live online chats clients will find it increasingly easier to book trips quicker with a better knowledge of all costs involved and which courses have available tee times in their desired destination.
7. Impactful Women Women are very influential in couples golf trip decisions regardless if they play golf or not. Golf destinations with a plethora of off-the-course activities such as shopping, sightseeing, dining spas, wine tours and cooking schools are increasingly more popular. The couples golf trip, especially for Baby Boomers, has evolved to include less golf these days with more activities for a more well-balanced experience. Destinations ideal for couples who want top-notch golf and a wealth of things to do away from the fairways includes Italy, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The LPGA Tour, which has several high-profile tournaments in the Pacific Rim (Korea, Thailand and Japan), has elevated interest in that part of the world for golf travelers. The 2019 Solheim Cup (the ladies version of the Ryder Cup) will be played in September at Gleneagles in Scotland giving central Scotland a boost in exposure.
8. U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A Scotland and Ireland never go out of style for golf travelers, but an increasing number of golf tour operators are now selling the U.S.A. Fact is, you don't have to cross the pond anymore for an exceptional links golf experiences. Hugely popular nouveau American resort complexes like Bandon Dunes in Oregon and Whistling Straits in Wisconsin offer waterside links-style golf and Streamsong Resort in Florida and Sand Valley in Wisconsin feature unique links-style experiences with fast fairways, dramatic sand dunes and lots of bump and run shots. Despite costly greens fees, golfers are still flocking to Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pinehurst No. 2 and the TPC Stadium Course at Sawgrass. The top value-oriented U.S. destinations are the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Northern Michigan, Branson, Missouri and Mesquite, Nevada.
While Ireland is often viewed as Scotland's baby brother in the world of golf travel, the Emerald Isle will take center stage in 2019 with the playing of the Open Championship (July 14-17) at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. It's shaping up to be one of the best Open's ever as the local citizens purchased more than than 1/5 of the public access tickets in the first 48 hours of posting. Northern Ireland hasn't held the event since 1951 so you might say there's some pent up demand. I predict the crowd noises will be booming roars similar to the Ryder Cup and The Masters. Following the immense exposure from the Open, it doesn't take a soothsayer, or even a Golf Travel Guru, to predict Northern Ireland will become a very popular destination for golf travelers. Heading the list of must plays in the region are Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Lough Erne, Castlerock and Ardglass.
10. The Spa Life Instead of heading to the 19th hole to hoist a few, an increasing number of golfers are heading straight to the spa. They've traded in a Jameson and ginger or frosty micro-brew for a post round treatment that'll help them rejuvenate for the next day on the golf course. The most popular massages for golfers are Swedish, Deep Tissue and Sports. Even resort complexes teeming with core golfers like Bandon Dunes and Streamsong offer spa services. Some the best golf resorts with spas include Sea Island, Georgia, PGA National Resort & Spa, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, The Boulders, Scottsdale, Arizona and Fairmont Mayakoba, Cancun, Mexico.
Yes, I wrote it and I believe it. Tiger's going to slip on another Green Jacket in the Butler Cabin in April.
I'm not the only one making the prediction, either. Lots of oddsmakers think so, too.
Tiger is currently the odds on favorite followed closely by Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Here's why Tiger is the favorite to win the 2019 Masters:
Tiger's confidence from winning the Tour Championship
Who can forget that phenomenal scene in Atlanta at East Lake when thousands of fans crowded around the 18th green on Sunday as Tiger put the finishing touches on his victory. The exuberant throng was reminiscent of Bobby Jones being celebrated at the 1930 Amateur Championship at St Andrews. It was Tiger's first win in five years and signaled golf world that he truly was back after multiple back surgeries and other personal setbacks. With this high-profile win, Tiger proved to himself and the doubters that he had not forgotten how to win. You could tell in the follow-up media interview that his confidence was back.
He' Done It--He's Won It
Tiger has won the Masters four times (1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005). His most notable was the first one, when he essentially lapped the field with a 12-stroke victory. It was his first career major championship. If he wins in 2019, he'll move ahead of Arnie for the second-most Masters victories behind Jack Nicklaus, who has six. Oh yeah, he's won 14 majors and 80 PGA Tour events, so he knows what it's going to take to win at Augusta.
