2017 Year In Review: 70-61

Previous posts: 100-91 – 90-81 – 80-71

I’ve been doing these year in review posts for the last three years now, and unfortunately, one of the things that has to get mentioned in them is the passing of people who have had a tremendous impact on the game

John Jacobs passed away in January, and while he was a pretty good player in his day, making the Great Britain and Ireland Ryder Cup team in 1955, it was his work behind the scenes that would eventually see him inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000. He was a renowned teacher, captained the Ryder Cup team in a non-playing role in 1979 and 1981, and was a key cog in the early days of the European Tour, serving as Tournament Director from 1971-1975 when the tour was just getting off the ground. Jacobs was 91.

More than probably anyone else in golf, Roberto De Vicenzo is unfairly remembered for one moment in time. At the 1968 Masters, De Vicenzo should have been in a playoff with Bob Goalby, but due to an incorrect scorecard, De Vicenzo missed out. It’s really unfortunate because De Vicenzo had a great career in golf, winning over 230 tournaments worldwide, including the 1967 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1989. De Vicenzo was 94.

Hootie Johnson passed away in July due to congestive heart failure. In golf, Johnson is known exclusively for presiding over Augusta National from 1998 to 2006. It was under his watch that the tournament expanded to full 18-hole TV coverage and Johnson was one of many leading the charge to “Tigerproof” the Bobby Jones masterpiece. Ultimately though, Johnson will forever be linked with Martha Burk, as the two had a long battle over the club’s unwillingness to allow female members. Johnson was 86.

Long-time LPGA caddie Greg Sheridan was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in July of 2016, and he passed away in November of 2017. Randall Mell collected a lot of tributes to Sheridan, and it’s worth a read. Sheridan was 63.

Sandy Tatum was an accomplished college golfer at Stanford, and while he touched almost every aspect of the game in some capacity, his work with the USGA is what people will remember most. He was a member of the executive committee from 1972 to 1980, and served as their president for those final two years. Most notably, Tatum was looked at as the man behind the ‘Massacre at Winged Foot’, where Hale Irwin won the 1974 U.S. Open with a score of 7-over par thanks to an incredibly difficult course setup. Tatum was 96.

Rest in peace.

“I ask you, what do you stand for?”

Peter Malnati is not the most well known golfer in the world. In fact, there’s a chance that the vast majority of you reading this right now wouldn’t notice him if you walked past him on the street, but back in September, Malnati tweeted something that garnered a ton of attention, particularly in the typically right leaning world of professional golf.

I’m not sure that I’ve seen a much more eloquent statement released by anyone, sports or otherwise, over the last year. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about this, to be honest. I just thought it was a pretty remarkable statement from Malnati, and personally, I couldn’t agree more with him. A few days later, Malnati talked with Brian Wacker of Golf Digest to explain his position further, and it’s worth a read as well.

Alex Noren’s 2017 wasn’t as good as his 2016. When you win four times in a season, as Noren did in 2016, there’s likely going to be some regression unless you’re some Spieth-level robot built to win tournaments. 2017 wasn’t bad for Noren though, with some good finishes throughout the season and an ability to maintain his pretty lofty standing in the OWGR, and there was one moment in particular that really stood out.

Noren entered the final round of the BMW PGA Championship seven shots back of the lead held by Andrew Dodt, but a run of birdies on the front at Wentworth allowed him to go out in 31. His back nine started with a pair of pars, but he went on another heater with birdies on 12, 13, 14 and 16 to give himself a chance to win with Dodt not really doing much. He stepped up to the par-5 18th and smashed a drive down the middle of the fairway. Then, he hit one of the best shots of 2017:

He was never caught. That Sunday 62 was a new course record at the iconic Wentworth, and while you can definitely make an argument that the BMW PGA has lost a little lustre in recent years, it is still a massive event with an incredibly rich history. It matters, and Noren captured it in absolutely stunning fashion in 2017.

It might be hard to remember, but in April of 2016, Danny Willett was the 12th ranked player in the world, and I’m not talking about before the Masters, either. Willett was ranked 12th in the world the week of the Masters thanks to a few wins in Europe and some good finishes in big events on both the PGA and European Tour. It really shouldn’t have been a big surprise to anyone to see him win at Augusta, and in fact, some people much smarter than me had him as one of their picks as I recall.

Since then though, Willett has been in a tailspin. In his 38 starts since that Masters win, he has either missed the cut or withdrew 14 times. In the other 24 starts, he has posted just eight finishes inside the top-25. So, what happened? Usually, I talk a lot about how difficult the game is and that even the best players, like Willett, can go through extreme ups and downs, but we usually don’t really know much in the way of specifics. Well, Willett actually gave us some specifics back in October when he wrote a blog post for the European Tour ahead of the Italian Open. I’m usually pretty skeptical about these sorts of things, but this one was revealing and gives some good insight into what has been going on with Willett over the past eighteen months or so.

