2017 Year In Review: 20-11

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20 TEAM

In 2017, there were three major team events in golf and all of them ended in a rout in favour of the Americans.

  • In August, Team USA beat Team Europe in the Solheim Cup 16.5 to 11.5. The Europeans were dealt a huge blow right before the start of the matches, as Suzann Pettersen had to withdraw due to a back injury, and was replaced by assistant captain Catriona Matthew. To her credit, Matthew went 3-1 in the event, but after taking the first session, Europe was never able to get going and lost by five.
  • The Walker Cup was held at the glorious LACC, and was an absolute joy to watch from an architectural standpoint. The actual golf though was completely one sided, as the Americans beat the Great Britain and Ireland team by a score of 19-7.
  • The Americans then also took the Presidents Cup, winning 19-11 over the International side in an event that honestly felt even worse than that final score. It was a complete beatdown.

All three of these were important, but the one I want to focus on is the Presidents Cup because of all the discussion around how to fix it. When it was first introduced in the mid-90’s, the idea was that the PGA Tour wanted its own version of the Ryder Cup, and it makes sense, but aside from a few versions, it really just hasn’t been competitive. The International side simply doesn’t have the firepower to keep up at this point, and it’s hard to see it getting a lot better from here given the amount of young American talent at the top of the game.

The 2019 Presidents Cup has already been announced for Australia, and the format isn’t likely to change, but if there’s another instance of it not being competitive, it’s going to be interesting to see what they decide to do with the format. To me, they really have three choices because they aren’t going to cancel it, and playing the Ryder Cup every year just isn’t going to happen.

  1. They can do nothing, and hope that the International side gets stronger, likely relying on Asia to help provide fresh talent.
  2. Adjusting the points so that there are less on offer, which has already been done once.
  3. Adding the LPGA Tour, and making it an even 6 man / 6 woman split on each side. This is the least likely option, mostly because I don’t see the PGA Tour admitting that they have something that isn’t competitive. I do think this is a good idea that should be used in a tournament somewhere though.

How many days away are we from the Ryder Cup?

19 MUIRFIELD

Last year, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (catchy name, that) voted on the possibility of allowing female club members for the first time. The vote didn’t pass, as it fell a little bit shy of the ⅔ majority required, and as such, golf’s reputation of being a sport mostly for stuffy, old, white men was strengthened.

This was a big deal for a variety of reasons. The first being the obvious that golf always manages to find a way to shoot itself in the foot when it comes to the most obvious matters. So much of what came out in the aftermath was about how golf was stuck in the past and, rightfully so. It was an embarrassment for anyone who loved the game.

The second reason why it was a big deal was that the Honourable Company actually runs Muirfield, host of sixteen Open Championships. Well, after the result of the vote, the R&A moved to kick Muirfield out of the Open rota, drawing praise from players like Rory McIlroy and Sir Nick Faldo.

It’s amazing what the backlash, and loss of potential money, will do to a decision. Muirfield ended up re-voting back in March, with 80% of members voting in favour of women being allowed in, which is great news, minus the whole 20% of people who firmly have their heads lodged elsewhere. Henry Fairweather, captain of the Honourable Company, released a statement when the change was ratified:

“This is a significant decision for a club which was founded in 1744 and retains many of the values and aspirations of its founding members. We look forward to welcoming women as members who will enjoy, and benefit from, the great traditions and friendly spirit of this remarkable club.”

After the announcement was made, the R&A reinstated Muirfield to the Open rota and all was well with the world again, I guess. Ultimately, it’s good that they voted in favour in 2017 after the debacle in 2016, and we get to continue seeing one of the best courses in the world played by the best players on the planet. It never should have gotten to this point, but thankfully, everything was corrected and we can move on.

18 TIGER

I know what most of you are thinking: how on earth is Tiger’s comeback not higher on this list? My answer on this is pretty simple, to be honest. At this time last year, we were all pretty excited about Tiger’s performance at the Hero, and while it looked a lot better this year than last, the fact is that a lot of us were pretty jacked up about the possibilities.

Then he showed up at Torrey looking like LaRon Landry, missed the cut and then flew to the Middle East and hurt his back again. I will say again that this time looks better than last time, but I’ll also point out that the last time we saw him healthy was 2013, so you can still put me in the “let’s see him stay healthy for more than a few rounds” category. It’s possible that he doesn’t stay healthy all, and we really shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

(…..)

