2016 Year In Review: Part Two
Previous posts: Part One
90. John Daly joins the Champions Tour
At the end of April, John Daly turned 50 and immediately joined the Champions Tour. Despite the fact that his last PGA Tour win came in 2004, Daly is still a massive draw and once he committed to joining the senior circuit, it was impossible to turn on Golf Channel and not see an ad promoting his imminent arrival. Daly had limited success on Bernhard’s tour, playing in fifteen events, with his best finish coming at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in July when he tied for 11th.
Daly joining the Champions Tour got me thinking though that it’s possible that we’re seeing the last of the big name stars making the jump to the senior tour, at least on a full-time basis. Tiger’s financial influence on the game has been so great that the guys simply don’t need the money like they used to, and while I can see guys like David Toms, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker making some appearances, it seems unlikely to me that others will do the same. Can you see Tiger, Ernie or Phil playing in those events? What about younger guys like Dustin Johnson or Rickie Fowler?
The Champions Tour will go on for as long as people are interested, but players with name value like Daly might be few and far between going forward.
89. Ian Poulter gets someone fired
It goes without saying that 2016 didn’t go quite as Ian Poulter had planned. After starting the year with a very respectable T14 in Abu Dhabi, Poulter played in twelve tournaments with just one top-10 finish before shutting it down at the end of May with a foot injury. He was out until the end of October, which meant no Ryder Cup appearance and even that lone top-10 in Puerto Rico came during the week of the WGC-Dell Match Play, an event that Poulter has won in the past but was not qualified for this time around.
It also goes without saying that Poulter isn’t exactly a beloved figure with American golf fans, and nothing exemplifies this better than when Poulter was heckled at the Valspar Championship back in March. Poulter was struggling, and a few fans took it upon themselves to heckle him; talking about him hitting balls in the water and that he wasn’t going to make the Ryder Cup team. Poulter asked for them to be removed from the event, and while that doesn’t appear to have happened, word got back to Poulter about one of the guys bragging on Twitter about the heckling. So Poulter decided to send a tweet of his own about what happened, but managed to tag the man’s employer, Florida Southern College, in his message. A few days later, the man was no longer employed by FSC.
We can argue about whether or not it was the right decision to fire the man and if Poulter went too far, but this is also a good reminder that you can’t just say whatever you want on social media and get away with it.
UPDATE: I wrote this section on Poulter before he got into it with another person, though no one will be losing their job this time and it appears that Poulter may be changing his approach going forward.
88. Jack hosts a Ryder Cup dinner
The 2016 Ryder Cup will be looked back on as one of redemption for the United States. After getting beaten by the Europeans in eight of the previous ten events, including an unmitigated disaster in 2014 at Gleneagles, Team USA pretty much trounced Europe from the beginning in 2016 and beat them by a score of 17-11. Back in February though, this was far from a certainty and Jack Nicklaus wanted to help. He offered to host a dinner that would bring together captain Davis Love III and his vice captains, the PGA of America and apparently every living PGA Tour player with an American passport to discuss what they needed to do to have a successful Ryder Cup. Tiger made an appearance, Phil was (probably) setting the line on Brian Harman’s chances for making the team and Rickie had some of Jack’s ice cream. It seemed like a good time was had by all.
Of course, this little get together had some controversy attached to it as Justin Thomas, who was ranked 31st in the world at the time, was not extended an invite. Apparently, the criteria for the invitation was that players had to be in the top-40 in the Ryder Cup standings at a certain date, which meant that players like John Huh, Andrew Loupe and Zac Blair made the cut instead despite being outside of the top-100 in the world rankings. Ultimately, the right players were chosen in September, but it seemed like an odd place to cut off the invite list.
My prediction: Thomas plays on both the 2017 Presidents and 2018 Ryder Cup teams.
87. Phil Mickelson vs. Ryan Ruffels
I think it’s pretty safe to assume that there’s little on this earth that Phil Mickelson enjoys more than playing cash games. Shane Ryan did a great job documenting his money matches for ESPN back in 2015, and early on in 2016, Mickelson was not pleased with Ryan Ruffels when the 17-year old Aussie decided to talk about the money he had allegedly won off of the five-time major winner. The story goes that Ruffels played a practice round with Mickelson in December of 2015 when Ruffels was trying to decide between turning pro and heading to college. At the time, Mickelson was an unofficial assistant coach to his brother Tim at Arizona State, and according to the Sydney Morning Herald, Ruffels took $5,000 of Mickelson’s money.
