2017 Year In Review: 100-91
2017 was a fun year for golf fans. Just take a quick look at some of the things that happened over the last twelve months:
- The youth movement continued, as players like Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm emerged as two of the best players in the world
- We had drama in pretty much every major championship, men’s and women’s, and it produced great moments and deserving champions
- Phil Mickelson continued to do Phil Mickelson stuff
- Tiger’s latest comeback looks like it could actually last
- And as usual, a bunch of weird shit just happened that made the game fun and intriguing across the board
So, with that in mind, I’ve put together my annual year in review where I look at the top 100 stories of the year. Some are serious and some are absurd, but they cover every aspect of the game, from the tournaments to the equipment to the media, and everything in between. Now, I’m sure that you may take issue with some of my rankings, particularly as we get close to the end of the list and that’s fine! Feel free to leave any comments that you may have, or hit me up on Twitter with any feedback. I’ve looked at this from the perspective of what interested me the most over the last twelve months, and I think it’s in a pretty good spot, but I’m very interested to hear your thoughts as we head towards 2018.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at stories 100 through 91.
We get the top 100 started off with the hardest hitting story of the year: when Jordan Spieth and Smylie Kaufman got into a kayak and attempted to go fishing at the Sony Open. After their opening rounds were complete at Waialae, where Spieth shot 65 and was six shots back of playing partner Justin Thomas, the SB2K alums hit the water, and it didn’t go so well.
To his credit, Kaufman admitted to Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis before going out there that he was a terrible fisherman. Spieth looked like he had a much better handle on the situation, but after a couple of hours on the water and getting tossed out of their kayak, the two came back in and stayed on dry land.
I know what some of you are probably thinking, and that’s that it’s kinda hard to call this a story, but back in January, it was everywhere! Think of all the golf websites that you visit on a daily basis, and when that was happening, you couldn’t go to any of them without seeing a shirtless Spieth. It was the perfect #content cocktail mix:
- Recognizable names, Spieth in particular
- Doing something non-golf related
- Miserable failure, namely going ass over tea kettle in the water
A ton of time was devoted to it on air as well, and if I’m being honest, it was kinda fun to see them out there even if they were given a little too much attention.
Back in 2010, Ai Miyazato spent eleven weeks at the top of the Rolex Rankings, making her the top ranked women’s player in the world. She became the first Japanese player, male or female, to achieve the honour and it was a pretty big deal back home. Fast forward to 2017, and at 32 years of age, Miyazato decided to call it a career and while she probably didn’t win as often on the LPGA Tour as she would have liked, her career was still pretty remarkable.
She won fifteen times on the Japanese LPGA Tour, and added another nine on the LPGA Tour, with her most recent victory coming in 2012 at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. Her best finish in a major championship is a tie for third, which she did three times, twice at the Women’s PGA and once at the Women’s Open. Perhaps more importantly, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone on the LPGA Tour who is more liked and respected by her peers than Miyazato, and the good thing is that it appears she is going to be staying involved in the game in some capacity now that her playing days are over.
The worst part for fans? We won’t get to watch one of the best swings, male or female, that has come along in quite some time.
The last time that Omar Uresti played a full season of professional golf was 2012 where he made 28 starts, with most coming on the Web.com Tour and a few others sprinkled in on the PGA Tour. His last full season on the PGA Tour came two years earlier in 2010. He’s 49 years old, and had a pretty long career as a touring pro with limited success, with two wins on the Web and nine major championship starts.
Believe me when I tell you that Omar Uresti factoring into my Year In Review wasn’t something that I had thought of back in January, but you know those nine major starts that I mentioned above? Despite Uresti not being anywhere near the pro game in recent years, three of those starts have happened in the last three years, at the 2015, 2016 and 2017 PGA Championships. You see, Uresti has transitioned from being a touring pro to a club professional and a lifetime member of the Southern Texas chapter of the PGA of America.
Uresti has been able to play in the PGA Championship over the last few years because of his high finishes in the PGA Professional Championship. In 2015 and 2016, he finished fifth and third in the event, but in 2017, he won the whole thing and this year, it definitely rubbed people the wrong way as John Strege documented for Golf Digest.
Did Uresti do anything wrong? Not technically, as he was absolutely just playing by the rules that are outlined by the PGA of America, but it certainly feels wrong. Uresti is far from the most decorated professional golfer out there, but even at 49, there’s no doubt that he is a professional golfer, so I can absolutely understand the frustrations shared by the lifetime club pros collected by Strege.
