2016 Year In Review: Part One
Over the past twelve months, golf has been on one hell of a ride.
The highs were absolutely dizzying. Young stars have taken over at the top of the game, but players like Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson proved that they are far from done. Dustin Johnson finally got his major win, Jason Day had a historically good season with the putter, the U.S. Ryder Cup team actually beat Europe and somehow, none of the television networks have started charging us to watch Rory McIlroy hit shots on Pro Tracer.
Still though, as good as all of that was, the lows were depressing. Golf’s governing bodies still have no idea how to control the distance epidemic, Muirfield voted against allowing women into their club and lost the Open Championship as a result, the USGA couldn’t have handled their two biggest events any worse, we don’t really have an idea of what to expect out of the greatest player many of us have ever seen and we said our final goodbye to the most important man in the history of the game.
When I did the 2015 Year In Review posts, I managed to get to sixty stories that I thought were worth mentioning. This year though was too packed with noteworthy items to just stop at sixty. So, for the 2016 Year In Review, I present the top 100 stories from the past twelve months in the world of golf, with an admitted larger focus on the men’s professional game than other areas. They will be broken down into ten individual posts and just like last year, some are fun and light hearted and others are more serious but they all depict the kind of year the game has had in 2016.
Good luck topping this one, 2017.
100. Justin Thomas wants a Ryder Cup more than major
We’ll kick things off with a story that happened right at the beginning of 2016. Justin Thomas was in Hawaii for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, and he was asked if he would rather win a major championship in 2016 or play on a winning Ryder Cup team. His answer:
This story having a spot on the list is more about the reaction than the actual quote. Chris DiMarco went on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive and said that he was “taken aback” that Thomas would prefer a Ryder Cup win to a major championship. DiMarco’s reaction as a former player, particularly as one who played on two losing Ryder Cup teams and came close to winning a few majors, was valuable and I can only imagine that many people in the game thought the same thing. What really wasn’t valuable was an article that questioned whether Thomas was telling the truth; suggesting that maybe he was playing a PR game because U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III was also in Hawaii that week.
Maybe Thomas felt this strongly about the Ryder Cup because of his father’s involvement with the PGA of America, or maybe it was because he’s such a big sports fan that he loves team events, or maybe it was because he was tired of watching the Americans get their asses kicked every two years and he wanted to do something about it. Regardless of what it is that makes Thomas so passionate about the Ryder Cup doesn’t truly matter, but it’s obvious that much like a lot of the young Americans on the PGA Tour, he does care quite a bit about the event and wants to be part of it going forward.
There was no PR here. Just a young a player who cares a lot about the most exciting event in golf, and even though he didn’t end up making it this time around, I’d be shocked if Justin Thomas didn’t end up representing the United States frequently over the next few years.
99. Phil wears a binder clip
You have to give Phil Mickelson credit: when it comes to fashion, he’s not afraid to be different. His love of pinstripes, Bicentennial Man, animal inspired footwear and whatever the hell this is prove that point unequivocally but what we saw at the Open Championship was new, even for Phil. He wore a binder clip on his hat at Troon during the second round and posted a 69, allowing him to hold a one-shot lead over Henrik Stenson. When asked about it after the round, Mickelson’s reply was that it was really only there to keep his hat on his head with the windy conditions at Troon that day and that, “I know it looks terrible, but it is what it is. I know.”
It’s worth noting that no one else was seen wearing a binder clip that week, which makes perfect sense because there’s only one person who would ever think of that in the first place.
98. Charlie Woods finishes tied for second in junior event
Back in June, the golf world received word that Tiger Woods’ eight year old son Charlie had finished tied for second in a junior event down in Florida. He finished five shots back of the winner, posting a 19-over par 55 for his nine holes at Mayacoo Lakes Country Club.
Every possible golf media outlet wrote stories about this, and while we can talk about whether or not an 8-year old playing nine holes in a tournament is news (I tend to believe that it isn’t), the one thing that it points to is that as always, anything Tiger touches will generate headlines and discussion. This is apparently true even if he’s the one who isn’t teeing it up in a tournament, and it does make me feel a little bit bad for Charlie. If he ever wants to make anything of himself in golf, the attention on him is going to be beyond immense and he’s probably never going to be able to make a swing without people analyzing it to death just like we’ve all done with his father.
