Fellow golfers, it's that time again. No, Lee Westwood hasn't choked away another major; it's the beginning of a new year. Time to hunker down under five feet of snow, wistfully stare at the golf clubs in your basement sitting on top of the treadmill collecting dust, and game plan for next year. You're going to be a 10 handicap by June, and make it to the single-digit by August. That new driver you just got yourself for Christmas doesn't look quite as nice, as you read the Golf Digest Equipment issue, but it's a new year and you're going to hit the ball longer than ever. A 48-inch driver shaft is all you've been missing. Accuracy be damned!
All kidding aside, this is supposed to be a happy time of year full of new beginnings and fresh starts, and I have plenty of things to be thankful for, in golf, in life, and this is as good a time as any to put them into writing. Join me in helping send off 2011, will you?
Number Five: New England on the Map
As a proud Masshole and fan of all Boston sports teams, I realize I've been in an envious position over the last decade, at least as it comes to my sports fandom. But Massachusetts as a state produces very few professional athletes. While the Celtics may lead the Lakers in all-time NBA titles won, Los Angeles far outpaces Boston in terms of basketball talent (Celtics star Paul Pierce, for example, is from LA), despite the fact that basketball was invented in Massachusetts specifically to combat the New England winters, but I digress.
We're similarly devoid of professional golfers. As I've learned, you can only trumpet the Francis Ouimet and Julius Boros horns so many times. The list of New England pro golfers is so small, Wikipedia actually includes Golf Channel pro Michael breed under "Golfers from Connecticut" and CBS's Peter Kostis under "Golfers from Maine." It's only a matter of time before I make the list of "Golf Nerds from Massachusetts." Other standouts include Brad Adamonis, Bill Andrade, and the immortal Paul Azinger. Thankfully 2011 proved kind for one particular New England golfer, Vermont and Massachusetts' own Keegan Bradley.
Bradley was born in Vermont and moved to the small suburban town of Hopkinton, MA, during high school. His father became a club pro, and he was tutored by his aunt, Pat Bradley, six-time LPGA major winner and reigning best golfer all-time from New England. After four years at St. John's University, Bradley turned pro in 2008. He won the 2011 HP Byron Nelson Championship after several successful years on the lesser tours, and capped off his year with a win in the PGA Championship, his first major appearance.
After years of losing out to the likes of Californians, Floridians, and (gulp) New Yorkers, New Englanders finally have a big-time professional athlete to root for, and the homer in me couldn't be more thankful.
Number Four: Driver Innovation is Settling Down
I've been playing for years with my same driver, locked into the same settings. My r7 SuperQuad is set to "low," and I don't see changing that anytime soon. After golf companies started pumping out rapid-fire innovations over the past few years I just couldn't keep up. Adjustable faces, sole plates, swapping shafts, I wouldn't say it went over my head, but I wasn't going to drop $400 just to open my clubface a degree or two. No, the only advancement that even made me think twice was better aerodynamics, and even then it wasn't worth messing up what I had.
I love innovation as much as the next guy, but some breathing room would be nice. It seems like for the next few years, we're just going to get fancy paint, industrial design, and a few tweaks here or there. 48 inches of graphite isn't innovation and it's not pushing the limits of technology, it's needlessness. If TaylorMade's 2012 lineup is any indication (the RBZ is a revamped Burner, and the R11s just adds a few sole-plate options), the driver you have in your bag might not be outdated for a few more months!
Number Three: The Dreaded Regression Has a Silver Lining
Like my entire fantasy football team, many of my favorite golfers took major steps backwards this year. Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, Sean O'Hair, Anthony Kim, and Tiger Woods, among others. But one guy who did have a nice, if not spectacular, 2012 was Sergio Garcia. Sergio was in the top 10 on the PGA Tour only three times, but two of those tournaments were majors (the U.S. And British Opens), and he also placed 12th at the PGA. Sergio did even better on the Euro Tour, where (outside of the majors) he had four top 10s, including two late-season victories in just eight events. The first of those two events, the Castello Masters, Sergio won by 11 strokes.
It was just three years ago when Sergio reached number two in the Official World Golf Rankings, after a back-and-forth FedExCup battle with Vijay Singh and a win at the HSBC Champions event. Despite falling outside of the top 50 earlier this year, Sergio has made his way all the way up to 16th in the world rankings. Here's hoping Sergio continues his ascent.
Number Two: Aimpoint
So this one might be more central to myself, but bear with me.
I've always been God-awful at putting. I carry a 1.5 handicap, but only because I hit the fairways 71 percent of the time, and reach 67 percent of greens in regulation. On the other hand, I putt 32 times pre rounds. My name is Jamieson, and I can't putt. (Hiiiii Jamieson…)
2012 will be my first full season utilizing the AimPoint method of green reading. I took a lesson last summer, and though I haven't had all that much time to practice it (mostly just getting my feet and eyes to know what is one, two, three, or four percent slope, actually not as hard as you might think), I've already seen improvement in my putting.
For those who don't know, the gist of AimPoint is that you figure out the general shape of the green along your putt, the amount of slope, and the distance of the putt. When you figure those three out (all it really take is one walk up the line of the putt), you pop open the AimChart and you have your read. All in all, about 15-30 seconds, some of which can be done on the walk up to the green. I hope to be able to fully apply it to my game in 2012, and if you struggle as mightily as I do, I highly recommend taking an AimPoint class.
Number One: The Masters is in Tiger Woods PGA Tour
At long last, we know what it's like to hit around the Eisenhower tree. To come into Amen Corner needing to make a move. To hook one into the pond on 16. I've heard Jim Nantz talk about the tree-themed hole names ad nauseam, and I've tried to recite Charl's back-to-back-to-back-to-back finish more times than I can count (to no avail).
2012 was, in fact, the first edition of Tiger Woods PGA Tour that I've truly liked since 2005, in the previous generation of video game systems. Once EA started designing for the current generation consoles, to me it seemed like they were sacrificing massive amount of playability to get the water to shimmer just so.
2005 was great because everything was smooth. When you pulled the thumbstick pack, the golfer started the backswing, and when you pushed it forward, well your results may vary, but I got pretty damn good at getting the virtual club on the virtual ball. Once they switched to the 360 and PS3 the player became less responsive and the game lagged even when offline, but man were those trees life-like! It was as if Lamborghini decided that instead of worrying about handing and braking, they would spend half a decade making sure their buttons and dials were absolutely perfect.
Tiger Woods '12 is the first version I can honestly say plays as well as the last-gen version, not to mention the dozens of additional features, amazing graphics, and of course, Augusta National. I might have joked about it earlier, but I enjoyed watching the Masters much more knowing what I would do on every hole (if I could hit it 320 yards, of course). I loved watching Tiger's Sunday fairway wood on eight and knowing that's the way virtual me would have hooked it in towards the green, setting virtual me up for a thrilling eagle putt (that virtual me probably would have missed). Tiger Woods '13 looks to be even better, and will be the first edition to support Xbox 360 Kinect.
Closing and Your Thoughts
It might have been different from what we've seen over the last dozen years, but 2011 was at least an interesting year in golf. Four first-timers walked away with major championships, including one major-newbie in Keegan Bradley. At least for the foreseeable future, the shiny new driver you just got for Christmas won't be out of date by the time the season actually rolls around, and come March we should have another awesome Masters-including edition of Tiger Woods PGA Tour. It might not have been the best year for some of my favorites, but I'll find replacements, just as I hope to find the bottom of the cup a little bit easier.
And hey, less than three months until the Masters, right?