2017 Year In Review: 50-41

Previous posts: 100-91 – 90-81 – 80-71 – 70-61 – 60-51

So, I know that I talk about this all the time, but it really does need repeating: the European Tour Twitter account is simply amazing, and it might be the very best in all of pro sports. Their regular tournament coverage is incredible, but it’s their behind the scenes video and production that really stands out. They give us more insight into the players than anyone else, and they all seem to have a ton of fun doing it.

I’ve embedded some of my favourites from the previous twelve months below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s no doubt that England is one of golf’s traditional powers, but there’s also no doubt that other nations have passed them by in terms of star power and success in recent years. Yes, it’s true that Danny Willett won the Masters in 2016 and Justin Rose took the U.S. Open in 2013, but prior to Rose, you have to go back to Nick Faldo to find their last major champion. Tony Jacklin in 1970 is next after Faldo as well, so at least in terms of major championships, the last fifty years or so have been a little bleak.

That’s not to say that they haven’t had good players though. Lee Westwood and Luke Donald both got to number one in the world and are excellent professionals, but neither one of them have been able to get that major win to date. The good news for England is that the last few years have been trending up, and 2017 was great for English golf.

We’ll start back in March, where England had ten players qualify for the WGC-Dell Match Play. Justin Rose didn’t play, but the nine players who did play gave England their highest number of competitors in the history of the event, which dates back to 1999. They also had nine play back in 2010, but Chris Wood and Ross McGowan were late additions to the field thanks to Tiger and Phil dropping out, so I’m not really counting that as being equal.

Part of the problem with England’s reputation at the highest level in recent years has been that they really haven’t produced a good amount of young talent. Westwood, Donald, Rose and Paul Casey have always been there, but the new crop of players really hasn’t. That has all changed in the last year or so, thanks to names like Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick, all of whom are ranked in the top-30 in the world as of this writing to go along with Rose and Casey.

Fleetwood, Hatton and Fitzpatrick represent the young blood of English golf, and that’s without really talking about other promising players like Jordan Smith and Eddie Pepperell. Don’t forget about Wood and Andy Sullivan, either. Or Beef. Or the fact that Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher are around and playing really well, too.

At the 2016 Ryder Cup, six of the twelve European players were English and in 2018, that could absolutely happen again. You want to know the crazy thing about that though? I would say only Rose and Fitzpatrick would be likely to repeat. You can easily see a scenario where Fleetwood, Hatton, Casey and Poulter replace Wood, Sullivan, Westwood and Willett. Or maybe they replace other players. Who knows! The point is that for the first time in a long, long time, England is very well represented at the top of the game.

48 Tiger

So, Tiger Woods looks pretty good right now and there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic about his 2018 season after his performance at the Hero a few weeks ago. A lot happened to Tiger in 2017 (which we’ll get to in a later post), but one of the things that has gotten kinda lost in all of the crazy from the past twelve months is the way Tiger initially planned to re-introduce himself to the golf world.

Tiger played pretty well at the Hero in 2016, and it clearly gave him a measure of confidence that he could fall right back into his old schedule patterns. That meant Tiger was going to begin his 2017 season at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, followed by a flight to the Middle East to play in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. He would then take a week off before playing at Riviera and the Honda Classic at the end of February.

When it was announced, it raised eyebrows. We were looking at a player with four rounds of golf under his (white) belt in fifteen months and with a surgically repaired back at 41 years old, he was declaring himself fit to play four tournaments in five weeks, with a pretty crazy travel schedule. It was insane! And then he showed up at Torrey Pines looking like he spent the entire time deadlifting Hero motorcycles, missed the cut and didn’t look particularly comfortable but there was no real reason for concern just yet.

Then he went to Dubai. On a commercial flight for the first time in ten years. And when he got to the course for the first round, he looked absolutely miserable. The swing was bad, the results were worse and even the most routine of things, like bending down to pick up his tee or getting in and out of bunkers, were made to look like Herculean tasks. It was clear that something had happened between Torrey the week before and this round in Dubai, but Tiger and his team claimed that nothing was wrong and that the 77 was nothing more than poor play.

