At the buzzer, but still got it in before it turned December. The November Mailbag! Let’s go…

@NoLayingUp who will the 4 major winners be?

— Will Ogden (@Willogden11) November 26, 2016

Usually this question gets asked repeatedly in every mailbag, but this is actually the first time it’s come through this year! You guys are slacking.

My picks this year are incredibly boring, and embarrassingly consistent with last year’s picks. Those picks treated me really well, and I have my reasons for keeping them nearly the same.

Masters – Jordan Spieth

As far as I’m concerned, he should be the favorite at Augusta every year. He’s played in three Masters, and has been beaten by a total of two guys. The fact that he only has one green jacket is actually pretty remarkable, and I’m going to pick him to win the Masters probably every year for the next five. It can’t be a fluke that he’s played this well in 12 straight rounds at a course that players have spent a lifetime trying to figure out, and I put next to no stock in what happened on 12 last year. I’m not gonna overthink this one, and go with JS all over again.

US Open – Dustin Johnson

From what I’ve gathered about Erin Hills, it’s gonna be long, and it’s gonna favor guys that pound it long and straight off the tee. DJ applied that strategy to winning his first major at Oakmont, and I see him doing it again in Wisconsin in 2017.

Open Championship – Brooks Koepka

I mentioned last week that after his win in Japan, Koepka looks like he’s about to make “The Leap.” The start of his career has been impressive, but what we saw from him in the Ryder Cup, in a losing effort in Vegas, and in dominant fashion in Japan makes me think he’s going to springboard into 2017 and become a major winner. In all honesty, I really just want to pick him to win a major in 2017, and The Open is the only one I couldn’t make a firm decision on, so he gets the Open by default. I was so impressed by his ball striking in Vegas, but even more so by his putting stroke. There’s a lot of young guys out there that can move it, but none of them have as complete of a game as Koepka.

PGA Championship – Rory McIlroy

This is going to be a REALLY popular pick. The only reason I don’t want to make the pick is because everyone is going to have him winning at Quail Hollow, and the guy that everyone thinks is going to win almost never wins. But he’s dominated at this course, and I just can’t picture him going three straight years without winning a major. Also, I have blinders on when it comes to this guy, but am proud of myself for not picking him to win all four majors.

@NoLayingUp will tiger play all four rounds?
Are we sure @TronCarterNLU is actually a real person or is he someone's angry alter ego?

— Kevin (@just4sportsacct) November 25, 2016

Yes, Big Cat will play all four rounds.

I can in fact confirm that Tron is a real person. His incendiary twitter takes can melt steel beams at times, but if you hear him in podcast form (on the Trap Draw podcast, or some of his many appearances on the No Laying Up podcast), you’ll understand him a lot better. And when he sets his mind to it, the guy can flat out write. His takes make a lot more sense when (Steve) fleshed out in longer form than 140 characters. What I’m excited for though is the fact that there’s about to be a baby Tron, which means sleepness nights for Big Tron, which means fire retardant suits may be required before opening your twitter app.

@NoLayingUp If NLU started in 1996, who is your ZJ/Kuch and who is your Brooks?

— Michael Shafrir (@michaelshafrir) November 25, 2016

Ooh, this is a fun one. I’m gonna start by taking a look back at my man crushes over the years. Usually I see something in a guy in year one, then spend the offseason trying to predict their launch into the winner’s circle the following year. So in the example below, I saw something from Gary Woodland in 2010 (one tee shot he hit at the US Open at Pebble) that made me fall in love and predict a breakout in 2011.

2011 – Gary Woodland (as mentioned, the driver-sand wedge he hit into the par five second hole on Friday).

2012 – Kyle Stanley (the driver-wedge he hit into the 590 yard 10th at TPC Deere Run, and the subsequent ball striking display he put on following that)

2013 – Billy Horschel (no moment in particular, but the crisp ball striking and the ridiculous GIR% he put up in 2012).

