2017 Year In Review: 60-51

Previous posts: 100-91 – 90-81 – 80-71 – 70-61

I think a lot about the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.

The greens, Jordan’s win, DJ’s collapse, Cam Smith’s 3-wood to secure a PGA Tour card, Branden Grace nearly putting a ball on the train tracks, Tiger’s cold top and Gary Player going off on Morning Drive about the course.

Right up there with all of that, I think about Louis Oosthuizen finishing one shot out of a playoff after an opening round 77. Oosthuizen was somehow the low man in his group, as Tiger and Rickie Fowler were awful as well, and it looked like a lost major week for the 2010 Open Championship winner. But then, he fired a pair of 66’s to enter the final round just three shots back of the lead. He started horribly, with bogeys on 2, 3 and 4, but birdied six of the final seven holes to finish one back of Spieth’s 5-under par winning score. His back nine 29 is a U.S. Open record.

So, why am I bringing this up in a recap about 2017? Well, first off, it’s an amazing story, but that second place finish also gave him his second career runner-up in a major, after losing to Bubba Watson in a playoff at the 2012 Masters. The next month, Oosthuizen would finish as the runner-up in a third major championship, falling in the three-man playoff at the 2015 Open Championship to Zach Johnson.

And this year, Oosthuizen completed the runner-up career slam by finishing two shots back of Justin Thomas at the PGA Championship. This is the kind of thing that would destroy a lot of players, but not farmer Louis. In fact, he actually took it so well that he just had to sing about it on the plane home from Quail Hollow.

I understand that we can do this with a lot of players (see Mickelson, Phil), but can we talk about how close we are right now to Louis Oosthuizen not only being a multiple time major champion, but also one of six players to ever win the career grand slam? In 37 major starts, he has a runaway win at the Old Course, two playoff losses, a runner-up loss by one and another runner-up loss by two. That’s insane, and the best thing about it is that it clearly doesn’t even get to him. He’s more than happy to go about earning his money on the course before going back home to farm, and I think that’s pretty amazing.

I’ll admit off the top that this feels a little bit like navel gazing and that I’m slightly biased because I’m talking about friends of mine, but I also feel like this is a pretty big deal.

It’s no secret that journalism, sports and otherwise, is fighting a tough battle in today’s climate. Old models don’t really work in the modern landscape, and it has led to layoffs for many huge companies. Super talented people are losing their jobs on a pretty regular basis, and it is uncertain at this point in time if places like The Athletic are going to be popular enough as a subscription model to scale at the level they’ll need to survive. I’m pulling for them and other similar outlets because there should be a place in the world for quality content.

Golf is not immune from this, obviously. As much as we all love the game, it’s obvious that it is always going to be a niche sport, at least when compared to things like football and basketball, which means that less coverage is going to be devoted to it. The reporters around the game right now do a pretty good job, but the new media types (for lack of a better term) helped to breathe some life into the game in 2017.

The No Laying Up crew have been great for years, but they took a big step forward in 2017, producing more content and continuing to foster relationships with some of the best players in the world. At over 100,000 followers on Twitter, they are a force in the game and now have some full-time resources dedicated to covering the game in various capacities. I can’t wait to see what they do in 2018.

Back in July, someone asked me to compare Golf Twitter personalities to current players for my mailbag. Tron as Bubba got the most attention by far, but comparing Andy Johnson of The Fried Egg to Jon Rahm was the one that I thought made the most sense. It feels like Andy appeared out of nowhere, and much like Rahm, he’s absolutely one of the best at what he does. I learn more about golf from reading Andy than I do anyone else, and you need to integrate his site, podcast and newsletter into your daily golf routine if you haven’t already.

Lastly, the Golfer’s Journal has only released two issues as of this writing, but there’s no doubt about the quality of the product that we’ve seen so far. I was skeptical of the idea of going back to print, but there’s something special about holding a physical copy of a magazine that is this good. The stories are phenomenal, the photos are breathtaking and nothing that I’ve seen recently does a better job of showing you the soul of the game than the Golfer’s Journal. It’s a must have item, and I can’t wait for number three.

In short, these kinds of ventures are important and they help people connect with and understand the game at a deeper level. It’s up to people like us to make sure that they are able to do just that, if at all possible. Support the content you care about. It matters.