Then he didn’t come back out for Friday’s second round because of pain in his back, and a few months later, he was having his fourth surgery on the area. We didn’t see him again in a tournament for 300 days.

It’s impossible to know for sure how much of the need for the fusion surgery was a result of this early season schedule, but it seems fair to say that it was likely going to be necessary at some point. It was such a weird way to approach things, and yet, it was always going to be the most likely way it was going to happen because, well, that’s Tiger.

As of this writing, Tiger hasn’t announced his plans for the 2018 season, but I’d like to hope that it’s a little more conservative than what he was planning this time last year.

47 RANGEFINDERS

When changes to the Rules of Golf were announced earlier this year, one of the biggest changes was the potential for distance measuring devices to be allowed during tournaments. Now, one of the talking points around rangefinders has always been that they have the potential to slow down play. Considering how slow the game can be at points already, this would obviously be a huge negative, so back in March, the PGA Tour announced plans to test the use of rangefinders on the Web.com Tour, Mackenzie Tour and LatinoAmerica Tour.

From the official PGA Tour release:

“For years there has been significant discussion and debate about whether distance measuring devices would have a positive or negative impact on competition at the highest levels of professional golf,” said Andy Pazder, Chief Tournaments and Competitions Officer of the PGA TOUR. “The only way we can accurately assess their impact is to conduct an actual test during official competition on one or more of our Tours. We look forward to seeing how these tests go and carefully evaluating the use of the devices over those weeks. Our evaluation will consider the impact on pace of play, optics and any other effects they might have on the competition.”

Now, I don’t think we’ve actually heard anything back from the PGA Tour on the actual results of this test, so it remains to be seen if this is something that will be allowed going forward. What’s interesting is that John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar, is not a fan of the rule and hopes that it doesn’t make its way to the PGA Tour. He talked about it for Golf.com’s ‘Tour Confidential’ series back in February.

“I would hope they would keep those out of the PGA Tour as a local rule, as well as major championships using a local rule. I think there is a skill in figuring out a yardage when your player has hit one off course … well off course. To be able to simply whip out your DMD and laser the flagstick would take out an important component of what the players and the caddies have to do.”

In addition to Wood’s point, Brad Fritsch wasn’t sure if it would actually help things:

My general thought is that the slow players are still going to be slow, and the fast players are still going to be fast. This isn’t going to slow down Brandt Snedeker or speed up Andrew Loupe, and if it does either of those things, it’s likely to be marginal. My thing on this has always been pretty clear: it’s hard to blame the players for playing slow because the rules that are in place are never enforced. If they were, players would absolutely pick up the pace, but until that happens, measures like this will be tried and it ultimately won’t make a difference.

46 JUNIOR

Back in July, Erica Shepherd won the U.S. Girls Junior Championship with a 3 and 2 win over Jennifer Chang at Boone Valley Golf Club in Missouri. As big as that was for Shepherd, it was what happened the day before that gets the number 46 spot on this list.

Shepherd was already in for par on the first playoff hole against Elizabeth Moon, and Moon missed a short birdie putt that would have won the match. With her putt inches away from the hole, Moon picked it up and it seemed like they were going to go on to a second playoff hole. That’s when Shepherd’s coach, who was also caddying that week, asked Shepherd if she had conceded that putt. Shepherd said she didn’t and as a result, Moon was in violation of Rule 18-2 and given a one-shot penalty, which meant the loss of both the hole and the match. You can watch video of the incident right here.