2014 – Brooks Koepka

2015 – Justin Thomas

2016 – Ollie Schniederjans

2017 – Brandon Hagy

I’ve been on the Hagy train for a few years, but now that he’s got his tour card, the rest of the world gets to jump on board. This guy’s swing is silk, and pound for pound, there might not be a longer guy on tour not named Justin Thomas. More on him hopefully very soon….

10 year old, 1996 me would have likely made some much more questionable decisions. As a kid, I had an un-explainable fondness for Justin Leonard, but part of me thinks that the ’99 Ryder Cup had something to do with that. When I was like eight or something, Billy Andrade gave me a ball and a glove and I legitimately thought we were friends. Like I would go up to him every year at the Memorial and say hi to him thinking that he would remember me. Those things stick with you as a kid.

In reality, the ’96 man crush had to be Big Cat right? We didn’t have YouTube and all of these other ways to find out about the up and coming guys, and every ounce of media attention went towards this guy’s debut, and deservedly so. Was there even really an opportunity to be a fanboy of anyone else of that era?

For the ZJ/Kuch comparison – there are way too many guys in the mid-90’s that fit this boring profile. This era is essentially defined by the Jeff Sluman types that habitually laid up and cashed checks. What made Tiger so compelling was not only the immediate success he enjoyed, but the fact that he transformed the way the game is played.

@NoLayingUp Which Spieth shows up in 2017?

— Will Bardwell (@willbardwell) November 25, 2016

I’m guessing that most people reading this site are aware that Spieth’s 2016 season was not the disaster that many in the media want to make you think it was. Regardless, let’s first look at the trend in strokes gained from 2015 to 2016.

Outside of putting, Spieth did everything a little bit worse in 2016 than 2015, and his iron play was significantly worse. But right there, I just made the mistake that everyone seems to be making. I think Spieth would tell you that the 2015 season was an out of body experience that is unlikely to replicated. Which is understandable! It was legitimately one of the best PGA Tour seasons I’ve seen in my lifetime by someone not named Tiger Woods. So why are we using that as the baseline?

While 2016 was a good season any measure, I also think Spieth would tell you that he expects more of himself in 2017. I think we’ll see him hold steady in his driving numbers, improve significantly on his iron play (approach the green stat), and maintain his top-10 putting. This should put him somewhere in the range of about 1.8 strokes gained, firmly between his 2015 and 2016 seasons. I think that’s where his true talent level lies, and I think that’s what we can expect to see from him going forward in his career.

How that translates to success on the course (in terms of results, wins, etc.) is what is pretty much impossible to predict, but I’m already on record saying that he’s going to win the Masters. So in that vein, I’m going to say that we’re going to look back at Spieth’s 2017 as a very successful one.

@NoLayingUp Serious question here, Why does anyone care about Tiger's return to golf?

— Michael Weaver (@MLDubya) November 25, 2016

Without looking this up, I think this is his longest layoff ever in golf, right? If you personally don’t care about Tiger’s return, I don’t blame you at all. I’ve experienced Big Cat burnout several times in recent years, and I’m as guilty of the hypocrisy of the “why are we talking about this guy” takes while at the same time still talking about him all day long. The fact is that a lot of people still care.

For me personally, I’m as intrigued in this comeback as any of his comebacks. For years, we’ve been clamoring for him to not rush himself back, and take as much time off as he needs. And it seems like he’s finally done it. It’s been 15 months since he’s teed it up, and by all reports, he’s healthy. If Cat is healthy, I’m of the belief that he most certainly can play good golf again. The last time we saw him play, he was in the final second to last pairing at the Wyndham Championship (I feel like people forget that?). Sure it was 15 months ago, but it was a sign of life that the ability has not completely vacated his body.

I’m managing my expectations regarding the early parts of this return. Making cuts will be a good start, yet at the same time, a missed cut is not the end of the world. Sprinkle in some top 25’s, and I’ll be quite satisfied. Anything on top of that is gravy. I’m of the belief that the game is in great hands right now, and true golf fans don’t need Tiger back. A certain subset of fans that only pay attention when Cat is in contention… they need Tiger back. And I’m not concerned about those “fans” at all.

