2022 PGA Season Preview
So, as a New Year dawns, here’s a way too early look at the 2022 season, especially the Majors. For all predictions, let’s assume the highlighted players are in decent form and goodish health coming in, and maybe we can find some intriguing early numbers a la Danny Willett 2016 (credit of course to Geoff and Pat). Now, without further adieu, here is my ideal layout of the 2022 golfing year...
The Masters-ANGC-April 7-10
It was a bittersweet sendoff to Lee Elder on the 1st tee last year (RIP to a pioneer), the start of a tournament that culminated with yet another first-time major winner finally breaking through in a trend we have seen often lately, with the pride of Japan, Hideki Matsuyama earning the green jacket in a bravado performance. However, the most memorable moment will undoubtedly be the show of reverence his caddy Shota Hayafuji made in bowing with the flagstick on 18-an indelible image representing all that is good about the game.
To borrow a line from Uncle Clyde Frazier, the “precocious neophyte” Slick Willy Z put in a valiant effort for 72 holes to grab a runner-up finish as a rookie. X-man got damp on 16, and Jordy was lurking yet again along with the Wild Leish Doggie, new father Rahmbo, and FRL Justin Rose all in hot pursuit. This year I wouldn’t be shocked to see most of these guys lurk again, but here’s a few other names that intrigue me coming in (all numbers courtesy of Draftkings Sportsbook on December 10)...
Favorites (49-1 and below)
Justin Thomas (12-1): I have to agree with our Twitter pal Andy Lack on this one-JT should be the man to beat this time around. He had a brutal sequence of events (one self-inflicted and the other beyond his control) derail his chances last year, but with Bones on the bag this year, and the desperation to add another major to his resume palpable, he has enough rounds under his belt here to finally break through.
Rory McIlroy (14-1): we know the drill by now: the last accomplishment remaining in his golfing journey is completing the career Grand Slam with the green jacket. Perhaps it’s as simple for Rory as the founder himself Dr. Jones once said, “In golf, the most important distance is the five inches between the ears." A promising latter half of 2021 (sans a few phantom threads on that poor polo), leads me to believe Rory will have one of his best chances yet at victory.
Brooks Koepka (18-1): for me personally, a narratives > strokes gained guy, I like to isolate guys who need another major. Now, Brooks has already locked up his Hall of Fame plaque, but this is the next one on the list without question. He’s THE big game hunter ending 2021 on a high note, so let’s see if he can maintain the momentum into the Spring. Assuming he’s healthy (a big assumption), I expect him to be in contention for his next prized possession to add to the trophy case, or should I say closet? (44 Long?)
Cam Smith (35-1): his time for a green jacket is coming soon-just based on his track record here (two t10s in the last 5 years), as well as his Seve-like wizardry on and around the greens. Like we say every week with him: if he can just keep the big dog under control for four days, the future of Australian golf could be officially anointed come April.
Tiger Woods (35-1): no need to go into this too deep-if the apex predator can walk, he’s live.
Dark Hawses (50-1 and up)
Rickie Fowler (60-1): The man my heart wants to win. Growing up idolizing his cool, Cali demeanor, Rickie is hopefully coming towards the end of a pervasive stretch of close-calls at majors. Lest we forget: the 50 year old stallion, defending PGA champ, otherwise known as Uncle Phil Mickelson went through a similar stretch early in his career until finally breaking through at Augusta. Now with a wife and kid in tow (God Bless), Rickie seems to have some well-needed balance in his life. We’ve seen this countless times in the sporting arena: highly touted wunderkind fails to live up to the hype early in his career, still achieves “great success”, hits rock bottom, finds solace in his family, and makes a resounding run to glory. This is truly the hero’s journey in a Campbellian sense. Nothing would be more fitting than having another player who overcame seemingly insurmountable pressure, endless close calls, and public outcry of underachievement, ie Hideki Matsuyama, to don the green jacket on Mr. Fowler come April. The thought of Mr. Nantz sitting across from Rickie in Butler Cabin brings a damn tear to my eye. Let’s take 5, I need a Kleenex...
Adam Scott (65-1): speaking of underachieving, let’s talk about the sharpest jawline in the biz. It’s really insane to call this guy’s career an underachievement (I would not for the record, but many would), considering the multitude of worldwide victories including one memorable green jacket in the rain. Yet, if you asked him behind closed doors, off the record, much like his predecessor, the Great Shark himself, he must admit he expected more when it came to major championships. Watching this guy swing a golf club is like watching Michelangelo sculpt clay, yet even he had only one David. And maybe Scott’s masterpiece was sculpted in 2013 and that’s it. But I beg to differ-I think the sweet swinging meat missile has one more left in the old tank before it’s all said and done.
