It’s late January in Detroit, Michigan and all I can think about is…golf? January in Detroit is usually reserved for concept cars, the Red Wings, Pistons and subzero temperatures. If you have any interest at all in cars, trucks or anything that moves, please do yourself a favor and go check out Autorama. I promise you won’t regret it. So I’m a diehard Lions fan, which usually means the only thing I’m doing this time of year is looking forward to the draft. I’m also not the biggest fan of cold weather and while I’ve always rooted for my beloved Red Wings, hockey was never my game. For me, winter meant hours putting on the living room carpet trying to figure out how I could become the next Tiger Woods. Fist pumping and wearing red shirts, I emulated every move. Let’s just say that didn’t pan out the way I had hoped.
But that makes me think of a good question. Who can be the next Tiger? While there may never be another Tiger Woods, trust me, professional golf is deeper than ever. And if he truly is done, the game is in good hands. By now everyone knows about Jordan Spieth and Rory Mcilroy, as they should. Most people know that Dustin Johnson hits it farther than Happy Gilmore and that Ricky Fowler dons bright orange from head to toe. But who’s next? Who’s year is it in 2016? Who will show us they are ready to win a major championship? Two guys I have a good feeling about this year are Jason Day and Brooks Koepka. Jason Day has big game but you might remember him as the guy with vertigo. Brooks who? Koepka, yea you might not know who he is now but by the end of the year I’m betting you will.
Jason Day is one of the guys I really like to contend in every major. The 28-year-old Australian professional already has a major championship under his belt. He also had a brief stint at number 1 in the world golf rankings. Wait a minute, how can a former number 1 and major winner be poised for a breakout 2016? Let’s just say Day has been working to get here for a long time now. He first broke onto the major scene in 2011, finishing tied for 2nd in his first ever Masters. His 12 under par set the Masters record for lowest score by a first time participant. He also finished 2nd at the U.S. Open that same season and for the third time at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
Day has the game to play anywhere and in any condition. His all-around game is what makes him so dangerous. By the time fall of 2015 hit, Day ranked in the top 10 in nearly every major statistical category. His 313.7-yard driving average was good enough for third overall. Not to mention 1st in birdie average at 4.71 per 18 holes and 6th in strokes gained putting. What does all that mean? It means he can hit it farther than Tiger Woods and putt better than Phil Mickelson, that’s what. He used all that to win the final major of 2015 and his first at the PGA championship at Whistling Straights. Jason also set a record that day becoming the first person to finish 20 under par in a major. The top of the game is strong with Spieth and Mcilroy seeming nearly invincible at times, but trust me, Day has the ability to compete with them and win any given tournament.
Who the heck is Brooks Koepka? Meet one of the new faces of Nike Golf for 2016. The 25-year-old Florida State product has been playing full time on the PGA tour since 2014. Coming off of a great sophomore season in 2015, Brooks notched his first win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. And yet he switched equipment without hesitation. “You never end the year with the same clubs you started with. When people make a big deal about the switch, you switch all year even if you’re with the same company” he said. And if you haven’t seen his new golf shoes please do me a favor and check them out. The Nike Flyknit Chukka Golf Shoe. They’re $230 and I’m already saving for them.
Brooks put his new equipment into play for the first time last week at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He picked up right where he left off, finishing 21 under par and tied for 3rd place. He also shot a 63 on Saturday which is only one stroke off the course record, held by K.J. Choi, who shot a 62 in 2003. Brooks hits the ball a mile, his 308.2-yard driving average is 8th on tour. And he’s consistent, very consistent. He played 23 events in 2015 and made the cut in 20. Including 14 top 25 finishes, and 8 inside the top 10. There is a saying in golf, “you can’t win if you don’t play the weekend.” Koepka plays the weekend, a lot. At the U.S. Open in 2014 he finished 4th, which earned him his PGA Tour card for the 2014-15 season and his first Masters invitation. It was his first major championship. In 2015 he finished tied for 10th at the Open Championship at St. Andrews, and tied 5th at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straights. With three top 10 finishes in his first four majors I like his chances to compete for a few in 2016.
It’s cold in Detroit this time of year. Really cold. And while I have dreams of sunny days, ice cold beers and freshly mowed fairways. I must wait. Seemingly forever. In the meantime, I’ll be in my living room wearing my Flyknits and living vicariously through the pros. But remember the names Jason Day and Brooks Koepka, I don’t want to have to say I told you so.