@NoLayingUp how would the golf world react if Tiger wins a medium important tournament this year?

— Eric (@ebenj9) November 25, 2016

@NoLayingUp what equipment do you think the CAT will be using? TaylorMade woods? Stick with Nike? Go back to Titleist?

— Christopher Fischer (@ChristopherFi17) November 25, 2016

As mentioned in early October, TaylorMade driver and three wood, Bridgestone ball, and Scotty putter are the only things that I’m really confident in. I’ve heard Mizuno irons, but have not been able to corroborate that with anyone else in the know. I’ve also heard Vokey wedges, and I’m more confident in that than I am the Mizuno irons. (Updated since I wrote this that he’s confirmed the Bridgestone ball, Scotty putter, and that he’ll be using Nike irons. Driver is still to be confirmed, but it looks like it will be a TaylorMade. Three out of four ain’t bad, right? Especially considering how much I got killed for that tweet….).

Bonus Section:

To finish it off, an actual (e)mail question! This marks the last question of the mailbag, and the end of the golf section, so if you want to eject feel free.

Hey bud,

Huge fan of your work and have been for years. Recently, as a follower of your snapchat, also insanely jealous of the trips you’re taking while living abroad.

I wanted to pass along this idea because you have many followers who happen to be right in your demographic (young, professional, like to drink, love golf) and also are into traveling, especially to Europe. I’d be fascinated to have you rank all the places you’ve been. Choose whatever criteria you want, but I think the final order would resemble the Heisman criteria, i.e., most outstanding (whatever that means).

A lot of people, myself included, would trust your rankings and tidbits about each place more than any travel site. The write-ups on your Scotland and Ireland trips were fantastic. Anyway, just a thought for something to do after the season while basking in the glow of our fired up Ryder Cup victory.

Love Patrick Curse Poulter,

Mark Hulsey IV

Mark, thanks for the email, and the excellent suggestion.

For those that don’t know, about two years ago I got an opportunity with my real job to move from Chicago to Amsterdam for a secondment. I had never even been to Europe before, had a really nice life in Chicago, and was generally just very content. But, seeing as how I had just gotten out of a serious relationship, was 27 years old with nothing holding me back, it was about as great of an opportunity as you could draw up. While it may sound like a no-brainer decision to take the chance to live abroad, when it’s actually you making the call, it’s a lot tougher of a leap to make. This means missing countless family occasions, weddings, bachelor parties, etc. Why mess with happiness?

The answer is, because there is no laying up. I took the leap for what was initially supposed to be an 18 month rotation, and two years later I can easily say that living abroad has been the greatest experience of my life.

What has surprised me the most is how much I have loved Amsterdam. The American perception of the Dutch capital begins with marijuana and ends with prostitutes. After a few days, you get used to the pot smell on the street, and realize that the Red Light District is small, and simply one of the biggest tourist traps on the entire continent. Getting ingrained in the Dutch culture was surprisingly easy due to the almost non-existent language barrier (the Dutch speak almost perfect English), the huge expat community, and a city that can be both as big and as small as you want it to be. I cycle everywhere, live above a bar where everyone knows my name, date local women, and enjoy a much better work/life balance than I had in the U.S. Overall, of all the places I’ve been to, Amsterdam remains the number one city in Europe that I would want to live in as an expat.

One of the main considerations I had before taking the leap was the availability of travel across the continent. I made a bucket list of places I wanted to see during my 18 months abroad, and set out at a ridiculous pace to see them all. I quickly realized that it was going to be impossible to do everything I wanted to in that period of time, so when the opportunity came up to extend my stay here, I jumped on it, bringing my total contract to a length of 33 months.

Travelling around Europe is astonishingly easy (and surprisingly affordable), especially from Amsterdam. The airport is fantastic, and is about a 12 minute direct train ride from central station. I can go from my couch, take public transportation, and be through security in 45 minutes. Coming from the mess that is O’Hare and Midway in Chicago, this is something I’ll never take for granted.