He Knows Augusta National and how to play it
Woods first played Augusta National as a 19-year old amateur in 1995. He has played in the Masters 21 times during his career. Always inquisitive about the golf course, Tiger has always enjoyed the Champions Dinner each year because it gave him a chance to talk about what it takes to win with legendary champions like Nicklaus, Palmer and Players. Woods knows exactly what shots to hit and how to read the greens. If he has his "A" game and executes, he'll be wearing another Green Jacket in 2019.
He wants to win this tournament more than any other
While Tiger has had some amazing victories in his career, arguably, the most meaningful was the 1997 Masters, which signaled to the golf universe that he was truly a transcendent player. The emotional embrace with his father on the 18th green and the significance of his impressive victory running away from the field, make it one of the highlights of his career. Second to that memory was the 2005 Masters when he sunk an impossible chip shot at the 16th. Woods went on to beat Chris DiMarco in a play-off.
The rise of Eddie Pepperell from the depths of the official world golf rankings is one that inspires golfers the world over. The extent to which Pepperell is able to influence novice players is slightly different than that what Dustin Johnson is able to. Standing at 5'10 and weighing 73 kgs (160 lbs.), Pepperell is by no means your physical specimen.
The most notable attribute that makes Pepperell stand out from the rest of the tour players isn’t his physical makeup, but rather his eloquence. Despite being a deep thinker and an intellectual, it’s very easy for fans to relate to what Pepperell is saying given how transparent and honest he is when a mic is in front of him. It makes a welcome change to the robotic answers we have grown to expect from most of the tour pros.
That’s why when Pepperell wins, it’s a win for golf as a sport as this is an individual who is likely to attract a host of new fans and sponsors, even if he doesn't have one himself just yet. Yes, that's right: Eddie Pepperell doesn’t have a hat sponsor. When you consider that a simple name on a cap can earn a tour player millions of pounds every year, it does seem mind boggling that he has chosen not to have one, but that’s Eddie Pepperell: different in every way.
The sponsors admittedly weren’t lining up to have their brand featured on Pepperell's head last year and as recently as May 2017, the young Englishman was outside the top 500 golfers in the world. Languishing in the doldrums of professional golf, Pepperell’s career was at a crossroads after he lost his tour card in agonising fashion in Portugal at the end of 2016 only to win it back at Q-School a couple of weeks later. Despite earning back his playing privileges it was turning out to be another season where progress just wasn’t forthcoming.
A top ten in June 2017 at the Nordea Masters was followed by a tie for 16th at the US Open, which kick-started something within the 27-year-old. Pepperell would claim his maiden win on tour after 129 starts in February 2018 as he won the Qatar Masters. More success was to follow with a second-place finish at the Scottish Open and sixth at the Open.
It was just last week that Pepperell won the British Masters, which illustrates yet again what a startling turnaround it has been from the depths of despair he found himself in during 2016 and half of 2017. Winning doesn’t seem to be a once off and Pepperell is proving his success isn't a flash in the pan.
So, what next – a major? Before anyone spits out their tea, you only have to look at Pepperell’s rise and performance at majors to think he has a good chance of winning one. The odds may not suggest it, with moplay.co.uk's listed odds for the 2019 Open Championship having Pepperell at 125/1 to win, but you shouldn't forget this is a man who finished sixth at the Open this year and did so whilst feeling the effects of a heavy night the evening prior.
The Englishman admitted to feeling hopeless the night before the final round at Carnoustie so he and his swing coach enjoyed a few too many glasses of wine. In his post-round interview Pepperell came clean and admitted he was hungover.
Golf now has a champion we can all get behind and root for. There’s no flashy Instagram feeds, self-praise or regurgitated answers when it comes to Eddie Louis Pepperell. What you see is very much what you get and that is something golf has been crying out for.
The 2018/19 golf season is up and running and although there is some big prize money and early FedEx Cup points up for grabs this month, many of the top players give themselves a few extra weeks off as they plan their schedule to peak around the Major Championships. The four big tournaments are the ones every golfer dreams of winning. Here are three players who could break their maiden in 2019 as they look to be improving all the time.