Way back in the second week of January, the PGA of America named Jim Furyk as the next captain for the United States Ryder Cup team. Furyk will lead the Americans against Thomas Bjorn’s European side at Le Golf National in France in September of next year, as they try to win their first Ryder Cup on European soil since 1993. Since the addition of all of Europe to the Ryder Cup in 1979, the Americans have actually only won this event twice while in Europe, so Furyk is attempting to do something here that we really haven’t seen very much of at all.

Furyk was an interesting choice. He was always going to be a captain at some point, just like Tiger and Phil will be down the line, but the timing was a little curious, at least to me. You have to remember that back in January when this was announced, Furyk wasn’t far removed from a 2016 that saw him finish as the runner-up in the U.S. Open and post the first ever 58 on the PGA Tour. Even knowing the dreadful Ryder Cup record that he has and the influx of young American talent in the game, it wasn’t inconceivable that Furyk would be in contention for a playing spot on the roster. As I documented earlier, 2017 was essentially a lost season for Furyk and even though he’s planning on coming back healthy in 2018, it’s clear that his focus for the upcoming year is going to be on his captaincy.

Furyk also slightly tweaked the qualification rules for the team, making two small changes to the way the roster will be decided. First, he changed the timing of the final captain’s pick to be after the BMW Championship and not the Tour Championship, citing overseas travel concerns. Given that the Ryder Cup in 2018 will be played the week after the Tour Championship, this does make some sense but it’s probably still going to allow for some second guessing if someone gets super hot down the stretch and is left out.

The second change is a bigger one, and it’s that golfers who make the cut in a major in 2018 but don’t win the event will get 1.5 points per $1,000 earned. That number is down from two points per $1,000 earned previously. Furyk explained his reasoning below, via Kyle Porter at CBS:

“Because the major championship purses are so large, and we thank them for that very much, but we’re looking at $10 [million] and $10.5 million purses in the major championships,” said Furyk. “When you double the points in those events, you in effect make a $20.5 [million], a $21 million purse. In effect, they become weighted triple or a little more than a PGA Tour event.”

I’m torn on the logic here. I get the idea behind wanting to give proper credit to the regular PGA Tour events, but there’s also part of me that wants to give more credit to a really good major finish given strength of field, course difficulty, etc. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference, but it is an interesting move.

As for what kind of captain Furyk will be, my stance on this has always been pretty clear: the captain absolutely has a role in the outcome of this event, but let’s try to not overstate it, either. As long as he doesn’t do anything insane with his captain’s picks or his pairings, there really isn’t a whole lot that Furyk is going to be able to control. Ultimately, this comes down to the players on both sides. Furyk could make all of the right decisions in the world, but the Americans could still lose because they were just a little off that week, or the Europeans were red hot. Furyk will be just fine.

God, I can’t wait for this event.

Okay, so I’m cheating slightly with this entry. Tiger technically announced his Bridgestone deal in December of 2016, and was playing TaylorMade clubs at the Hero last year before committing to them back in January, but I feel like it’s worth mentioning here given what we saw at the 2017 Hero a few weeks ago.

Anything that Tiger does gets the news cycle going, and while I don’t know if Tiger playing TaylorMade gear and using a Bridgestone ball has done anything for either company, I know what it has done for me. I get that players switch equipment manufacturers all the time, with fellow Nike to TaylorMade athlete Rory McIlroy being the most prominent example, but man, it feels so, so strange to see Tiger play something that doesn’t have a swoosh on it. It just doesn’t feel right.

Tiger switched to Nike from Titleist officially in 2002, and the thought at the time (at least from Phil Mickelson) was that the Nike equipment was holding him back.

“In my mind, Tiger and I don’t have issues between us,” Mickelson said. “Well, maybe one. He hates that I can fly it past him now [off the tee]. He has a faster swing speed than I do, but he has inferior equipment. Tiger is the only player who is good enough to overcome the equipment he’s stuck with.”

I have no idea if the Miura Nike gear was really holding Tiger back or not. I mean, it’s clear that he seemed to do alright with them from 2002-2013, so they couldn’t have been so bad, but in addition to his seemingly improved health, his clubs are obviously going to be a big part of any future success. He’s swinging them well right now, and there’s more optimism for Tiger as we enter 2018 than there has been in a few years. The clubs and ball are a big part of that.

