2015 Year in Review: Part Three
40. Rory gets engaged
Rumours were flying over the past few weeks about Rory McIlroy being engaged for the second time in the last few years, and last week, the former world number one confirmed the news of the engagement to girlfriend Erica Stoll. Rory proposed in Paris to the PGA of America employee who came to his rescue at the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, ensuring that he would make his tee time on Sunday against Keegan Bradley and considering the comeback staged by the Europeans on the final day, the point won by Rory was crucial to the triumph. Rory says Stoll has been a very calming influence on his life and that he fully believes she will help him as he attempts to get back to the number one spot in the world in 2016, which should be a scary thought for the rest of the players out there. An even better Rory in 2016 might not be good for the other players, but I can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for us over the next twelve months.
39. The Open Championship broadcast changes hands
Starting in 2016, the Open Championship will be on new networks in both North America and the United Kingdom as the R&A apparently doubled their money in both deals to change broadcast partners. NBC, after losing the U.S. Open to Fox, will be taking over from ESPN in North America, reportedly paying $50 million annually for the event, doubling the amount ESPN had been paying over the last few years. As part of the deal, Golf Channel will be broadcasting their first men’s major championship. After the U.S. Open departure, it made a lot of sense for NBC to grab and (probably) overpay for the event, and it gives them a quality stable of events, putting the Open alongside the Players and the Ryder Cup in addition to other PGA Tour stops.
The bigger news came earlier in the year though when the R&A announced that Sky Sports would be the new home for the Open, ending a 60 year relationship with the BBC. Sky are also apparently paying roughly double the amount of the BBC, which you can assume played a part in them getting the deal. This means that for the first time, the Open Championship will not be on free to air television in the UK, and on top of that, it also means no more Peter Alliss. Unsurprisingly, the legendary 84 year old Alliss didn’t mince words when discussing the situation.
Ultimately, I’m sure that both NBC and Sky will do great work and everyone will be happy at the end of it, but there’s no doubt that it’s an abrupt and unfortunate end to the Open on the BBC.
38. When Bae leaves
One of the more under the radar emergences from the last two years or so on the PGA Tour has been Sang-moon Bae. With two wins under his belt and an impressive showing at the 2015 Presidents Cup, the 29-year old Bae should be getting ready to enter the prime of his golfing life but unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait and see what happens as Bae will be missing the next two years of action due to a mandatory military service requirement in his native South Korea. Other athletes have been granted exemptions in the past, such as outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and the players from the 2010 World Cup team, but despite his best efforts and an escape plan from those who attempted to get him out, Bae was denied and will not only have to serve for the next two years for next to nothing in terms of salary, he won’t be allowed to hit any balls for two years either.
The good news is that the PGA Tour changed their rules as a result of Bae’s situation, and when he gets back from his service, he’ll still have his exempt status intact. Unfortunately, who knows what kind of game shape he’ll be in after the next two years without hitting any balls. Not doing anything for the next little while might be the best possible situation for Tiger, but I doubt that it’s going to work in this instance.
37. Tiger’s schedule was different and kinda cool
Golfers are creatures of habit and where that is most apparent is in the tournaments they decided to play in. The typical path is that when they’re younger, the players will go to a ton of different venues and tournaments for their first few years on tour and then once they’ve figured out what they like and don’t like, the schedule settles in and they usually end up playing the same events year after year. There’s no better example of that than Tiger, who you could always plot out before the season started with his yearly debut in the Middle East followed by his PGA Tour debut at Torrey Pines in February. He’d hit the four majors, play Bay Hill, Muirfield Village and the Players, the WGC events, his own foundation stops and the FedEx Cup playoffs before calling it a year and repeating the following season, but this year was different and even though he was awful, it was still kinda fun to see how he changed it up.
For starters, he skipped out on the Middle East, which may have had more to do with tournament organizers not wanting to pay his appearance fee and decided to make his debut on the PGA Tour in Phoenix where he hadn’t played since 2001. After deciding to play at the Masters, he jumped into the Par-3 Contest at Augusta for the first time since 2004, walking around the course with his kids and then girlfriend Lindsey Vonn in what was one of the coolest moments of the entire week. Finally, in an attempt to find some form and qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, he joined the field at the Greenbrier and then teed it up for the first time at the Wyndham.
Sure, a lot of this had to do with the fact that he was struggling and I’m sure that if he was playing as he expected, we probably wouldn’t have seen him at these stops but it was fun and if he can get back to some kind of health and form, I’d love to see him change it up from time to time. Go back to Pebble and Riviera, join the fun at the Irish and Scottish Opens, head over to Wentworth for the BMW PGA or down to Australia for the Open. What does he have to lose?
36. DJ returns to the PGA Tour
Say this for Dustin Johnson: he never stops being interesting. When Johnson was suspended/took a leave of absence/lost his smile or whatever you want to call it last year, it was a massive story and rightfully so with the allegations levied against him by Golf.com, so it was a pretty big deal when it was announced that Johnson would be returning to competitive play at Torrey Pines in February and it didn’t really take him long to find his groove again. In his first seven starts back, Johnson missed two cuts but posted five other finishes inside the top six, including a runner-up at the Northern Trust where he lost to James Hahn in a playoff, and winning at Doral with an absolutely insane drive on the 72nd hole that really shouldn’t be possible.
Of course, that’s not really the whole story with DJ’s 2015 campaign as his goal of winning his first major championship still went unfulfilled despite there probably not being a better selection of four courses that should suit his game. The quick recap is below:
- The Masters: Finishes T6 and a full nine shots back of Jordan Spieth, who wasn’t going to be caught by anyone that week.
