Top Storylines for 2007: Part Two

Part two of the top storylines for 2007 discusses The Golf Channel, Lefty, and more.

Thrash TalkWith the 2007 golf season right around the corner, I’m previewing some of the top storylines that will garner attention in the coming weeks. Last week, I published part one of the top storylines for 2007, so check that out if you haven’t already. It’s time to talk about five more golf questions that are on my mind heading into the new year.

The Golf Channel is going to be the new home for PGA Tour opening-round action starting in 2007 and will be for at least 14 years beyond that. Will the two make a great team, or will it be a struggle from the beginning? Also, it has been over two years since Ernie Els won a PGA Tour event, and it’s been over a year for Retief Goosen. Finally, Phil Mickelson hasn’t been the same since his collapse at Winged Foot this past June. Can Els, Goosen, and Lefty bounce back in 2007? You will read about all this and more in this week’s article.

Will the PGA Tour and The Golf Channel Make a Great Team?
I always wondered why very little PGA Tour action was televised on The Golf Channel. The only channel dedicated to the sport rarely covered the most popular professional golf tour in the world. All that is changing in 2007 because every PGA Tour event will start on The Golf Channel. The Mercedes Championship is less than a month away, so we will all get a chance to see how things work out very soon.

It’s about time The Golf Channel stepped it up to get a slice of the PGA Tour pie. The relationship between the two should be great, even though there will be early hurdles to overcome. The announcing team will be improved greatly with the signing of Nick Faldo. Faldo has quickly emerged as one of the best color guys in the sport, and his entertaining style and successful playing career will instantly bring credibility to The Golf Channel coverage.

Other than Faldo, I’m a little worried about the rest of the announce team. I’ve watched some of the Nationwide Tour, LPGA Tour, and Champions Tour on The Golf Channel, and the announcing can be a little boring. The network must get an announcer or two to complement Faldo, and if they do, things should be ok. Rocco Mediate should do a great job walking the fairways once he gets the hang of everything.

Also, it’s no secret that The Golf Channel isn’t available on all basic cable packages. Slowly but surely, that may change, but it hasn’t happened yet. The USA Network and others are on most or all basic cable packages, and that was an advantage. If The Golf Channel does a great job, however, golf fans will have no choice but to purchase the channel or pressure their television operators into including the package.

With the start of The FedEx Cup in 2007, the switch to The Golf Channel couldn’t have happened at a better time. There is going to be a little extra hype for the 2007 PGA Tour golf season, and that will help The Golf Channel in a big way. I’m very happy that the network dedicated to golf will finally get the world’s best on a weekly basis. A lot of fans are worried about the quality of presentation, but things should be just fine after a couple months. The sky is definitely the limit for the partnership, and I hope things work out for the best.

Will Lefty Bounce Back?
Phil Mickelson After U.S. Open CollapsePhil Mickelson was halfway to capturing a Mickelslam, and things looked even brighter going into the 72nd hole at this year’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot. That’s when the collapse heard around the world happened, and Lefty hasn’t been the same since. I predicted Mickelson would bounce back rather quickly and possibly win another event or two before the season ended. It turns out things couldn’t have gone much worse on the course for Lefty the last half of 2006.

Mickelson’s best finish after the U.S. Open was a tie for 16th at The PGA Championship. Also, Lefty completely disappeared in The Ryder Cup, going 0-4-1 in another European trouncing. The Ryder Cup marked Mickelson’s final appearance on the PGA Tour in 2006. He didn’t play in the AmEx Championship, Tour Championship, or the Grand Slam of Golf. He has taken a lot of heat for it in the media and rightfully so.

It’s been nearly six months since Mickelson fell apart on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot, and it’s also been six months since Mickelson has played any solid golf. That’s a very long slump for one of the most talented golfers in the world. I didn’t think the collapse would affect Lefty, but I’m starting to wonder if he will ever be the same again. It’s a crazy question, but it’s also valid.

Will Mickelson bounce back in 2007? That remains to be seen, but the odds are fairly good. Lefty has won a major championship in three consecutive seasons, and he has always been very resiliant. His confidence hasn’t been very high as of late, and it will be very interesting to see how he performs at the start of next season. Then again, we may not see him until The Masters in early April if he has anything to say about his personal schedule.

Will Young Americans Step Up?
This is one of the main storylines on my mind going into 2007, but it seems to be a neverending story each season. I continue to guess who will be the next great American golfer to step up and follow in Tiger’s footsteps, yet the answer always seems to be the same: nobody. Another year brings another glimpse of hope for the young Americans on the PGA Tour, but will we have to continue waiting for the answer to the ongoing question?

This next season will be a make-or-break year for Charles Howell III. Howell hasn’t lived up to his hype thus far, but he has still performed solidly every year of his professional career. Solid isn’t going to get it done though, and he isn’t going to be a young American for long. Howell will turn 28 next June, so the clock is definitely ticking. He doesn’t have much time, but he still has a little.

