When Dr. Johnson said, "Tomorrow is an old deceiver," he could have added that anyone who thinks he can make prognostications about golf is dumber than a box of rocks.
Of course, that's about the same degree of dumb that would have been ascribed at this time last year to any person predicting that John Daly would win the British Open at St. Andrews, that Annika Sorenstam would lead the money list on both the American and European women's tours or that Tiger Woods would be declared ineligible for letting Arnold Palmer pick up his dinner check.
The point is, you really, really never know in this game because just about any forecast is a long shot. Grizzled observers of the sport don't get embarrassed when their most careful reasoning turns out to be utterly wrong. Nevertheless, we have given our magic rock box a few shakes and divined five things that will happen in 1996.
1. American-born golfers, their status eroded by the loss of the Ryder Cup, will take on a new sheen. U.S. Open champion and Oak Hill hero Corey Pavin will continue to do his part, as will two young lions coming off stellar rookie years—David Duval and Justin Leonard. But it says here that the biggest move will be made by Fred Couples.
Since 1992, when he was running the table with some of the best golf of the decade, Couples has been frustratingly in and out, due mostly to injury and a disturbingly yippy putting stroke. But at the end of 1995 Couples stopped his spasms, in his back and on the greens, and started making some timely putts. The one that will live longest in his memory bank was the slick six-footer—probably the biggest pressure putt of his life and just the kind Couples has been prone to gas—that he stroked home on the 18th green at Oak Hill to salvage a halve with Ian Woosnam and apparently save the Ryder Cup. While the putt didn't, of course, it was a stroke that may have unleashed Couples.
2. The Presidents Cup will emerge as a premier competition. The Ryder Cup clone that was thrown together quickly in 1994 has suddenly become an event in which the U.S. might not only be beaten but trounced. The International team (made up of players from Australia, Africa and Asia) is, on paper, better by far than any squad America or Europe can currently field. If Greg Norman, Nick Price, Ernie Els, Steve Elkington and Jumbo Ozaki all show up in September near Washington, D.C., as advertised, the International 12 will include half of the Sony Ranking's current top 10 as well as blue-chippers like Vijay Singh, Michael Campbell and David Frost. Given that the U.S. will be playing for the last vestiges of its reputation as the world's No. 1 golfing nation, the Presidents Cup instantly graduates from copycat contrivance to a biennial back-alley brawl.
3. In addition to his attempt to become the first player to win the U.S. Amateur three consecutive times, Tiger Woods will produce some scary-good golf in his second freewheeling run at the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open. No longer a teenager and thrilled to finally weigh 160 pounds, Woods, a proven quick study, will come to the majors more focused and physically capable than he was during his wide-eyed maiden voyage into the big time last year. Woods's best chance to succeed will come at Augusta, where in his first visit he put on a pyrotechnical display of driving that has already become part of the tournament's lore. He has enough game and enough grit not only to get on the leader board at Augusta but also to climb it.
4. The influence of the swing guru in professional golf will wane. With players like Hal Sutton and Bob Tway emerging last year from long nightmares of technical confusion brought on by instructors, and with Seve Ballesteros and Ian Baker-Finch classic cases of paralysis by analysis, more players are giving serious consideration to Ben Hogan's old admonition to "dig it out of the ground." Suddenly, there is a growing consensus on the practice range that gurus have screwed up as many players as they have helped, either by making their charges too conscious of technique or by robbing them of the vital quality of self-reliance. At year's end Greg Norman was breaking off his close association with Butch Harmon to coach himself, and even Nick Faldo, whose overhaul by David Leadbetter brought the idea of the omnipresent guru into vogue, is said to be seeking a less technical approach.
5. Someone in professional golf will shoot a 59...(rattle, rattle, rattle)...what the heck, make that 58.