I highly suggest reading the entire thing, and I don’t want to pull random quotes out of it because it really takes away from the overall piece. Willett goes into detail about the pressure that comes from winning a big event, how he needed a break from everything after the win at Augusta, his family and his recurring back injury that just doesn’t seem to go away, among many other topics. It’s a really eye opening read, and one that I hope will allow people to look at him in a slightly different light, instead of just as a guy who “got lucky” one week in April.

What’s also interesting in that piece are some of the changes Willett made in 2017 in the middle of him trying to find himself. He was one of the many big name players to change caddies, and he also changed coaches, going from Mike Walker and Pete Cowen to Sean Foley. The two started to work together at the PGA Championship, and while the results haven’t been encouraging so far, it’s definitely too early to make a judgment call on that front. Though, given the back injury history of some of Foley’s clients, I’m a little concerned about where this might go.

A little later in this list, we’ll get to another big name player who really struggled in 2017, and in many ways, took the spotlight off of Willett. I’m interested to see where he goes in the next year or so, and if he can ever recapture some of the magic that made him a pretty damn good player even before he won his first major championship. It’s an interesting little story to keep an eye on here as we head towards 2018.

Way back in February, Soly over at NLU was the first to report that during his recovery from a rib injury, Rory McIlroy teed it up with Donald Trump. Before we get too deep into the whole Rory / Trump angle, here are my two favourite things about this post:

  • First, the White House actually had to release a statement because of something that Soly reported. The White House! Soly! 2017 was strange and bizarre for a lot of reasons, but this is way the hell up there.
  • Secondly, I don’t know what exactly Paul O’Neill has been doing in his retirement, but clearly he’s on the Tiger workout routine. Look at those arms!

It should be noted that Rory was nowhere near the only player to tee it up with Trump in 2017, as players like Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson all played with the president but this was by far the biggest story. It caused a mini shitstorm, both inside and outside of golf, as Trump and his team were caught in a lie about how much golf Trump played that day, but it was a bigger deal for Rory, who caught heat from just about every angle imaginable. A few days after the story broke, Rory posted a statement on Twitter defending his position to play with Trump:

However, a few months later, Rory went on to say that he would ‘think twice’ about playing with Trump again due to the backlash that he received. Backlash, that I should mention, didn’t seem to come nearly as harsh and fierce for the other players who pegged it with Trump. It was a strange year for Rory, and this was just one of the reasons why.

You know that feeling when you have a tee time booked and the weather is lousy? You make your way to the course in the hopes that the weather improves and you can get your round in, and when you get there, you actually get to tee off. You’re not sure it’s the best idea, but you go for it anyway and then a few holes into your round, you immediately regret your decision. We’ve all been there.

That must have been the way the players felt at the opening event of the Web.com season, the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic. Conditions were horrible, with winds exceeding 40 mph and rain seemingly coming from every angle humanly possible. Here’s just one of the videos from the opening round:

How difficult was the scoring? Kyle Thompson won the event, and was the only player under par at -2, but the real story was the scoring in the first two rounds. Four players were at even par or better after round one, with many of the scores were in the mid to high 80s and three players failing to break 90. Two of those three players, Greg Eason and Bryan Bigley, didn’t break 90 in the second round, either and honestly, it’s understandable. Look at the full highlights from day one in the clip below.

This tournament is right up there with some of the craziest conditions I’ve ever seen in a professional setting, and believe it or not, the story gets a little more interesting. The next week, the Web stayed in the Bahamas for the Great Abaco Classic. Conditions were better, with Andrew Landry taking the tournament at 16-under par, but it didn’t get much better for Eason, at least not right away. Eason failed to break 90 again in the opening round, giving him three consecutive rounds in the 90s, but he was able to get it done the next day to avoid four in a row. What did he shoot?

68.

Game doesn’t make much sense sometimes, does it?

When it was announced that the WGC-Cadillac Championship was moving from Doral, I was excited for two reasons: the first was that Doral, despite what Donald Trump believes, is really not the best course out there. It was pretty much a bomber’s paradise and after seeing it every year, it had really gotten quite stale.

The second reason was tied to that last point, which is that getting to see any new course is fun, and even though the Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico won’t be confused for Pine Valley anytime soon, it was something fresh. The vibe was different and fun, and there was nothing about the tournament that was any more fun than watching Phil Mickelson attempt to play the course in the third round on Saturday.

If you just looked at the scorecard, you would have seen a 3-under par 68, a score which Mickelson has probably posted thousands of times. But if you were lucky enough to be watching it at the time, you were treated to the most Mickelson round that ever Mickelsoned.

It started on the opening hole, with Mickelson blowing his tee shot on the drivable par-4 roughly 50 yards over the green. He would then fly his second shot over the tree in the image below, but short of the green before chipping in for an opening birdie.

He chipped in again on the 4th before the real party began on the back nine. To this day, no one can really be 100% certain on what happened to Mickelson’s ball after he teed off on 10. He sent it miles left, and when Mickelson was getting help with a ruling, some spectators mentioned that they saw someone else pick the ball up and walk away, meaning that Mickelson was entitled to a free drop. He then proceeded to do this:

He would make par before finding the forest off the tee on both 11 and 12, which really doesn’t sound that surprising, but he also found sprinkler heads near his ball on both occasions. Slugger White, who probably should have picked up the bag from Bones at this stage, gave him drops again, as evidenced at the 36 second mark of the video below.

