2016 Year In Review: Part Five
60. Tiger still thinks he can pass Jack
At this point, I feel confident in suggesting that the vast majority of golf fans believe that there’s no chance that Tiger Woods will catch or surpass Jack Nicklaus’ career total of 18 major championships won. In fact, I’m pretty sure that most golf fans believe that Tiger won’t even get one more major, much less the five that he needs to leapfrog Jack for the top spot, but at least publicly, Tiger believes that he’s going to do it. After withdrawing from the Safeway Open and the Turkish Airlines Open, Tiger did a long interview with Charlie Rose to discuss all things about his game, and he admitted that he still believes he’ll get to at least 19 major championship wins.
Now, he did leave some room for interpretation with his answer and the internet seemed split on whether or not he actually meant that he would pass Jack. It caused quite a bit of discussion on Twitter, but he made it quite clear at the Hero World Challenge when talking with Dan Hicks that he still believes.
- Hicks: “You’re serious about this still, right?”
- Tiger: “Absolutely.”
- Hicks: “There’s nothing in the back of your mind that says you can’t get this done, right?”
- Tiger: “I wouldn’t be here doing this if I didn’t feel like I can play at the highest level. I have too much pride, and if I can’t prepare to play at this level anymore then I won’t do it. But I know that I can.”
My feeling on Tiger’s future success has always been that if he was healthy, that he would win again. We’ll never see him dominate like he used to, but assuming he was able to stay on the course, I believe that he will win more tournaments, majors included. I do think he’s crazy to suggest that he gets to 19, but he seems confident that whatever new approach he’s bringing to the course is going to help and that’s a big change considering where we’ve been with him over the past few years. This would have been higher on the list had he said that he thought he had no chance, but it’s still a noteworthy item as we head into the next chapter of Tiger’s career.
59. Brooke Henderson wins Women’s PGA Championship at 18
A lot of attention is paid to the young stars of the PGA Tour, and rightfully so, but the same can absolutely be said about the LPGA Tour. As of this writing, seven of the top ten players in the Rolex Rankings (the women’s OWGR) are under the age of 25, with the oldest player being 28-year old Inbee Park, who has already won seven major championships and an Olympic gold medal. It’s great to see that the future of women’s golf is in good hands with a crop of talented, young players and Canada’s Brooke Henderson is right at the top of that group. Henderson turned pro in 2014, and won her first LPGA Tour title at just 17 in 2015, taking the Cambia Portland Classic, running over the field and finishing eight shots clear of her closest competitors at 21-under par.
She followed that up this year by closing with a Sunday 65 at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and defeating world number one Lydia Ko in a playoff to claim her first major championship. At just 18 years and 9 months old, Henderson became the second youngest woman to win a major championship behind Ko, who was five months younger when she took the 2015 Evian Championship. Henderson then went on to defend her title the following month in Portland, winning by four shots over Stacy Lewis and was one of seven finalists for the Lou Marsh Trophy, given annually to Canada’s athlete of the year.
58. The “offseason” was pretty great
For better or worse, there’s really no such thing as an offseason in golf these days. Both the PGA and European Tours run events for essentially the entire calendar year, and the smaller tours around the world don’t really stop either, which means that there’s always somewhere for the top players to tee it up if they so choose. There’s no doubting that the best golf is usually played between the months of March and September, but the final three months of 2016 produced some incredibly entertaining golf as well as some quality winners. Take a look at just some of the players who won tournaments after the final putt dropped at the Ryder Cup in early October:
- Tyrrell Hatton (Alfred Dunhill Links)
- Brandt Snedeker (Fiji International)
- Hideki Matsuyama (Japan Open Golf Championship, WGC-HSBC Champions, Taiheiyo Masters and Hero World Challenge)
- Alex Noren (British Masters and Nedbank Golf Challenge)
- Justin Thomas (CIMB Classic)
- Padraig Harrington (Portugal Masters)
- Thorbjorn Olesen (Turkish Airlines Open and the World Cup of Golf w/Soren Kjeldsen)
- Pat Perez (OHL Classic)
- Brooks Koepka (Dunlop Phoenix)
- Matthew Fitzpatrick (DP World Tour Championship)
- Jordan Spieth (Australian Open)
- Harold Varner III (Australian PGA Championship)
Would it be better if golf had a more traditional offseason? Possibly, but if you were watching over the past few months, this has been a lot of fun, too.