Other young Americans have shown promise, but they will have to do a lot more than that to elevate to the next level. Troy Matteson, 27, went on a tear late in the season and even won a PGA Tour event. It remains to be seen if his momentum rolls over into 2007. J.B. Holmes, 24, won his first PGA Tour tournament early last season, but he stumbled down the stretch. None of the young Americans are showing any signs of consistency, and that doesn’t bode well for the future. We may never win another Ryder Cup!

The one young golfer with enough talent and charisma to get the job done is Ryan Moore, but he has faced consistency issues as well. Moore was unhealthy most of the 2006 season, so next year will be very crucial to his future. He is still young enough to be a force for many years to come, but many guys have had that same label in recent years. Tiger Woods can’t be a young American force forever, so the time is now. I just hope I’m not asking this same question this time next year.

Will Retief and Ernie Win Again?
Retief Goosen and Ernie Els have both been dominant forces on the PGA Tour for years. This past season, however, both struggled to finish inside the top 30 on the money list and earn a spot in The Tour Championship. Goosen had a couple solid finishes early in the season and stumbled into the event. Els was nonexistent at the beginning of the year, but he did just enough late in the year to make his way into the top 30.

Both guys are far too talented to have those struggles. They should both be competing for the top spot on the money list instead of the #30 spot. Els’ last PGA Tour victory was the 2004 AmEx Championship, and Goosen’s was the 2005 International. Goosen has always been a solid golfer, but his game was so inconsistent he decided to hire a swing coach for the first time in ages. He did show signs of life late in the year, and hopefully that will carry into 2007. The same goes for Els, who struggled early but bounced back late in the year to contend in a few big tournaments.

Will either guy find the winner’s circle on the PGA Tour in 2007? The golf world isn’t the same without Els and Goosen contending for major after major after major. Both golfers are so solid that it is to be expected. For all I know, they may never win a PGA Tour event again, but that’s highly unlikely. Both golfers have many great years left in them, and they should both return to prominence next year. I would bet on it anyway.

Will the United States retain the Presidents Cup or Solheim Cup?
Believe it or not, the United States men will actually be defending a team title next season. Jack Nicklaus led them to an impressive performance at the 2005 Presidents Cup, and they will be defending in 2007 at Royal Montreal in Ontario, Canada. After watching them in The Ryder Cup a few months ago, the future in team competitions doesn’t bode well for the U.S.

We beat the International side in 2005, but it was close. The International side also played without Ernie Els, but The Big Easy will surely be back this time around. On paper, it looks like a mismatch in favor of the International squad, but for some reason, the United States plays with much more confidence in the Presidents Cup than they do in The Ryder Cup. Nonetheless, I’m putting my early money on the International squad until the U.S. shows me some winning attitude.

Paula CreamerAs bad as the United States men looked at the past Ryder Cup, the U.S. ladies looked that much better at the 2005 Solheim Cup. The next playing will be at the Halmstad Golf Club in Sweden next year, so Annika Sorenstam will certainly have a little extra motivation at home. It’s going to be tough for the European team to take down the U.S. though.

It won’t surprise me if the United States Solheim Cup team starts a stretch of dominance like the Europeans have done in recent Ryder Cup history. The best young female golfers are coming from the United States or Asia, and Asia doesn’t participate in The Solheim Cup. We have often found out that battles aren’t fought on paper, however, so let’s hope the Solheim Cup stays more competitive than recent Ryder Cup matches. I’m still going with the United States women led by Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, and possibly even Michelle Wie.

The Final Say
I know I’ve left out many top storylines for 2007, but ten seemed to be a nice even number to stop at. Additional stories center around David Duval and whether or not he will finally get over the hump and win his first PGA Tour event since 2001. I don’t know many golf fans who are cheering against him, so let’s hope he gets the job done once again. Also, who knows how much we will see John Daly next season. I’m not a fan, but he does bring in ratings, so I’m sure people will be following his story very closely.

I’m very excited about the 2007 golf season, whether we are talking about the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, European Tour, etc. The hype surrounding the 2007 PGA Tour season is as high as it’s been for any other season in recent memory, and hopefully The FedEx Cup and the relationship with The Golf Channel will elevate the tour to another level. Tiger isn’t going to be around forever, so it’s time to start thinking of ways to get fans excited for the long term. I think they are on the right path at least. And it’s only a month away, so we will all find out first hand here pretty soon.

Now it’s time for you to give me some feedback on part two of the top storylines of 2007. Will the partnership between the PGA Tour and The Golf Channel prove to be a positive or negative? Also, will Lefty, Retief, and Ernie bounce back in 2007 and maintain their top-10 world ranking? Finally, give me some early predictions for the 2007 Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup. If you have anything to add, feel free to comment below or discuss it in the forum.

Thanks for reading Thrash Talk in 2006, and I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Photo Credits: ©, © Getty Images.

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