Of course, when word of this broke, it became a big deal and the place of all intelligent discourse, Twitter, was where the conversation took place. People were mostly ripping into Shepherd and her coach, with some coming to their defense and suggesting that Moon should have known better and waited for the official concession. Here’s what I wrote about it back in August:

There are a lot of different layers with this one, and the only thing that’s super clear to me is that Shepherd’s opponent, Elizabeth Moon, should have made certain that the putt was conceded before taking it away. It feels like Shepherd got caught up in the moment, and when she was asked by her coach if she conceded the putt, she just said ‘No’ not necessarily knowing the impact of her saying those words. Based on her comments after the round, and the fact that she’s 16, that sounds plausible to me. Her coach though had to know the rule, and that’s where it feels like the spirit of the game wasn’t taken into account, especially when you hear that Shepherd said she would have given her the putt had she been watching it at the time.

To me, what ended up happening here is the same thing that took place with the Lexi Thompson rules issue earlier this year in that golf is just really good at getting in its own way. I get that the rule was enforced correctly, but a little common sense could have been applied as well given that Shepherd made it clear that she would have given Moon the putt. Would anyone really have complained if they agreed to keep playing? The whole thing just left a bad taste in my mouth, and it feels like it could have been handled in a much better way.

As I mentioned above, Shepherd did go on to win the event, so it wasn’t all bad, even if it felt that way at the time. Plus, she actually made her LPGA Tour debut and made the cut back in September, and she’s committed to Duke for 2019.

45 EURO

Much like the 2017 Presidents Cup, the 2016 Ryder Cup was essentially a rout. There were moments when it looked like the Europeans were mounting a charge, but it was clear to anyone watching that the Americans were in complete control.

In recent years for Europe, there have been a lot of conversations around the idea of changing the qualification requirements for entry onto the team. With the large disparity in purse sizes between the PGA and European Tours, more and more players from Europe end up coming to play in North America, and it makes things tough for the Ryder Cup team, as you have to be a member of the European Tour to be qualified. Back in 2016, this meant that Paul Casey was not eligible, and there was already talk about how this could impact Jon Rahm, who would obviously be a huge addition to the European roster.

Back in January, the European Tour announced changes to the requirements, and while players must still be members of the European Tour to qualify, things have been made a little easier. Now, players only have to play four events on the European Tour (minus majors and WGC’s) to retain their cards, but the more interesting move came with the Rolex Series, which is the set of marquee events on the European Tour. Anyone who plays in an event opposite a Rolex Series event will not be awarded Ryder Cup points, which is an interesting way to get players to show up to your events. The table below shows the Rolex Series events and the PGA Tour event that is happening that week.

European Tour

PGA Tour

BMW PGA Championship

Dean & DeLuca Invitational
Italian Open

The Memorial Tournament

Open de France

The National (Tiger’s event)
Irish Open

The Greenbrier

Scottish Open

John Deere Classic

Aside from the Memorial, you can easily argue that the more prestigious event in each week is on the European Tour, and the added points should, in theory, get more players to tee it up in Europe. It’s working already, too. Casey has re-upped his membership for the first time in years, and Rahm is on board as well.

These changes likely wouldn’t have made much of a difference in 2016, but this is a step forward in getting the best European team on the course every two years. I’m really interested to see how this plays out in 2018.

44 KIM KANG

I’ll start this off by saying that it does feel a little wrong to combine two major championships into one story, but my logic was this: of the five majors on the LPGA Tour this season, three of them had some level of controversy to them, but these two went smoothly and it felt like they belonged together.

We’ll start with Danielle Kang, who won her first LPGA Tour event at the Women’s PGA Championship back in July. Kang shared the 54-hole lead at Olympia Fields with Chella Choi, and had to hold off a hard charging Brooke Henderson to get the job done on Sunday. She did it by hitting one of the best shots of the year: a 3-wood into the wind on the 18th, giving her an eagle putt when she only needed birdie to win in regulation.

After the tournament, she visited the gravesite of her late father, who passed away a few years ago after a fight with brain cancer. Kang’s father caddied for her during her junior days.

 

 

 

I.K. Kim won the Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns in August, posting an 18-under par total to win by two over Jodi Ewart Shadoff. It was her third win of the year, and helped propel her into the top-10 of the Rolex Rankings.