There was another miraculous par on 14 after an insanely wayward drive and a second shot that hit a tree before things settled down over the final five holes. This all led to Rory McIlroy talking to Bob Harig after the round and expressing his utter disbelief at what he had just seen.

“If I was hitting it off the tee like he did today, there’s no way I would shoot 68. I mean, I’d shoot 78. That’s the great thing about Phil. He doesn’t get disheartened about something like that. I would be a mess if I was hitting it the way he was today. I guess that’s the difference between us. I like to see it going down the fairway and playing nice that way, where he goes like this [motioning off line] and shoots two better than me. So there you go.”

I’ve gotten more joy out of watching Phil Mickelson play golf than almost any other athlete in any sport, and I can honestly say that the third round in Mexico this year might be my favourite round I’ve ever seen from him. He hit four fairways and eight greens, but was a perfect 3-for-3 on rulings to keep himself in contention. He would end up finishing four shots back of Dustin Johnson on Sunday, but at least to me, that didn’t matter. We were treated to an absolute show on Saturday, and one that we will likely never see again.

I’ll leave you with some lasting images from the day.

Coming into 2017, Steve Stricker had played in the U.S. Open nineteen times. He had missed the last two years, mostly due to him being semi-retired, but he committed to playing more in 2017 and hopefully, that was going to include the U.S. Open for the first time since 2014. On top of simply wanting to play in the U.S. Open for the obvious reasons, 2017 was the first time that the tournament was going to be held in Stricker’s home state of Wisconsin, so there was some added motivation involved.

So, even though he thought it was a longshot, Stricker decided to ask the USGA if there was any chance for a special exemption. These are usually only granted for past winners of the event (something to keep in mind for a certain someone once his exemption runs out in 2019), so the USGA turned him down and Stricker went about his business, continuing to split time between the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions.

The USGA turning Stricker down continued to be a topic of conversation though, with many believing that he probably deserved one, including Jim Nantz who made sure to mention it as Stricker was on his way to a T7 at the Dean and DeLuca Invitational. The USGA wasn’t going to change their mind, but it didn’t ultimately matter, as Stricker went through Sectional Qualifying in Memphis and posted rounds of 67-65 to get in the hard way. He did pretty well in the event, too; finishing in a tie for 16th on a course that many would have thought was too long for him to be super competitive.

For years, I hated listening to Johnny Miller and it was for all of the regular complaints that you hear today: too negative, talks only in soundbites, doesn’t rely on much data and of course, his frequent mentions of his own accomplishments while on the air. It was too much, and I yearned for someone who would give me more information, while also being entertaining.

Johnny hasn’t changed, and as he gets set to turn 71 in April, it’s fair to say that he’s not likely to at any point. My opinion on listening to him has changed though, and as a result, I was happy to see Miller sign an extension with NBC for one more year. 2018 will be Miller’s 29th year working in the booth for NBC, which is a pretty remarkable run and it’s actually kind of impossible to think of an entire PGA Tour season without him.

Don’t get me wrong: Miller still says things that infuriate me. His comments on Rickie Fowler’s Honda Classic win back in February were patently absurd, and I’m sure that the players aren’t super fond of him either, but he’s so over the top that at least in my mind, he’s become super entertaining. I mean, just look at some of these tweets from this year alone:

Happy to have him back for another year, and you should be as well.

The youth movement in professional golf has been a thing for the last few years, and it has become so prevalent that I don’t even feel like it merits a ton of attention anymore. It has just become a thing. The best players in the world, male and female, are getting younger and all you have to do is check out the world rankings for proof of that.

Having said that, I am going to talk about what I’m calling the extreme youth movement. We all remember Guan Tianlang, the 14-year old who made the cut at the Masters in 2013 and won low amateur honours. Or Lucy Li, who qualified for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at 11 years old. The list goes on and on with people like Michelle Wie, Jordan Spieth, Tadd Fujikawa, Ty Tryon and many others, including two new names to add to the list thanks to a pair of tournaments from 2017.

First off, we have 13-year old Li Linqiang, who made the cut on the Challenge Tour back in October at the Hainan Open after rounds of 69-75. He sunk a putt for par on the 18th to get the job done.

Linqiang was really just the appetizer, though.

In July, Atthaya Thitikul became the youngest player to ever win an event on the Ladies European Tour when she took the Ladies European Thailand Championship. Thitikul won the event at 14 years, four months and 19 days old, surpassing the previous record on the LET, set by Lydia Ko, who was 17 months older than Thitikul when she won the 2013 New Zealand Open.

This is a complete mind blow to me. I can’t even fathom playing a professional event at 14, much less going out and actually winning it. When you take a look at some of the highlights from the event below, it’s easy to love the swing and even though projecting future success at this age is a really, really bad idea, it’s easy to think we could be watching Thitikul for years to come. Look at that line at 2:00!

Just amazing.

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