57. Europe puts out six rookies at the Ryder Cup
If you asked American golf fans about their memories of the Ryder Cup prior to 2016, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of positive stories. Sure, some of that has to do with the fact that guys like Tiger and Phil haven’t always been at their best at the Ryder Cup, but most of it would have to do with players like Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald breaking their hearts from the other side. This year though, was a different story.
Of those four players listed above, only Westwood played for Europe due to a combination of injury and poor form from the other three and it led to captain Darren Clarke having six rookies on his side against Davis Love’s Americans. Five of them (Danny Willett, Chris Wood, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Andy Sullivan and Matthew Fitzpatrick) qualified on points, while Clarke used his final captain’s pick on the Belgian Bomber, Thomas Pieters. Since the expansion of the event in 1979 to include players from continental Europe, the only other matches to include that many European rookies came in 2010 and 1999.
Cabrera-Bello and Pieters were excellent for Clarke, while the others seemed to scuffle along, as did veterans like Westwood and Martin Kaymer. To me, this Ryder Cup for Europe represented a changing of the guard more than anything, and while their big four of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia all figure to be around for at least a few more of these, the rest of the team could be up in the air. The Ryder Cup is always going to be one of those events that goes in cycles, as older players will fall away and it’s up to the younger crop to fill their shoes, and Europe is definitely in a time of transition as they look towards 2018.
56. European Tour announces Rolex Series
As we’ll see in a later post, the European Tour is really trying to do some things differently with Keith Pelley now at the helm and one of those things was announced in November with the launch of the Rolex Series. Starting in 2017, seven of the top events on the European Tour will feature minimum purses of $7 million USD, with plans to increase the number of events in future years.
This is a big deal because one of the reasons why the European Tour has struggled to keep many of their top players, as well as attract others from the PGA Tour is that the money just doesn’t come close to what is offered in the United States. This way, players have more of a reason to come over and play, and on top of that it appears that the European Tour has scheduled these events strategically when compared to the event running on the PGA Tour. Take a look at the below list, and compare the events. We don’t know the final four on the PGA Tour as of yet, but those are based on the dates from this season.
|Date||European Tour||PGA Tour|
|May 25th-28th||BMW PGA Championship||Dean & Deluca Invitational (Colonial)|
|July 6th-9th||Irish Open||Greenbrier Classic|
|July 13th-16th||Scottish Open||John Deere Classic|
|October 12th-15th||Italian Open||Safeway Open?|
|November 2nd-5th||Turkish Airlines Open||Shriners?|
|November 9th-12th||Nedbank Golf Challenge||OHL Classic?|
|November 16th-19th||DP World Tour Championship||RSM Classic?|
Now, where would you play if you had a choice? I’m not saying that the PGA Tour is going to see a big exodus for these events, but I’m guessing that with where these tournaments were placed on the schedule, that some big name players may be adjusting their schedules to head to Europe.
If Pelley and the European Tour can expand this beyond seven events, we could be looking at two really healthy tours going forward.
55. Anthony Kim spotted on a golf course – twice!
The last time Anthony Kim teed it up in a professional golf tournament was May of 2012 when he played and withdrew at the Wells Fargo Championship. A combination of injuries and an apparent insurance policy has kept Kim from playing on the PGA Tour, and while he has popped up here and there over the last few years, he hasn’t appeared publicly on a golf course since that tournament over four years ago. However, he actually did pop up on the links in 2016, and he did it twice in the same week back in September.
Based on this interview that he did with Doug Ferguson in 2015, I don’t expect that we’ll see Kim anytime soon on the PGA Tour. That sucks because it’d be great to see him go up against the best in the world again, but it’s good to know that he’s still around and playing from time to time.
54. FOX improves by a lot at the U.S. Open
I’ve been on the record as saying that I didn’t think FOX did that bad of a job in 2015 at Chambers Bay, but their performance at Oakmont earlier this year was significantly improved. The first thing that they had working in their favour was that it was on a traditional course with built in storylines and viewer knowledge, and while that may not seem like a lot, think about the amount of time they had to spend explaining things at Chambers Bay; and that doesn’t even take the cauliflower greens into account.
I already talked about the difference between Greg Norman and Paul Azinger, but Curtis Strange and Brad Faxon were great as well. I’ve always liked Joe Buck (don’t @ me), and it seemed like his comfort level was so much higher, as he was able to take more of a backseat and let them take over. Moving Holly Sonders to a spot where she could talk with Gil Hanse about the course was a genius move, and Sonders’ replacement Shane Bacon did a great job as interviewer, especially with the USGA after the awful Dustin Johnson ruling.
It felt like a real broadcast, and their technological innovations were still on point. I’m not so sure about the mics in the cups, but they do add something different and they still had copious amounts of pro tracer with many angles, and green grids to show slope and speed.
