Golf: 10 things to look forward to when sport can resume following coronavirus pandemic

Augusta National's Amen Corner

Golf at a professional level has ground to a halt. Ben Coley tries his hardest to find light at the end of the tunnel.

September and October... maybe?

The FedEx Cup finishing in some form, maybe even a rescheduled Open or US Open, followed by The Ryder Cup, and then The Masters.

It looks unlikely, but we have to remain hopeful. The possibility that golf returns with a bonanza of world-class tournaments, supported by the diversity we're gifted on a weekly basis during normal times, is enough to keep us going for a while.

And, if it isn't, try this archive of final-round Masters broadcasts on YouTube.

Jordan Spieth beating Death at Battleships

Empire film magazine has a list of top 50 sequels which raises a number of concerns, chief of which is the fact that despite claiming to be a top 50 - the URL even ends /50greatestsequels/ - the countdown begins at 60.

It notes that films which are 'really all of a piece, like Lord Of The Rings and Kill Bill, and also series that share elements but restart each time, like Carry On or Three Colours' are excluded. Fair enough, except Star Wars is in there.

The most egregious crime, however, is that Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey is not in the top 50. In fact, it begins the countdown, at 60, considered 56 films worse than Mad Max: Fury Road and 45 films worse than Mad Max 2, all of which is, well, absolutely mad and quite a lot maddening.

Because of course, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey is in fact the greatest sequel of all time, and in second place is Wayne's World 2, a film which is totally left out of this feature. It turns out that if you book them, they might still write a load of bollocks.

Each film is a paean to perseverance; to triumph in the face of disaster. For Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, that means defeating an evil Christopher Walken, while securing a killer line-up for Waynestock by following the guidance of Jim Morrison, Del Preston, and the Weird Naked Indian. I have to ask, didn't you think it was a trifle unnecessary to see the crack in the Indian's bottom?

Wayne's World 2 "Y.M.C.A. Scene"

For Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan, that means defeating Evil Bill and Ted, first by taking down Death via Battleships and eventually winning a 'best three-from-five' showdown with a nerveless performance on the Twister mat.

And so we come to Jordan Spieth, enduring the sort of sophomore slump which has caught out so many sequels. Battleship status: you have sunk my Battleship.

The first film was perfect. It had a leading character who Ben Crenshaw once described as Wyatt Earp; a man taller than he looks, balding slightly at the temple, with a twinkle in his eye equal parts charming and threatening. Spieth was both fearlessly young and old before his time, and capable therefore of building the career of someone two decades his senior in the flash of a Scotty Cameron.

It had a backstory, extending to Spieth's younger sister, born with a neurological disease. She's the inspiration behind the Jordan Spieth Foundation, and when her older brother won the Masters in 2015, he had this to say: "How has she shaped my upbringing? Well, she's the most special part of our family. She's the funniest part of our family. I love having her around. She's an incredible sister, my biggest supporter."

It had triumph, through that Masters win, the US Open which followed, and a spell of golf which culminated in an eight-stroke demolition job at the 2016 Tournament of Champions. At the time, there was absolutely no doubt as to who was the best player in the sport.

It had disaster, that spring, when Spieth hit two balls into the water at the 12th hole of his Masters defence in one of the most famous meltdowns in the storied history of Augusta National. And it had the second wave of triumph, somehow greater and more dramatic than the first, as he produced one of the most impressive hour-long spells in history to win his third major in the summer of 2017.

Jordan Spieth with the Claret Jug

Three years on, and Spieth hasn't won anything since. It doesn't seem plausible. And so my theory goes that the player we've seen hooking his way to 58th place in Mexico and 59th place in LA is in fact Evil Jordan Spieth, and if we go back and watch re-runs of the 2015 Masters and US Open, and the 2017 Open, things will look different.

Phil Mickelson beat Justin Rose in the 2015 Masters, Louis Oosthuizen denied Dustin Johnson at Chambers Bay, and Matt Kuchar is a major champion - all because Evil Jordan Spieth has been sent back through time to change the course of history.

The only hope we have now is that Jordan Spieth can beat Death at Battleships and, from there, restore order at the top of the sport.

A happy, healthy US Open

Imagine for a second that the next golf tournament we all get to watch is this year's US Open. Sadly, as things stand, that looks whatever comes after blindly optimistic, but indulge me for a second.

There would surely be no complaints should the greens get a little fast, or the rough be a little thick, or the weather cause a draw bias, or J.B. Holmes take six minutes over a six-footer. We would simply be overjoyed that golf is back, whatever the form, and could therefore enjoy a US Open like we haven't been able to in years.

