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All Change for 2015...... Or Where do we go from here?

January 12, 2015 by Stuart Barber

If it were possible to look into the future all would be revealed – but then there'd be no need to ask the question!

Will Rory McIlroy continue that magical form he showed the world in the latter part of 2014. That would make him a hot favourite for winning the Masters this April.  He has revealed it took him the best part of 12 months to really get to know and trust the new irons that Nike, with their bucket load of cash, tempted him to play.  Now as he has become comfortable with the equipment, he is playing wonderful and inspiring golf , will he be distracted by the impending court case in the Irish High Court, due to be heard in Dublin shortly? In a pre-trial issue, the court suggested the parties settle out of court but attempts to do so failed, and there will now be a costly and possibly lengthy court hearing. The financial cost may be the least of his worries, but such a trial involving his friend Graeme MacDowell, who is managed by the same company McIlroy is suing, is bound to take its toll. Let's hope he can put the case out of his mind, and the Masters may be the first of many a spectacular success in 2015 for Rory McIlroy. He is fast filling the gap, so keenly felt by spectators and sponsors, with the absence of Tiger Woods.

Who knows what 2015 holds for Tiger Woods, when he returns to competitive golf this year? A new coach, a new swing, no sorry, it's the original old swing of his career. I saw that swing when he played as a 19 year old (3 months short of his 20th birthday) at Royal Porthcawl in 1995. For the record GB&I won by 14 matches to 10 – only the 4th occasion since the matches began in 1922 that the USA had lost and the first time that a Welsh club had hosted the Walker Cup. He won two out of four matches, one singles and one foursomes. His subsequent Ryder Cup appearances seem to follow much the same pattern.

On that occasion I watched some sublime golf and some disagreeable manners from the young Woods, who displayed his temper when losing his Saturday afternoon singles to Gary Wolstenholme. So will Woods continue the decline in his golf that makes the target of beating the record of Jack Nicklaus recede into the distance. The last major Woods won, his 14th was in 2008, and now aged 39 can he recapture the form of his past? Will he be the perfect foil of experience against the impetus of McIlroy, oh for a crystal ball?

If I was a gambling man I would be tempted to take a punt on Charley Hull of England/ Europe not 18 until March or Jordan Spieth of America only 22 in July of this year winning a major – they are arguably the outstanding young talent on either side of the Atlantic.

In the next few weeks the captaincy of the European team for the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazletine National will be decided, and it looks as though Darren Clarke is the front runner and likely to be the chosen one, with Miguel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn both hoping to make the team as players. Former captains, Olazabel, Montgomerie, and McGinley together with George O'Grady will make that final decision.

On the American side a panel, eleven strong, will make the decision but not just yet. The next U.S. captain won't be named until after the PGA of America's Ryder Cup Task Force has met a few times, new PGA President Derek Sprague said on the Golf Channel's "Morning Drive" program.

"We don't want to focus just on winning in 2016, although that's important," said Sprague, who co-chairs the task force with PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua. "We're looking to build a process that gives us several years of winning teams here for the United States."

Sprague didn't identify a target date for selecting a captain. He's hoping though, that the group will reach a decision sometime in the first half of 2015. I wonder what purged ex-president of the US PGA, Ted Bishop, who brought Tom Watson into the role for 2014, thinks of that. The US players have expressed a wish for Freddie Couples to take on the task, but we'll have to wait and see.

This year George O'Grady steps down from the helm of the PGA European Tour. I have known George since the 1970's when he was a tournament director along with Tony Grey, working with Ken Schofield the new head of the tournament players division of the PGA, appointed by John Jacobs.

I was lucky to witness the explosion in the popularity of golf that came about in the mid to late 1970's. In those days the tournament offices were under the public stands at the Oval cricket ground. Making up the rest of the team were Arthur Crawley- Bovey as Tournament Director, Eddie Carter as Recorder, John Paramour as the Official Referee and Marina Bray as the indefatigable secretary to the organisation. That was it! Tucked away in unobtrusive offices hidden from the public at the Oval.

Now like Topsy, O'Grady presides over an organisation of 155 staff based at Wentworth with a Board of Directors and a Tournament Committee. The European Tour stands at a crossroads; truly the end of an era and George O'Grady can justifiably be proud of his part in the extraordinary growth of the European Tour.