We can absolutely have a discussion about the merits of inviting the club professionals into the PGA Championship and how it lessens the quality of the field overall, but that’s the way the PGA of America wants to run their flagship event and that’s fine. Uresti getting into that event as a club pro with over 500 starts as a professional under his belt, doesn’t seem to be the way that it was intended to go down.
Back in 2015, Sang-moon Bae was a consistent presence on the PGA Tour. With wins in both 2013 and 2014, he was establishing himself as someone with name value who was inconsistent, but very talented. He was a big part of the 2015 International Presidents Cup team, going 2-1-1 where that one loss was in Sunday singles against Bill Haas. It was up to Bae on the 18th against Haas to secure a tie for the Internationals when he did this:
Bae actually played really well on Sunday, and made clutch saves on both 16 and 17 to give himself a chance, but that one shot is all that most people remember about his involvement at that Presidents Cup. Unfortunately for all of us, that was also the last time that we saw Bae, as he was summoned for his mandatory two-year stint in the South Korean military, despite his best efforts to avoid it. It was a big enough story back then to warrant a rescue attempt!
Thankfully for Bae, the PGA Tour changed their rules while all of this was going on, and guaranteed Bae that when he returned, he would still have his status, much like if he had been away this whole time with an injury. Bae made his return on the Asian Tour back in October, missing the cut at the Donghae Open after rounds of 74 and 75. Understandably, it’s going to take Bae some time to get back into the swing of things, and in his brief wraparound season return, has only made one cut in five starts, but the important thing is that he’s back.
I’m not sure what the future holds for Bae or what his ceiling is at 31 years old. Somehow, it feels like the game has changed quite a bit since his last win at the 2014 Frys, and it’s possible that his two years in the military has done irreparable damage to his golf game, but I’ll be rooting for him to get it back.
Keep an eye on this one in 2018.
Jimmy Walker winning the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol really shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise to anyone. Sure, he wasn’t the biggest name in the game at the time, but at 48th in the Official World Golf Rankings, he clearly wasn’t a slouch either. His ability to hit the ball miles from the tee and roll it well on the greens had established him as a threat on the PGA Tour, leading to five wins and allowing him to represent the United States on the 2014 Presidents Cup team. He was a very good player.
On that Sunday in August of 2016, Walker outlasted Jason Day to claim his first major championship, and while I’m not sure that anyone thought the floodgates were going to open for him, the win was obviously huge for Walker and it set him up well for 2017. Unfortunately for him, that didn’t happen. After opening his season at the Tournament of Champions with a T9 finish, Walker failed to post another top-10 for all of 2017, but this wasn’t the standard case of a player struggling on the PGA Tour.
Back in April, Walker announced that he was suffering from Lyme disease. While he didn’t miss any significant time due to the illness, it becomes a little easier to understand why the results likely weren’t what Walker was looking for in 2017. Walker will turn 39 in January, so he has plenty of time left for high level golf, and hopefully he’ll be able to perform optimally in 2018 and put all of this behind him.
This could only be a story in golf.
Last year, the European Tour made the bold move to allow players to wear shorts on the course during practice rounds and pro-ams. The PGA of America followed suit back in February, announcing that players would be able to go sans pants during practice rounds at the PGA Championship in August at balmy Quail Hollow. In case you didn’t see it, here’s a shot of Jordan Spieth and Kelly Kraft at the PGA:
It also led us to this great story of Tiger and Steve Williams:
So, could this lead to some kind of shorts revolution where they are not only allowed during practice rounds on the PGA Tour, but maybe even in competition sometime down the line? Not so fast, according to PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan. Back in September, Monahan told Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard that there’s value in the professionalism of pants.
“We have something that is unique to our Tour and our sport and that’s what happens on Wednesdays. Having worked in other sports, when you get on the tee on Wednesday and you see a player playing in their uniform, the same way they are going to look over the next four days. Treating that event professionally, there’s a lot of value to that. You have to protect that.”
Like I said: only in golf.
Back in April, a story started making the rounds about PGA Tour veteran Ben Crane owing money to another tour player after losing a putting contest at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February. It all started when Tom Gillis tweeted at Crane about the money:
Charley Hoffman chimed in on Instagram as well, making it obvious that Crane owed the $6,000 to Daniel Berger.
It’s hard to tell how serious everyone was about the whole thing, but it certainly seems like Hoffman and Gillis were pretty upset, which is something you just don’t see made public very often. Apparently the whole thing was settled a few days later, but not before all of Golf Twitter made jokes about how of course it was Crane that was slow to make a payment.
