Off season: It’s no small testament to just how playoffs might redeem a lacklustre year for golf

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August 23, 2020 1:00 AM

American Justin Thomas starts the Playoffs ranked number one, followed by rising star Collin Morikawa and Webb Simpson in third position.

Of all these contenders, the one I'm most excited to watch is none other than PGA Champion, Collin Morikawa. Of all these contenders, the one I’m most excited to watch is none other than PGA Champion, Collin Morikawa.

It was a close call: in the end, good sense persevered, and that’s why you’re not looking at a picture of 11-year-old Charlie Woods with this column. Charlie won a US Kids Golf event at Hammock Creek Golf Club recently with none other than his dad, Tiger Woods, on the bag. With a score of 33 in the nine-hole event, Charlie beat the rest of the field by no less than five strokes. There’s no way you’re not going to google this information just to have a look at Woods Jr.’s golf swing; take it from someone who’s looked at a few videos: impressive doesn’t even begin to cover it. Charlie already has a world-class golf swing, which, to be fair, is precisely what the world expects.

What I wonder about, is how different Tiger will be to Charlie vis a vis how his late father, Earl Woods, was with him. The stories of how Earl groomed Tiger to be a champion and honed his killer instinct, are lore, but perhaps TW will temper some of the martinet training with a soft touch. “I’m still winning…for now,” Woods joked about playing with his son in July, in an interview to Golf Digest magazine. “He’s starting to get into it. He’s starting to understand how to play.

He’s asking me the right questions.” Best of luck Charlie. It’s hard enough trying to play golf, let alone competitively, and that degree of difficulty goes through the roof when your dad is the greatest player of the modern era.

The thing about legend is that once established, it puts the subject in a tough spot. It’s not as if Tiger’s exploits are embedded in yesterday’s turf: the man is still very much in the fray. Tiger’s not played much in this bizarre coronavirus-afflicted season but he’s in the playoffs that begin this week even though he’s ranked a lowly 49th. 44 spots above him sits a little-known Korean golfer who Woods decimated in a singles match at the 2019 President’s Cup

It’s no small testament to just how lacklustre the year has been for sport, golf included, that most people haven’t heard of Sungjae Im. The 22-year-old Korean earned the nickname “Ironman Im” after he played in 35 events last season pro en route to winning rookie-of-the-year honours. The suspension of play on pro tours around the world was tough on players. But for Im, the announcement couldn’t have come at a worse time-bang in the middle of a purple patch. He’d won his maiden title-the Honda Classic, nearly won the Arnold Palmer Invitational (where he eventually finished third) and led the FedEx Cup rankings. He was right in the fray at the Players’ Championship before the event was cancelled and play was called off on account of the lockdown.

Since the restart Im has missed a few cuts but a ninth-place finish at the Wyndham Championship earlier this month signals a welcome return to form just before the Playoffs. “I haven’t finished very well since the end of the Charles Schwab Challenge (in June), so it feels great to have my swing back,” he said.

American Justin Thomas starts the Playoffs ranked number one, followed by rising star Collin Morikawa and Webb Simpson in third position. Bryson De Chambeau is fourth while Im wraps up the top-5. Is it possible that we’ll have an Asian winner of the FedEx Cup? The Korean is certainly in with a chance.

Of all these contenders, the one I’m most excited to watch is none other than PGA Champion, Collin Morikawa. The 23-year-old’s first Major win, astonishingly in his debut appearance on one of golf’s biggest stages was spectacular in every respect: the way he handled the course; how he never wavered from his course strategy; and how magnificently he performed under pressure. . Morikawa now has three victories on the PGA Tour. What really distinguishes the young lad in today’s bomb-and-gouge style of play is, well, that he’s not a bomber, relying instead on laser-sharp iron play. Stories of Morikawa’s exceptional accuracy are rife at his alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley, where he went through a testing combine that revealed his dispersion pattern with a six-iron was comparable to other elite golfers with a pitching wedge. “I’m just trying to hit the best shots I can,” Morikawa told last year. “I love to hit my little 5- to 10-yard cut, and that’s what I try to do. And I think that’s kind of been my game. My ball-striking has been the centre of my game for a long time now. And being on the PGA Tour, you’ve got to have a well-rounded game.” That’s precisely he displayed at the PGA Championship. Playing his favourite shape, swinging the ball slightly left-to-right, is what Morikawa did at the par-4 16th hole of the PGA Championship.

To add to the challenge was the fact that it happened to be the final round of his first Major Championship, for which he was tied for the lead with two holes left to go-the mind boggles. At under-300 yards the hole was too short for most long-hitters to pull a driver out of the bag. No such trouble with Morikawa. He hit it full tilt with the big stick, with that trademark fade and drilled a ten-footer for Eagle. The rest is history. This kid is going places.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game

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