If you were to look at the year-end results for the PGA Tour in a list, you’d see Grayson Murray’s name pop up as the winner of the 2017 Barbasol Championship. On the course, he didn’t really do much of note aside from that win, but holy shit, was he ever a topic of conversation in the game. Let’s take a look at the timeline:

Throughout the year, there were various instances of Murray locking or deactivating his Twitter account, and he was the subject of a long profile piece by Ryan Lavner of Golf Channel. Granted, some of the things mentioned up top are harmless, but there are others that stand out.

His back and forth with Pieters and An, whether him and Kraft were joking or not, showed a complete lack of respect for other pros, especially ones who have accomplished quite a bit more in their careers to date than Murray. Also, even though the OWGR is flawed, I’m not sure that there’s actually a system that can get all of it correct when you measure hundreds of events across nineteen professional tours. Week to week, the PGA Tour is the strongest one out there, but to assume that just showing up is enough to win on the European Tour is flat absurd.  The disrespect shown towards the Champions Tour players was also bad.

I don’t think we really need to touch on the creepy tweet and the police shootings just because, well, I think we should all know how horrible and stupid those were.

It’s clear that Murray has talent, but it’s also clear that at least as it sits right now, he’s not going to ever be recognized for it unless he starts being a little smarter off the golf course. Maybe it’ll happen in 2018.

I’ve been on the record many times already that golf in the Olympics, while cool, isn’t likely to draw significant people into the game. My reasoning behind this has always been that until the larger systemic issues with the game get resolved (pace of play, cost, sexism, etc), it’s hard to see any legitimate level of growth taking place. Those issues are far too prohibitive and will get in the way.

That said, watching the men and women play for a gold medal in Rio was pretty fun, even if it kinda just felt like a weak WGC being played in Brazil. Golf was only guaranteed to be in the Olympics for 2016 and 2020 after being gone for 112 years (shout out George Lyon), but in June, the iOC announced that all sports from 2016 would be returning in 2024. It’s always good to expose a new audience to the game, and hopefully it can get some people interested in picking up clubs for the first time. Thankfully though, it doesn’t look like a new course will have to be built at large expense in either 2020 or 2024, because, yikes.

So, it’s good that golf is back in the Olympics because, really, why not? You can still mark me down as skeptical though on what it means in the overall, but it can’t hurt.

So, we just talked about Grayson Murray’s Champions Tour tweet, which as dumb as it was, had one sliver of truth to it: people don’t care as much about them as they do the PGA Tour. It’s understandable, but the thing is, Bernhard Langer is an absolute machine that merits a ton of attention. Even now, I have 52 stories from this year alone that I have in front of him, and that’s probably too many.

How good was Langer on the Champions Tour in 2017? He played in 22 events, didn’t miss a cut and finished outside of the top-25 in one tournament. One! That included seven wins and sixteen top-10’s. Of those seven wins, three of them were major championships, giving him ten senior majors won in his career, allowing him to leap over Gary Player for the most all-time. Yeah, he had a pretty good year, but it didn’t actually all go his way.

There was also that whole voter fraud thing that Langer got caught up in with President Donald Trump back in February, which still feels like a sentence that you would get if you typed words in a random sentence generator, but somehow it actually happened. Also, all of that success from 2017 mentioned above was not good enough for Langer to win the Schwab Cup, as Kevin Sutherland took it by winning the final event of the season. That was Sutherland’s first win of the season, and it seems pretty clear to me that the scoring system needs a large tweak, if the trophy at the end of the year is given out to someone with six less wins than another player.

Langer also seemed to face fairly regular criticism over his putting stroke, with many, many people believing that he was breaking the anchoring rule. The fact that he was having one of, if not the best, statistical seasons on the greens of all-time gave some people extra ammunition, as Langer has never been known as a great putter. The video below is one of several that made the rounds in 2017 that “proved” he was anchoring.

The USGA came out and said Langer (and Scott McCarron) were fine and doing nothing wrong, but I’m sure that criticism will show up again over the next twelve months. Regardless, it was another special year for Langer, and before we move on to story #52, I want to give you some stats that show how dominant Langer has been since moving to the senior circuit in 2007.