- U.S. Open: This one hurt. Held a share of the lead after 54 holes and had a great front nine to take a two shot lead before a run of bogeys derailed him. Actually got back into a tie for the lead with a birdie on the 17th and hit two of the best shots of his life on 18 before three putting from twelve feet, causing him to not only lose in regulation but miss out on the playoff with Spieth as well.
- Open Championship: Held the 36 hole lead before a pair of 75s and the bad weather blew him off the course, leading to a tie for 49th place.
- PGA Championship: Led after the first day and hung around with everyone not named Day or Spieth for a T6 finish.
It was a tough season when it came to the majors for Johnson, but the good news is that he keeps putting himself in position to get the job done, and with his talent, it’s still impossible for me to believe that he won’t close one out really soon.
35. Paige Spiranac makes a splash…and takes unnecessary criticism
One of the great things about the internet and social media is that people can make a name for themselves from relative obscurity if they have something to offer, and when it comes to golf, nobody embodied that more in 2015 than Paige Spiranac. Spiranac played collegiately at San Diego State, and became popular earlier this year thanks to massive amounts of exposure from outlets like Golf Digest and Golf.com as a good looking women who happens to play golf. The formula is obviously nothing new, but it seemed to hit a level with Spiranac this year that really hasn’t been seen before because pretty much every outlet jumped on board with an interview, spread or podcast featuring the former Aztec. If you’re on Twitter or happen to frequent any golf site, there was absolutely zero chance that you could have avoided seeing Spiranac but what I’m more interested in is the turn that it took towards the end of the year.
Spiranac was given a sponsor’s exemption into the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, the final event of the Ladies European Tour schedule and naturally, it caused some people to question why she was in the field when there were probably more deserving candidates. Spiranac, playing in her first event as a professional, fired rounds of 77 and 79 to finish at +12, seven shots back of the cut line and afterwards, talked about how it was a tough week for her and while fighting through tears, mentioned that she wanted to prove that she was there for more than just her social media accounts. It should have ended there, but more criticism and dubious photo cropping was levied at Spiranac for her play and in this particular case, it seemed like there was some level of joy taken from the fact that she didn’t play as well as she had hoped.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know Spiranac and I have no idea if she was craving all kinds of attention when she first became a known commodity, but it’s not her fault that news outlets were willing to give her this amount of coverage, nor is it her fault that she got the invite from the LET. By all means, rip into the publishers or the tours for this whole thing because what they’re doing, I guess, is counter to what they’re “supposed to do”, but the shots at Spiranac seem completely unfair. How many struggling tour pros would turn down a tournament invite? My guess would be none, and I’m sure that they really wouldn’t care why they got invited in the first place. Also, 77 and 79 are bad scores and Spiranac would be the first to admit that, but she didn’t finish last and it’s not like she went out there and fired horrible numbers that we don’t see on a weekly basis on every pro tour in the world. She didn’t embarrass herself or the LET in any way whatsoever and while we don’t know if we’re going to be seeing much of her in 2016, she seems to be taking the whole situation in stride:
34. Phil slides down a hill at Whistling Straits
No story here, just the best video ever:
33. Rich Beem saves Ian Poulter
Back in October, I detailed the bizarre saga of Ian Poulter relying on Rich Beem to save his Ryder Cup eligibility and ultimately, the fallout of this won’t be seen until next year. Picture this: Poulter does just well enough to either qualify on points or get selected by Darren Clarke as a captain’s pick. He flies into Hazeltine and picks up the crucial, sealing point for the European side in a Sunday singles match against Bubba Watson, leading to another one point win for Europe and more discussion about what the Americans are doing wrong at the Ryder Cup. THANKS RICH.
In all honesty, the greater fallout could be that the European Tour has already changed their requirement structure for players to keep their memberships, which should help us avoid all of these scenarios going forward. Still though, considering that Beem does most of his work in Europe these days, if Poulter gets into the Ryder Cup next year and helps the Europeans to a win, Stan Van Gundy has the plan for what Obama should do for his final act as president:
32. The European Tour went to some great courses
One of the coolest things about the European Tour is that they usually spice up their tournament schedule by going to some great courses, and it really seems like we got lucky in 2015. Getting to see both Royal County Down (Irish Open) and Gullane (Scottish Open) were absolute treats, and when you throw in the usually scheduled stops at places like Wentworth, Le Golf National and Crans-sur Sierre, not to mention the Old Course twice, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, you’ve got a lineup that feels way more fresh and watchable than what we see on the PGA Tour.
31. Tiger loses a tooth
This happened so long ago that I almost forgot that it took place this year, but back in January, Twitter was set ablaze with the story that Tiger appeared to be missing a tooth while watching Lindsey Vonn at a ski race in Italy. There were two questions immediately on everyone’s mind:
- Why is Tiger missing a tooth?
- What’s the deal with the skull mask?
Golf Digest’s Stina Sternberg was out of the gate early with a good potential reason for the missing tooth:
However, according to Tiger’s agent Mark Steinberg, that wasn’t the case at all. Tiger apparently was smashed in the face by a cameraman trying to get to the podium at the World Cup event in Italy, causing the tooth to come out and as Tiger told it in Phoenix ahead of the Waste Management, “there was blood everywhere.” Believable? Sure, it sounds possible that Tiger got dinged near the podium, but that’s not something that the race organizers believe is true because the incident wasn’t reported to them, and if there was as much blood as Tiger says there was, you’d think that would be difficult to keep from them, snow being white and all.
It didn’t end there though! Dentists offered up their opinions on the matter, and when someone finally asked him about what was up with the skull mask, Tiger asked the reporter if he had ever played Ghost Recon and that he wore the mask in an attempt to blend in because, “there’s not a lot of brown dudes at ski races.”
In a year full of weird and crazy for Tiger Woods, this whole thing may have actually been the strangest.
Next, we’ll take a look at stories 30-21.