“We get on the first tee, it’s pretty early in the morning and he says, ‘I don’t wake up this early to play for any less than $2500’,” Ruffels recalled of a friendly offer made to him by Mickelson. The 42-time US PGA Tour winner gave Ruffels 2-1 odds; if Ruffels won, Mickelson would give him $5000, if he lost, Ruffels would have to pay up $2500 when he turned professional.
“I was a few down through nine but then I birdied six of my last seven to win by one shot and took his money, so that was pretty cool,” Ruffels said with a laugh.
Apparently though, we don’t actually know if this is true. Ruffels and his agent refuted the story, saying that the timeline didn’t add up, there were no NCAA violations and that the money that exchanged hands was exaggerated in the story. Regardless though, Mickelson wasn’t impressed with the whole situation:
“He’s young,” Mickelson said, “and he’s got some things to learn. One of them is you don’t discuss certain things. You don’t discuss specifics of what you play for. And you certainly don’t embellish and create a false amount just for your own benefit. So those things right there are – that’s high school stuff, and he’s going to have to stop doing that now that he’s out on the PGA Tour.”
86. Caddie Max Zechmann passes away after collapsing on course
Tragedy struck the Ladies European Tour in early December as Max Zechmann, who was caddieing for France’s Anne-Lise Caudal at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, collapsed in the 13th fairway and was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. The cause of death was ruled to be a heart attack.
85. European Tour warns players about yelling ‘Fore’
One of the things that golf fans really like to hang their hats on when talking about the positives of the game is the etiquette required when on the course. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jordan Spieth at Augusta or a 25 handicapper playing at your local muni: you are expected to play the game and treat it, as well as those around you, with respect. The good thing about golf etiquette too is that unlike the rest of the rule book, it’s pretty easy to know what you should and should not do on the course.
Yelling “Fore!” when you hit a ball that may injure someone is probably the most obvious of the standard etiquette rules, and one that you hear often when you tee it up and when you’re watching on TV. Well, for the European Tour, their players apparently aren’t saying it enough. It got to the point where the tour actually issued a warning to all of their players in November that if they didn’t make use of their vocal cords when spraying a ball offline, that they would be disciplined.
This may seem like a minor thing, but I applaud the European Tour for doing this. Obviously they don’t want to see people get hurt (and potentially lose money because of it), but to be honest, it’s not like this is too much to ask. We’ve all been in a situation where we’re on the course and we’re lining up a shot, only to be interrupted by a ball that lands near us with no verbal warning attached. It sucks, and for those who have been hit, be it a spectator or another player, that feeling must be even worse. It doesn’t take much effort to do this, and it’s the decent thing to do.
Just make sure that you continue the wayward club point. There’s no reason for the #TourSauce to suffer.
84. Bernhard Langer makes another run at Augusta
One of the cool things about golf is that you can play it for a really long time. One of the other cool things about golf is that players who you once thought were finished, will appear at the top of a leaderboard and make you remember why they were so good in the first place. No one exemplified this better in 2016 than Bernhard Langer.
Coming into the 2016 Masters, the 58-year old Langer wasn’t expected to contend. He’s absolutely owned the Champions Tour since he turned 50, posting 133 top-10’s in 187 starts and grabbing 29 wins, but his last victory on either the PGA or European Tour came at the 2002 Volvo Masters, and in his last ten starts at Augusta, he had missed the cut seven times. He’s obviously still a really good player, even potentially one that merited consideration for the 2014 European Ryder Cup team, but it’s been a long time since that 1993 Masters win.
But then on Saturday, conditions were tough at Augusta with high winds making it very difficult to score. Only Smylie Kaufman was able to post a round in the 60’s, but right behind him was Langer, who followed up rounds of 72 and 73 with a tidy 2-under par 70, which was good enough to put him in the penultimate group on Sunday with Hideki Matsuyama. Langer won his first Masters title in 1985, which was a full SEVEN YEARS before Matsuyama was even born, and now they would be playing together for a chance to win one of golf’s biggest tournaments.
Langer would go on to shoot 76 on Sunday and finish eleven shots back of Danny Willett, but it was still cool to see Langer turn the clock back for a few days at Augusta.
