Best of 2016: Looking forward to golf's biggest events
Fresh off a year in which we saw a new generation of golfers -- including Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Lydia Ko and Inbee Park -- cement their places at the top of their respective tours, 2016 promises to be even bigger and better for the sport.
In addition to the tried and true major events, this year will feature the return of golf as an Olympic sport at the Rio de Janeiro Games. And topping it all off, the 41st Ryder Cup matches will be held this fall at iconic Hazeltine National Golf Club.
And it all kicks off this week.
Here's a rundown of some of the top tournaments on the 2016 schedule:
Jan. 7: Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Kapalua Resort, Hawaii
The traditional kickoff to the PGA Tour's calendar year, the Plantation Course hosts the winners of PGA Tour events from the previous calendar year. That means a strong field highlighted by FedExCup champion Spieth, PGA Champion Day, Open Champion Zach Johnson and Rickie Fowler, among others.
Patrick Reed is the defending champion after winning a playoff against Jimmy Walker last January. It's a course with amazing views, and even more incredible elevation changes. Seven of the holes are more than 500 yards in length, but the 17th and 18th feature steep drops in elevation. In addition, the ocean breezes can play a huge factor.
April 7: The Masters, Augusta National, Augusta, Ga.
Jordan Spieth flirted with the course record en route to a four-shot victory last spring, jump-starting what turned out to be an epic season. Can he defend his green jacket in 2016?
There are a host of others who'd like nothing but to steal that crown, including former winners Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson. And major champions looking to add a victory at Augusta National to their resume, like Rory McIlroy and Jason Day.
There's nothing like Sunday afternoon at the Masters. Amen Corner. Azaleas. Bobby Jones. Pimento cheese sandwiches. The green jacket. It's a tradition unlike any other in golf.
May 26: Senior PGA Championship, Harbor Shores, Benton Harbor, Mich.
With back-to-back Senior PGA Championship victories, Colin Montgomerie is in the unique position of being not only the defending champion, but also the champion from the last time the event visited Harbor Shores, in 2014.
His four-stroke victory over Esteban Toledo at Pete Dye's course at French Lick sets Montgomerie up to possibly join Hale Irwin and Eddie Williams as golfers who have won three consecutive Senior PGA Championships. Irwin did it 1996-98 while Williams had to wait out World War II to accompish his (1942, 1945-46).
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Harbor Shores is difficult to classify, because it has four distinct sections. The first six holes play like a parkland course. The next three play along the dunes of Lake Michigan, almost like a Scottish seaside track. Then there are some real elevation changes and trees before the course wraps around wetlands and the Paw Paw River over the closing holes.
With multi-tiered, undulating greens, it's paramount to first hit the right quadrant, then trust your putter.
June 9: KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Salahee CC, Sammamish, Wash.
Park put together a final-round 68 to hold off the charges of Americans Lexi Thompson and Brittany Lincicome at Westchester CC in 2015, and will hope to defend her crown as the tournament moves to the West Coast for the first time since 1966.
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Sahalee means "High Heavenly Ground" in the language of the native Chinook. The name was chosen to reflect the Northwest's heritage and tradition. And it's a perfect description of the courses that have hosted the 1998 PGA Championship and the 2010 U.S. Senior Open.
The par-72 layout was carved out of the tall majestic cedar and douglas fir native to the Pacific Northwest and is consistently ranked among America’s greatest courses. It will play to 6,692 yards for this event.
June 16: U.S. Open, Oakmont CC, Oakmont, Pa.
If the 2016 edition can equal or exceed the late Sunday drama that unfolded at Chambers Bay, that'll be something.
Jason Day's gutty performance after collapsing on the course the previous day. Branden Grace's shot onto the railroad tracks while leading. Dustin Johnson's heartbreaking missed putt. And Spieth once again hoisting the trophy.
Now it's on to Oakmont, one of the toughest tests of golf in the world, with its famous Church Pew bunkers. Could this finally be the place where D.J. ends his major jinx?