At Pebble Beach in 2019, there were complaints that things were too easy, that the course had been made artificially soft. In 2018, at Shinnecock, we had Phil Mickelson's famous protest at greens and pin positions which combined to create a winning score of one-over. A year earlier, the complaint had been that Erin Hills, hosting for the first time, was simply too easy.

Oakmont in 2016 generally sat well with everyone - four-under seems a likeable winning score, and the course is very popular among architecture buffs. Then along came the USGA and its rules officials to penalise Dustin Johnson and take the narrative away from golf shots on a turbulent final day which at least, somehow, ended with the right result.

Chambers Bay was widely criticised - Gary Player in particular was scathing of the course - so, while providing drama, that's another week which will be remembered as much for the chat as the action, and when Martin Kaymer romped home on a perfect course in 2014, suddenly the issue was a lack of rough and a perceived absence of real drama.

You'll find those who felt that Merion was a disaster in 2013 - those silly pins might have something to do with it - and, erm, the 2012 was California time so everyone in Europe hated it, not least my loved ones. Then we're on Rory McIlroy in 2011 (too soft, too easy!) before we hit the last US Open which was universally popular: the 2010 edition, won by Graeme McDowell.

Funny how the US Open's popularity timeline inversely correlates with twitter's growth, isn't it? If we do get a 2020 edition of the US Open, perhaps it'll be one made notable by acceptable, joy, and sweet relief. Except on twitter perhaps.

Royal Porthcawl and the Women's British Open

The Women's British Open heads to Royal Porthcawl next year, a course on which Bernhard Langer produced arguably the standout performance in senior golf, winning the 2014 Senior Open Championship by a whopping 13 shots.

Having doubled up four years later, it would be fair to say the German is especially fond of this course, but its popularity should receive a further boost next summer and one thing is certain: he can't win this one.

Porthcawl is one of the UK's most wonderful links courses, with the sea in view on every hole, a routing which makes for a severe physical and mental test, and some of the best par-threes you'll see - especially the seventh, but also the 11th.

The 2021 edition promises something feel-good, especially when there's talk of Muirfield hosting the event soon. Remember, it took a second vote in 2017 for the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers to extend that honour to women, and there are currently just a dozen female members.

Troon, which hosts this year's Women's British Open, was similarly slow to adopt any kind of real equality measures - although, as reported in The Scotsman, they have in recent years been proactive in engaging with youngsters, male and female, and appear to be turning the tide.

Even so, Porthcawl feels like the right place at the right time. Especially if it's the next Women's British Open to take place, which right now appears likely.

McIlroy bursting out of a green jacket

When you think about Rory McIlroy, the phrase 'better with age' might not immediately spring to mind. And yet, increasingly, there's evidence to suggest it should.

To most, McIlroy peaked around five or six years ago, at which time he was the best player in the sport and one collecting majors at a healthy strike-rate. Aged 22, he won the US Open, at 23, he became the youngest multiple major champion in more than 30 years, and at 25 he had achieved everything in the sport bar win a Masters.

It's hard to get better with age, when you've won a dozen careers' worth of titles in less than a decade as a professional. But McIlroy might just be getting better with age.

First and foremost, his numbers say as much. Take away the blinding light of silverware, and the scoring qualities of his game are better now than they were when he last won major championships. In 2014, McIlroy gained 2.266 strokes on the field, on average, over the course of a season. Right now he's at 2.537, and he ended last season at 2.551.

Prior to last year, McIlroy's career-best strokes-gained figure was 2.406, in 2012. It is beyond dispute that from a purely statistical perspective, his game now is better than it was then.

And then there's the human side of things. Never has McIlroy been unwilling to speak, but now he's matured rapidly into a thoughtful, introspective spokesman not just for himself, but for the circuits he plays on. The player who once bemoaned bad luck on a links course and labelled the Ryder Cup a mere exhibition, now knows just who he is, just what he values, and appears to strike a better balance than just about any comparable figure across the world of sport.

He looks fabulous, too. And he'll look even better when he slips on a Green Jacket one day.

Koepka's major reset

Above, I've talked about two of the dominant forces in golf, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, who from 2011 to 2017 won a quarter of all majors between them. From the start of 2017 to today, Brooks Koepka has won a third of all majors by himself.

It's been an impressive period of dominance, in a sport where that word does not mean that any individual wins more than they do not. Koepka's achievements since Erin Hills are comparable to those of any athlete, in any sport, anywhere on earth.

Just don't expect things to continue this way. Even if Koepka hadn't had to undergo surgery last year, even if he hadn't struggled for form and confidence since reporting his health to be fine, we shouldn't kid ourselves into thinking this is anything more than temporary. Those issues which have emerged merely underline that things come in waves and that, for now, Koepka is likely done riding his.