83. Andrew Landry plays in the final group at the U.S. Open
After watching Bernhard Langer play in one the last two groups at the Masters, we saw an equally large longshot dominate the conversation at the U.S. Open in Andrew Landry. Landry, ranked 624th in the world at the time, got into the event by going through local and sectional qualifying and stunned everyone by holding at least a share of the lead in each of the first two rounds at Oakmont. He posted a solid third round 70 to Shane Lowry’s ridiculous 65 and lost the lead, but wound up in a tie for second with Dustin Johnson through 54 holes.
Much like Langer at Augusta, Landry’s final round didn’t result in the fairy tale ending that he had hoped for, as he posted 77 to fall into a tie for 15th place and with the way the U.S. Open ended, it’s been easy to forget about Landry. But, for three days in June, Landry was the talk of the golf world.
82. Graham DeLaet withdraws with anxiety
Personally, I have never had the yips but from conversations that I’ve had with people who have had them, it’s pretty much the worst feeling you can have on a golf course. The thought that someone could be standing over the ball afraid to pull the trigger because they’re worried about where it might end up is terrifying, especially if you’re on a public course where you have a decent chance of injuring someone who is on a neighbouring hole.
It’s something I hope I never have to deal with, and I can only imagine that it’s ten times worse if it happens to you as a professional. One of the big stories in 2015 was that even though he wouldn’t admit it, Tiger appeared to be suffering through a bout of the yips around the greens, and while he kinda/sorta/maybe has that figured out now, it wasn’t something that he was ever going to acknowledge.
In June, Graham DeLaet withdrew from the Memorial before it started and while ordinarily that wouldn’t be all that newsworthy, it was the reasoning behind the WD and his stunning honesty, that struck me. It seems like DeLaet was suffering from the yips.
During his break, DeLaet spoke with Global News about the issue. “I mean I was chipping so poorly, there was no way I could have competed in a tour event. I just needed to take a break and regroup. I’ve been playing golf since I was 12 years old and this is kind of a strange thing, but I’m working through it right now.”
You just don’t see this kind of honesty and vulnerability very often from elite athletes like DeLaet and it was refreshing, which Scott Van Pelt touched on in this great video from ESPN. DeLaet made his next appearance one month later at the Barracuda where he finished tied for 29th, and while he didn’t have the kind of season that he wanted to, the results were better after he took the time off and he already has one top-10 in the 2016-17 season under his belt. The tough thing for him right now is that through three events, he ranks 206th in Strokes Gained: Around The Green after finishing 184th last season, so if he’s going to get his first PGA Tour win, he still has some work to do around the greens. Hopefully he can get it all sorted out.
81. Thomas Bjorn is named 2018 European Ryder Cup captain
Earlier this month, it was announced that Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn will be the man in charge of Europe’s 2018 Ryder Cup side, making him just the fourth man from continental Europe to be given the responsibility, following in the footsteps of Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal. He’ll be in tough, as the Americans will likely boast a similar looking team to the one that dominated Europe by six points a few months ago at Hazeltine, with Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler will still be under the age of 30 when they tee it up at Le Golf National in France. Bjorn’s two main competitors for the post were apparently Miguel Angel Jimenez and Paul Lawrie, but Bjorn’s Ryder Cup experience as a player (three times) and vice captain (four times) along with his time helping run the European Tour made him an ideal fit. The fact that he also still competes regularly on the European Tour also probably didn’t hurt his cause.
It’s going to be really interesting to see how Bjorn fills out his roster in 2018 because when you look at it, there’s a real changing of the guard happening in Europe. Darren Clarke’s European side at Hazeltine ran six rookies out onto the course, as many of the established veterans like Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter were either injured or not playing well enough to merit selection. Perhaps in response to this, Bjorn has already announced that they will be reviewing the selection policy for the team, as you currently have to be a member of the European Tour to be selected. This prevented Paul Casey from being eligible, which drew criticism from many people including Rory McIlroy who discussed it on the No Laying Up podcast in November. Bjorn hasn’t said that they’ll be changing it for sure, but you’d have to think that it’s likely given the comments from him and McIlroy, as in order to get the Ryder Cup back from the Americans, you’ll need all of your strongest players (see Rahm, Jon) and the only way to do that is to change the policy.
No word yet on who will be captaining the American side, but the current rumours place it as being one of Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker or Fred Couples.
Part three of the 2016 Year In Review will examine stories 80-71.