Over the last two years, Tommy Fleetwood has made an almighty rise up the world rankings and has now established himself as one of the leading players either side of the pond. The 27-year-old played an integral role in helping Europe win back the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National last month and with his confidence being sky high at the moment, it would be no surprise to see the Englishman win a Major next year.
Fleetwood had his highest place finish in a Major in 2018 as he finished second in the US Open. That is a tournament the man from England clearly enjoys as he was also fourth in 2017. Fleetwood can be backed at 33/1 in the golf betting to go one better next year by winning the second Major on the golf calendar.
It is a surprise to everyone in golf that Rickie Fowler has still yet to win a Major. The American now has nine top-10 finishes in the big four events. In 2014 Fowler finished inside the top five of the US Masters, US Open, Open Championship and US PGA Championship. Unfortunately, 2018 wasn’t Fowler’s best season of his career as he failed to record a single victory, however, he once again played well at Augusta as he was second behind Patrick Reed.
Fowler has the game to win any tournament he enters. If he continues to play well in the big events, he will land his maiden Major and that may come in April where he is 16/1 to land the Green Jacket at the US Masters. Jon Rahm Like Fleetwood, Spaniard Jon Rahm played his role in helping Europe beat USA in Paris. Rahm won his singles match against Tiger Woods on the Sunday, an indication of how fearless the 23-year-old is. Earlier this year, the Arizona State graduate rose up to as high as number two in the world rankings following his success in the CareerBuilder Challenge. Later in the season, Rahm scored in his home country when he appeared on the European Tour in the Open de Espana.
In 2018 Rahm started the Major Championships with a fourth-place finish in the Us Masters. Augusta looked to be a course which suited the European golfer as he is a big hitter off the tee, therefore, he took advantage of the par-5 holes at the course in Georgia. Rahm also recorded a tie for fourth place in the US PGA Championship which was won by Brooks Koepka.
The opening Major of 2019 begins on the 11th of April at Augusta when the world’s leading players tee off in the US Masters.
Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn has received a fair amount of criticism from the golfing pundits after naming his four wildcard picks for this year’s tournament. Form was said to be clinically overlooked in favour of experience as Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson joined up with those that had qualified from the European and World points list.
Bjorn has played it safe, but has he got his selection right?
No Weak Links
Tiger Woods by Keith Allison
One of Thomas Bjorn’s concerns would have arisen from the fact that reigning Ryder Cup champions the United States will go into this tournament with one of the strongest teams for many years. Even though they are conceding home advantage this time, comparison site Oddschecker shows that Jim Furyk’s squad are odds-on favourites to retain the title that they won two years ago and it’s easy to see why.
Among the roster is double 2018 Major winner Brooks Koepka and the current US Masters Champion Patrick Reed. Dustin Johnson, who has only just lost his World Number One ranking, also features as do Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson who has won three tournaments on the PGA Tour this season.
Tiger Woods is included as a Captain’s pick after a strong return from injury while Furyk, unlike Bjorn, has gone for form above reputation by including Tony Finau. It’s a formidable line up so what have Europe got to offer in return?
Pride of Spain
Sergio Garcia & Francesco Molinari by myphoto
The main media focus has been on Sergio Garcia who becomes the first man in the history of the Ryder Cup to line up in the tournament having missed the cut in all four preceding Majors. On the plus side, here is a man who was Masters Champion less than 18 months previously and across a long professional career, the 38-year-old has recorded no fewer than 33 tournament wins.
During this year’s competition, Garcia could also overtake Sir Nick Faldo to become the leading European points scorer in the history of the Ryder Cup so we can, at least, empathise with Thomas Bjorn’s dilemma.
Ian Poulter by TourProGolfClubs
Paul Casey could only be seen as a contentious pick because the Englishman has committed to the PGA Tour for many years. He’s been consistent across the Atlantic and won the Valspar Championship earlier this season so there’s no real concern over form for a man who has appeared in three previous Ryder Cups.
