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9 Does Fred Couples care enough to usurp Bernhard Langer as the dominant player on the Champions tour?
MAGIC GOLF BALL (stamped with an 8) says: Fred's future fuzzy. It's hard to know what Fred really cares about. He's an enigma wrapped in a fairway wood with a ladies' shaft. He certainly has enough talent to overtake Langer. At some point, despite Langer's freakish, Hale Irwin--like drive, the golfing skills of the bionic 53-year-old German will start to decline, and Couples, being a couple years younger, will be ready to pass him, whether he cares enough or not. But that's not likely to be in 2011, when Couples will again captain the U.S. Presidents Cup team, giving him a nice distraction alibi. And by 2012 or '13 you don't know who is going to pass Couples (above). Could be Mark Calcavecchia or Kenny Perry or Lee Janzen or even Greg Norman. But in the New Year, expect more of the same. Bernhard one, Fred two, Calc coming to bat. As for the three senior majors—the Senior U.S. and British Opens and the Senior PGA Championship—Fred's struggles with short putting are most likely to show up there.
10 Will the Olympic golf movement gain momentum?
ABSOLUTELY, THOUGH you won't hear much about it in 2011, not in the U.S., Europe or Japan or anyplace else with a highly developed golf culture. But in China and India? Plus South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, even Russia? Golf, capitalist tool and barometer of economic health, is growing fast elsewhere. The 2016 Olympics are still five years away. There's very likely more teenage golf talent in China right now than there is in the U.S., and certainly more governmental support for promising golfers. The to-be-built Olympic course in Rio has a chance to become the blueprint for the next wave of course design—a public layout that can challenge the best players but be playable for duffers, and is green in every sense.
11 Now that Martin Kaymer is old news, who is the next big thing?
GOLF IS SO flush with young talent that the Molinari brothers—Francesco, 28, and Edoardo, 29—practically count as elder statesman. With his grown-up bearing and polished all-around game, Kaymer has established himself as the best player in the world under 30. Yet four players nipping at his heels may have more upside: Dustin Johnson, 26, Anthony Kim, 25, Rory McIlroy, 21, and Ryo Ishikawa, 19, are all proven winners who have displayed zero compunction about shooting crazy-low scores. Any among this outrageously talented quartet could break through in 2011 with a major championship win. (Rickie Fowler, 22, is still looking for a win of any kind, but his courageous comeback in Ryder Cup singles, capped by his 18th-hole birdie putt, bodes well.)
You have to go younger still to identify golf's most intriguing prospect: Matteo Manassero (above), the 17-year-old from Verona, Italy, who in October became the youngest winner in European tour history. That was hardly a fluke; he also had a second- and third-place finish en route to being named rookie of the year. Expect him to continue to shake up the existing world order in 2011. The kids are growing up faster and faster these days.