June 26: PGA Professional Championship, Turning Stone Resort, Verona, N.Y.
Matt Dobyns won his second Walter Hagen Cup in a four-year span at the Philadelphia Cricket Club despite trailing by two strokes heading into the final hole. Dobyns made a three-foot birdie putt and won when Ben Polland double-bogeyed the final hole.
Now Dobyns, from Glen Head, N.Y., will defend his championship on the Atunyote Golf Club and the Shenendoah Golf Club courses. Turning Stone last hosted the championship in 2006.
Atunyote Golf Club, a Tom Fazio design that opened for play in 2004, was named after the Oneida word for “eagle.” It's the longest of Turning Stone Resort’s three championship courses, at 7,315 yards. Atunyote’s parkland setting features vast stretches of open space, gently rolling hills, a stream, small waterfalls and several lakes.
Designed by Rick Smith, the par-72 Shenendoah Golf Club opened in 2000 and earned a niche in the 2005-06 Golf Digest directory of “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses.” In 2010, it was among GOLF Magazine’s “Best Public Courses in New York State.” The course stretches to 7,215 yards from its Championship tees, and has been the site of past Metropolitan and Central New York PGA events.
July 14: Open Championship, Royal Troon Golf Club, Ayrshire, Scotland
Spieth's attempt to win golf's Grand Slam came to an end at St. Andrews, one stroke shy of a playoff. Instead, it was Zach Johnson who hoisted the Claret Jug in victory.
He'll defend his crown at Royal Troon, which has hosted the Open Championship eight times, most recently in 2004. The course, which took its current form in 1888, is designed in the traditional out-and-back manner of the Old Course at St Andrews.
A gentle opening few holes and relatively straightforward closing stretch are the bookends for a series of holes which weave up, round and through some of the most striking linksland to be found at any of the host venues. This character makes the strength and direction of the wind even more important than is usual on a links course: if the wind is against the players on the back nine, it’s as tough a finish as can be found anywhere.
July 28: PGA Championship, Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, N.J.
Day and Spieth had a head-to-head final-round battle for the ages at Whistling Straits, with Day holding on for an emotional win in the final major of the 2015 season.
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He'll be defending his championship at historic Baltusrol's Lower Course. Phil Mickelson won the last major at Baltusrol, hitting a chip within two feet and converting the birdie putt on the 72nd hole into a one-shot victory over Steve Elkington and Thomas Bjorn in 2005.
Aug. 11, 18: Summer Olympiad, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Golf returns to the Olympic Games for the first time since 1904, and includes men's and women's individual events. A 60-player field will play 72 holes over four days of stroke play for the gold, silver and bronze medals.
The men are scheduled for the first week of the Games, the women the week to follow. The entrants will be determined by their Official World Golf Ranking. However, no country will be allowed more than four competitors, even if they have more than four players in the world's top 15 rankings.
Sept. 22: PGA Tour FedExCup Championship, East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta
The PGA Tour wraps up its season again at Bobby Jones' home course east of downtown Atlanta. Spieth capped off his incredible season with his fifth victory -- earning both the trophy, the classic Coke machine and the $10 million bonus.
However, no one's ever repeated as champion since the playoffs began in 2007. So it's on Spieth's shoulders to hold off a host of challengers -- both old and new -- who would like to topple the Texan from his lofty perch.
Sept. 30: 41st Ryder Cup, Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minn.
National pride is on the line again this fall, with the United States squad having a renewed sense of urgency to capture the Ryder Cup back from Team Europe.
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In order to do that, they'll need to play their best on a challenging course that's seen more than its share of classic upsets. Consider 2002, when Rich Beem held off Tiger Woods, who birdied his final four holes, to win the PGA Championship. Or seven years later, when South Korea's Y.E. Yang stunned the crowd by overtaking Woods on the final day for a three-stroke victory.
The Ryder Cup is all about shot-making under enormous pressure. It's head-to-head against your opponent, and the course. And Hazeltine National promises to be a supreme test for both teams, and a great venue for fans.