Flights tend to be about half the cost of what I would expect to pay in the US. I work with, and have become very good friends with a lot of American expats, and while I do have local Dutch friends, it’s great to have friends here that have similar travel ambitions. It’s common practice for us to work a Monday through Thursday Friday week, jump a EUR 100 flight, and have dinner in another country by sun down. It’s a stupid life, and one that I’m gonna have a hard time giving up next summer.

I’ve been very aggressive with my weekend travels, and have adopted a “say yes to (nearly) everything” mindset when someone presents a travel opportunity. This has brought me to 33 new countries in just a bit more than two years, many of which are countries that I never had even imagined visiting. Without a tip or some serious research, whoever ever gets to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina? Montenegro? Ukraine? The experience has been every bit as amazing as it sounds. You hate me already, don’t you? It’s about to get worse.

I often get asked what my favorite trip I’ve done is, and I can never answer it without giving about eight different examples. Every trip is so different, and it gets to a certain point where it’s impossible to say whether or not Morocco, the Algarve, the Amalfi Coast, or Slovenia was a better trip. So while I will attempt to give these a ranking, please note that whatever I rank 7th today might be ranked 3rd on my list a week from now.

Also, for the purposes of this list, I’m not including either the Scotland or Ireland golf trips, because they’re in a completely separate class of trips that is impossible to rank next to other European travel.

1.) Iceland.

This is the only one I’m comfortable saying was the best trip I’ve ever done. I went there with two buddies this summer for a week, drove the entire ring road, and had the time of our lives. It doesn’t even feel like you’re on the same planet when you see the things you see in Iceland. Waterfalls, canyons, glaciers, iceberg lagoons, puffins, lava fields, whales, black sand beaches, fjords, more waterfalls, more puffins, etc. 10:30 August sunsets, PB&J’s on the side of the road, and snorkeling glacier water between two tectonic plates are some of the best memories I have from travelling Europe. Iceland is so easy to get to from the U.S., and there’s a reason why everyone you know is going there. It’s that good.

Most impressive waterfall I've ever seen. Pretty sure this island is not Earth.

A photo posted by Chris Solomon (@csolomon1515) on Aug 9, 2016 at 12:38pm PDT

2. Norway

Like Iceland, it’s expensive. But also like Iceland, it’s some of the most unique landscapes I’ve ever seen. You can’t describe how enormous some of these fjords are, and the pictures never properly capture the scale. The people are super friendly, the roads are amazing (we went through several tunnels that were over 10 km’s long), the hikes were scenic, and the beer was cold. To top it off, we saw the Northern Lights in August, which supposedly never happens. There is still a lot of Norway that I would like to see (Lofoten, Svalbard, Stavanger area). You can’t get to it all in one week.

22 km, 8 hours up and down on Norway's most famous hike. May have to look closely to see me. Sorry mom! #Trolltunga #norway

A photo posted by Chris Solomon (@csolomon1515) on Aug 27, 2016 at 7:07am PDT

Iceland and Norway stick out as clear cut #1 and #2, and everything else below I had a much tougher time sorting out.

3. Normandy, France

Moving to Europe ignited an interest in history within me that I didn’t know I had. I’ve traveled to a lot of WWII sites since moving abroad (Arnhem, Bastogne, Berlin, Nuremburg, Munich, Auschwitz, etc.), but none stuck out like Normandy. First of all, ignoring the historical significance, that entire coastline is epic and stunning, and worth a visit on its own. When you add in the stories of what happened there, and the magnificent way it is documented and memorialized, and you’ve got one of the most special places I’ve ever been.

The final resting place for 9,400 brave heroes. ??

A photo posted by Chris Solomon (@csolomon1515) on Jun 28, 2015 at 4:02am PDT

4. Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Epic views, hikes, weather, and scenery. You can be walking along a cliff thousands of feet in the air, looking down at the ant sized people below you, yet still looking up at massive snow capped peaks.

Last full day hiking in Switzerland. This place is beyond pure.