Uncle Phil Mickelson (65-1): we saw what he did at Kiawah last year-never rule him out when the azaleas start to bloom.
Uncle Lee Westwood (65-1): he owes me BIG TIME from last year...tread lightly.
Cousin Harris English (80-1): considering his perpetual lurking in big boy events this year, I think this number is just high enough to pique my interest. The Georgia dawg doesn’t have the greatest track record here, but his general affinity for southeastern golf, and his ascent up the OWGR may be enough to push him over the top like he almost did at Torrey last summer...
Jason THE KOKRAKEN “™” (100-1): I guess a nickname is good when the player himself and his club sponsor likes it, and then it gets “borrowed” by a Tour event, but that’s neither here nor there. 100-1 is a yuge number for the bentgrass behemoth. We’ve seen his putting improve drastically leading to three wins over the last calendar year, coupled with his prodigious length off the tee, it may be time for him to take the next step up the food chain.
Mac Hughes (200-1): this may be better served as a T-5 or an each-way for our friends North of the Border, but despite his lack of distance off the tee, this is a crazy number for a guy who has repeatedly proven he’s one of the best bentgrass putters on planet Earth. Distance wasn’t a detriment for him at Torrey (much like Cousin Harris) at the US Open, so to see him lurk on the hallowed grounds of Augusta come the Spring should be a shock to no one.
Winner: Justin Thomas
PGA Championship-Southern Hills-May 19-22
On a glorious, blustery May afternoon, we saw Phil Mickelson turn in a performance for the ages, aviators and all, with a resounding victory over Louis and Brooks at Pete Dye’s gem of the Atlantic, Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. This year we will head West like our forefathers to the rolling hills of Tulsa, Oklahoma as Southern Hills will play host to this year’s championship; a Perry Maxwell creation and Gil Hanse redesign, the course has a storied history and should be in impeccable shape. So with that in mind let’s take a gander at who could be hoisting The Wanamaker in five months time...
Bryson DeChambeau (14-1): Bryson is due for another major very, very soon. With him being a Dallas native, I like taking the big boy at a relatively nearby course that he can go bombs away at like he did at Winged Foot. Not trying to reinvent the wheel with this one, at a course that has hosted seven majors, but none recently, I like a modern big-hitter like Bryson (or Rahmbo) to pick apart a course like this. His underrated putter won’t hurt his chances for major numero dos either.
Good Boy Viktor Hovland (22-1): the first of three OSU cowboys featured in this segment, GBV as we call him is coming off yet another impressive island victory in the Bahamas a couple weeks ago at the Hero. We’ll see where his game’s at in a few months time, but his friendly demeanor, and Hoganesque ball-striking should keep him in contention for the foreseeable future. His short game is still not where it needs to be to win at a place like Augusta, but there’s no reason he can’t ball-strike his way to victory at his home away from home in Oklahoma this May.
Big Tony Finau (35-1): Big Tony sounds more like a guy who may have been connected to the tragic incident that played out in the parking lot of this club years ago. Google it if you must. Anyway-this jolly giant is ready to take a major step forward in his career after holding off Cam Smith to win the Northern Trust, a FedEx playoff event at Liberty National to cap off the summer. Undoubtedly a tremendous monkey off his back, I expect Polynesian piss missiles galore this year for Big Tony. He can attack these Par 5s with a warrior’s mentality, and if he can just keep the flatstick lukewarm, he should be in the hunt on the weekend. I have a feeling his delayed ascent continues next year, and this could be the perfect place for the Utah native to lay claim to the crown jewel of the Old West.
Sammy The Bull (65-1): keeping our mob theme alive and well, this number on Sammy the Bull is straight up egregious. Now go get ya shine box (and hammer)! Based on his multiple wins and constant lurkage all through 2021, I anticipate this number will be half of what it is now come May if things continue to trend upward for the fu manchu...man. This guy has a penchant for aggressive shot making, he's as long as they come, and is just the caliber of talented youngster who could claim a PGA, much like Wheatley Hills’ Keegan Bradley did a decade ago...
Matt Wolff (80-1): another juicy number here for the OSU cowboy. Familiar with the sandy turf and whispering winds across the plains, on a calm day this guy can simply pick this place apart off the tee-much like we saw at The Foot and Torrey at two of the last eight majors. When he’s firing on all cylinders, and is in it upstairs, there’s few who can match this kid’s game, as hard as it may be to watch.