Langer has made 209 starts on the Champions Tour since his debut in September of 2007. He has won 36 of those 209 starts, posted 113 other top-10 finishes and been outside of the top-25 just fifteen times. That’s the kind of dominance that you’d expect to see if Bernhard came out and joined your weekly Wolf Hammer game, but he’s doing it against the best players in his age bracket in the whole world.

Those numbers are actually real, and I don’t even understand how that’s possible. Langer’s a machine.

It seems like there’s always something to complain about at the U.S. Open. We’ll get to the “not a traditional U.S. Open” complaints in a later post, but before we even got the tournament underway, we had what Andy Johnson lovingly referred to as ‘Fescuegate 2017’.

Now, before we dig into the actual grass cutting, let’s go back to before the event started and what may have actually set this whole thing off. Every year before the U.S. Open, it seems like a player will post some kind of photo or video of something they don’t like because the USGA has taken some course element to the extreme. This year, it was Kevin Na who was clearly not a big fan of the fescue that existed just off of the fairway at Erin Hills.

 

As Andy pointed out on Monday of tournament week, the bad thing about the fescue wasn’t that it was thick, it’s that it was thick right off of the fairway. This meant that shots that were just off target, say five yards, were getting punished more than the shots that were off target by a lot and that really didn’t seem fair. It definitely seemed needlessly penal.

So, was it intentional? It’s hard to say, but Geoff Shackelford speculated that it was an issue with the overspray that caused it to be thicker than expected. I have literally no knowledge on how true that is, so I’m going to trust that Geoff is correct.

Here’s the thing though: the USGA actually went out and cut the fescue! During tournament week! They caved! (They probably didn’t cave to any pressure from the players, to be honest. Apparently this was in the works after they saw how it was going to play, and because of the threat of rain.)

Realistically, they actually didn’t cut that much grass. As Andy pointed out on his podcast, it was probably only one or two percent of the total fescue, and it only happened on four holes, but it was a huge topic of conversation ahead of the season’s second major. Most players seemed happy that it was trimmed, but Rory wasn’t one of them.

Turns out, Rory was correct. I don’t recall Brooks Koepka hitting it into too many bad spots at Erin Hills and he seemed to do alright. I’ll leave you with some excerpts of a piece written by Brendan Porath that encapsulates it perfectly.

“We’re having a big debate about mowing the grass, so it must be U.S. Open week. This is what happens every year, whether it’s setup, conditioning, or weather, the course is always the star at the U.S. Open. It leads us into hours of coverage and thousands of words about things like “wiregrass” and “native sandy areas” and “fescue.”

So there you have it. The grass was grown. The USGA went out to cut it. Arguably the biggest name in the game didn’t understand why. It became the story of the day. And we officially have ourselves a U.S. Open.”

Grass! Fescue! Overspray! Mowers! God, I love this story and I can’t wait to see what the story is in a few months at Shinnecock.

You’ll be forgiven if you’re unsure of who Ivan Khodabakhsh is. To be honest, when I first heard his name, I had no idea who he was either, and yet, he’s someone with a pretty important place in the game. Or, at least, he was someone with a pretty important place in the game.

Khodabakhsh was the CEO of the Ladies European Tour before he was given the boot in August and replaced with Mark Lichtenhein. Granted, the person in charge of the LET certainly doesn’t have the stature of the other tour leaders, but hearing that someone was forced out is pretty rare in this game, so what exactly happened?

Well, several events were cancelled in 2017 and there were reports that the tour was in serious financial trouble and “on the brink of collapse”. As you would expect, there is a large disparity between the LET and the LPGA in terms of the amount of tournaments played, and the purses on offer. Khodabakhsh denied that the reports of financial trouble were true, but players like Catriona Matthew started to speak out about the state of the tour and that maybe it was time for Khodabakhsh to step aside. A few weeks later, Khodabakhsh was “leaving his position”.

So, where do we go from here? Apparently the LPGA Tour is not interested in some kind of a takeover, but they are working with the European Tour to see if there’s something they can do to help out. I’m interested in seeing how this one plays out in the coming months because as I’ve talked about before, it really does seem inevitable that we’re going to see some kind of global tour. Now, I’ve always thought about it in the context of men’s golf, but it might actually make even more sense for the women’s game, given that the money and interest is usually a little lower than it is on the men’s side.

I don’t think we’re at that point just yet, but to be honest, I can’t see any other end game and we may be closer to it than we all realize.

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