2017 Year In Review: 80-71
The PGA Tour, and golf in general, is widely thought of as being slow to adapt to the times and for the most part, I think that’s true. If you’ll recall, my first post mentioned the complete unwillingness to let players wear shorts, even in practice rounds, which is something that is beyond ridiculous to type. However, the PGA Tour did announce three pretty significant changes to their policy in 2017.
The first change came back in June when Commissioner Jay Monahan announced that starting in October, the PGA Tour was going to start blood testing in addition to the regular urine tests that have been in place for years. In addition to the blood testing, Monahan also announced that the PGA Tour would be abandoning its policy of keeping all player suspensions confidential. This has always been a bone of contention with many in the media, and likely the players as well, and it makes sense. It’s a good thing that the Tour is moving to a more transparent approach with their suspensions, and it puts them in line with every other major sports league, who announce everything when a decision is made.
Back in September, revisions to the gambling policy were also introduced, as the PGA Tour announced a new ‘Integrity Program’ and have brought in Genius Sports to help them monitor suspicious activity around events. The difference here is that the policy now extends beyond the players, and effects anyone involved with a player as well as PGA Tour staff. Mentioning this also gives me an opportunity to remind people of the time that Phil Mickelson and Mike Weir broke the gambling rules by betting on a holed out bunker shot by Jim Furyk.
Lastly, starting at the Northern Trust in August, the PGA Tour finally allowed fans to use their phones during live action, provided (rightfully so) that phones are on silent and the flash remains off. So, what can you do? Now, you can take photos and video of on course action and post them on social, assuming that you’re not live streaming the coverage. This change falls in line with what the European Tour does as well, and it’s a good step forward given the current climate and the prevalence of phones at every PGA Tour stop.
I have often said that I can enjoy any interview that David Feherty does because usually, Donald Trump aside, I end up liking the person more after the interview than I did before. Even the people who you might think are towards the boring end of the spectrum, like Jim Furyk, usually open up more to Feherty. It’s really quite amazing to see the transition he’s made from player to broadcaster to interviewer, and I honestly think that you can stack his interviews up against anyone, golf or otherwise, and he’ll come out on top
So, it goes without saying that I was beyond pumped to sit down in March to watch Feherty interview Phil Mickelson, and it didn’t disappoint. Mickelson told stories, opened up about his family and personal life, gave quotes (“to be good at golf, you either have to be really smart or really dumb”) and wore all black. He had me, and everyone else in golf, enthralled for two hours and I’m sure it could have gone on even longer.
My favourite moments, aside from the whole damn thing, are below.
This interview, along with reruns of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, need to go in Golf Channel’s permanent rotation of shows when they’re looking for content.
I love Bryson DeChambeau.
Regardless of what you think of his personality and approach, there’s no doubting two things: first, he’s incredibly talented and second, he’s super interesting and in my opinion, good for the game. I mean, how many other pros out there can talk about how their right arm functions under dynamic load?
L’Artiste had a very uneven 2017. He started experimenting with a side saddle putting stroke back in October of 2016, and unveiled it at the Shootout in December of last year.
The problem was that the USGA didn’t really like the side saddle, and they told DeChambeau to stop doing it, according to DeChambeau himself, who spoke with Golf Digest’s Brian Wacker in February. In explaining the situation, DeChambeau had some eyebrow raising quotes about the USGA, saying that “they’re not a good organization” and that it’s “frustrating to see them stunt the growth of the game.” The problem is that in Wacker’s article, it certainly seems like the USGA refuted DeChambeau’s statement, saying that the only thing they discussed was the actual putter, not the stroke. DeChambeau later apologized for his remarks.
A few months later, DeChambeau would go on to win the fifth major, the John Deere Classic, with a fantastic Sunday 65, clipping Patrick Rodgers by one.
It was unquestionably the high point of DeChambeau’s season, as he played in a bunch of events and frequently missed the cut when he teed it up, but that Sunday in Illinois was a great reminder of the explosiveness that he possesses. If he can figure out some way to be more consistent, he’s going to be a massive threat on the PGA Tour and we should all be hoping for that because the game would simply be more interesting with DeChambeau getting himself involved on a more regular basis.
The Volunteers of America Texas Shootout was won at the end of April by Hara Nomura. Nomura defeated Cristie Kerr in a playoff on a tough day in Texas, as high winds were present throughout the final round. Those high winds led to an awful amount of slow play from the entire field, but it was Kerr who was criticized more than anyone and she actually apologized for it on Twitter the next day.
