There’s another 108 days to go until the first tee ball goes up in the air at the 2017 Masters, but it is never too early to look ahead to the major championships. In so many ways, the four majors have come to define golf’s entire season.
It wasn’t always like this. Other tournaments used to matter more. To be sure, the FedEx Cup Playoffs, Players Championship and a handful of WGC eventsmatter, but I believe the gap between those tournaments and the four big boys is widening.
This is mostly because the majors are easy to measure. You can quantify them without question. Other tournaments are more complicated. Is the Abu Dhabi Championship better than the Wells Fargo Invitational? Is the HSBC Champions a more desirable title than, say, The Memorial Tournament?
These questions become nearly impossible to answer with fractured fields across multiple continents. The majors are a unifying force in golf. They bring almost all of the very best players together at the very best courses for a week-long game of “who is the best in the world right now?”
Let’s take a look at the four major courses for 2017.
Masters — Augusta National (April 6-9)
Augusta, have you heard of it? The storylines are innumerable. Tiger Woods’ probable return to the Masters. Phil Mickelson trying to win one at the same age Jack Nicklaus won one (46). Rory McIlroy’s quest for the career Grand Slam. Bubba Watson going for three. Danny Willett going for two in a row. Patrick Reed still looking for that first major championship top 10.
The one that sticks out to me, however, is that Jordan Spieth has never finished worse than second here: 2nd in 2014, 1st in 2015, T2 in 2016. That is preposterous and impressive. And he can’t keep it up … right?
U.S. Open — Erin Hills (June 15-18)
Speaking of Spieth, he made it to the quarterfinals of the 2011 U.S. Amateur, which was the last USGA event played at this course. Erin Hills is in middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin and will play nearly 8,000 yards (five miles!) depending on the setup. There is a real chance the course could be the longest in U.S. Open history, which bodes well for the big bombers.
What doesn’t bode well for the big bombers is that like every other U.S. Open, if you miss a lot of fairways, you won’t win. Here’s the Wisconsin State Journal.
But length is only part of the challenge. It also features a number of blind shots and a terrain that will present golfers with a wide variety of shot options. While trees won’t be an obstacle — there are only six remaining on the course after 385 were removed in 2009 and 2010 — wayward shots likely will nestle in the fescue that will be 12 to 15 inches long in the rough.
Yep, sounds like a proper U.S. Open.
Open Championship — Royal Birkdale (July 20-23)
The Open Championship returns to Royal Birkdale for the first time since Padraig Harrington won his second Open back in 2008 by four over Ian Poulter. Birkdale will actually be a return to England for this tournament after a two-year hiatus in Scotland.
It has produces some grand champions over the years. Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino all won Opens at this course. It is not a long track at just over 7,000 yards, but each of the last two winners (Harrington and Mark O’Meara in 1998) have failed to shoot scores under par.
Birkdale, like almost all Open courses, is affected most by the wind. If it doesn’t blow, you can score. It is a fair course, but the wind almost always blows. Watch that video above. There are almost no clips where wind isn’t whipping at the pants of those golfers. The Open, as always, should be fascinating.
PGA Championship — Quail Hollow (Aug. 10-13)
The engraver of the Wannamaker Trophy should just get a head start and put the R-O-R on the trophy already. Rory McIlroy has won the Wells Fargo Championship at this course twice already, and he has been circling August 2017 for a long time.
This course recently got a sizable renovation for next year’s tournament,according to Charlotte Magazine.
That led to one of the most remarkable renovations of a golf course in the country, involving three new holes, overhauled fairways, reshaped greens, and the addition of areas for grandstands and spectators–all in three months. “I don’t think I’ll ever come up with any project like this again in my career,” said [superintendent Keith] Wood, a 20-year veteran in the industry.
About that McIlroy thing? Yeah, he should be the 1-1 favorite even now. Even with the renovation. Consider this from Charlotte Magazine.
Throughout the renovation process, crews took into consideration the environment around the course. At least three bald eagles live on the property, including one that was rehabilitated at the Carolina Raptor Center earlier this year. When the raptor center released the eagle at Quail Hollow in March, it announced that the eagle’s name would be Rory, after Rory McIlroy, a two-time winner of the Wells Fargo Championship, Charlotte Magazine reported.
So those are your four major championship courses for 2017. Will we get four brand-new champions like we did in 2016, or will a former winner win yet again? Golf is in a thriving, upbeat spot going into a new calendar year, and I can’t wait for these four tournaments to play out.