Kokraken (100-1): see above.
Talor The GOOCHmeister (?-1): for some reason as of writing this I can’t get a number on him via DK, but I would surmise he’s in the 60-100 range and if you can find it HAMMER IT. As our buddy Rob G would attest, it was just a matter of time for another OSU cowboy to finally claim victory at the RSM to end the year in 2021. Admittedly I was hesitant to get on board the Gooch Express, but there can now be no doubt: the kid’s got game. Perhaps he can ride the heater into the New Year all the way back home to his roots in Oklahoma. Let’s see how it plays out, but I’ve seen crazier shit than the OK Kid peeking his head into the lead come Sunday.
Winner: Tony Finau
U.S. Open-June 16-19
Last June we saw the new father Johnny Rahmbo finally ascend to his destined throne, claiming his first major at Torrey Pines with a virtuoso birdie barrage on the Back 9 (and in turn “winning” me the Epic Max driver, thanks Callaway!) I wouldn’t be shocked to see him defend his title as Brooks did a few years back. We’ve seen guys of his ilk go on multi-year heaters like this including Brooks, and Paddy Harrington, but with the multitude of top-tier contenders now, I find it difficult if not impossible for Rahm to defend. Instead I like a familiar face to reign victorious, with a couple first-timer major winners looking to break through in Brookline at The Country Club this June...
Brooks Koepka (14-1): again here we see the pros tee it up at a familiar course to many in the know, but not so much by the general public since it was last graced by Justin Leonard’s putter and those hideous Ryder Cup polos 20 years ago. A classic Northeast tree-lined layout, of course Bryson could find this place to his liking. Yet, I have trouble envisioning another year of his prime passing without another major for the man who bested Bryson in the Vegas desert: Brooks Koepka. A better all-around player and knowing with that fickle knee his time at the pinnacle of the game could be fleeting, I think Brooks must grab his third US Open this upcoming Summer in Massachusetts.
X-Man (18-1): if not Brooks, then I’m looking at two other guys who have an all-around game that should suit a classical set-up like this well. The first is Xander Schauffele. The narrative of him not winning a full-field PGA event in three years is a silly one in some regards and not so silly in others. He had the green jacket in sight before teeing off on Redbud, and yet he did claim Olympic Gold a few months later which is certainly a spectacular achievement, but still not a major. With the amount of times he's contended in majors, and lacking any real flaws in his game, I would not be surprised one bit if the X-Man summons his inner Dr. Xavier (hehe) and mentally wills his way to victory next summer.
Patrick Cantlay (22-1): often compared to the aforementioned Xander for their full-scale attacks and frequent pairings at team events, Mr. Cantlay is another one of the five best currently playing without a major. Also lacking any noticeable flaws in the bag, this guy has been through so much off the course both physically and emotionally that the arduous nature of winning a major should be a relative cakewalk for him. Both he and the X-Man will win at least one major before their times are over, and I suspect we will see his name on the leaderboard at each major this upcoming season. Pure and simple.
Louis Oosthuizen (35-1): keeping the theme alive of guys who have come close, perhaps no one (aside from maybe Rickie) has been through the gauntlet more than King Louis. Despite his memorable victory at St. Andrews, the runner-up crown is spoken about more often now as he truly may have missed his shot at major number two. Or perhaps not. Sort of a “value Bryson” in terms of his game (prodigious off the tee with that immaculate swing-besides that one tee shot at the Zurich, yikes, and captivating with the putter), the affable South African has had a marvelous career already. But much like Adam Scott, if he doesn’t get major number two, a little piece of his legacy will feel missing. Maybe that changes this week...
Justin Rose (50-1): another guy who “needs” another major to cement his legacy, I think JRose still has enough gas left in the tank to get the job done. It wasn’t THAT long ago he claimed the wicker flag stick victorious at another Northeast US Open, at Merion in 2013. Additionally, we just saw him first round lead at Augusta this past season so we know he still has the game to compete. I see many parallels between him and Scotty boy (aside from both last winning a major in 2013), and just have a weird feeling at least one of them will add one more trophy to the major mantle before it’s all said and done. And maybe, just maybe, the Wall Street wizard from across the Pond can conjure up some winning magic once more this summer.
Corey Conners (80-1): I like the ball-striking aficionado to continue his major contention for the foreseeable future. Keeping in the vain of all-around solid players who have contended recently at Augusta and otherwise, there’s no reason to think the crusading Canuck can’t toss his name into contention yet again at another classical layout. This guy hits the ball so well tee-to-green, if he can just be competent on and around the greens, I expect him to add a few more victories to his name come 2022, so why not include a big boy event too?
