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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Feel-Good Stories of 2007

I was driving home from a round of golf this afternoon, and I caught the tail-end of the awards ceremony for the Presidents Cup on XM Radio. I started thinking about who was on the winning American team, and rather than my mind jumping to team play regulars like Woods, Mickelson, Toms, and Furyk, I started considering how unlikely many of the team members were.

This has all been written about before in some form or another, but how wacky is it that Steve Stricker, Lucas Glover, Hunter Mahan, Zach Johnson, Charles Howell III, and Woody Austin were representing the U.S. at Royal Montreal? Individually, their presence was not too much of a stretch, but to have them all on the team in the same year was pretty astounding. Here's a quick snapshot of why they made it and what I see in their futures. These six players not only represented our country, but they represent what makes for terrific drama in the ranks of professional golf.

Steve Stricker
Why he made it: He's simply been one of the best players in the world for the past 18 months, coming back from having no status on the PGA Tour to one of the ten best players in the world.

What's in his future: His confidence level is sky high, and he's not that old. If he can keep striking the ball well and continue his stellar putting, he should continue to be a top player for at least the next five years.

Lucas Glover
Why he made it: He's been on the cusp of stardom for several years. He's been steady all year and really turned it on this summer. With the amount of birdies he pours in, it's incredible that he's only a one-time winner on Tour.

What's in his future: His experience in Canada this week should help him achieve the next level of stardom that he's been seeking for the past three years. He'll be on several more teams like this, and I wouldn't be surprised if he wins more than ten times on Tour and swipes a major championship or two before it's all over.

Hunter Mahan
Why he made it: Except for Tiger and Stricker, Mahan played the best golf of anyone in the world from about June on. Nicklaus really wanted him on the team.

What's in his future: He's my pick as the next really good American golfer, with a slight edge over Anthony Kim, Billy Horschel, Jaime Lovemark, and Brandt Snedeker. I would add Ryan Moore and Bill Haas to the mix, but they haven't lived up to the hype yet (i.e. neither one of them has found the winner's circle). If Mahan continues to improve and plays three of four fewer tournaments per year, I see him being a twice-a-year winner for a while.

Zach Johnson
Why he made it: It's no mystery that Johnson has been playing some excellent golf lately. His dream season included a green jacket, another Tour win, lots of $$, a spot on the winning side at the Presidents Cup, and the birth of his first child.

What's in his future: I don't see Zach winning twenty or thirty times in his career, but I could see him having a Fred Couples-type of career. I wouldn't be surprised if he wins another major, possibly a U.S. Open.

Charles Howell
Why he made it: Chuck made the team based on his play from early in the season. He had a hot start, and though he couldn't keep it going throughout the year, he seems to have turned a corner, especially in the putting arena.

What's in his future: He should win three or four times every five year. I don't see him being a top twenty player year in and year out, but he can score when everything's working right. Can he win a major? I think he'll get one, but it might be a few years.

Woody Austin
Why he made it: He is a bulldog, and he played like a greyhound during the summer. He even got his first win in a zillion years and nearly won the PGA.

What's in his future: More of the same. He'll make some noise and maybe win another tournament or two before the Champions Tour. And, he'll still wear those noisy shirts.


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