The NCG team get together for a special edition of The Slam to discuss 2021's biggest talking points
Hello. Welcome to this bonus end-of-year edition of The Slam. Did you enjoy the PNC Championship? Proper it’s-almost-Christmas, give-me-something-sweet-to-chew-on golf that.
My favourite bit was Nelly Korda – arguably the best player of 2021 period, let alone in the women’s game – asking Tiger Woods for a photo in the same sheepish way you or I might…
It was lovely watching Tiger Woods back in action, strutting his stuff with son Charlie…
But it was John Daly and his son of the same name who took glory thanks to a 57 on the final day…
The Wild Thing never was one for following the script.
Well, what shall we do now? I know, I’ll pick out a handful of my favourite columns from the past 12 months and then annoy my colleagues with some questions…
What a year we’ve had on tour. (That feels like how all these things begin.) While men’s golf found itself fixated on Tiger Woods’ potential career-ending car accident and Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau creating the fauxest of faux rivalries, LPGA stars Nelly Korda and Jin Young were quietly having a mesmerising ding-dong tussle for the crown of Best Player on the Planet. (We’ll call it a tie.)
Then of course there was the Solheim Cup that we enjoyed a lot, and the Ryder Cup not so much, while Saudi Arabia paid lots of players to bark “grow the game” into a microphone, and Lee Westwood decided he doesn’t want to captain Europe in 2023.
Right, now you’ve read and enjoyed all those classic Slams again, I’m joined by my colleagues Steve Carroll, Hannah Holden, and Barry Plummer to discuss their favourite bits of the last 12 months plus a bit more…
What was your favourite moment of 2021?
Steve: Richard Bland getting his first Tour win at the British Masters, after nearly 500 tries, was a pretty special moment but being stood at the back of the 18th green on Open Sunday as the winner hits his approach can never be topped. Congratulations to Collin Morikawa for an exceptional performance at Royal St George’s – a truly exceptional player and course.
Hannah: The Solheim Cup was just gripping from start to finish. It was so great to see the Europeans win on American soil and for Catriona Matthew to be a thoroughly deserving back-to-back winning captain. Other than that it was great to see Jordan Spieth back to in the winners’ circle at the Texas Open and the amazing show Bryson DeChambeau put on with his long drives at Bay Hill.
Barry: How can you not be inspired by Spieth’s comeback? His win at the Texas Open, after a 1,351-day drought, was an incredible example of resilience and brought out the romantic within all of us.
Alex: There was a lot to enjoy this year: Spieth and Rory McIlroy getting back in the winners’ circle, the Solheim Cup, and the Olympics. But as Steve says, it was covering The Open. A true joy given what had gone on in the past 18 months. Steve and I were right next to Jigger Thomson when he had the hole-in-one that changed his life – though admittedly we were looking a different way…
First-time major champions have hardly been hard to come by recently. In the last five years alone we’ve had 11 in the men’s game and 18 on the women’s circuit – including six out of nine in the last 12 months. Who do you expect to join the party in 2022?
Hannah: As an Englishwoman I have to root for Tommy Fleetwood and as a European I have to root for Viktor Hovland. On the women’s side, Lizette Salas has come close so many times. It would be great to see her pick up a major in 2022.
Steve: It would be a real surprise if the nearly men of the last couple of years – Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele – didn’t pocket one of the big four soon. They’re just too good.
Barry: Schauffele loves a top-five in a major championship and it was great to see him put the nightmare of 16 at Augusta behind him, kicking on to win Olympic Gold in Tokyo. I fancy him to finally get it done in ’22.
Alex: I suppose we have to say majorless top-tenners Schauffele, Cantlay and Hovland, don’t we? But I’ll take Ian Poulter or Lee Westwood at St Andrews, please.
In the women’s game I’ve been absolutely mesmerised by Thai sensation Atthaya Thitikul. She won two LET titles in 2020 to take her tally to four en route to claiming the Order of Merit in her rookie season and will now head across the Atlantic to take on the LPGA’s finest. Majors are in this girl’s future. Why not next year?
Here are eight major champions from the world’s top 20 – Jon Rahm (1), Collin Morikawa (2), Dustin Johnson (2), Justin Thomas (1), Bryson DeChambeau (1), Rory McIlroy (4), Jordan Spieth (3) and Brooks Koepka (4). Fast forward 10 years to Christmas 2031, who has the most majors on their mantelpiece?
Steve: I used to think this would comfortably be Rory. But, given his iron play, the sheer will he showed at both the PGA Championship and The Open, and the fact he’s got a decade on some of these, the likelihood of Morikawa not winning a bunch of major titles seems remote at this point. I reckon he’ll top the lot.
Hannah: Looking at recent form then Rahm, DeChambeau and Morikawa have to be favourites. They all have great strengths but the way Morikawa is playing at the moment it’s impossible to see past him.
Barry: It cannot be easy to regularly be compared with the great Tiger Woods, but Morikawa is the closest thing we have right now. Justification? You only have to look at his two major championship wins, three PGA tour wins, and his iconic performances in delivering the 2021 Ryder Cup for Team USA. Oh… and he is still only 24 by the way.
Alex: So that’s a clean sweep for Morikawa – and it’s tough to argue with that. Screw it, I’m going to do all of them: DJ 2, JT 3, Rahm and DeChambeau 4, McIlroy 5 (The Masters!), Koepka 6, Morikawa 8, Spieth 19.
Danny Willett will again host the British Masters at the Belfry in 2022. Where would YOU take it if it was up to you?
Steve: I’m always singing the praises of Swinley Forest, although I fear it might be a little on the shorter side for the European Tour’s finest, so I’m off down memory lane and to a former Open venue. Yes, that Open was staged in 1920 but Royal Cinque Ports has had the Mackenzie & Ebert effect bestowed on it in recent years. It’s about 7,400 yards off the tips, it’ll look great on TV and, if there’s a bit of weather, it could make some very good golfers look a bit silly. Everything I’m looking for in a tournament, really.
Hannah: Well it has to be a Yorkshire course, doesn’t it? How class would it be to see the European Tour players back teeing it up at Ganton? I think the last time they were there was before I was born. I’ll hand hosting duties to Marcus Armitage. Mainly because after the couple of years we’ve just had we could do with a good laugh.
Barry: As an adopted Yorkshireman, I’ll take Moortown. The 1929 Ryder Cup host is fitting of another iconic event and epitomises everything this beautiful county has to offer.
Alex: All superb choices but I’ll be going back to my roots. I’ve long been a campaigner – by which I mean annoyed my mates over a beer – for Royal North Devon to host The Open. It’s a magnificent piece of land, as anyone who has been there can attest, and the birthplace of this sport in England. But with the R&A seemingly not interested I’ll take my British Masters there please. I’ve already started working on the one-way system in and out of Westward Ho!
Right, that’s enough from me. Well, us. Now over to you. We’d love to know your thoughts on these things, so feel free to drop us a line, either in the comments below or on social – we’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. But not Snapchat, so don’t send us anything on there.
Merry Christmas, everyone. It’s been a blast.
See you in 2022.