97. Jack shoots 72 at Augusta
One of the great things about golf is that you can pretty much play the game forever, and while legends like Jack Nicklaus may not be able to move the ball around as well as they used to, the Golden Bear proved back in May that he’s got more than enough game left in his 76-year old body. The six-time Masters champion decided to play Augusta National with a business partner (imagine being able to decide to play there), and all he did was go out and fire a nice, tidy even-par 72. Now, as he told PGA.com, he did play from the front tees which made it significantly easier than what we see every April, but at 6,500 yards and with those treacherous greens, it’s not like Augusta is your regular Georgia muni.
I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised that he did this because he is Jack Nicklaus, but it’s pretty amazing. People dream of one day being able to beat their age, and not only did Jack do it by four, but he did it on one of the most famous and difficult tracks in the entire world. Not that they need the cash, but can you imagine how much money Augusta National could charge to watch a live stream of Jack playing a random round at Augusta? I would pay way too much money to watch it and not regret it for a single second.
96. Goosen gets US Open exemption
The last few years haven’t been overly kind to Retief Goosen. The two-time U.S. Open champion has struggled with injuries and inconsistency, leading to just eight top-10 finishes worldwide since January of 2015 and zero wins. His last win on any tour came at the 2009 Transitions Championship, and the only reason he has his card for the 2016-17 PGA Tour season is based on the fact that he finished inside the top 125 on the money list through the Wyndham Championship last season, eventually finishing right on the number at 125. So, why is he here? Well, the USGA decided back in May to give Goosen a special exemption into the U.S. Open at Oakmont after his ten-year exemption ran out in 2014 for winning the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock. He was the first player to receive an exemption from the USGA since 2010 when they granted both Vijay Singh and Tom Watson spots in the tournament at Pebble Beach, just like they have in the past for players like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Seve Ballesteros.
So, again, why is he here? Well, he’s here because this story is likely to be even more important in the coming years, as a certain someone has his exemption run out for winning the 2008 U.S. Open assuming he doesn’t come back and play well enough to win it again or qualify on his own merits. Just something to keep in mind.
95. Brandel vs. Duval
The Golf Channel did an absolutely insane amount of live television from the Ryder Cup in September, covering every topic from multiple angles and generally doing what I thought was a pretty spectacular job all told. The one thing that stood out above all else came on Tuesday night when Brandel Chamblee and David Duval squared off in a heated debate about leadership and what it means at an event like the Ryder Cup. Chamblee jumped on the point that the only two players historically in the Ryder Cup who have not lived up to their lofty world ranking have been Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, a subject that he has touched on numerous times before when suggesting that both players would be bad choices as captains in the event. Duval, who played on two Ryder Cup teams alongside Tiger and Phil, jumped to their defense arguing that you couldn’t assign blame to individual players for a team result. It was a rare moment, exceedingly rare for Golf Channel, where live TV took on a very real, adversarial tone with two intelligent people being so very clearly on opposite sides of the fence.
My take on the whole thing was pretty simple: Yes, players like Tiger and Phil have not played their best at the Ryder Cup in previous years, but to Duval’s point, they can’t control what the other players on the team are doing. Brandel’s assertion that the record doesn’t match up with their world rank makes some sense, but the problem is that as I’ve talked about numerous times in the past, match play is incredibly volatile and there really isn’t a tangible difference between a player like Rory McIlroy and Charles Howell III in an 18-hole sample. It also makes it seem like the Europeans have been throwing ten handicappers out there against the best in the world when in that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The best moments of the video, ranked:
- Duval’s line of: “Well, you’re never wrong. I understand that.”
- Chamblee throwing in a Boston Tea Party reference.
- Frank Nobilo sitting in the middle for what probably seemed like an eternity before he could jump in.
94. Tiger creates TGR
As it stands right now, Tiger Woods is still an “active” professional golfer and there’s no doubting that long after he retires, he’s still going to be viewed as a golfer above anything else. But, his announcement in October that he was starting up a new business, Tiger Woods Ventures, and labeling it as “Chapter 2” is important to look at when trying to figure out what his immediate future is. No one knows how long he’s going to try and play golf competitively, but the fact that he’s being as open as he is about setting up what’s next, after years of being completely closed off, is a sign that he knows the end of his competitive career really isn’t that far away.
