I often warn myself that predicting the future is a precarious exercise. About the only thing you can say with confidence is – expect the unexpected.
At the end of 1999, the top ten players in the world were: Woods, Duval, Montgomerie, Love, Els, Westwood, Singh, Price, Mickelson and O’Meara. At the end of 2009, only Woods, Mickelson and Westwood survived to be joined by Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy and Kenny Perry.
Who will be still there in 2020? I’d guess – not one of the 1999 brigade and one or two of the 2009 top ten, i.e. Rory McIlroy plus A.N. Other.
At the end of the 1999 season, Tiger was the No. 1-ranked player by a mile. Not many punters would have bet against him being still in place at the end of 2009. Today, who would bet on Tiger lasting another 10 years? Before answering remember my warning; expect the unexpected! Tiger is as much likely to be divorced and winning a grand slam of majors in 2010 as he is of staying away from the spotlight until 2012 (as is hotly rumoured.) Even I wouldn’t dare to predict what might happen.
At the beginning of 2000, John Daly was the only golfer who averaged drives of more than 300-yards off the tee. Ten years later, dozens of players hit it that far including Alvaro Quiroz of Spain, the longest hitter of them all. By the end of the next decade NOBODY may come close to 300-yards because the legislators, hopefully, will have reduced the initial velocity of the golf ball. I also expect to see ‘browner’ golf courses as water conservation becomes a huge issue.
At the beginning of 2000, Ireland had not tasted a victory in a major since the 1940s. In the 2000s, we saw three major wins. We could see at least another three coming our way before 2020. Let’s be specific, Harrington will win two more majors, and depending on Tiger’s status he may win four. McIlroy will win The Open Championship but suspect putting could prevent him from winning more often. Come on Rory, prove me wrong! Nor, would I write off Graeme McDowell’s chances of winning a major. If McIlroy could putt like McDowell, we’d have another Celtic Tiger on our hands – strictly on the golf course, of course!
Gareth Maybin did well in his first year on Tour. He’ll make lots of cash; maybe win a tournament or two, even reach Ryder Cup status but superstardom will be beyond him. Long term, Shane Lowry may be a better prospect. Neither has earned his European Tour card yet but watch out for the progress of Niall Kearney and Cian McNamara.
In 1999, David Duval was No. 2 in the rankings. That’s a bad omen for Phil Mickelson. I expect Phil to opt for domestic bliss and ride off into the Californian sunset after winning the 2016 Olympics, leaving the way open for an Irishman to become world No. 1 – will it be Padraig or Rory? But don’t overlook the fast-improving Italians – somebody called Manassero or Molinari may have a surprise or two in store.
By the end of 2020, golfers will be accepted as ‘biomechanical athletes’ that spend as much time in the gym as they do on the PG. Can’t say that I look forward to that aspect of golf development but there it is. In a blow for the older brigade, somebody over-50 will win a major because Tom Watson showed us that it was possible in 2009.
I expect Lee Westwood to start the new decade really well, maybe win the US Open before fading away. By 2013 Lee will have been on Tour for twenty years. Even a train has to stop sometime.
By 2020, expect at least three or four players that you have never heard of to be in the top 10 because they will be in their 20s. Rory Mac will be 30! Superstars will be getting younger and older) squeezing out the guys in the middle who will be bogged down by family duties.
I would not consider it ‘unexpected’ if the ladies take over the club golf scene. By 2020, there could be more females playing golf than males in spite of the fact that most women only take up the game after they are married.
The verdict on whether the Olympics Movement has ‘grown golf’ will not be resolved by 2020 – although a handful of players from obscure, non-traditional golfing countries will have made their mark.
Overall, the game won’t be ‘booming’ as it did throughout the ‘noughties.’ The ‘hype’ of the Ryder Cup will be in decline after reaching its peak. The heart of the game (you and me) will be more important than the circus performers out on Tour. One thing is for sure, Tiger or no Tiger the game will survive. Above all, expect the unexpected.