Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston has confirmed he will play in next month’s Irish Open at Portstewart, as will fellow Englishman Ian Poulter and Belgian Thomas Pieters.
Johnston, 28, rose to fame last year by winning the Spanish Open and has since come to be regarded as one of the biggest crowd-pleasers in the game.
Pieters, meanwhile, made a huge impression on his Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine last year.
Poulter has become one of the greats of the modern Ryder Cup era.
Tournament host Rory McIlroy will return home to defend the title he claimed in style last year, while world number two Hideki Matsuyama will make his regular European Tour debut having finished joint runner-up at last week’s US Open.
“This is certainly one of the strongest fields I’ve ever seen for the Irish Open, if not the strongest. It’s really shaping up for an incredible week,” said four-time major winner McIlroy.
“Everybody knows how special this tournament is to me, and to return to Northern Ireland as defending champion, with my Foundation again hosting the event, is a real honour.
“The Northern Irish fans are renowned the world over for their great support. The last two tournaments here in 2012 and 2015 were both sell-outs and the atmosphere was something else.
“I expect it to be the same this time with a field of this depth and such a great venue at Portstewart.”
The PGA Tour is to introduce blood testing next season and will align its list of prohibited substances with that of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The Tour will still use urine testing to combat anti-doping but the added use of blood testing will detect substances such as human growth hormone.
Commissioner Jay Monahan said the move would “better substantiate the integrity of golf as a clean sport”.
Suspensions due to recreational drug use will also now be reported.
Currently, misdemeanours related to recreational drugs are kept confidential but this will no longer be the case as part of widespread changes in policy for the 2017-18 season, starting later this year.
The PGA Tour provides the week-to-week competitions for many of the world’s top golfers who base themselves in the US, while the European Tour does so in Europe.
It has operated its own anti-doping programme since 2008 and consulted with both Wada and US Anti-Doping in putting it together.
But its banned list differed to the Wada code in three categories, relating to asthma medications, allergy and anti-inflammatory medications.
The International Olympic Committee urged the PGA Tour to adopt fully Wada’s code before the sport’s return to the Olympic Games in 2016, where players were subject to blood testing.
So the USGA erred on the side of caution to ensure their prime event did not suffer any further loss of credibility.
With strong winds sweeping the course on the final day they, quite rightly, slowed the greens to ensure they remained playable.
All of these factors and especially the pristine putting surfaces ensured low scoring. Koepka’s 16-under-par tally equalled Rory McIlroy’s 2011 record at a rain-soaked Congressional.
But on that occasion the Northern Irishman won by eight strokes, no one else came close to taming the Maryland venue in such a manner. Twenty players broke par six years ago; this time the top 31 were in red figures.
Of course, the fact that Erin Hills was rated par-72 skews the figures (Congressional was par-71) but the scoring on a 7,800-yard course emphatically shows that distance is no longer a barrier in the modern professional game.
On the final tee last Sunday, Koepka knew he was on the threshold of his maiden major title.
With a subsiding wind at his back he tackled the 681-yard par 5 with a three-wood and promptly dispatched it 379 yards.
In that last round, fifty of the 68 players to make the cut averaged more than 300 yards off the tee.
Professional golfers are, for the most part, gym-honed athletes trained to make the most of the powerful and generous sweet-spots that are the hallmark of modern golf clubs.
This takes nothing away from the undoubted skill they possess in channelling that power. Koepka is the perfect example because it was not just his length from the tee but his accuracy that provided the platform for his win.
“I drove the ball really well this week, so that really helps,” the champion noted.
“Obviously the fairways were a little bit wider and to have that where some of the misses typically would be in a bunker or deep rough, like a typical US Open.”
The Floridian champion averaged 322 yards with his drives, the seventh longest, but hit 88 percent of fairways (fourth) throughout the week. That is a major-winning combination on a course characterised by length both in terms of yardage and rough.
Koepka made the most of the generous fairway widths as he became the seventh successive first-time major champion.
This run stretches back to Zach Johnson’s Open triumph at St Andrews in 2015. The American winner at the Old Course is a rarity in not being known for his prowess from the tee.
Subsequent major winners; Jason Day (PGA), Danny Willett (Masters), Dustin Johnson (US Open), Henrik Stenson (Open), Jimmy Walker (PGA) and Sergio Garcia (Masters) are all powerful, long hitters.
Kopeka continues the trend and now pundits such as the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee are advocating courses that break the 8,000 yard barrier.
It is an ill-affordable nightmare scenario. Layouts would need more land, more resources for maintenance and more time to play.
The emphasis is all on power and the subtlety of shot making and shaping is being lost.
Amazingly, the authorities insist the golf ball is not travelling any further. They claim to have put the brakes on technology but the evidence of last week and most other professional tournaments tells a different story.
Something needs to be done to rein back the ball to ensure courses remain relevant and the sport becomes more nuanced.
In the mid-90s, tennis realised it had a problem because fans were being put off because there were too few rallies at tournaments such as Wimbledon.
What did they do? They slowed down the ball and transformed the sport.
It was their ball and they had control. In golf it does not work that way because manufacturers hold sway.
The time is long overdue for the rules-makers to assume proper control. The R and A and USGA have to come up with a blueprint for a tournament ball appropriate to whichever course is being used that week.
Dictate the specifications and limits to the manufacturers and let them come up with the best ball they can.
The emphasis would shift from raw length to feel and playability while we amateurs could still use balls that give us the sort of distance that makes the game more enjoyable for us.
It might be possible to build monster courses such as Erin Hills in the wide open spaces of Wisconsin to accommodate the power of the modern game but it is inconceivable for golf’s future to be based on such exceptional sites.
American Brooks Koepka equalled the US Open’s lowest winning score of 16 under to claim his first major at Erin Hills.
Koepka had three successive birdies from the 14th to match the total set by Rory McIlroy when he won in 2011 on a par-71 layout compared to this par 72.
His five-under 67 was only bettered by Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama who posted 66 to tie for second on 12 under with overnight leader Brian Harman (72).
England’s Tommy Fleetwood, shot a level-par 72 to end fourth on 11 under.
The 26-year-old from Southport, playing in just his second US Open, was unable to keep pace with playing partner Koepka on the front nine.
The pair started Sunday’s final round one off the lead but Koepka holed three birdies in his first eight holes, while Fleetwood followed a birdie on the second with three bogeys in his next six holes for a five-shot swing.
Fleetwood, ranked 33rd in the world, steadied his round with a birdie on the ninth and returned to 11 under by picking up another shot on the par-five 14th.
-12 B Harman (US); -11 J Thomas (US), B Koepka (US), T Fleetwood (Eng); -10 R Fowler (US); -9 K Si-woo (Kor)
Selected: -8 P Reed (US); -6 H Matsuyama (Jpn); -4 E Pepperell (Eng), S Garcia (Spa) C Champ* ((US), P Casey (Eng); -3 M Fitzpatrick (Eng); -1 M Laird (Sco), A Johnston (Eng); +3 L Westwood (Eng); +4 J Spieth (US); +5 E Els (SA)
* denotes amateur
Tommy Fleetwood has been backed to win the US Open by coach Norman Marshall, who first taught him as a six-year-old.
England’s Fleetwood, who has never won a major, is one shot off the lead going into the final round on Sunday.
“Knowing Tommy as I know him and seeing what he has done in the past, every time he has got within a sniff of winning a big tournament, he’s gone for it 100%,” said Marshall.
“There’s no backing down in Tommy and that’s what the exciting thing is.”