Ten questions needing answers in 2024

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Golf's new year curtain is about to be raised.
Posted on
January 6, 2024
by
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

As 2023 fades into permanent shadows a new year is now upon us and hope springs eternal as the calendar moves on.

Can specific individuals raise the level of their game? What new forces may enter the picture that are truly either misunderstood or not properly valued?

How will the key organizations within golf deal with vexing issues pushed from one year into the next.

The world of golf went through a topsy-turvy sequence of events in 2023. In a sport which places a high premium on tradition it was non-traditional forces that had the greatest impact.

Will such forces continue in 2024?

If anything has been proven it's that golf is no longer in a sea of tranquility.

Past responses may not so easily fit or even apply.

Hold onto to your seats and pass along the popcorn.

***

Is marriage likely between the PGA TOUR and LIV?

When PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan announced last June 6 that a "framework agreement" had been reached with upstart LIV Golf the tsunami impact went beyond words.

Up to that point Monahan had been vehemently opposed to any discussions and had stated forcefully that Tour players opting for LIV would be forever banished.

The framework agreement was supposed to be settled by December 31 but both parties have agreed to extend such talks into the new year.

The Tour has reached out to other private investors and the possibility exists a new framework for professional golf could have LIV remaining on the outside looking in. Or it could mean a percentage equity stake and a front row seat at the decision-making table.

Marriage between the two cannot be totally discounted because LIV has the capital to remain active. Could what seemed like an untenable intersection not that long ago develop into a rapturous bond?

Predicting courtships of any type is anything but certain. An uncertain future could well mean a deft navigation through a series of unknown and unseen land mines.

High level business intersections can produce strange bedfellows.

The ongoing saga between the PGA TOUR and LIV remains the central focal point in the year ahead.

The ultimate shape of what professional golf is now clearly at stake.

 

Will both Greg Norman and Jay Monahan make it through 2024?

A corollary to the LIV / PGA TOUR "courtship" is whether the main public principals – Greg Norman and Jay Monahan respectively – complete the new year and remain in the positions they occupy now?

Norman has never been embraced as a warm and fuzzy figure among the PGA TOUR hierarchy stretching back a number of years to when he played competitively. Publicly LIV chieftain Yasir Al-Rumayyan has steadfastly said Norman's position is secure. The same has been said for Monahan. Even Tiger Woods, who joined the PGA Tour Advisory Board, stated Monahan continues to have his support.

However, public declarations can often slide into temporary assertions and can quickly change as circumstances evolve.

More discussions between LIV and the PGA TOUR will take place. Both Norman and Monahan occupy standing positions on sand. And like sand. the firmness of the footing is ever changeable.

 

Can Tiger Woods regain elite competitive form?

Tiger Woods returned to competition late in 2023 – albeit in a limited field event at the Hero World Challenge and then a few weeks later in the PNC tournament in which the 15-tike major winner joined up again with his son Charlie.

In the event in the Bahamas Woods finished 20 shots behind winner Scottie Scheffler. If that event were a full field, it's unlikely he would have made a 36-hole cut. The PNC in Orlando was a hit and giggle event and more about seeing father and son teeing it up again together.

Woods indicated he expects to play competitive full-field events in 2024 but the spacing between tournaments could mean as little as one event per month. The last event of consequence Woods played was the 2023 Masters and he withdrew during the third round given the poor weather and recurring foot pain.

His 2019 Masters win is nearing four years old and Woods has not had a top ten 20 finish in the 10 majors he's played since winning his fourth green jacket.

Woods is also not eligible at this moment for the field for this year's U.S. Open for the first time since 1996. Even if he opts not to qualify it's a safe bet the USGA will provide him with an exemption into the championship.

The question marks for the recently turned 48-year-old are clearly mounting. The real issue is how much fuel is left in the tank. The fuel needle seems closer to "empty" than "full." Nonetheless, counting out Woods has proven to be a losing proposition over the years.

Is there one last hurrah for Woods? Or has he finally reached the end in competing at the elite level.

