Shane Lowry has his Masters invitation, Rory McIlroy is back bashing balls and our top amateurs are already back at the grindstone or heading for sunny climes. The 2015 season begins on the European Tour in South Africa this week with Peter Lawrie landing his first invitation as he bids to win back his card and Simon Thornton and Kevin Phelan waiting for the nod. It's going to be non-stop from here on so we've compiled a basic A-Z of what Irish golf fans might watch out for this year.
A is for Anchoring
Less than 12 months to go before this is outlawed. Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els, Tim Clark and Adam Scott will be just some of the players working on new putting methods this year.
B is for Barcelona. And Bandits.
Looking forward to seeing the Spanish Open played at Real Club de Golf El Prat. An historic club, El Prat moved to its new location in 2003. Thomas Aiken won the last Spanish Open held there in 2011. As for the bandits, one fears that they will always be with us. Unless players and clubs act responsibly, there's little the GUI can do.
C is for Challenge Tour
Galgorm Castle will be back on the schedule in 2015 but what the Confederation of Golf in Ireland can do to help our up and coming pros remains to be seen. It's likely that the CGI will have to rely on a promoter getting a Republic of Ireland based Challenge Tour event off the ground and while there is talk of 2015, the Challenge Tour has yet to make an announcement. Ireland is under-represented on the Challenge Tour with Gareth Shaw, Ruaidhri McGee and Niall Kearney so the quicker this issue is resolved, the better.
D is for Darren
Barring some outside-the-box thinking by the Three Wise Men — immediate past captains Paul McGinley, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie — Darren Clarke will be Europe's next Ryder Cup skipper. The big Dungannon man has a hard act to follow following McGinley's near flawless performance but with his Open win and the good work he does for golf through his Foundation, he would probably ride off happily into the sunset if he could lead Europe to a Ryder Cup win as captain.
E is for Eldrick
Can Tiger Woods come back from yet another injury plagued year and win another major? Given his struggles off the tee, it's hard to see him competing with the likes of Rory McIlroy right now. Prediction: PGA Tour win No 80 for Tiger but no majors in 2015.
F is for Fitness
Rory McIlroy credits his training regime for his amazing success over the past few years. The Holywood man is clearly no idiot but Frank Nobilo still sounded a word of caution about his weight-lifting regime in a recent Sunday Post column by Doug Proctor.
"You have to be an athlete to be a top golfer now, and you have to get every inch out of your game,” Nobilo admitted. “But Rory is risking injury as he keeps at it. He is dead lifting 400lb. He is using high altitude training methods and is one of the players trying whatever they have to do,” Nobilo said. “You cannot fault them for that. But the flip side is when you get injured, it affects your confidence and you get sidetracked and spiral in the wrong direction. Health is the big issue here, and I talk as someone who was taken out of the game because of injuries."
G is for Grant (and Co)
Paula Grant had a great 2014, winning the ILGU's Order of Merit. She'll be hard pressed to repeat the feat in 2015 with a host of great players on the women's scene from Chloe Ryan, Olivia Mehaffey and Emma O'Driscoll to Mary Doyle, Amy Farrell, Jean O'Driscoll, Maria Dunne, Sinead Sexton and Jessica Ross, to name just a few. With the Curtis Cup set for Dun Laoghaire in 2016, Ireland's women will be gunning to make their presence felt this year.
H is for Harrington
His first win for four years in Indonesia at the end of last season has given his supporters hope that he can become a regular contender again. Set for his 20th year as a professional, if we've learnt anything in that time it's that you never write this man off. Prediction: Top 100 in the world again by the end of the year.
I is for ILGU
It's going to be another big year for the ILGU with the Curtis Cup set for Dun Laoghaire in 2016. The club will host the Irish Women’s Open Stroke Play Championship from May 23-24 with the Irish Women's Close from June 20-23 at Rosapenna, the Vagliano Trophy & Junior Vagliano Trophy at Malone from June 26-27 and the AIG Senior Cup All Ireland Finals at Thurles from August 13-15.
J is for Jacket (and justice)
All eyes will be on the Four Courts from February 3 when Rory McIlroy v Horizon and Others goes to trial in the High Court. It's been an expensive exercise for all concerned so far and we wonder how it could affect Rory's preparation for the Masters. Prediction: Bar an out of court settlement, the lawyers will be the big winners here. As for Augusta, we reckon Rory will go close but will have to wait another year.
K is for King (Kev)
It didn't quite work out for Kevin Phelan as he lot his card in 2014 but we're still confident that the pride of Waterford can make it on tour. Prediction: Major steps forward for Phelan in 2015 with Johnnie Foster helping him with his short game.
L is for Lisa and Leona Maguire
The 20-year old Slieve Russell twins made great starts to their college careers with Duke University in the US. Leona had a remarkable freshman year, finishing third in the US behind Washington's SooBin Kim and UCLA's Alison Lee in the year-ending Golfweek/Sagarin Women's Collegiate Individual Rankings. Lisa was 198th but we'd expect her to make a serious jump in 2015. Prediction: Leona Maguire to become No 1 collegiate player in the US.