Billy Ho (130-1): we saw a traditional east coast bermuda boy in Russell Henley almost claim the title at a course not suited to his game at last year’s US Open in San Diego (Ron Burgundy voice), so why not add throw Billy Ho’s hat in the ring at Brookline? We saw him outduel the best at the Match Play in Austin. We saw him take down the Euro stalwarts in the BMW this past Fall. Essentially his best is good enough to contend anywhere, and I actually like the comps here to Wentworth (BMW). When firing at all cylinders, and with the ornery personality we love to see down the wire at a major, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Florida gator chomping at the bit to claim his first major here at the Country Club.
Winner: Brooks Koepka
The Open Championship-July 14-17
After a prolonged COVID-induced absence from our lives, The Open Championship returned to the links in dramatic fashion last July as the boy wonder, and now newly-engaged Collin Morikawa took the Claret Jug back home with him across the Atlantic, besting Jordan Speith, King Louis (once again), and Rahmbo amongst others. This year, The Open will return to the home of golf for the 150th rendition, at St. Andrews. Maybe Louis will get another one here to break his major drought, but here’s some other top dogs who I surmise could be holding the hardware in the Scottish sun...
Rory McIlroy (12-1): much like Mr. Koepka, each year that passes without another major victory, the task of doing so becomes increasingly more grim. Thus is the case for the heir apparent of Mr. Woods. After quickly winning four majors before the age of 26, it has been an incredible eight years since Rory’s last major triumph in the dark at Valhalla in 2014. Unlike any other sport, we do sometimes see the game’s top players go long stretches between major victories (just ask Phil), but it’s a feat few and far between. We’ve already gone over how important it is for Rory to don the green jacket, but for him to take home the Jug in the 150th playing of the European's (and arguably the world’s) top golfing honor, that would be very, very special too.
Tommy Fleetwood Mac Daddy (35-1): for a guy still looking for his first major (and PGA sanctioned event while we’re at it) taking home the hardware in the 150th playing of the Open would be a monumental feat. Yea, but that hair doe...Thus is the case for old Tommy Boy. If not for an ill-advised water ball on 18 at the Honda, he’d have his maiden PGA win to go with a handful of other extremely impressive victories on the Euro (sorry, the DP) Tour, and I sure do think the links expert could make some noise at the Old Course this summer.
Bobby Mac (40-1): normally we’d be talking about the Scottish sensation as a dark hawse, but with his number already down this low, the golfing community is taking him very seriously. Long, great in the wind, and crafty on any linksy layout, the Mac Attack will be priming to win the title of his homeland. Maybe this number floats to 50 or 60 before this summer and if it does I would pounce because with a little help from the coastal golfing gods, the big southpaw could be destined for eternal glory.
Rickie Fowler (50-1): ok so if I haven’t made my affinity for Rickie clear enough, here’s some more ammo: he’s had multiple close calls with the Claret Jug already, he plays better when the weather turns to shit, he’s playing with house money at this point as no one expects him to win a major, and quite simply his game fits links golf perfectly. *Queue TDKR Alfred voice…”I have a fantasy Mr. Fowler, a fantasy of seeing those low apex bullets peppering the finely trimmed fescue fairways, rain pelting the Puma rain slicker, approaches circumventing The Road Hole, crossing over the Swilcan Bridge, and ultimately navigating the Valley of Sin, and holing the victorious putt on 18 with Mr. Woods and Mr. Nicklaus standing watch greenside, applauding, and crowning you the Champion Golfer of the Year.” Why the hell not?
Uncle Lee Westwood (50-1): if not Rickie then give me the old cockney journeyman. No analysis required, the sport just owes him one by now for goodness sake.
Ian Poulta (65-1): see Westwood, Lee.
Victor Perez (130-1): the boy next door (literally in this case) has lost a step or two of late, but ya never know what can happen seven months from now for the only guy out there who could rival Adam Scott’s jawline.
All that being said, there can only be one Champion Golfer of the Year. And if things go as stated above, it will a clean sweep for the Americans in the majors, with the last, and probably the most iconic, going to the man who needs it the most...
Winner: Rickie Fowler
That’s a wrap on 2021 folks. Enjoy the holidays, spend some quality time with your families, and soon enough the soothing vocals of Uncle Jimmy Nantz will be gracing us once again, ready for yet another year in the sun. Cheers.