Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Mackenzie Hughes led from start to finish at the RSM Classic, then made a terrific putt in the Monday playoff to win his first PGA Tour title. What’s your take on Hughes victory and what do you expect now from the Canadian rookie?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): After missing two makeable putts on the first two playoff holes (albeit in almost pitch black conditions, Mackenzie could’ve easily folded and botched the first hole in the morning. But he didn’t, which speaks to strength of character as well as talent. I see good things ahead for this young man, but I’m also aware of how truly exceptional you have to be to win more than once on the PGA Tour, much less to keep your card.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): What a way to start the week, watching Hughes drain a long par putt to capture his first PGA Tour victory! Makes all Canadians feel a bit warmer on a morning when we wake up to our first snow of the year in Toronto. Mackenzie has a very good pedigree and was always expected to have some success, but for it to come this quickly is amazing. He has won wherever he has played, topping the PGA Tour Canada money list in 2013. He was so successful there that they seemed to have named the tour after him! As for his future, it’s certainly bright, and this takes the pressure off of him for the next little while, with a guaranteed card for two years. Hopefully that lets him set a schedule that affords him rest when he needs it, and thus the best chance at success. He already had success prior to this event, with 4 out of 5 cuts made and a T13 at the Safeway, but now he doesn’t have to play every week and tire himself out trying to stay in the top 125. That’s a huge help, and I expect him to contend again before this new season ends next September.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Very impressive victory by Mac, he showed it all, resilience, poise, composure, calmness. I don’t know the number, but not many have lead wire to wire to win. But, that tells the people who don’t know Mac a little something about him. He’s won at every level, he has competed at, and has accomplished some unique things along the way… how about back to back Canadian Am titles (2011-2012)? What do I expect out of Mac? I expect him to continue this path, he’ll learn the tracks on Tour, study them (he’s a very cerebral player), and he’ll succeed. He has a very good support group behind him, and a great attitude. He will not be complacent with this win, this is only the beginning. I also expect he’ll put himself in position to win a few more times before the end of the year. And he responds well to pressure if we didn’t notice this week. Can’t wait to see the show and the Big Mac Attack.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I was really impressed by how Hughes hung in there on Sunday even though he wasn’t making any putts. The young man showed some maturity and grit well beyond his years in the victory and can now enjoy the remainder of his rookie season without having to stress over retaining his status. Any other tournament that he wins or places well in for the remainder of the season will just be a bonus and that should free Hughes up mentally to play some excellent golf. I am hoping for big things from this young man.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: His calm demeanour was so impressive — and that was during a Saturday afternoon Golf Channel interview. Going wire to wire and keeping it together after a 61 is beyond stunning, and for a rookie! He seems to have it all. This could be the first of many Tour wins. Polite, articulate with a self-deprecating sense of humour — so Canadian, eh?
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Mackenzie reminds me a lot of Jim Furyk – quiet confidence, rarely makes a mistake, nothing flashy but always in contention. The one thing I was never sure of was if he had the ability to go really low. He showed he could do that in the opening round of the RSM Classic with a 61 that could have been even better. And the way he held it together over four rounds and the playoffs showed a lot more resolve and maturity than you usually see in rookies. If he can continue to do that, I think we’ll see lots more of Mackenzie in the winner’s circle. He’s got all the tools and is off to a great start.
The last time Jordan Spieth won the Australian Open he went on to a monstrous 2015 season with five wins including two majors. The Texan says he’s rested after a whirlwind 2016 schedule and has a better handle on how to manage his time going forward. Do you expect we’ll see an improved Spieth in the upcoming season?
Deeks: I sure hope so. A year ago, we were all talking about a Big Three separating themselves from the mere mortals… Spieth, Day, and McIlroy. That didn’t quite materialize in 2016, and now we have to add Dustin Johnson and perhaps Henrik Stenson into the mix. But of all these guys, the one I like best is Spieth, for his incredible talent, but also his maturity, humility and sense of sportsmanship. I hope he has another monstrous year ahead.
Rule: I’m sure he’ll be improved over last year, but to expect him to match his 2015 year is overly optimistic. He still doesn’t drive the ball well enough to dominate the tour like he has before. He’ll always be in contention because his short game can save him when he’s hitting it all over the lot. I just hope he matures a bit on the golf course this year, and stops whining when he only hits a wedge to 15 feet. It gets a bit annoying and I find myself not wanting to watch him play, which is a shame, because I’ve always been a fan.
Loughry: I think Jordan will have a better 2017, but it may not match up to 2015. There are some world class players at the top of the game right now, and only four Majors and a handful of other marquee events to win. I’m sure he’ll do some damage in 2017, and its going to be a fun year to watch if those top players can all stay healthy.