M is for Meadow
Stephanie Meadow will have conditional status on the LPGA Tour in her first year as a member, which is not a bad precedent. After missing out on her full card at Q-School following 11 playoff holes, she'll be doubly determined to reproduce the kind of form that saw her finish third on the 2014 US Women's Open on her pro debut. Prediction: Will win a full LPGA Tour card and contend in another major.
N s for Nonsense
Given the lip service paid by politicians to golf as an important part of our tourism strategy, it's amazing that Failte Ireland no longer has a Golf Department. It's been merged into a "Leisure Sales" division handling multiple activities. We no longer have a dedicated "Golf Product Development Officer" or a "Head of Golf" either. Golf is now a tourism product being handled alongside the likes of hillwalking, cycling and equestrian sports. The IGTOA is seriously concerned and rightly so. Prediction: There could be trouble ahead.
O is for Open
Yes, we know The Open is scheduled for St Andrews this year with Royal Portrush expected to get the nod for 2019. But what about the Irish Open in 2016? Despite all the "it would be too soon" chatter about a return to Fota Island, the Cork venue is being strongly mention again. A big name sponsor could change everything but right now it appears that nothing is certain about 2016.
P is for PGA
The Irish Region of the PGA was in the news at the end of 2014 over the decision to all TP category players to count in its Order of Merit. Clearly, the powers at the Belfry are calling the shots. Prediction: Fewer Irish PGA pros exempt for the Irish Open in future with a Monday qualifier or other vehicle introduced.
Q is for Q-School
Ireland could have a bumper crop of Q-School contenders this year if some of our amateur stars such as Gavin Moynihan, Dermot McElroy or Chris Selfridge take the plunge. Prediction: Another two Irishmen to win Challenge Tour status for 2016.
R is for Rory
Four major wins already and he's still only 25. The sky really is the limit for Rory McIlroy in 2015. Prediction: The Masters is an unpredictable beast so we're going for McIlroy to retain The Open at St Andrews and claim his third US PGA at Whistling Straits.
S is from Seniors
There's been no announcement yet but we're expecting the European Senior Tour to revive the Irish Seniors Open at Carne in 2015 and County Sligo in 2016. Prediction: Ronan Rafferty to return to the winner's circle in Belmullet.
T is for Turner
Niall Turner won back his Asian Tour card by finishing third in the final Asian Development Tour money list. His win in the Linc Group Jakarta Classic went largely unnoticed as it co-incided with Rory McIlroy's victory in The Open. With his hip injury only a bad memory and with his 32nd birthday coming up in May, we've got high hopes for the Muskerry. Prediction: Consolidates his place on the Asian Tour.
U is for U18s
Ireland has some great Under 18 players but we are lagging behind our European counterparts. Here's to more opportunities for our younger players to gain experience abroad. Prediction: An international win for an Under 18 player in 2015.
V is for Varsity
Ireland has a burgeoning Intervarsity golf series with the Intervarsity Championship at The European Club from February 18-20 and the Irish Colleges Matchplay Championship Final Series at Woodbrook from March 19-20. The Irish Intervarsities Championship Final takes place at Tramore on March 26.
W is for Walker Cup
The United States has won four of the last five but just one of its last six away matches. That was at Royal County Down in 2007. Since winning its third Walker Cup in a row at Ganton in 2003, GB&I has won just once, shocking the likes Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Peter Uihlein, Russell Henley and Co at Royal Aberdeen four years ago. Royal Lytham and St Annes plays host for the first time from September 12-13 and Ireland will have high hopes that the likes of Gavin Moynihan, Paul Dunne and Gary Hurley will make the side. They're not the only candidates with Jack Hume, Cormac Sharvin, Dermot McElroy, Robin Dawson and Chris Selfridge just some of the possibles. Prediction: Three Irishmen a winning GB&I side.
X is for X Factor
There's a surprise package every season. Let's call it the X Factor. Graeme McDowell had a relatively quiet 2014 despite retaining the Open de France and leading Europe to another Ryder Cup win. Prediction: G-Mac to add to his major haul in 2015 with another US Open win.
Y is for Young Guns
Robin Dawson, John-Ross Galbraith, Stuart Grehan, Rowan Lester, Tommy O’Driscoll, Eoin Leonard, Conor Purcell, Kevin Le Blanc, David Carey, James Sugrue, Thomas Mulligan, Sean Dowling, Mark Power, Alan Hill, Reece Black.... There are lots of great young players to watch out for on the Irish amateur scene at all levels.
Z is for Zzzzzzzzzz
Slow play. The golf ball. Pros not shouting fore. Armchair referees. The field at Lahinch. The GUI selectors. Anti working man scheduling. Sky commentators. Monty (see Sky commentators). Players saying they "held" rather than "holed" a 20-foot putt. Add your own pet hate for 2015. You know you won't be disappointed.