Five questions for the upcoming golf season

Associated PressJanuary 3, 2013 

  • PGA season opener

    Hyundai Tournament of Champions

    Where: Kapalua, Hawaii

    When: Friday through Monday

    Course: Kapalua Resort, The Plantation Course (7,411 yards, par 73)

    Purse: $5.7 million (winner's share: $1.12 million)

    Friday's TV: Golf Channel (5:30-10 p.m., 10:30 p.m.-3 a.m.)

KAPALUA, Hawaii — Even without the top four players in the world around to kick off the season, every new year in golf is shrouded in mystery like clouds over Molokai across the channel from Kapalua.

Among the most pressing question: What will Bubba Watson serve for dinner at the Masters?

"When you show up for dinner on Tuesday night, that's when you'll find out," Watson said.

One problem. The press isn't invited.

"That's what I mean," Watson said.

With a wink and a smile, he walked over to the first tee and smashed the first of what figures to be several 400-yard tee shots. There were 67 tee shots that went at least 400 yards last year on the PGA Tour, and 41 of them were on the Plantation Course at Kapalua.

There are more serious issues going into 2013. What follows are five things to look for in the new season.

Short season

The PGA Tour season might feel more like a sprint than a marathon this year. The season, in effect, ends with the Wyndham Championship on Aug. 18, the cutoff for qualifying for the Fed-Ex Cup playoffs. And once the playoffs end at the Tour Championship, the 2013-14 season starts in October.

That might mean more players competing more often, which could put the squeeze on Q-school and Web.com Tour graduates by limiting the number of tournaments they can play to try to qualify. The motto always has been, "Play better." A tweak might be in order this year. "Play better, now."

Anchors away

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the USGA announced late last year that anchored strokes used for the belly putter and long putter will be banned starting in 2016. The question is whether the PGA Tour, which has the right to set its own rules, will enact the new rule much sooner.

There already is evidence of a stigma attached to those who anchor their putters — Keegan Bradley said a fan called him a cheater at the World Challenge last month — and it might be in the best interest of the tour to make the change quickly. But when? At the end of the FedEx Cup, meaning a player can use a belly putter in September but not October? At the start of 2013, meaning the rule would change in the middle of a season?

Distance debate

Those concerned that distance is ruining the game and making golf courses obsolete might appreciate a prediction in Golf Illustrated magazine that if the "carrying power of golf balls is to be still further increased all our golf courses will be irretrievably ruined as a test of the game."

That was in 1910, and the game has been evolving since.

The R&A and USGA have leaned on their "Joint Statement of Principles" in 2002 when it comes to distance. Even so, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson sounded an ominous tone while announcing the ban on anchored strokes.

"We haven't shelved distance. It's very much on the radar," Dawson said. "Anchored strokes are separate. Just because we're doing one doesn't mean we have taken our eye off the other."

Stay tuned.

All-male clubs

Just because Augusta National now has two women in green jackets doesn't mean the debate over all-male clubs is going away. If anything, it might be more intense than ever when the British Open returns to Muirfield. There are no female members in the "Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers," nor are there any female members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.

That received cursory criticism over the years, though most of the scrutiny was on the Masters. Now that the British Open is the only major played in which the host club has no women on their membership rolls, R&A chief Peter Dawson might have some explaining to do.

Tiger

Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus were talking about rivalries a decade ago when Nicklaus told him it was important to always be part of the conversation. That's never been a problem for Woods. Even with Rory McIlroy assuming the role of golf's No. 1 player, Woods is part of every conversation in golf.

The only difference is the context.

Can he end a four-year drought in the majors? Can he get back to No. 1? Will he ever dominate as he once did?

The new season should provide some answers.

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