 

Will Rory McIlroy finally end major-less streak dating back to 2014?

The talent of Rory McIlroy is certainly present but capturing key titles is the ultimate determinant in securing a legacy of permanent standing. It revolves around closing out events with your name being the last man standing.

When McIlroy claimed his second PGA Championship in 2014, he was 25 years old – the third youngest to win four major titles and only just behind the pace set by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. It appeared his ascendancy was on a sure pathway for continued greatness. Then, all of sudden, the spigot went dry.

No other majors win has happened since that triumph at Valhalla. In 2023 the closest Rory came to breaking the streak came at last year's U.S. Open when he finished second to winner Wyndham Clark.

McIlroy is a likely sure entrant into the World Golf Hall of Fame no matter if he never wins another tournament. The 34-year-old resigned from the PGA Tour Advisory Board in order to more fully prepare for the golf season ahead.

His focus is now back to getting ready for a pivotal year. Complicating matters is the about-face McIlroy has done just recently regarding his firm convictions against LIV and those playing for the organization.

In the final analysis, major championships define ultimate legacy in the sport. Over the last eight major events McIlroy has finished in the top ten in seven of them. The lone failure came at last year's Masters where he failed to make the cut one year after finishing runner-up to winner Scottie Scheffler.

Rory's story could well have a happy ending with a win at Augusta in April and becoming just the sixth man to join the career Grand Slam club. There's a flipside to that coin too. McIlroy is clearly intent in not having his non-major losing streak continue past 2024.

We shall see.

 

Will Woods captain Team USA for '25 Ryder Cup at Bethpage?

The 2025 Ryder Cup matches will be played on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in New York. Before all the brouhaha ramped up with the emergence of LIV, it appeared likely Phil Mickelson would captain Team USA and Ian Poulter would do the honors for Team Europe.

Unfortunately, both players bolted for LIV and that move ended the involvement of Mickelson and Pouler in leading their respective teams.

The European side has been settled with Luke Donald returning for a second stint after leading the team with a convincing win in Rome in the '23 matches.

Speculation has ramped up that the likely choice for Team USA is now Tiger Woods. The intersection of Woods with Bethpage is a known entity as Tiger claimed the 2002 U.S. Open at there - the first government-owned facility to stage the national championship of American golf.

Woods has been asked about his desire to captain the USA but he begged off making any definitive statement in that regard. In past years captains for each side have been announced in the year following the matches and it's more than likely a final decision will be made sometime early in 2024.

Tiger would undoubtedly like to continue to play in the matches but that likelihood is more dream than reality. Hard to envision Woods not being approached to lead the team and given the drubbing Team USA endured in Rome the need to recapture the Cup could be too irresistible for Tiger to turn down.

 

Can Rose Zhang win her first major in 2024?

The ascension of Rose Zhang in 2023 to the professional ranks was the most noted transition of players leaving the amateur ranks.

The former Standford star dominated play in the college ranks and the buzz surrounding her only intensified when winning her first event after turning pro with a playoff win at the Mizuho Americas Open in New Jersey last June.

It was the first time in 71 years a player had so quickly demonstrated such success in a pro debut.

Zhang has been touted to be the female equivalent of Tiger Woods and while the weight of expectations is clearly present, the 20-year-old has been able to surpass key benchmarks at every step in her burgeoning golf career.

The next test comes in winning her first major championship.

Zhang performed well in last year's biggest events finishing in the top ten in three of the four in which she participated.

Women's golf can certainly benefit from having a player who pushes the ceiling of visibility to another level. A major victory in 2024 could well be the springboard catapulting Zhang and women's professional golf to a higher level of visibility and stature.

 

Will team USA be able to recapture the Solheim Cup in 2024?

When the Solheim Cup came into being in 1990 the squad from Team USA demonstrated clear superiority, winning 8 of the first 11 matches. That tide has now switched with Team Europe winning five of the last seven meetings.

Only four players from the USA are inside the top 20 world rankings. Women's golf at the highest of levels is now more global in nature.

This year's matches will be played at the Robert Trent Jones club outside of Washington, D.C.