Kaplan: I don’t know if you can predict future success from the outcome of one tournament in November just because that was the tournament that started the ball for him last time. Kind of a stretch if you ask me … However, if Spieth says that he is feeling good than I would take that as a positive sign going forwards because he is pretty much unstoppable when he is firing on all cylinders.
Quinn: Tough to say that a kid in his early 20s is maturing, but that whirlwind cash grab last year was immature of him and especially his handlers. His grandkids have no need of money, so what were they all thinking? Rested and focussed doesn’t necessarily mean a return to number one. There are a lot of guys out there with the same approach and as much talent but he should have a better season.
Mumford: The win is nice but the key to Spieth’s 2017 season is that he better understands the concept of rest. Young people think they’re invincible and maybe their bodies can withstand the rigours of constant play and world travel but the mind is different and it needs time off to re-calibrate and refresh. You could see it in Brooke Henderson’s play at the end of the season after playing 31 events. She just didn’t have the sharpness she needed to contend. If Spieth has figured it out, then I think he’ll be World #1 again and will contend in all the majors this year. He may not have the awe-inspiring games of McIlroy, Day or Johnson but I think he’s the strongest mentally of any player on Tour and that will be the winning factor in a long and illustrious career.
On Sunday, England’s Charley Hull won the CME Globe championship and Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn claimed the LPGA points race. New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and South Korea’s In Gee Chun battled for the Vare Trophy and Canada’s Brooke Henderson finished third on the LPGA Tour season. No American finished in the Top 10. Dottie Pepper recently commented, “The Americans are out-motivated, out-focused and out-driven, and it’s showing up. Nobody wants to hear that, but all you have to do is look at the results.” Is she correct?
Deeks: Dottie may well be right, but no one should assume that the Americans have given up, and are just showing up. If anything, I think they’re all so shocked by the Asian invasion that they’re now just trying too hard and they’re out-psyched as much as the other “out-s”. Brooke is truly the exception to the rule at the moment. The challenge for her will be to keep her innocence and confidence, which must be tough when you’re playing with golf machines like Jutanugarn, Ko, Feng, and Chun. If Creamer, Kerr, Pressel, Wie and Lewis once had that same innocence and confidence, they don’t now. Maybe Lexi does, but she’s about the only one at this point.
Rule: It’s amazing that the American ladies have fallen off so much. Not sure it’s about motivation and focus, but it’s just a soft spot in their talent perhaps. There are still lots of very good American players, but it’s tough out there nowadays, as there is so much more talent around the world, especially with the Korean ladies dominating as much as they are. Are the Koreans more motivated? Maybe. But I’m sure you’ll see some American talent make its way into the top 10 next year.
Loughry: Last I checked, golf is a global game, not just an American one. This is the sign of the growth of the game worldwide over the past decade, especially in Asia. And in case we haven’t noticed, same goes for the men’s side too. There will always be some great/good American players, but there is just as much opportunity and pathway for players outside the US, hence it showing up in results. It’s also in part what makes the Tour so fun to watch.
Kaplan: Well, seeing as though Brooke Henderson had as many wins as the USA in 2016 (2), Pepper might have a point … but can we really chock the results up to motivation and focus or was it just a bad year for the American ladies? I think there is a cyclical aspect to these things. In 2015, the US ladies won seven events — eight if you count the Solheim Cup. I think the real issue here is that the US does not have a female golfing superstar these days that can contend with Ko, Jutanugarn or Brooke on a weekly basis and that is a serious problem for the future of women’s golf in the US.
Quinn: Dottie finally got around to saying publicly what we’ve all been saying for a few years but U.S. commentators have been afraid to say out loud for fear of the PC thought police. South Korea has become a women’s golf factory, with families like the Kos flying flags of convenience to access training. The BC junior golf landscape is dominated by Asian kids, the driving ranges dotted with Asian teens hitting bucket after bucket with mom and dad watching from a few feet away. No one is saying this is a healthy approach to life or the game, but it is the reality. It is just another example of the vast cultural differences that make up our society.
Mumford: Dottie isn’t a shrinking violet when it comes to describing her fellow American players. What she doesn’t want to accept is that the LPGA is truly a global tour now and American dominance isn’t as guaranteed as it once was. Part of the problem is that US colleges have recruited and helped develop international talent for years and it’s now coming back to bite them. When was the last time there was an American player that could inspire legions of followers like Annika Sorenstam or Se Ri Pak could in their home countries? It’s often said that Americans are playing for a cheque while internationals are playing for their family and their country. That’s a bigger burden but also a much stronger driving force. Dottie is absolutely right that the Americans are out-motivated.