A photo posted by Chris Solomon (@csolomon1515) on May 17, 2015 at 5:54am PDT

5. Amalfi Coast, Italy

Popular place, but it’s for a reason. We went in May before the height of tourist season, ate our faces off, swam in the sea, boated around the cliffs, drank limoncello, and had one of the most memorable trips of ’em all here.

Decent place to park a yacht. #KaylaAndTheBoys

A photo posted by Chris Solomon (@csolomon1515) on May 6, 2016 at 1:10pm PDT

6. Santorini, Greece

Probably would be higher on the list if we had went during a better time of year. We visited in late March, which was too early to swim, and a lot of the restaurants weren’t even open for the season yet. It’s still a really special place, and is also very popular for a reason.

Morning coffee view in Santorini. #KaylaAndTheBoys

A photo posted by Chris Solomon (@csolomon1515) on Mar 25, 2016 at 9:17am PDT

7. Sicily, Italy

Sunshine, great food, and a true sense of what Southern Italy really is. This place is a bit rough around the edges, and barely any English is spoken down here. The highlights of this trip included the Turkish Steps (below), and visiting the town (Savoca) where the Sicily scenes from the Godfather were filmed.

Sicily. Surreal. The Turkish Steps entirely to ourselves.

A photo posted by Chris Solomon (@csolomon1515) on Dec 11, 2015 at 6:27am PST

8. Croatia/Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro

I’m combining all of these into one, as that’s how we did it. Spent a long weekend in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and took day trips to Kotor, Montenegro, and Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you’re around my age, you grew up in the U.S. hearing all about the Bosnian War without even remotely understanding it. I work with a lot of guys from this area, took up an interest in learning about what that war was about, and also wanted to visit these incredible places to get an appreciation for what they have to offer, rather than just going off the bad perception it earned from the 90’s.

Beers above King's Landing

A photo posted by Chris Solomon (@csolomon1515) on Apr 3, 2015 at 9:14am PDT

9. Barcelona, Spain

This doesn’t feel right to include this so far down the list, as it’s actually my favorite city in all of Europe. However, after awhile, the European cities kind of start to look the same. My best trips have been those where we’ve gotten a car, gotten out of the main cities and seen the countrysides, and experienced the nature more than the churches and the bars of the main cities. And that’s what all of those ranked above this one have in common.

That being said, Barcelona is an incredible melting pot of culture, beach, food, and the best looking women (outside of Ukraine) that I’ve seen in Europe. I’ve been here four times already, and will probably go back before it is time to leave.

View from the flat this week in Barcelona with @ctooms33

A photo posted by Chris Solomon (@csolomon1515) on Aug 10, 2015 at 2:00pm PDT

10. Morocco

Not Europe, but close enough. Cheap, friendly, and a great way to experience Africa for the first time. We went from the crazy city of Marrakech, through the Atlas Mountains, stopping at Game of Thrones film locations along the way, and ended with a night camping in the Sahara desert underneath the most ridiculous set of stars you can imagine. I had just assumed the sky that I had seen as a kid was the same sky that everyone around the world saw, until I saw it from the desert. Legitimately, your eyes can pick out what seems like 50x the number of stars you are used to seeing.

Resting during a sunrise camel ride after camping a night in the Sahara @gopro

A photo posted by Chris Solomon (@csolomon1515) on Mar 5, 2016 at 7:37am PST

Honorable Mention: Lagos, Portugal, Slovenia, Lake Como, Granada, Kiev, Oktoberfest in Munich, Cairo, French Riviera, Prague…. I could keep going but I’ll cut it there.

While this has been almost 2,000 words of straight travel bragging (I’m the worst at it), I hope that it at least partially serves as some sort of motivation for you to plan a trip to Europe. As the Euro continues to dip, it’s never been more affordable for Americans to take a trip over here. Once you’re here, it’s not nearly as expensive as you might think it is to jump flights between cities, stay in AirBnb’s, and eat/drink at local restaurants. I can’t encourage you enough spend some time over here.