Nine Storylines for the \‘09 Season


     I’ve been covering golf in Arizona for over 20 years now, and I’ve never known a season that is filled with more storylines involving unresolved questions and uncertainty than this one.
     Blame it on the current state of our scary economy. With no one having a clue how far we have to fall to hit rock bottom, here are nine stories that are a lock to unfold in 2009:
1. Does Tiger have us by the tail?
      Most of us never have put much stock in the website for obvious reasons even if “The First Church of Tiger Woods’’ gets a lot of hits these days. But it’s a gimme that nobody drives the game like the guy we haven’t seen (except for EA Sports commercials) since mid-June of last year.
      Yes, Tiger has us by the tail, especially with golf in a state of disarray due to the global economic gloom and his prolonged absence. That’s why – hopefully! — Tucson and the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship can’t come soon enough. Yes, we need him that bad.

2. What lies ahead for AZ golf?
     Foreclosures and failings and falling revenues, oh my! And where are the tourists and the snowbirds when you really need them?
      The next four months will go a long way in defining what 2009 has in store for golf course operators and employees in the Grand Canyon State, a period of time in which no one really knows what to expect. At this point, only Mother Nature’s fickle wintry finger might be able to save the day in sunny Arizona, and at the moment she’s doing a nice (translated: sub-zero) job.
3. Is this the last FBR Open?
    With its stock staggering to an near-sinkable six cents a share recently, only the U.S. government’s billion-dollar baby, better known as the bailout, can save Friedman, Billings and Ramsey, the East Coast banking firm that goes by the acronym FBR. Actually FBR doesn’t exist, as Eric Billings – the “B’’ — is the only guy left, as Manny Friedman and Russ Ramsey left long ago.
    Barring a Hail Mary, chances are strong that the tournament that was known as the Phoenix Open for 70-some years will be going by a new name in 2010. Or, who knows? If things get really down and dirty, economically, maybe it’s back to the future with the Phoenix Open.
4. Where will the LPGA play?
    With the tournament two months away, no one has yet to say if the event – now called the Phoenix LPGA International, at least temporarily – will again be played at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club or elsewhere.
     Obviously, Superstition Mountain would be the first choice, but the elite private club in Gold Canyon is in the throes of a financial quagmire under its third management team in less than a year. Adding to tournament’s woes, there is not a corporate sponsor in sight for 2010.
5. Can Lefty still get it right?
    Phil Mickelson is one year away from his 40th birthday and hasn’t won a major championship since the 2006 Masters. Even worse, Lefty hasn’t had a chance to right his career-defining wrong at Winged Foot, where he blew the U.S. Open on the final hole along with a golden opportunity to win three straight majors (four overall).
    “I am such an idiot,’’ Mickelson said afterwards. It is one of the game’s most infamous moments, right up there with Roberto de Vincenzo’s notorious “What a stupid I am’’ following the 1968 Masters. Can Phil find future fame? Stay tuned.
6. Will Europe rise to the challenge?
     Much has been written about Dubai’s mad dash for $10 million in cash, a season-ending, FedEx Cup-like event that will conclude this season’s European Tour. And there is room for concern when budding superstars like Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas commit – at least part-time — to that tour.
      No worries, really, as Tiger and Phil have yet to go Euro, and A.K. and Spiderman are coming to Scottsdale. Alas, the Euros will have to settle for an exiled John Daly and red-hot Padraig Harrington, who can tie an all-time record at the Masters by winning his third straight major.
7. Can Michelle Wie turn LPGA tide?
    It took Michelle Wie seven sometimes grueling years to finally get her LPGA card – and now she’s all of 19. Loading the LPGA’s future onto anyone’s back would be a giant task, but a teen-ager?
     Wie is a symptom of what the LPGA has become – a tour hedged on youth that might have eaten up its future even before it had a chance to flourish. But everyone seems to be having trouble these days when it comes to building equity. The long shot is that Wie immediately looks like the reincarnation of Annika, while even money says she doesn’t win.  
8. Who will take Double K’s place?
     He is now a living Arizona legend in his early 50s, but as he continually reminds us on an annual basis, Ken Kellaney still stands tall in the Sonoran Desert. He did nothing to disprove his greatness in 2008, and only a handful of challengers are awaiting him this time around.
    That list starts with Paul Welle, and includes Michael Wog II, Tim Duffey, Bryan Hoops, Chris Kessler, Rob McIver and a bunch of kids like Doug Smith, Jin Song and Andrew Yun. Any, and all, would need career years.
9. Who are the new kids on the block?             
    In recent years Arizona’s junior ranks have been a pipeline producing such outstanding talent as Philip Francis, Drew Kittleson, Richard Lee, Esther Choe, Cheyenne Woods and Taylore Karle. But there will be lots of new faces once Nicholas Losole III, Lauren Weaver and Kimberly Kim graduate in 2009.
     Among the new kids on the block who are ready for their time at the top are Trey Kaahanui, Alberto Sanchez, Brett Wilson, Lindsey Weaver, Stephanie Kim and Sabin Kim. The Kims aren’t relalted, but keep an eye on Sabin’s little sister, Younjin.  
Bill Huffman has covered golf in Arizona for over 20 years for the Arizona Republic and East Valley Tribune as well as writing the book Arizona’s Greatest Golf Courses. He co-hosts Backspin the Golf Show on XTRA Sports 910 AM each Wednesday (6-7pm) and Saturday (9-11am).  To reach Bill directly please email him at [email protected] or call 480-540-1780.