2011 preview: 11 storylines to watch

Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell

Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell

With 2011 upon us, here’s a list of 11 storylines I’ll have an eye on this year:

•••

Martin Kaymer

Kaymer, who turned 26 on Dec. 28, is No. 3 in the world. His proficiency in finding the winner’s circle – he won four times in 2010, including the PGA – means he’s a leading candidate to become World No. 1 this year. Kaymer isn’t as flashy as some of his peers, but that’s OK. In a world of increasing self-promotion, it’s nice to see a soft-spoken type like Kaymer earn recognition solely for what he accomplishes with his clubs.

•••

Koreans

Many predicted that Y.E. Yang’s victory at the 2009 PGA Championship would do for Korean men what Se Ri Pak’s 1998 U.S. Women’s Open victory did for her countrywomen. Two Korean men – Bio Kim and Sunghoon Kang – earned PGA Tour cards via Q-School. Kim, 20, also will be the youngest PGA Tour member next season. And they’re not even the best of the bunch. Kyung-Tae Kim, 24, is No. 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking after winning the Japan Tour Order of Merit. Seung-Yul Noh, 19, won the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2010 (see below).

•••

TV broadcasts

The PGA Tour’s six-year deal with the two networks is set to expire in 2012, so ratings will be important this year. Of course, wins by Tiger Woods are the quickest way to boost ratings, but we have to start looking for other solutions. TV execs met with the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council in 2010 to discuss ways to liven up broadcasts. Most agree that providing microphones for caddies is one of the best, and most feasible, ways to improve broadcasts, but players seem hesitant to accept the move. Here’s hoping both sides can find a common ground.

•••

Rickie Fowler

Fowler lived up to the expectations in 2010, finishing 22nd on the money list and earning Rookie of the Year. The only thing missing from his resume? A victory, which would add substance to his style. Fowler was criticized heavily for laying up on the 15th hole in the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. I wonder how those same talking heads would respond if he went another season without winning. Fowler’s play in the lower-profile Fall Series late in 2010 seemed to indicate he’s trending upward. He finished in the top 25 in all five starts, including three top-5s.

•••

58?

After all the low scores we saw in 2010 – even a high-school kid shot 57 – it’d only seem appropriate that 2011 would bring the PGA Tour’s first 58.

•••

Peter Uihlein

Uihlein, the U.S. Amateur champion, is No. 1 in three separate world amateur rankings, and No. 1 in Golfweek’s college rankings. His victory at Chambers Bay earned him exemptions into the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. It’ll be interesting to see how amateur golf’s dominant player fares on pro golf’s biggest stages.

•••

Erin Hills

Once again, the U.S. Amateur will provide the first national exposure for a highly-rated venue scheduled to host a U.S. Open. Erin Hills, site of the 2017 U.S. Open, will host this year’s Amateur. Last year, it was Chambers Bay, the 2015 U.S. Open host. The on-course action at Chambers Bay was memorable – top names continued to advance through the match-play bracket, with the world’s top two players meeting in the final – but the test run also revealed flaws in the course’s design and conditioning that will need to be changed in advance of the Open.

•••

Graeme McDowell

Entering 2010, McDowell had won four European Tour titles in eight seasons as a pro, had just one top-10 in a major and was No. 39 in the world. Even McDowell would’ve had a hard time imagining the year he’d have: three victories, including the U.S. Open, clinching the Ryder Cup, then defeating Tiger Woods in the Chevron World Challenge.

“It’s going to be tough to replicate what I did this year in 2011,” McDowell said. I’m interested to see how he does.

•••

Seung-Yul Noh

Noh, 19, isn’t mentioned enough in the conversation of good young players. In 2010, Noh became the youngest player to win the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit, and he was that tour’s player of the year. He finished 34th in the Race to Dubai after winning the Malaysian Open. He also had solid finishes in two majors, finishing 40th in the U.S. Open and 28th at the PGA. He deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Rory, Ryo and Rickie.

•••

Tom Lewis

This 19-year-old English amateur will be Uihlein’s foil at the Walker Cup. He also proved late in 2010 that he’s one to keep an eye on. He finished 12th in the Australian Open, and lost a playoff in the New South Wales Open, another pro event Down Under. Lewis, the son of a former touring professional, has a simple swing that’s turned him into a dangerous long-iron player.

•••

Tiger Woods

What list would be complete without his presence? All eyes are on Woods, no matter what he does.

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