93. Steve Stricker and Nick Price named Presidents Cup captains
Coming on the heels of the most competitive Presidents Cup in years back in 2015, it was announced in April that Steve Stricker and Nick Price were set to be captains for the biennial team event in 2017 at Liberty National. This will be the third consecutive International team that Nick Price has helmed in the event, and the first time that Stricker has been given the reigns. In the three years under Price, the Internationals have been more competitive in the event, losing by three points in 2013 and just a single point in 2015 as the International side has started to build up the bottom half of their roster with exciting, young talent. For Stricker, this is likely some kind of a test run as the captain of a team, as it is widely assumed that he’ll be leading the American side in the Ryder Cup in his home state of Wisconsin in 2020 at Whistling Straits. Stricker, who has also served as a vice-captain on the last two Ryder Cup teams, will be in charge of a U.S. team that barring significant injuries or poor form, will be a heavy favourite to win their seventh consecutive Presidents Cup.
92. The Par-3 Contest was a lot of fun
The Par-3 Contest at Augusta National is fun every year, but this year was one of the best.
We had nine players make a hole-in-one, including Gary Player and back-to-back shots from Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler. The real star of the show though was Soren Kjeldsen’s son, who gave me what I think is my favourite GIF or Vine of the 2016 golf season when he decided to do this:
91. Dawie van der Walt calls out Mike Weir
It’s no secret that the last few years have been rough for Mike Weir. Just in case you weren’t aware, all of you reading this right now have made at least the same amount of cuts in professional events as the Weir since the start of 2015 as illustrated by this helpful chart from GolfStats.com:
Weir has battled a ton of injuries over the last few years, and with the results that you see above, he has officially lost his status on the PGA Tour and has no more injury exemption cards to play. That WD you see in April came at the RBC Heritage, where Weir was granted a sponsor’s exemption to play, as he has been an RBC sponsored player for as long as I can remember and Dawie van der Walt, a little known player from South Africa was not too pleased at the news of Weir’d WD after a first round 78. van der Walt was one of the alternates in the field and didn’t get in, so he voiced his opinion in a tweet that has now been deleted, but it read:
“Gota love a guy who gets an invite into a Tour event and then WD after the first round #hangitupmike.”
After getting some blowback from people, including Graham DeLaet, van der Walt clarified his remarks later and said that the “hang it up Mike” hashtag was in reference to the fact that Weir should only come back and play when he’s healthy. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time:
“First off, if Weir says he was sick, I have no reason to doubt him even if there’s potentially some proof that he was teeing it up in Scottsdale the next day. According to Bob Weeks at TSN, Weir was bedridden after the round thanks to a bug that was going around the house he was staying at last week while playing in the Masters. Secondly, Weir has earned the right to choose where and when he tees it up on the medical extension and if he gets into fields because of sponsor’s exemptions, I can’t fault the guy for showing up even if it’s pretty obvious that his game isn’t where he wants it to be.
It’s like the whole Paige Spiranac thing all over again: if someone gives you a spot, you’re probably not going to turn it down and in the case of Weir, maybe he thinks he’s closer to something than we all believe. I mean, it happened once in 2014 out of absolutely nowhere, so it’s not impossible, right? This is pretty much all Weir has left to rely on these days, so it makes sense for him to take anything he’s given. If you want to cast “blame” on anyone, look in the direction of the people who gave him the exemption, not Weir himself.
However, it is a bad look to WD after one round, especially when you fire a 78, after getting a sponsor’s invite. As I mentioned before, Weir pretty much has deity status here in Canada, but I can’t imagine that RBC, a Canadian company, is too thrilled that he decided to pull out when they offered him a spot that could have gone to someone else. That’s why it’s pretty easy to sympathize with van der Walt, who could have teed it up and earned some money but wasn’t given the opportunity. The flip side to that of course is that Weir has earned this status based on prior play, and if van der Walt had played better in other events, he wouldn’t be in the position he was in on Thursday.
Withdrawing after one round, and a particularly bad one at that, is the type of thing that doesn’t go over very well with the other players, even if it’s someone as well respected as Weir. Like I said, there are a lot of layers here, and I don’t think that anyone is really 100% in the right or the wrong in this instance. As much as we’d like this to be black and white, there really are shades of grey at play here.”
No one really knows what the future holds for Weir at this point, as his most recent blog post suggested that he was still working to get his swing back in order but that if he figured it out, he would look at events in Europe or the Web.com Tour. We haven’t heard anything since, and it’s very possible that we’re looking at the end of the line for the 2003 Masters champion.
Part two of the 2016 Year In Review will examine stories 90-81.