31 Dec 2020 | Industry news |

What we want to see in 2021

by Martin Blake

Min Woo Lee Scotland image
Min Woo Lee is one of Australia's brightest talents at 22. Photo: Getty

The year 2020 was a tough one for professional golf, just as it was for every other sport.

Greg Norman and Adam Scott caught Covid-19 along with a few other big-name players. The European and US Tours cobbled together shorter seasons but elsewhere, tours were smashed by the pandemic and players left jobless.

Yet at the grassroots level – all around the world – the game boomed as the Covid-19 pandemic spread.

That’s just to show that the impact of this once-in-a-lifetime event is not evenly spread.

Now’s the time to look at what we’d like to see in 2021 in golf. We still don’t know if we’re anywhere near through the pandemic, which leaves everyone with a sense of bated breath. Bring it on.

1. Returning events

It was tough to see our big pro events – notably the Australian Open and the Australian PGA – lost to the pandemic with its border closures and quarantine restrictions. This year’s ISPS Handa Vic Open and ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, due to be played in February, have gone, too. We weren’t alone in this; the Ryder Cup was postponed and the Open Championship cancelled for the first time in more than 70 years. Let’s hope that the world finds a way to work through the pandemic this year to allow the big Aussie events to return late in 2021. To do that, we need open borders, and the golfers won’t want to quarantine. The cost of running Covid-safe events is upwards of $US200,000, and golf doesn’t have the television-rights cash that, say, tennis has to pay these bills. Clearly, it’s not guaranteed but it would be nice. 2. Maintaining the golf boom Golf courses in Australia are choked with players. It’s been the same all around the world in the Covid-19 period. In the last rounds-of-golf statistics compiled for Golf Australia, the numbers were up four percent when you excluded Victoria, where the courses were closed over winter. Club memberships are tracking for a five percent increase in 2020, and this against a long-term downward trend that was ever-so-slightly arrested in 2019. Golf is being viewed as a safe and fun activity in a pandemic. The challenge ahead for the game is to hold a strong proportion of all those new exponents from 2021 onward. 3. Pins out for putting, please This was a great idea during the worst of the pandemic, when ultra-caution was understandable. With Australian generally on top of the plague, it’s surely time to relax this particular precaution. Under the current guidelines, it’s possible for clubs and facilities to allow it with certain criteria followed, but most have not. Pin-in for long putts is great; for short putts, it is extremely distracting. And I’m doubtful we’re saving anyone’s life that way. 4. A Minjee major We thought it was coming at Royal Troon in August, but Minjee Lee fell just short in the AIG Women’s Open (aka the Women’s British Open) on the final day. Her third place was her equal-best finish in a major. Perth’s Lee is a phenomenally-consistent player, No. 8 in the world, and it’s time she won one of the majors. She’s certainly good enough. 5. A Min Woo explosion The kid can surely play, but the best of 22-year-old Min Woo Lee may be to come. The younger brother of Minjee Lee has sat in her shadow for a few years before winning his first tournament – the ISPS Handa Vic Open on the European Tour – last February. He now has playing rights in Europe. Australia has some remarkable young players – Queenlander Elvis Smylie, 18, and Sydney’s Stephanie Kyriacou, 19, among them – but of the young pros, it is Lee who appears to have the most upside. Like the best modern pros, he hits it forever. He could do anything in 2021. 6. More women playing golf

There is movement in this area and there needed to be. An 80-20 male to female split does not cut it in any sport in this era.

Vision 2025, the Golf Australia participation strategy for women and girls, is a couple of years old now and many clubs and facilities have made significant changes to the way they approach female participation.

Tee times have been opened, gender equality has been introduced, constitutions have been rewritten.

There is a new attitude out there.

We wait for the numbers to follow.

7. Jason Day’s resurrection He hasn’t won a tournament since May, 2018. He’s way better than that. But Jason Day looks like he is running out of time at just 33 years of age. He’s changed his swing, moved away from his longtime coach Col Swatton to facilitate that. The changes are meant to protect his aching back. It doesn’t bode for a long career. But I fancy he has a few shots left in the locker.

8. A little less of ...

Donald Trump golfing for one. He's everything that people despise about golf and golfers -- entitled, wealthy, arrogant. It’s not a true reflection of the game but the stereotype sticks.

And Greg Norman. Yes, definitely a little less of him.

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