Iain Carter writing in the BBC Sport web site says “Huge challenges await whoever replaces George O'Grady as boss at the European Tour. Ensuring the continent's biggest stars remain loyal to the circuit is the top priority in market conditions that still favour the PGA Tour on the other side of the pond.”

So it was probably the correct time for O'Grady to leave the scene gracefully and let others deal with the problems. I'm sure there may be many contenders for the post, the front runner one not afraid to take on the challenge facing the Tour and indeed golf itself.

Iain Carter continues “Head hunters have been appointed and the recent addition of two leading businesswomen, Jutta Rosenborg and Sophie Goldschmidt, as non-executive board members indicates changing times at the Tour.”

Oliver Brown, writing in The Telegraph “Golf finds itself in a tighter spot than the lie that once faced Seve Ballesteros in a Lytham car park. Golf simply, does not fire the imagination as it did.”

That is not the only change in golf's administrators; again I quote BBC's Iain Carter

“These are changing times at the top of the game. Peter Dawson retires as Chief Executive of the R&A in September and two-handicap chartered accountant Martin Slumbers will be his successor. Slumbers will spend six months working alongside Dawson before taking over. It is a tough act to follow. Despite his conservative demeanour, Dawson has been a radical leader with the vote in favour of allowing the admission of lady members at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club capping a tenure of progressive modernisation.”

That leads me to the next question to be answered in 2015 – perhaps I could summarise it simply as “Women in Golf”. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews has already made the leap and agreed by a large majority to admit lady members. Whilst it is their commercial and totally distinct entity the R&A which administers the Open Championship, it is no coincidence that the Open is to be held at St Andrews in 2015. Following the furore that surrounded the Championship at Muirfield in 2012, Peter Dawson CEO of the R&A said that the criteria for holding the Open was not influenced by the fact that the club had a men only membership – the course, access, and suitability for the large tented village and other amenities were the essentials.

However almost in the same breath, Giles Morgan sponsorship manager of HSBC a major supporter (financially) voiced his difficulty with events such as The Open Championship being held at such venues. Shortly afterwards the Royal and Ancient announced it would ballot it its members, and Muirfield and Royal St George's said they were considering their position.

To judge from numerous public responses to blogs on the subject, the paying public is singularly unmoved by the furore and has no problem in attending “men only” venues – not so the players who have no difficulty in taking the considerable prize funds on offer. Almost without exception they condemn the situation but equally continue to tee it up at such venues. Perhaps the comment of Charley Hull puts that in perspective “I am totally against single sex clubs” she said, when asked whether she had experienced discrimination on the course she recounted that when she was seven years old she beat a seventeen year old boy who swore at her.

You don't have to be a genius to recognise that, even though operating within the law, such clubs had little chance of hosting the Open. The R&A following the PGA of America, the European Tour, the Ladies Tours in America and Europe, would not hold open events at venues, which did not permit ladies as members. Although no-one at the R&A has ever publicly said this I have no doubt it is the case. I can't say exactly what view the Honourable Company of Edinburgh golfers take, but I'm sure that a majority of members would wish for Muirfield to remain on the roster. I have it on good authority that the members of Royal St George's are shortly to be balloted and it would be surprising if they took a different view.

Commercial considerations mean that a club established on the Open roster would face a harsh economic reality if they ignored the call to change their rules. Sandwich, I believe, will change their rules to make membership open equally to women and men and ensure that no differentiation between the sexes would apply entry into competitions etc - though I assume ladies tees will be put into play!

I am reasonably certain that these changes will take place, I just hope that when it becomes fact, that it is a real change not just paying lip service to the introduction of “lady members”. No doubt 2015 will decide this issue so watch this space!

I cannot end this early January blog without referring to the appalling murders in Paris at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Callous disregard for the sanctity of life in the name of religion, I don't think so. Absolute rubbish, murders rightly condemned by true leaders of all religions and ordinary people alike.

In my own small South West France town of Agen the main boulevard was filled on Wednesday night by many thousands of ordinary folk carrying “Charlie Hebdo” placards in sympathy for those slain in the so-called name of religion.

What the future holds in this troubled world, who knows?

On a lighter note I leave you with the words of Harry Vardon “Don't play too much golf – two rounds a day are plenty”


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