News & Opinion

New year’s wishes feature new identity for Spieth

Also, Patrick Reed should turn back the clock and own his antics for a spot-on walk-up song, plus other thoughts for 2020 in golf

A traditional column here might make some predictions for the new year. But honestly, predictions in golf aren’t worth the computer screen projecting them. Who predicted Tiger Woods was going to win the 2019 Masters, or Shane Lowry was going to win the 2019 British Open, or Sergio Garcia would be disqualified for a breach of etiquette …

OK, the last one wasn’t exactly a stretch, but you get the point.

Rather than throw a big plate of spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks, this recital will take a more prayer-full approach. That is, based on events of the past and familiar personalities, this narrative will be more about petitions than predictions – a wish list, if you will – for 2020. For instance …

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Perhaps Jordan Spieth simply needs to swap a couple of vowels and forge a new identity for 2020.

* Perhaps you saw that Jordan Spieth withdrew from this week’s Sony Open with a cold. Must be a lingering “cold,” eh? Sorry. Cheap shot. Guilty as charged.

But after winning three majors among 10 tournament titles in 2½ years, after boosting golf’s carburetor with a giant nitrous injection, Spieth has gone winless since the 2017 British Open. He has traced his steps, he has studied and made lots of tweaks, to no avail.

In 2020, as soon as he is feeling better, here’s hoping he considers making one more tweak and changes the mnemonic rule of thumb for English. That is, it should be “i” before “e” except after “p.” It’s time, Jordan. Do the right thing. Copy editors will rejoice, typos will be down and sportswriters will spell uninhibitedly. Moreover, when “Speith” bounces back to win the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, it will cause a trickle-down effect. Realizing he has not won an Oscar since 1999, Steven Spielberg will follow suit.

* After staying up until nearly midnight on a Sunday to watch the finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, here’s hoping the PGA Tour does away with the conventional playoff format and moves to penalty kicks, at least for the Hawaiian Swing.

* Patrick Reed has been haunted by hecklers since his actions in a waste bunker at last month’s Hero World Challenge. Here’s wishing he would embrace an “if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em” philosophy. Reed should hire what’s left of Bob Kuban and the In-Men, book the studio time and re-record the band’s 1966 hit The Cheater. It could become Reed’s walk-up song on the first tee. Hey, baseball has them! Everyone would have a good laugh, and maybe the get-a-lifers could move on. It’s called turning a negative into a positive, like Nicolas Cage doing SNL.

* In his state-of-the-game address, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said the Tour will present a new pace-of-play policy at next week’s American Express. Here’s wishing he could have been a little more detailed and put an end to infectious rumors that keep swirling around the game.

C’mon, they’re not really considering cattle prods, are they? And in these sensitive times, you can’t really berate deliberators by suggesting the last to finish is a “rotten egg”? On the other hand, that one about megaphone-toting yellers declaring “Olly olly oxen free” might have legs.

* As 2020 begins, the reigning “best player never to have won a major” is Matt Kuchar. He has nine PGA wins and 12 top-10 finishes in majors, but nary a bell-ringer. That said, here’s hoping the golf press realizes the “best player” label has kind of lost its luster. For one, it looks as if Kuchar, 41, simply is not going to win a major. Meanwhile, over the past decade, 29 players have won them, meaning most of the “best” don’t qualify.

Here’s hoping the press embraces a different, more definitive label, i.e., “the worst player ever to have won a major.” With respect, the conversation would carry a qualifier, because even the worst player to win anything in professional golf is a heckuva player.

But given the antonymic parameters in play … Trevor Immelman, come on down! The 40-year-old Immelman has not won on a major professional tour since his victory at the 2008 Masters, where he finished three strokes ahead of Woods. Immelman is still at it, currently ranked 675th in the world. Keep in mind that players must be active, and seniors don’t count, which takes Shaun Micheel off the hook.

The 51-year-old Micheel, who has experienced health issues, has 397 PGA Tour starts to his credit and the 2003 PGA Championship as his only win.

* Longtime golf commentator Gary McCord said he was told by CBS that he was being canned, along with colleague Peter Kostis, because coverage had grown “stale.” Meanwhile, ratings for “Hockey Night in Canada” have plummeted since the show fired Canadian hockey icon Don Cherry.

Here’s hoping CBS recognizes a fit and hires the flamboyant Cherry in time for the Masters. Ah, yes, pianos, dogwoods, Rae’s Creek, the Hogan Bridge … all of them embroidered into Cherry’s pink sports coat. “Grapes” will be conducting Coach’s Corner under the big oak tree, “a tradition unlike any other,” to coin a phrase. You can almost hear Cherry referencing patrons as “you people” as we speak.

* The 2020 U.S. Open is at Winged Foot, or the site of Phil Mickelson’s biggest heartbreak – well one of them, anyway. In the ’06 edition at Winged Foot, on the verge of a third consecutive major win, Mickelson took a one-shot lead to the 72nd tee on Sunday, pulled a driver and hit a bottle rocket off a hospitality tent. He then fell on his sword.

Mickelson turns 50 the week of the national championship. Here’s hoping he returns to the 72nd tee with a one-shot lead, knocks one in the fairway and wins the U.S. Open to complete a career Grand Slam. We had Woods go Lazarus last year, so Mickelson winning at Winged Foot might top that to become golf’s greatest story.

He then could have Woods as his guest on “Phireside With Phil,” which would qualify as the second-greatest story.