Plus, American audiences got their first taste of Ken Brown, who FOX brought over from Sky Sports for the week and we got this absolute gem of a video.
53. PGA Tour events will stay in North Carolina
As much as people would like it if sports and “real life” existed in separate bubbles, it’s just not feasible. The #StickToSports crowd on Twitter doesn’t like it, but the fact is that from time to time, players, teams and leagues make decisions that are a direct result of something that happens outside of their jurisdiction because they simply have to do it.
On March 23rd, the North Carolina legislature passed HB2, a law preventing transgender people from using public restrooms based on the gender that they identify with. This kind of discrimination is not common in 2016, and as such, there has been some very intense criticism and backlash that has extended out to the sports world. The NBA planned on having their 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte in 2017, but after HB2 was passed, Commissioner Adam Silver announced that they would be pulling out of North Carolina. The game will now be played in New Orleans, costing the city of Charlotte an estimated $100 million. The NCAA followed suit, announcing the relocation of seven championship events that were set for North Carolina, including games for the first two rounds of March Madness. The ACC also moved their conference championship football game from the state.
The PGA Tour though will be staying put. Two events are slated for North Carolina on the PGA Tour in 2017: the Wells Fargo Championship, usually held at Quail Hollow, is being held at Eagle Point Golf Club due to the PGA Championship going to Quail. When asked about their stance on moving events, outgoing PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem gave the following response:
“We are squarely with those other organizations that have taken a public stance about that legislation. We are not, however, inclined to join that group by pulling our tournament. And the reason for that is quite simply, that tournament raises about $1.5 million right now for the Teach for America program in the inner city of Charlotte. Nobody else is going to put that money up.
I want to reemphasize that we have three pieces to our mission: one is to benefit the professional game and the people that play it; two is building the communities where we play; and three is helping grow the game of golf.
We’ll be vocal about the legislation, but we’re not going to interrupt a unique program that’s doing the great work it’s doing in the city of Charlotte.”
The PGA of America has also said that they have no plans to move the PGA Championship from Quail Hollow. I get where Finchem is coming from because that money is important, and moving a golf tournament is not as easy as picking up the phone and calling courses, but this feels like it should have been handled differently. If they felt as strongly as they said they did about HB2, they had enough time to move the event, as did the PGA of America, and find some other way to help out the Teach for America program.
Optically, this was a bad look for the PGA Tour considering what the other organizations had already committed to doing.
52. Tiger puts three in the water at Quicken media day
Back in May, a full seven months prior to Tiger’s 2016 return at the Hero World Challenge, we really had no idea when Tiger was going to play again. As host of the Quicken Loans National, he had certain duties to perform and after giving an update on his recovery from back surgery, he attempted to hit a shot into the par-3 10th from just over 100 yards.
If you are a Tiger fan and haven’t seen this video, avert your eyes:
Tiger talked recently about the kind of stretching routine he needs to undergo in order to play these days, and I assume that seven months ago, that was even more important but his was a shocking display. What was also clear from watching that video was that after the first ball went in the water, he definitely wanted a second one to play. After he donated the second one though, you could tell that he wanted no part of the third ball but was forced into it and at the 1:07 mark, comes the words of a man who at the time, was really fighting it.
“Alright. Come on, Tiger.”
Thankfully, he looked far better than that at the Hero, but just a few months prior, the outlook couldn’t have been much worse.
51. Ernie Els has a meltdown on Augusta’s greens
Ernie Els is one of the best players in the history of the modern game, but the last few years have not been kind to him. Much like Phil Mickelson, Ernie’s last win came back in 2013 and the big reason why he’s struggled over the last few years is that the putter just hasn’t been good enough. It’s been really hard to watch.
As bad as it has been though, it actually got worse at the Masters this year. In the first round, Ernie was paired with Jason Day and Matt Kuchar and proceeded to six putt from about two feet away on the opening hole. It’s one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen on the golf course.
The nine posted by Els is officially the highest score ever recorded on the first hole at Augusta, and Els would eventually go on to post 80, which actually isn’t that bad considering the opening quintuple. Els also missed the cut, but there is a happy ending to this story, as for the first time in years, Els managed to get things together on the greens after the Masters. He ended up finishing 23rd on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained Putting, and through the very limited sample size of two tracked events for the 2016-17 season, he’s still in the positives, so hopefully what we’ve seen from Ernie over the last little while is a thing of the past.
Part six of the 2016 Year In Review will examine stories 50-41.