That doesn't mean he won't or can't win more of the sport's most coveted prizes, whenever they become available again. Just that for all he's clearly found the right formula to bring out his undoubted fortitude, there's still been an element of opportunism, chance, even momentum, behind two US Open wins an two in the PGA Championship as well.

When set against the record of Dustin Johnson, who remains stuck on one, when contrasted with the relative troubles of McIlroy when it comes to major championships of late, and when juxtaposed with Spieth's woes, Koepka's sequence of high-class major performance is revealed to be extraordinary.

Extraordinary doesn't tend to last, and I for one am ready for a major Sunday without Koepka's long shadow cast over it.

Brooks Koepka after defending his US Open title

The 150th Open Championship

Speak to Alex Perry - on the phone, of course - and you'll no doubt hear him bang on about the spiritual experience that was his first meeting with the Old Course, at St Andrews, and he wouldn't be alone in that.

How many times have you seen that picture of the Swilcan Bridge, just with different characters, always forcing their happiness and pride and glee and downright smugness upon your screen.

I wanted to be one of those, but my first and so far only experience of St Andrews was absolutely ghastly.

First, I was in a tent. On a hill. Sharing my two-berth (it turns out that regular campers know of a secret code in which two equals one and three equals two) with the loudest snorer in Europe. This happened to be the year 2015, when winds were so strong that the tournament had to be suspended. Imagine then being perched atop a hill overlooking the town, living out of a tent, when this came to pass.

Second, I found the media experience pretty awful - through nobody's fault. It turns out if you aren't inside the ropes at St Andrews, you really can't see much; this might be heaven for golfing purity, but golfing modernity doesn't sit well on the land. I would put St Andrews down as my least favourite Open venue if the sole measure is how much you can actually see and what you can get close to.

And then Zach Johnson came along and won the thing on a Monday. Awful. No offence to Zach, who has always seemed a decent, God-fearing egg, but that afternoon could've given us so much more. It could've given us Jordan Spieth winning the first three majors of the season. It could've given us Jason Day winning his first. It could've given us Sergio Garcia, or Adam Scott, or back-to-back St Andrews successes for the loveable Louis Oosthuizen.

It could even have given us victory for Marc Leishman, just three months after his wife had almost died from toxic-shock syndrome, while the day began with the very real possibility that an amateur would win a major championship, with Paul Dunne playing in the final group. There were all manner of remarkable storylines, and we ended with Zach Johnson, some rank sexism from the commentary box, and a feeling that things had somehow been doomed from the moment Rory McIlroy twisted his ankle playing football.

And so, next year, when the Open returns to St Andrews for its 150th edition, we can all hope for better. And as McIlroy promises never to play football during the season, I too shall make a pledge: never camp at an Open Championship.

Players to be properly and publicly punished

Might have to wait a while for this one to come to pass but FWIW, I think when players engage in homophobia and/or far-right conspiracy theories, they should be heavily and publicly punished. That's what Scott Piercy did recently, and if he was fined by the PGA Tour, chances are he was able to pay it off with the $52,000 he earned for 18 holes of golf in their flagship event, which he ought to have been banned from.

We can debate all day long about what Patrick Reed did in the Bahamas, how it ties into a history of questionable behaviour, and the fact that he's been accused of cheating for more than a decade now. I have my opinion, you'll have yours, and I do accept that coming down hard on him was difficult for the PGA Tour - not least due to the timing. Clearly, they were pathetic in their handling of the situation, but at least it was a difficult situation to handle.

Handling Piercy's situation should've been a piece of cake, and it wasn't even complicated by him being high-profile or especially popular. He ought to have been fined and banned, and we should know the precise details. I won't hold my breath when next someone disgraces themselves, mind.

The third edition of the Saudi International

At this point, f**k it.

Wyndham Rewards

Because 'top nine' isn't a thing, and after an entire four-and-a-half days without golf, I miss the Wyndham Rewards. I mean, when you think about it, it's a good concept. It's great, in fact. I think, in a way, offering the best players more money under the nonsense premise that the Wyndham Rewards bonus will influence their decision-making is exactly what golf needed. When I watch the golf, the first thing I ask myself is 'which is the Wyndham Rewards hole?' followed by 'wow, I wonder how Byeong Hun An is going to adapt his strategy here.' (Turns out he's stuck with the old three-putt par again, the scamp)

And as for paying out extra to the top 10 in FedEx Cup points at the end of the regular season, thus offering financial reward to those on the breadline, I can only echo Tony Finau, who said: "Now that they are rewarding the top 10 guys at the end of the season, it's definitely something I think guys are looking at and adding tournaments to their schedule."

Events played by Finau in final year of previous system: 28

Events played by Finau in first year of Wyndham Rewards bonus: 25

Appearances in the Wyndham Championship: Zero

Still, one of the good guys, and his time will come. Just probably not in the Wyndham.

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