The USA squad will have Stacy Lewis return as team captain. Lewis will face a clear challenge in assembling a squad capable of securing the Solheim Cup back in American possession for the first time since 2017.

In the early years of the Solheim Cup, it was the players from the USA who dominated not only in those matches but in individual competitions as well. The fate of this year's matches will send a clear signal that either a turn around has happened or that the downward spiral will continue.

 

Can Ludvig Åberg win his first major championship this year?

The involvement of young talented players is not a new development at the elite level of professional golf. It is an annual occurrence but the arrival of Sweden's Ludvig Åberg last year caused much hype that actually panned out with results to back up the promise of super stardom to come.

Åberg was picked as a rookie member for Team Europe without ever having played in a major championship.

The 24-year-old played in four matches and earned two points.

Before 2023 came to an end, Åberg secured his first European win with a triumph in the Omega European Masters this past September and won his first PGA TOUR title with a four-stroke win in the RSM Classic in November and doing so with a final two round total of 132 with consecutive 61 scores.

The Masters will mark his first major championship and while the last man to win at Augusta in his first try dates back to Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 it is not inconceivable Åberg could do so.

Expectations can be a difficult mountain to climb because the bar can be set at an unrealistic level.

Åberg will now be under a higher bar of expectations. Major championship play is the ultimate barometer in showcasing those who are clearly contenders versus those who are merely pretenders.

The promise is certainly present – the payoff now lies ahead for Ludvig to accomplish.

 

Is Scottie Scheffler ready for a monster year in 2024?

The number one ranked player in the world won twice on the PGA TOUR in 2023 highlighted by a convincing five-stroke victory at The Players Championship - the biggest win in the event since 2006.

The 27-year-old performed well in the major events with three top tens in the four events.

However, after winning the Masters in 2022 the bar for the Texan to win a second major has now risen and he will be watched closely in 2024.

Scheffler's total consistency of play resulted in him winning his second consecutive Player-of-the-Year award from the PGA TOUR. He is the first to have successfully earned the honors two years in succession since Tiger Woods won the honor in three straight years from 2005-07.

In the 2022–23 season, Scheffler recorded 18 consecutive top-12 finishes, a streak only bettered by Tiger Woods in 2000–01.

The real disappointment came in the Ryder Cup matches where he failed to earn any points in four matches played. He was also on the receiving end with partner Brooks Koepka of losing a foursome match by a 9&7 margin to Åberg and Viktor Hovland. It was the most lopsided match ever in Ryder Cup history.

Scheffler has been plagued by a balky putter at times but his rise to number one has shown a steady capacity to keep on achieving new benchmarks for his career. A 2024 season in which he truly separates himself from all others could set the momentum for even greater success in the years to follow.

Can non-18-hole golf offerings effectively grow the game?

Technology continues to play a key role with golf. Beyond the advancements in clubs and balls there is an accelerating trend in providing a variety of engagements for people to both continue their involvement or even to begin their intersection with it.

Not many years ago the intersection with simulators was the domain of those with the deepest of pockets. The explosion of simulators has pushed downward the costs of purchasing a wide variety of types. Incredibly, there are more simulator offerings in Seoul than there are Starbucks franchises.

Companies such as Golfzon and Five Iron Golf are just two of the leading companies pushing ahead in providing avenues for prospective golfers to both learn and maintain their connection to the sport.

The issue of available time is the critical impediment for many to take up golf.

Actual golf courses are now including short courses in which time to play is narrowed considerably. In years past, short courses were not actively embraced. That perspective has dramatically change as such courses are either operating as stand alone businesses or in concert with traditional 18-hole facilities.

Beyond the issue of time, traditional golf is facing ongoing environmental issues. Water usage is becoming more and more critical and traditional 18-hole facilities consume plenty of it.

The increasing popularity of simulators is becoming the choice of a younger generation of players wanting to experience the sport but doing so via the creature comforts an indoor connection provides.

Can such "new" golf options reach an ever-wider audience with more women and minorities joining the sport.

That remains to be answered.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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