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 JOHN HOPKINS
 Last Shot

On my wish list for an epic New Year
Much is being made of Tiger's prospects for 2012 following that overblown victory in his own tournament in early December. But the former world No. 1 doesn't warrant a mention in the author's hopes for 2012

This is being written down in the United Arab Emirates during the Dubai World Championship at the Earth golf course at Jumeirah Golf Estates. The dry heat is giving energy, not sapping it. Edoardo Molinari is striping iron shots into the azure sky while Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, shirt collar turned up as always, is being interviewed by Sky. Only larks singing overhead are missing. From this hell hole, here is a list of the things I would like to see in 2012:

* Davis Love not to be pilloried if the US lose the Ryder Cup. I have always thought Love, the US captain at Medinah next September, to be cool and thoughtful and when I had an hour with him during the USPGA Championship in Atlanta back in August he was these and more. What really made me like him was the following admission he made to me. “If my players say ‘if I had black underwear instead of white that would make me better' then I am going to get them some black underwear.” It is impossible not to warm to a man like that, to want the best for him.

* Men playing from tees that are further forward. One of the best initiatives in 2011 was the ‘Tee it Forward' campaign, an attempt to get club members to put their pride to one side and play from a tee nearer the green. The greatest hindrance to this is the male's character. Just because men once or twice a round hit a drive 250 yards, they believe they can always hit it 250 yards. They can't. And the sooner any stigma attached to playing from a forward tee is removed, the better. This initiative has several advantages. It would speed up play, give golfers a better chance of playing to their handicaps and as a result make golf more enjoyable. This might help staunch the current flight of players from the game.

* A tournament played with a much bigger hole. Many others sports are trying variations of their traditional game - Twenty20 cricket and seven-a-side rugby. Why not golf? This is another attempt to speed up play and make it more enjoyable and less intimidating to beginners. At a club tournament in the US last year, a 15-inch hole was used and playing time was shortened by a half hour and scores were reduced. The reaction of one player was typical: “Golf can be stressful when you aren't very good. This was a nice break.” Gene Sarazen suggested a hole with an eight-inch diameter in 1933, about which Bobby Jones said: “It might make an interesting game but it would not be golf.” The size of a hole dates back to Musselburgh, Scotland, in 1829 when a 4½-in diameter drainage pipe that happened to be lying around was used as a hole cutter.

Two weeks after lifting the trophy in Sun City, Lee Westwood shot 60 in Thailand. Let's hope the tip from the maestro can see him to major honours in 2012 (Photography by GettyImages.com)

* Lee Westwood to win a major championship. In prospect, 2012 is mouthwatering, one of the best in recent years with the anticipated rivalry between Europeans Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, ranked first, second, third and fourth in the world at the beginning of December, vying with a host of Americans led by a revitalised Tiger Woods. How good it would be for Westwood, who was dislodged from the summit of the game last May by Donald, if he could finally win the major championship that has eluded him so far. He summed up his 2011 campaign as follows: “I played alright at the Masters, though I putted badly and finished 11th. Played OK at the US Open and finished third. I led the tee-to-green in regulation statistics at the Open and missed the cut and I finished in the top 10 at the USPGA Championship.”

Westwood is perhaps the longest straight driver in the world, one of the strongest thinkers and he has been very consistent in the game's recent major championships, with six top-11 finishes in the past ten. He needs to do it soon, though. He will be 39 in April and though Darren Clarke, Westwood's close friend, won his first major at 42, the late 30s is an unusual age to win a first major championship.

* A major championship for Sergio Garcia, too. With an average finish of 12th in last year's four majors, and tournament victories in successive weeks last October, Garcia in 2012 is going to be much happier and thus more successful than he was in recent years when he slipped to 78th in the world ranking. He is more mature for having endured his personal troubles, is smiling broadly, putting well with an unusual grip and happy in his private life. What more could anyone want? Well, how about a major?

* Short holes that don't measure 220 yards. The 5th hole on the composite course at Royal Melbourne used for last year's Presidents Cup acted as a reminder that short par-threes are, like short fours, a delight. They are more a test of a golfer's skill than of his power. To prove my point I also give you the 7th at Pebble Beach, a downhill flick of 100 yards, and the not much longer and the wickedly bunkered 7th at Royal Porthcawl, where you are happy with a three even though you have probably only used a pitching-wedge to reach the green.

Funny how these three all come in the front nine holes, isn't it? Please, oh please, can we have some more?

January 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 






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