What made the slow play even worse was that the playoff required six holes to crown a winner, and on top of that, they kept playing the 18th! Six times! The combination of the slow play and seeing the same damn hole over and over again was painful.
Let this tournament serve as reminders for two things: one, always penalize slow play and two, have a better playoff strategy. Nobody wants to see the same hole played repeatedly. It just doesn’t work.
Repeat winners on the PGA Tour don’t happen that often, so that on its own is pretty special. Jhonattan Vegas became just the third player since World War II to repeat at the Canadian Open, when he beat Charley Hoffman in a playoff at Glen Abbey in July, but there was more to the tournament that week for Vegas than simply playing golf.
Vegas is from Venezuela, and to say that 2017 has been a tumultuous year for anyone from there would be a massive understatement. Protests, violence, and constitutional issues have been present on nearly every day of the year, and it was clearly something that was on the mind of Vegas while he was competing on the PGA Tour:
Winning a random golf tournament isn’t going to solve any problems, but to his point, maybe there is some good that can come from not only him, but other prominent Venezuelan athletes doing well and speaking out about these issues.
He even spoke to CNN about that topic ahead of the Presidents Cup, where he qualified for the International Team for the first time in his career. Despite going 1-4 for the week, that one win did come against Jordan Spieth in Sunday singles and when it was done, Vegas wrapped himself in the Venezuelan flag on the 18th green. It was a pretty cool moment for Vegas, and you could tell that it really meant a whole lot to him, even if the week didn’t go the way he had hoped.
When you’re one of the best players in the world, there’s an expectation that people are going to take runs at you from time to time. This is especially true when it happens to be a player that people believe are underachieving. In a golf context, there’s no one that fits that description better than Rory McIlroy, who seems to get it from pretty much every angle humanly possible, leading to people like me spending a lot of time defending him and his results.
Back in June, Rory was the target of 1995 PGA Championship winner and known Twitter oaf, Steve Elkington, who accused him of being “bored”.
Rory couldn’t let that stand, and the two went back and forth for a few tweets where Rory clearly had the upper hand.
Rory pointed out at the Irish Open that what actually got to him wasn’t what Elkington said but that someone of Elkington’s stature should know how difficult golf can be at times. Unfortunately for the rest of us, Rory had his wife Erica change his password and he claims that he is not actively looking at Twitter the way he used to in the aftermath of his Elkington dunking.
I’ve often said that Rory is the most refreshing player in golf because of his willingness to be totally honest about what is going on in his world, and this was a great example of that. Was it the best look for him? Maybe not, but I think we can all at least understand where he was coming from and I hope that he keeps it up.
Charley Hoffman entered 2017 as the 66th ranked player in the world, and at the end of 2017, he’s going to be significantly higher than that. That’s because in his age 40 season, Hoffman truly arrived on the PGA Tour, and he did it without winning a single tournament. It seemed like he showed up at the top of the leaderboard every few weeks, and usually in a big event. Look at his notable finishes:
- T4 at Riviera, where apparently DJ played a different course than everyone else for the first three days to win by five.
- T2 at Bay Hill, with the 54-hole lead only to falter a touch on Sunday and see Marc Leishman pass him.
- Held the 36 hole lead at the Masters thanks in large part to a first round 65 that made no sense given the conditions. The four shot lead he had on William McGirt was the largest opening day lead at the Masters since 1955.
- T5 at the Zurich with Nick Watney as his partner.
- Solo 8th at the U.S. Open.
- T3 at the Travelers, finishing two shots out of the playoff with Jordan Spieth and Daniel Berger.
- Lost in a playoff at the Canadian Open to Jhonattan Vegas.
- Solo 3rd at the Bridgestone, thanks to a scalding final round 61 from Hideki Matsuyama.
- Solo 2nd to Rickie Fowler at the Hero, who shot 61 in the final round.
All of that, minus the Hero finish, led to Hoffman making his first ever appearance in a professional team event, as Steve Stricker made him a captain’s pick for the American Presidents Cup team. We always talk about how long a professional golf career can be, but that’s usually in the context of young phenoms like Spieth and not about players like Hoffman, who have been grinding for years before having a breakthrough campaign at age 40.
It was a remarkable year for Hoffman, even if he didn’t get into the winner’s circle.