To be honest, I’m unsure of how much of a big deal this is, but there’s been enough mentions of it online that it feels like one. Protecting the field typically means that the players in each group monitor each other and ensure that the rules are all being followed, thus protecting the field from any incorrect scoring that may go on. This year though, there were several instances where players were playing shots when balls were not marked on greens, leading some to believe that the ball on the green was essentially acting as a backstop target for the player taking the shot.
The situation that caused the biggest debate on the topic this year happened at the Safeway Open in October, when Tony Finau had a really tough lie in the bunker, and Jason Kokrak’s ball was left unmarked on the green near the hole.
Before we go any further, I don’t believe that any specific rule is broken here in this instance, but with the Rules of Golf, I’m sure there’s a ton of grey area. This is more about the unwritten side of things, and for their part, the players will tell you that this doesn’t happen often and there’s no malice at play here. In fact, it’s mostly an issue of slow play, and that waiting for your playing partner to come up and mark their ball slows everything down. I don’t doubt the legitimacy in either of those points, but there are very real consequences at play here.
In the Finau/Kokrak example above, Golf Channel’s Randall Mell outlined the stakes:
Finau took home $669,000 for finishing second on Sunday. Phil Mickelson and Chesson Hadley finished a shot behind Finau and took home $359,600 for sharing third place. If Finau had not saved par at the 12th and fallen into a three-way tie for second, he would have taken home $462,933, as would Mickelson and Hadley. That matters, and so do the FedExCup points at stake.
Whether there’s a conscious decision on the part of the players to leave a ball on the green to help a competitor, I can’t say and accusing the players of that is reckless. Having said that, these things matter a ton as Mell pointed out, and it feels like something that has the potential to be a large issue if a player takes exception to what they’re seeing. Geoff Shackelford has been the one I’ve seen on this topic the most, and I’m sure that we’re going to be hearing more about it in 2018. Keep an eye on this one.
Wally Uihlein is not a name that is frequently on the tongues of golfers around the world. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most people who play the game in some capacity have no idea who he is, but there’s no doubt that Uihlein has impacted each and every one of those people without them even knowing it.
Back in September, Uihlein announced his retirement as President and CEO of Acushnet, the parent company of some of golf’s most recognizable names: Vokey, Scotty Cameron, Footjoy and a little place called Titleist. The retirement is effective on January 1st, 2018, and while Uihlein will still be involved with the company in an advisory role, his day to day duties will be passed on to David Maher. Uihlein has been in his current role since 1995, but has been with the company in various capacities since 1976. Dissecting his impact on the game is a nearly impossible task, but Rick Young did a great job for Score Golf when the news was announced, and it’s really worth reading.
This entry isn’t just about Wally though. Peter Uihlein, Wally’s son, has been a fixture on the European Tour for the last few years after dominating the amateur and college ranks, rising to number one in the World Amateur Golf Rankings in 2010. Uihlein famously joined Brooks Koepka in Europe after college, opting to start his career abroad instead of living the Web Tour life, and only occasionally made starts in the United States.
Uihlein discussed his time in Europe in great detail on the No Laying Up podcast back in February, and while Uihlein has only posted one win on the European Tour, it’s pretty clear that he has really cherished his time over there. As we enter 2018 though, Uihlein is coming back to the United States, as he earned his PGA Tour card with a win at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship on the Web Tour. He has already started playing regular PGA Tour events in the wraparound season, with two a pair of top-10 finishes on the Asian swing.
I’m fascinated to see what Peter can do with a full PGA Tour schedule on the books in 2018, and I’m sure Wally is as well.
Is there a golfer out there that is more synonymous with their club manufacturer than Phil Mickelson is with Callaway? Since being released from his contract with Titleist in 2004 after reportedly angering Wally Uihlein over a complimentary voicemail he left for a Callaway representative, Mickelson has been attached to Callaway, and it will stay that way going forward.
At the end of September, Callaway announced that Mickelson had re-upped with them and will play their gear for the rest of his competitive career. While it really wasn’t a surprise that this happened, players switch equipment companies all the time, and that includes the top players who have been using the same gear for extended periods of time. For example, Sergio Garcia has been with TaylorMade for the last fifteen years, but that surprisingly is coming to an end starting in 2018. Also, as you’ll see later in this list, it’s not like Mickelson was against switching something this year that had worked pretty well for him throughout his career.
It’s clear that Mickelson is comfortable with what Callaway gives him, and there’s no doubt that Callaway is better off by having one of golf’s biggest names endorse their products. Even at 47, Mickelson is still one of the game’s best and most marketable players, and if he were to leave Callaway, it would have been a massive story in a year full of them for Mickelson. It made too much sense for them to stay together, and they will now for the rest of Mickelson’s illustrious career.
Next, we’ll look at stories 90-81.