Ian Poulter has also made a recovery of sorts in 2018 after he dropped out of the world’s Top 200. Victory at the Houston Open in April this year suggests that ‘Poults’ is back and he will undoubtedly prove his worth as the talisman who inspires the rest of the team.
That leaves 2016 British Open Champion Henrik Stenson where the concern is not over quality but whether the Swede is fully fit following a recent injury. Overall, the European wildcards are an experienced bunch and while form isn’t there in every case, the team will need that experience as they face what is arguably the best US side in the history of the competition.
Love him or hate him, you really have to hand it to Tiger Woods. After making his eagerly awaited comeback in January earlier this year at Torrey Pines, Tiger has gone on to make an impressive 17 starts in 2018 thus far and has mounted serious title challenges at Carnoustie, Bellerive, Bay Hill and Innisbrook, whilst qualifying for the season-ending Tour Championship in the process. Moreover, Woods also managed to force his way into Jim Furyk's Ryder Cup plans and perhaps most importantly, has shown glimpses of the game which has seen him land 14 major titles. However, the question on everyone's lips remains, can Tiger land the illustrious 15th and if so, how does he go about achieving that in 2019?
Play Smart But Plan Smarter
Despite the fact that Tiger is now seemingly pain-free, it's important to remember that he's no spring chicken at 42 and with the gruelling modern-day professional golfing schedule to contend with, Woods needs to plan smart if he's to have any chance of landing another major title. Much like Woods' fellow Nikecompatriot Roger Federer has done for the past 3 years with regards to the French Open and entire clay court season, Woods should look to pick and choose his tournaments wisely in order to give his body and his mind time to refocus and recuperate.
Of course, you could argue that Federer's reasons partly lie in the fact that Rafael Nadal is as good as unbeatable on clay and that trying to wrestle the Roland Garros title from his grasp is almost futile but by the same token, the rest has demonstrably improved Federer's results on grass and he has spoken numerous times about how important it is to feel fresh when you're advancing in years; Tiger Woods could do much worse than take note of this advice - perhaps he can use this extra downtime to build and design some new courses?
Forget About Winning
As the old adage goes, "The harder you try, the worse it gets." Ultimately, golf is the same as any sport in that you tend to play your best stuff when you're most relaxed and enjoying yourself. Woods has really come to the fore in the past couple of months and it's plain for everyone to see that the American is simply enjoying being able to play the sport he loves without any hindrance. Although it may sound paradoxical at first, Woods' biggest strength could also be his biggest downfall when it comes to trying to land that illustrious 15th major - the competitive streak which has seen him become one of the most decorated players of all time could also lead to him trying a little too hard and few golfers have found success when operating with this mentality.
Instead, Woods should stick to simply enjoying playing golf again and events such as the upcoming Showdown at Shadow Creek should help the 42-year-old in this regard. Woods will go head to head vs Phil Mickelson during Thanksgiving week for a total purse of $9 million and, as of 11th September, Woods is the 4/7 favourite with Betway to come out on top in one of the most eagerly anticipated one-off matches the sport has ever seen.
Keep Being Tiger
Despite his namesake being a ferocious predator in its own right, Tiger is much more like a shark in that when he smells blood, you're in big trouble. Over the years, it's impossible to recall how many good golfers have crumbled in the last round when they knew that Woods is hot on their heels and back in the day (whenever that was), if Tiger took a sizeable lead into the final days play then the result was almost a foregone conclusion. The point is that the name Tiger Woods still strikes fear into the heart of the opposition and he should continue to play on this as well as rallying the crowds, all of whom will undoubtedly be rooting for him to succeed.
Top 10 Tiger Woods Majors Moments - YouTube
Tiger's Comeback Is a Victory In Itself
Those who purchased his recently-released biography on eBay or Amazon will be aware of the hardships and sacrifices Tiger has made over the last couple of years in order to facilitate his comeback - when you consider that many top commentators believed he would never be the same after his injury problems, the fact that he's back out on the course in any capacity is remarkable. However, we're all aware by now that this won't be enough for Woods and so, with that being said, can he land his 15th major title? As reported in the Express, Nick Faldo certainly seems to think so and that's good enough for us.