2015 Year in Review: Part Four
30. Phil Mickelson splits with Butch Harmon
Players split from their coaches all the time, but I can honestly say that I didn’t expect to hear the news in early November that Phil Mickelson decided that he wanted to hear a voice other than Butch Harmon, but when you think about it, it does start to make some sense. The two have been together since 2007 and in those eight years, Phil won twelve times including a pair of major championships. Unfortunately, we’re approaching the third anniversary of Phil’s last win at the 2013 Open Championship, so the success that he’s used to just hasn’t been there over the past couple of seasons. Phil has started working with Andrew Getson, who teaches out of Grayhawk in Scottsdale and don’t feel bad for Harmon, who still counts Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker amongst his most high profile clients and has a lucrative business for non professionals as well.
How will this play out for Phil? I honestly don’t think it’s going to change much because what we’re looking at with him is a guy who can still compete with the best players in the world, but the frequency of that competition is simply far less than it used to be. The years of three or four wins and a bucket full of top-10’s are probably over, but contending a few times and winning another major? That’s definitely still in the cards and getting a new voice in the mix isn’t a bad idea.
29. Rickie Fowler is overrated? Not really.
Back in May, Sports Illustrated asked players on the PGA Tour who the most overrated players in the game were and the two names that came out on top with 24% of the vote each were Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter, with Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan rounding out the top four. The focus was clearly on Fowler and Poulter, and naturally, this became a talking point during the Players Championship later that week. Both players seemed to be taking it all in stride though, and after rounds of 69 and 71 respectively to open the Players, they had a nice little back and forth on Twitter.
A funny thing happened though as the tournament unfolded over the next couple of days. Fowler entered the final round three shots back of Chris Kirk, and when he was five shots down with six to play, nobody was giving him a chance to win the tournament but that’s when Fowler went on a run, playing the final six holes in 6-under par and forcing a playoff between himself, Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia. Fowler went on to win in the playoff, grabbing his second career PGA Tour win in a stunning display of shot making that I’m not entirely sure that any of us appreciate enough to this day and afterwards, he had a message for anyone who thought he might still be overrated:
The rest of Fowler’s year was pretty great too. He won the Scottish Open and the Deutsche Bank, and while some would point to the fact that he still hasn’t won a major championship yet, the fact is that he won three massive tournaments and is very clearly one of the best players in the world. One thing was abundantly clear about this poll, and it’s that the players who were asked to vote on this were confusing overrated with how much exposure certain players get over others, and it’s an important distinction. Fowler, Poulter and Bubba are all entertaining players and personalities that get play because people want to watch them, whether they like them or not and in the case of Fowler, there was a very real reason why he wasn’t winning more events in the first place. The combination of how ridiculous it was that Fowler was on the list at all and him winning one of the biggest events of the year in the same week is why he earns the number twenty nine spot on the year in review.
28. FOX gets the U.S. Open and it was rough
Coming into the 2015 U.S. Open, a ton of focus was being put on the fact that Chambers Bay had never hosted a professional event, much less a major championship. We’ll get to how Chambers did in a future post, but the other brand new aspect of the U.S. Open was that for the first time since 1995, NBC wouldn’t be handling the broadcast, as the USGA decided to follow the money and cozy up with Fox for the next twelve years despite the network having never broadcasted a golf event. It was apparent right from the beginning too that this was going to take time and that NBC and the other networks have this thing down pat because even though I didn’t personally think Fox was as bad as others did, it definitely had its fair share of stumbles throughout the week. The positives were pretty much the ones listed below:
I thought Joe Buck and Greg Norman were decent considering that they had never done this before, but nowhere near the level of quality that we had come to expect with other networks and in the overall, it just seemed like there were too many people on the broadcast who needed to get airtime and it took away from the actual golf that should have been shown. Throwing to a four man booth to discuss what’s going on instead of just showing what’s going on is pretty much the worst thing you can do on any sports broadcast, especially when it’s handled as clumsily as it was by Curt Menefee and Holly Sonders. Menefee is an excellent broadcaster and is great as the host of Fox’s NFL pregame coverage, but he was woefully out of place at Chambers and it was magnified by the amount that he was on the air. The tough thing for Fox is that as Joe Buck mentioned in this interview, broadcasting golf is very difficult and what’s going to make it even harder for Fox is that even though they were getting better as the week went on, they’re only broadcasting USGA events, so it’s pretty much impossible to get into a groove and make it as good as the other networks who have been broadcasting golf since the 1950’s.
Ultimately, I think Buck is a very talented broadcaster and he’ll figure out his end of things relatively easily but for the rest of the crew, the less is more approach is probably for the best. Except for the Pro Tracer. Please give us even more of that, and if I can offer one final piece of advice for next year, let’s avoid something like this:
27. The Back9Network suspends operations
Back in 2014, the Back9Network made some noise as an up and coming golf and lifestyle brand, attempting to be edgier and more progressive than what we usually see from standard golf outlets and when they announced a deal with DirecTV, it was a big deal. Once 2015 began though, there were serious problems, as outlined in the links below courtesy of Ryan Ballengee at Golf News Net:
- January 15th: B9N misses payroll and appears to be running out of cash.