Of course, Kim is known most for missing an incredibly short putt at the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship, where if she had made it, she would have won her first major championship. She would go on to lose the tournament in a playoff.

It’s always good to see someone bounce back the way Kim has, and she was a much deserved major winner in 2017.

43 LEE CHUBBY

Very few relationships in golf have stood the test of time like Lee Westwood and Chubby Chandler. Westwood (and Darren Clarke) were both signed by Chandler’s International Sports Management team back in the early 90’s, and they’ve been connected ever since. Over the years, their relationship blossomed from client-agent to a great friendship, so it was a huge shock when it was announced back in July that Westwood was leaving ISM for IMG after 24 years.

Legal matters were officially resolved in October, and John Huggan has the story behind the split. Neither party is saying much about it, but it hasn’t been the best few years for Chandler’s ISM stable. In addition to losing Westwood, they also lost Danny Willett, Ryan Fox and Matthew Fitzpatrick in 2017. This one isn’t the biggest story when it comes to on course action, but in terms of shock value, it’s pretty damn high and something that I honestly didn’t expect to ever see.

42 LAWSUITS

Let’s talk about litigation!

There were two major lawsuits in the golf world over the past twelve months involving manufacturers. Back in March, Costco decided to sue Acushnet after receiving a threatening letter. As first reported by golf-patents.com, Acushnet, the parent company of Titleist, accused Costco, makers of the Kirkland Signature golf ball, of infringing on eleven Acushnet patents and “engaging in false advertising based on its Kirkland Signature guarantee that all Kirkland Signature products “meet or exceed the quality standards of leading national brands.”

So, Costco sued Acushnet back in March and then Acushnet responded in August by answering Costco’s claims and filing their own countersuit. We’re still waiting to hear what, if anything, is going to come from this, but I mean, it is curious that you haven’t seen any professionals use the Kirkland Signature ball, right?

The more interesting lawsuit to me was filed back in September though. PXG, makers of extremely affordable golf clubs, claimed that TaylorMade infringed on eight PXG patents with the release of their P790 irons, a claim which TaylorMade vehemently disputed. The latest update was back in November, as much like Acushnet did above with Costco, TaylorMade filed a countersuit, alleging that it’s actually PXG who has infringed on patents. TaylorMade’s lawsuit alleges that PXG is in violation of seven patents that already exist for TaylorMade irons and woods, dating back to 2007.

I don’t know where either of these lawsuits are going to go, but in both instances, it really seems like a new competitor really trying too hard to bite off a little more than they could chew. As it relates to PXG, this story kind of puts a damper on the whole “Nobody makes golf clubs the way we do. Period.” marketing pitch, no?

41 LEISHMAN

Over the last few years, Australian golf has been dominated by two names: Adam Scott and Jason Day. It makes sense, with both of them being major championship winners and former world number ones, but in 2017, the real story of Australian golf was Marc Leishman. Sure, you can argue that Scott and Day regressed a little bit, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Leishman had an incredible year.

He was a human ATM, with 15 finishes inside the top-25 in 26 worldwide starts, and he picked up two huge wins by taking the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the BMW Championship, along with a playoff loss to Justin Thomas at the CJ Cup. It may be recency bias (and the fact that I was one of very few people actually watching the tournament), but Leishman hit one of the best shots of the year at the CJ Cup, which was then matched a few minutes later by Thomas.

 

 

 

 

 

Leishman capped off his year with his third consecutive appearance in the Presidents Cup, and along with that runner-up at the CJ Cup, he finished tied for fourth at the Australian PGA Championship. As of this writing, Leishman sits one spot back of Day in the Official World Golf Rankings at the number thirteen spot and sits eighteen spots ahead of Scott. I would expect both of those players to have better years in 2018, but what is pretty clear is that Leishman should be able to join them as members of Australia’s elite golfing class.

Given everything that has happened to the Leishman family over the last few years, it’s great to see that things are now looking better both personally and professionally. 2017 was a great year, and there’s no reason why he can’t do it again in 2018.

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