Jim Furyk has been a model of consistency on the PGA Tour since the mid-90’s, and while that is a widely known fact, the actual numbers behind his consistency are insane. Furyk first cracked the top-50 in the Official World Golf Rankings in May of 1996, and coming into 2017, Furyk had been outside of that number for a grand total of seventeen weeks. Seventeen! In twenty years! It’s hard to fathom anyone having that kind of consistency, and for the most part, Furyk was inside the top-20 during that time with a ton of weeks inside the top-10.
With that consistency comes an awful lot of major championship starts. Furyk made his major debut at the 1994 U.S. Open, and made his next one at the 1995 PGA Championship. That 1995 PGA at Riviera was the beginning of a mind blowing streak for Furyk where he was qualified for 87 consecutive major championships. In that time, he missed the Masters twice (2004 and 2016) due to injury, but played in the other 85. That streak came to an end this year as Furyk wasn’t qualified for the Open Championship, due to a combination of injuries and poor form.
Another streak that came to an end in 2017? Furyk didn’t post a single top-10 finish over the past twelve months for the first time in his PGA Tour career. This run dropped Furyk way down in the OWGR, and he’s likely to begin 2018 somewhere in the 200 range. It wasn’t all bad for Furyk of course, as he was named the captain of the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup team, and once he gets healthy, he’s going to be back out competing again on the PGA Tour.
I don’t know what the future holds for Furyk as a competitor. You can definitely see a scenario where he fades into the background, but it also feels foolish to count someone out who finished second in the U.S. Open in 2016, and shot a 58 a few weeks later at the Travelers. Regardless, the run of consistency that he has shown over the last two decades is something that needs to be applauded.
The continued expansion of Augusta National, thanks entirely to the explosion of distance in the game, doesn’t feel like it belongs necessarily with a lot of these stories, but given the course’s place in the game, it’s important. Back in August, Augusta National made a long awaited deal with the neighbouring Augusta Country Club to purchase more land for further expansion. This time, the target of the expansion is Azalea, the par-5 13th.
This will be the fourth time that the club has lengthened the 13th, with the last time coming in 2002 when they added 25 yards to the back tees. According to the Augusta Chronicle, the expectation is that the club will be adding roughly 50-60 yards to the hole, taking it to a much more robust 560-570 yard par-5.
I get why this had to be done, and by the sounds of things, Augusta Country Club won’t be negatively impacted by the sale, but at some point, there isn’t going to be any more land to buy. The course is still excellent, but we’re already incredibly far removed from the way that Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie wanted it to be played and even though it’ll still be great, it’s not what it could be either.
This is a bandaid, and we all know what the permanent solution is. It’s just a matter of the people in charge actually wanting to make that solution an actual reality, but unfortunately, I’m not holding my breath on that one.
As much as we all love the game, there’s no denying that golf has always had a massive problem with exclusivity and even though strides have been made over the years, it is still an issue. No story exemplifies that more than that of Emily Nash.
Nash is a high school junior who won the Massachusetts D3 Central Boys Tournament back in October by firing a 3-over par 75. The problem, apparently, is that Emily is a girl and even though she played off of the same tees as the boys, Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association rules prevented Nash from actually receiving the trophy for the win. From the Worcester Telegram:
“Girls playing on a fall boys’ team cannot be entered in the Boys Fall Individual Tournament. They can only play in the Boys Team Tournament. If qualified, they can play in the spring Girls Sectional and State Championships.”
Understandably, this caused a massive uproar in the golf community, with many tour pros, male and female, chiming in on how much of an injustice this was. The trophy was awarded to the runner-up finisher, Nico Ciolino, who finished four shots behind Nash. Ciolino did the right thing by offering Nash the trophy, but the offer was politely declined. Confusing matters even further? Nash’s score was counted for the team event, but not the individual, which makes absolutely no sense. The MIAA defended their decision in a press release, where they couldn’t even bother to mention Emily by name, and at least in my mind, made them come off even worse.
Thankfully, many in the golf community have offered their support to Emily. Annika Sorenstam has given her an exemption into the AJGA’s Annika Invitational in January, and the LPGA Tour put out a video with many tour players congratulating her on her performance.
It’s great that these things have happened, and hopefully the MIAA and other governing bodies learn from this going forward. Emily deserved that trophy and it should never happen again.
Next, we’ll take a look at stories 70-61.