- January 22nd: B9N files a lawsuit against co-founder Jamie Bosworth, which they would later withdraw.
- January 26th: B9N cuts their workforce by 35.
- February 23rd: Operations are officially suspended.
- April 1st: B9N is sued by a pair of investors, claiming they were lied to by the company.
Since then, their Twitter account has been posting items sparingly and now, they are filing for bankruptcy and going with a digital only approach. I don’t think anyone ever really considered them as a serious threat to the Golf Channel in any way, but the idea of a more brash and fun brand of golf coverage is something that makes a lot of sense and I think it could work if done correctly, but with what has gone on over the past twelve months, it’s really difficult to believe that the Back9Network are the company that will be able to deliver that to golf fans.
26. Golf Twitter keeps getting better
Part of why I think a more fun golf brand could really work is because of the way Twitter has exploded with golf coverage. Whether it’s GIFs, Vines or just quality commentary on what’s going on, following golf via Twitter has really enhanced my own knowledge and appreciation of the game, and the cool thing is that the official accounts for both the PGA Tour and European Tour have really embraced the culture and have become absolute must follows. If you’re not on Twitter already and following along, you’re really missing out so please join the conversation.
25. Patrick Reed vs. Shane Ryan
Early on in 2015, the golf world was talking a lot about Shane Ryan’s new book, Slaying the Tiger, which you should definitely pick up and read if you haven’t done so already as it’s a different look at the PGA Tour. The biggest story to come out of that book were the accusations levelled by Ryan on Patrick Reed that he cheated and stole while in college, which Reed vehemently denied in an interview with Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis but Stephanie Wei put in some great work to debunk a lot of what Reed was saying as well. The No Laying Up crew also took Golf Channel to task for their reporting of the story, which seemed lazy at best and one-sided at its worst. Later in the year, Ryan went on Morning Drive to discuss the book and it led to an interesting conversation between Damon Hack and Paige Mackenzie, who was disgusted by the work of Ryan. Not much has come of it since from what I can tell, but it was definitely an interesting few months for everyone involved.
24. R&A finally allows female members
Congratulations are in order for the R&A, who finally jumped into the 20th century back in February by announcing that seven women would be permitted to the join the club, breaking a male only tradition for golf’s governing body that lasted a mere 260 years. Ten time major winner Annika Sorenstam was the headliner, and hopefully this becomes something that the R&A continues going forward because as leaders of the game, they need to be the ones at the front of important change and this was long overdue. Hey, now that they’ve got overt sexism off the board, maybe they can reverse course on the anchoring ban and fix the ball too!
23. Jason Day collapses at Chambers Bay
On Friday at the U.S. Open, Jason Day was in a great spot to claim his first major championship when something happened that appeared to put much more than just his tournament chances in jeopardy:
This was by far the scariest moment of the year in golf, and I’m still amazed that not only did Day end up finishing the hole, but that he ended up battling for the rest of the week and finished in the top 10. On top of that, he ended up getting his first major win two months later at Whistling Straits and even better is that after consulting with doctors, Day believes that he has the vertigo under control and that it won’t be an issue going forward.
22. Nick Faldo and Tom Watson say goodbye to the Old Course
One of the coolest things about golf is that players can play a really, really long time and actually still compete at the highest level. This year at the Open Championship, two of the greatest players of all time said goodbye to the world’s most famous course as Nick Faldo and Tom Watson played their last competitive rounds at St. Andrews. In the case of Faldo, he’s likely going to keep playing for a few more Opens until his exemption runs out, but for Watson, the 2015 Open signified his final appearance in the event and it was an emotional time. There were a ton of weather delays at the Open this year and for a good portion of Friday, it looked like Watson wasn’t going to be able to finish his round before it got too dark, but there was no way that the R&A was going to let that happen even if they had bring out the druids to line the 18th fairway like the Undertaker did at Wrestlemania 14.
Watson ended up finishing his round in pretty much the darkest conditions possible, and to be honest, I’m happy that he did. Bringing him out for a hole or two bright and early the next morning, which ended up not really happening because of the high winds, would have been far less than ideal and the night backdrop actually gave the scene a little extra with the five time Open winner standing on the Swilcan Bridge and everyone snapping photos, and in typical Watson fashion, he still went down fighting.
21. Tiger has back surgery again…and again
Just when it looked like Tiger might be getting some semblance of his game back together after a good performance at the Wyndham, he announced in September that he underwent a second microdisectomy surgery and was hoping to return to the PGA Tour in early 2016. The big blow immediately came to the Frys.com Open, which Tiger had committed to but now there would be even more questions about his long term health and if we would ever see him regain any of his prior form. Those questions were asked even louder at the end of October when Tiger announced that he had to have another procedure to relieve pain in his back, and based on the way he’s talked over the past few weeks, it’s more difficult than ever to believe that we’ll see him healthy again. He’s not able to rehab or work out right now and is spending most of his time playing video games and laying down, which basically puts him in the same elite athlete category that I currently reside in.
I don’t think he’s giving up any time soon, but staying healthy has very quickly become more of a problem than ever before for a guy who wasn’t all that healthy to begin with. Life comes at you fast.
Next up, we’ll take a look at stories 20-11.