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10 things we want to happen in 2022

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NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE YUKA Saso hopes to win another major.

Just when most golfers had thought the game is finally starting to get back on the upswing following the easing up of restrictions late last year, the spike of coronavirus cases from the new Omicron variant has set back its surge marked by the resumption of pro and amateur events in the last quarter of 2021.

Tournaments, unless they are held under the bubble setup, are put on hold this early stage of the new season although the national governing body of golf has guaranteed the continued operations of golf courses under the mandated safety guidelines and precautions.

But with the country’s vaccination program, including the booster scheme, in full throttle, many hope things will go back to normal before the golfing season from all over goes full blast.

Hit by the latest heightened health measures are the amateurs, who were all set for a rousing restart after a
two-year hiatus until the country’s premier championship was called off on the eve of its staging due to Covid concerns.

The pro tour, which was able to go on an eight-leg swing for the ladies last year despite two stoppages, is tentatively set to kick off its new season in February.

So, for the next 12 months, lots of golfers, from beginners to weekend hackers to regular players, must be wishing for 2022 to be a lot better than it was in the year just passed. For golfers are basically optimist at heart, holding to that promise that something better will happen after a bad swing, a shaky putting or a high score.

Ten things we want to happen in 2022:

1. End to the pandemic. Not just in the sporting world but on the entire planet, we’ve all had enough. Two years of lockdowns, quarantines and swab tests felt like forever although the fourth wave of Covid infections looks significantly different than those we have seen in the past with medical studies suggest Omicron is milder than Delta.

While the new variant is incredibly contagious, Omicron may lead to less severe disease than earlier variants, including Delta, even as experts urge against complacency about Covid-19 measures.

2. Another major win for Yuka Saso. No one else dominated the (golfing) scene the way Yuka Saso did in 2021, her historic victory in the US Women’s Open putting the Philippines in the golf conversation on the world stage. Never mind if she had decided to drop her Filipino citizenship to become a full-pledged Japanese when she reaches 22 next year, for the impact she had made on the sport as spearhead of many national teams will surely be relived over and over again.

But local fans remain hopeful the toast of Phl women’s golf and the world No. 8 will get better and stronger this year, not just to stay on course for another stab at a major glory or LPGA regular title but also get a crack at her dream world No. 1 ranking.

3. A Tiger Woods return to PGA. Ten months after a career-threatening accident, Tiger Woods has recovered from the terrors after figuring in a car crash that raised concerns he may never be able to walk again, much less play golf. But he was back on the course in the Hero World Challenge last month, played with son Charlie to finish second in the PNC Championship then declared his hopes to vie in this year’s British Open at St. Andrews.

The greatest golfer of his generation, who turned 46 last 30 December, may see action competitively again although posting an 83rd PGA Tour win or nailing 16th major championship may take a lot of hard work and luck. But for the fans, seeing him back on the course again and slugging it out with the best and the brightest would be nothing short of heartwarming.

4. Local pro tour to keep swinging. A couple of suspensions, due to the surge of coronavirus cases in March and July, didn’t deter the Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. (PGTI) from pursuing its commitment to boost pro golf and at the same time help the pros in this time of pandemic, putting up eight-leg swing with a promise of a bigger, richer circuit in 2022.

Despite the threat of coronavirus, the PGTI has time and again proved it can put up a tournament without endangering the players’ health and safety through its strict adherence to rules and regulations imposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force and the local government units under the bubble setup.

Fans are also hoping to see the touring pros back on the course after miscommunication led to the men’s tour’s suspension.

5. Bianca, Dottie to hit paydirt. Notwithstanding Bianca Pagdanganan and Dottie Ardina’s contrasting results in the recent LPGA Q-Series, fans can’t wait to see the duo flaunt their skills and talent against the world’s best in the new LPGA season. Pagdanganan, who tied for 10th in the Q-Series, is thrilled over the chance to play in more events after going through Monday qualifiers or waiting for a break on the reserved list last season.

She said she hasn’t figured out how many events she would be playing but once she gets to see where she’s at in terms of her ranking, she will decide from there. That way, according to her, she could take some time off and stay physically fit for the grueling campaign.

Ardina, on the other hand, barely made the final cut but that doesn’t mean she would be scrambling to make the weekend play in the upcoming season. Noted for her resiliency, she trained and worked doubly hard to sharpen her skills and toughen up during the holidays, looking for a March date to launch her drive as a full LPGA card holder.

6. Asian Tour to flourish. A historic link-up with the Saudi International ensures the Asian Tour’s success for the next 10 years with the Saudi group investing at least $200 million in prize money over the next decade. To launch its milestone year, the season-opening Saudi International features a slew of the world’s top-ranked players who have recently got the green light to play in the $5 million event set in the same week of the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California.

However, though the likes of Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Bryson De Chambeau, Phil Mickelson, Xander Schauffele, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia, won’t be sanctioned by the PGA Tour, their releases were granted with conditions.

7. Pinoy pros to level up. Justin Quiban tried and made it to the PGA Tour. Though he failed to make the cut in the 3M Open, he showed and proved the Filipinos have got what it takes to crash into the big league. Miguel Tabuena clinched his first win in the US in the Idaho Open but fell short of his in the Korn Ferry Q-School.

Those setbacks, however, are only expected to toughen them up for another crack this year and from the looks of things, it will just be a matter of time before the Pinoys could go big-time.

8. Pagunsan, Que to hit 2nd/3rd wind. While Juvic Pagunsan has secured his Japan Golf Tour card with a breakthrough victory in the Mizuno Open last year, Angelo Que has lost his after falling short of his bid in the recent qualifying. But fans expect Pagunsan to rebound strong from a string of forgettable stints that marred his campaign at the close of the 2021 season, and Que, who won a JGT tournament in the Top Cup Tokai Classic in 2018, to shift his focus on the Asian Tour and strike when he gets to play in some JGT events.

9. Young guns to rise. This early, Rianne Malixi is being billed as the next Filipina star for her innate talent, resolve and desire to learn and get better. And the 14-year-old prodigy’s runaway triumph in a recent local pro tournament more than underscored the character of a player bound for bigger things.

Put in the likes of Sam Dizon, Laurea Duque, Arnie Taguines, Mafy Singson and a slew of others, local amateur golf is indeed in good hands.

10. Amateur golf to rebound. Its program stalled again by the latest surge of coronavirus, the National Golf Association of the Philippines still expects to put up a big bounce back when things get to normalize. Forced to stay idle the last two years, the country’s governing body for golf also postponed the staging of the National Stroke Play Championship due to Covid concerns, thus extending the amateurs’ break to another stretch.

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