Groundhog Day Invites Questions


February 2, 2009

By Phil Howley

Tens of thousands celebrated "Groundhog Day" on Monday. They gathered at Gobler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., where "Punxsutawney Phil" saw his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter.

They conducted similar rituals at the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas, where the Groundhog is the unofficial mascot. More pomp and prognostication took place in other U.S. locales.

True, Far Hills, N.J. was not one of them. Traditionally speaking, people don't come from far and wide to gather at Golf House and wait for a "Far Hills Phil" to climb from a challenging hole location. But if they did, if indeed there was a wily woodchuck who could survey the surroundings and forecast what is to come in the world of golf over the weeks ahead, here are some of the questions we might want answered.

When Will Woods Return? One thing is certain: one shadow "Far Hills Phil" would not have seen on Monday morning was the one belonging to Tiger Woods. The large reflection the world's No. 1 player casts has been missing since he claimed the U.S. Open and Battle of Wounded Knee at Torrey Pines last June.

While the game eagerly anticipates the return of its top draw, Woods, a nine-time USGA champion, has been careful not to commit to a date for his comeback from knee surgery. Some have suggested the reboot may not come until the season's first major – the Masters Tournament. Would the Golf House groundhog circle late March and the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Country Club in Orlando, Fla. – where Woods has won five times – as the point of re-entry?

What Next For Anthony Kim? – With Woods sidelined, Kim's star soared during the Ryder Cup last September in Kentucky. The dynamic Kim, a member of the victorious 2005 USA Walker Cup team, possesses some of the same attributes that helped Woods connect with audiences. Could the 23-year-old – known for his signature belt buckles – be fitted for his first major championship belt this summer at the U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park?

Young and Restless? – Danny Lee was only a month removed from celebrating his 18th birthday last August at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina when he surpassed Woods as the youngest U.S. Amateur champion. As a result, Lee will be in the field at Augusta National in April, where he will be joined by 17-year-old Japanese professional Ryo Ishikawa. Could the Masters feature its first all-teen final pairing on Sunday?

"Apprentice" Appearance – The 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur will be staged concurrently at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. A Donald Trump sighting isn't out of the question to congratulate the champions? Or he will tell the two hoisting the trophies, "You're fired!" instead?

Fab Four – Amanda Blumenherst, the 2008 U.S. Women's Amateur winner, finishes her brilliant four-year college career at Duke this May. Will it conclude with a fourth consecutive NCAA Player of the Year award, topping her current record of three straight in that illustrious category?     

A Walker Repeat – George "Buddy"Marucci will not have a chance to defend his 2008 USGA Senior Amateur championship, because of a previous commitment to serve a second term as USA Walker Cup captain. It's not a bad alternative considering the September Match is being staged at his home club (Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.). What if Marucci decides to shake things up by actually playing Sunday singles? Well, going for a repeat effort from 2007 at Royal County Down is more than a challenge for the 1995 U.S. Amateur runner-up.

Fab Four – Jamaica thrilled to the heroics of sprinter Usain Bolt, who won three gold medals in last year's Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. But can Jamaican native Diane Lang go one Bolt better by winning the USGA Women's Senior Amateur title for the fourth time in five years?

Park Place  – Last summer, Korean Inbee Park became the youngest U.S. Women's Open winner at age 19. She also is the fifth player in USGA history to win a U.S. Girls' Junior and Women's Open, joining three Hall of Famers in Mickey Wright, Amy Alcott and JoAnne Gunderson Carner, along with Hollis Stacy. Can Park continue on that lofty path with a big 2009?

Wie the People – In 2003, at age 13, Michelle Wie won the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links championship. Six years later, the enormous attention surrounding her notwithstanding, it remains her only substantial victory. Now 19, Wie has full-time LPGA Tour playing status for the first time in 2009. Will this be the year she joins other young stars like 2005 U.S. Women's Amateur champion Morgan Pressel and multi-winner and 2004 Curtis Cup teammate Paula Creamer in the winner's circle?

Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.usga.org.

  





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