For 2012, dreaming of bigger things
There is plenty to look forward to in 2012. Luke Donald will begin the year as a solid No. 1 in the world, some interesting venues dot the major championship rotation and Tiger Woods has newfound confidence in his new golf swing.
Then there is the LPGA's Yani Tseng, who won a whopping 12 tournaments worldwide in 2011 and looks to continue her dominance.
And don't forget, it's a Ryder Cup year. The U.S. will try to regain the Cup at Medinah after a close, agonizing loss in 2010 in Wales.
With that in mind, here is a list of 10 things -- in no particular order -- that we'd like to see in 2012.
• Ban the long/belly putter. Granted, these clubs are not necessarily for the desperate anymore. Guys are coming on to the PGA Tour having used them in college. Bradley became the first player to win a major using a belly putter. And it is clear such putters are not automatic. It's not like everybody using one holes every putt or wins every tournament. It has become the biggest defense for such putters.
Still, a line needs to be drawn somewhere, and a perfect place seems to be that you cannot anchor the club to your body. The nerves of the putting stroke are clearly reduced if you can attach part of the club to your chest or stomach. That is what Tom Watson, among others, has advocated for years. That's good enough for us.
• Phil Mickelson gets to No. 1 in the world. Lefty has 39 PGA Tour titles, four major championships, millions in prize money -- but he's never been No. 1. For that matter, he's never been player of the year, won the money title or captured the scoring title. It's amazing, really, when you consider the scope of his career. Mickelson turns 42 in June, and a secondary wish would likely top his list -- a victory at the elusive U.S. Open, where he's been runner-up a record five times.
• McIlroy wins multiple tournaments. He's rejoining the PGA Tour in 2012, but no matter where he accomplishes the feat, it would be nice for the reigning U.S. Open champion to have a massive year with three, four, five victories. He got the breakthrough major win in 2011, and later added a European Tour title in Hong Kong, to bring his official career total to four wins. Now he needs to push hard for No. 1.
• Strong penalties for slow play. This has been complained about for years, with no resolution. Golf simply takes too long, and given that amateurs typically mimic the pros, the laborious pre-shot routines and voluminous amounts of yawn time inevitably trickle down to the average golfer. Give players who are out of position one warning. On the second offense, penalize them a stroke. On the third, penalize them two strokes. That will surely get their attention.
Certainly there are extenuating circumstances, for which the rules officials should have some discretion. But the fining system in place -- and on the PGA Tour such fines are not even announced, which might help -- is hardly serving as a deterrent.
• Erik Compton wins. This might be too much to ask. The two-time heart transplant recipient has made it to the PGA Tour for the first time, just 3 ˝ years after a life-threatening heart attack led to his second transplant. Compton won a tournament on the Nationwide Tour, then had a summer health setback related to his heart medication but managed to finish among the top 25 money winners and earn his card for 2012.
Compton's season will begin in Hawaii at the Sony Open and a more realistic goal would be for him to earn enough money to keep his tour card for 2013. But there might not be a bigger story in the game than Compton winning a tournament.
• Tseng plays a men's tournament. Such a move would not be without risk, but Tseng is coming off an outstanding year and if she uses the opportunity in similar fashion to the way Annika Sorenstam did in 2003, it can be of tremendous benefit.
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There were plenty of skeptics when Sorenstam tried it at the Colonial, but she acquitted herself quite well -- although she missed the cut -- and gained a multitude of admirers. It brought new fans to women's golf and to Sorenstam, and helped her game immensely when she went about the task of adding more tournament titles to her already large résumé.
Tseng, who doesn't turn 23 until the end of January, already has five major titles. She won 12 times worldwide in 2012. Let her have a go at the men and see how she fares.
• Q-school still allows an avenue to the PGA Tour. There's been considerable conversation about the PGA Tour changing the way players find an exempt spot. In recent years, it's been simple: 25 players earn their way through the money list on the Nationwide Tour; another 25 and ties get a card through the six-day, 108-hole qualifying tournament known as Q-school. There is a strong movement, however, to have a three-tournament series whereby players would be seeded from the Nationwide and PGA Tours, the top 50 getting their cards.
The details of that three-tournament plan are to be worked out some time in 2012, but here's hoping it retains some way for players to get on the PGA Tour from Q-school. Guys like Fowler and Dustin Johnson made it through that way, and without it, they'd have spent their first years on the Nationwide Tour instead.
• Padraig Harrington returns to form. The Irishman won three major championships out of six played from 2007-08 -- and hasn't won since, other than an Asian Tour title a year ago. Soon after winning the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, Harrington went about making changes to his swing, and there have been few positive results forthcoming.
An open and engaging guy, Harrington is popular with his peers and fans and the game seems better when he is in the mix. But he failed to qualify for Europe's season-ending Dubai Championship and has fallen outside of the top 70 in the world when he was as high as No. 3 in 2009. It would be nice to see him, at age 40, bounce back.
• Victories at Fall Series events gets you in the Masters. There is nothing quite like the added drama of a win on the PGA Tour also assuring a player of a spot in the Masters field. It typically ranks as among the biggest thrills a player cites for the win. But the tournaments that are opposite the World Golf Championship events and the four Fall Series events do not come with the same invite. That's because they are not "full'' FedEx Cup points events.
In the case of the opposite field events, the edict is understandable. The best of the best are not there. But that is not always the case in the fall. In fact, some of those tournaments post-Tour Championship have better fields than ones that are part of the FedEx Cup schedule.
The Masters is understandably leery of its field getting too big. It ideally wants to keep the field size below 90 players and that number has crept up in recent years. But we're talking about the potential for four guys. A win in those tournaments ought to come with the same reward.
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• Tiger Woods wins a major. He won his own Chevron event to break a two-plus-year victory drought, and now the attention will turn to when he wins his first official tournament since the 2009 Australian Masters. But nothing would garner the attention of Woods' winning a major.
Think back to the roar, the atmosphere, the feeling when Woods eagled the eighth hole at Augusta National during the final round of the Masters. He was tied for the lead and would be for parts of the back nine, until a couple of short missed putts derailed his hopes of a fifth green jacket. Woods seemed to be on the verge of greatness again, but we soon learned he had injured himself, and his year -- as far as the majors were concerned -- was all but finished.
A major victory for Tiger, regardless of the venue, would once again put him in the chase to catch Jack Nicklaus and his record of 18. Can he do it? First, he needs to get to No. 15, which has been a long and arduous journey. If Woods fails to win at Augusta, he'll go into the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club having gone four years without a major title.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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2012 SEASON PREVIEW
Masters: Augusta National Golf Club; April 5-8; Augusta, Ga.
U.S. Open: The Olympic Club; June 14-17; San Francisco, Calif.
Open Championship: Royal Lytham and St Annes; July 19-22; Lancashire, England
PGA Championship: Kiawah Island Ocean Course; Aug. 9-12; Kiawah Island, S.C.
Ryder Cup: Medinah, No. 3 Course; Sept. 28-30; Medinah, Ill.