Okay, but let’s jump to some conclusions. Tiger legitimately looked way better at the Hero than I thought he would. He didn’t look like he was in any pain, the swing looked good and the ball speed was through the roof. He was able to keep up distance wise, and the long irons / woods looked better than I’ve seen them look in years. He was hitting draws! He beat a lot of good players in the field, and everyone was impressed.

Over the last few comebacks, there have been reasons to be optimistic, but more reasons to be pessimistic. The yips looked like a thing that was actually happening, the putter was awful and the driver, which hadn’t been a strength in about 15 years anyway, was even worse than normal. On top of that, there were concerns over his mental state and how it’d been so long since he was a dominant player, that maybe he had lost perhaps the biggest edge he always had on the competition: his mind.

My retort to that has always been that since the last time we probably saw him healthy was 2013, it’s hard to know how much of the blame for these things to place on the injuries and how much to place on other factors. My follow up thought has always been that he won five times the last year he was healthy, so let’s get him back on the course, healthy, and then make the judgments from there on where his game is at. It looks like in 2018, we might actually be able to do just that, and I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve always thought that if he was healthy, he would win tournaments again, and my stance on that has not wavered.

Golf is in a tremendous place, and adding a healthy Tiger Woods to the mix would be phenomenal. I’m hopeful that we’re going to do just that in 2018.

17 RAHM

Jon Rahm is terrifying.

Coming into 2017, Rahm was ranked 137th in the world and everyone knew that he was going to rise quickly. He was the number ranked amateur in the world, so the thought was that it was only a matter of time before it all translated to the pro tours. Even with that said, I’m not sure anyone would have predicted that it would have came this fast and with the ferocity that Rahm brought to the table.

It started at Torrey Pines, the place that usually produces a quality winner, and Rahm added his name to that list in 2017. The thing about it though was the way went about it. Rahm hit a majestic approach into the brutally difficult par-5 18th. It was a missile that he couldn’t have hit any more pure, but it ran out to the back fringe where he had an eagle putt to give himself some breathing room.

Those two shots are going to stick with people for a long time. The putt, in particular, is going to be used in PGA Tour marketing materials for the next decade as we watch the ascent of the next truly great European superstar. When you look at the last three Spanish golf superstars (Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia), you see incredibly gifted players who wear their emotions on their sleeves. Rahm does that as well, but there’s an aggressiveness in his approach that makes it feel different. Of course, that aggressiveness can get the better of players, and Rahm can run super hot at times, too. From the (now deleted) tweets of Kevin Van Valkenburg, who followed Rahm at the U.S. Open:

Was standing near Jon Rahm a minute ago when he:

  1. Bellowed an F-Bomb
  2. Slammed his wedge
  3. Kicked it
  4. Picked it up & slammed it again

After this, he:

  1. Missed a 40 foot par putt
  2. Thumped his putter hard on green
  3. Tapped in for bogey
  4. Punched the sign on 15 tee
  5. After this, he birdied the next hole.
  6. Tomahawked a 7-iron into the turf on 17 fairway after a meh approach.

So, yeah, there’s some stuff that he probably needs to work on, but these feel like things that are going to be addressed as he gets older. It’s the game that you need to look at, and he put it on display the next month again, winning the Irish Open by six shots.

He then followed it up with a win at the European Tour’s season ending event in Dubai, allowing him to jump into his current position of 4th in the OWGR. Players like Rahm don’t come around very often, and it’s hard to believe that he’s only 23 years old.

Watching Rahm take on the world, and the American Ryder Cup team, in 2018 is something I can’t wait to see.

16 WOMEN RANK

The main storyline of the 2016 LPGA Tour season was the constant battle between Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn. Between the two of them, they won a total of nine tournaments and while Jutanugarn took home Player of the Year honours, Ko remained on top of the Rolex Rankings by a very healthy margin.

Early in 2017 though, things started to change. Month by month, Ko’s lead on Jutanugarn shrunk and when So Yeon Ryu won the ANA Inspiration (more on that in a second), she overtook Jutanugarn as the second ranked player in the world behind Ko. Jostling between them would happen for the next little while, but when the rankings came out on June 12th, Jutanugarn had taken over as the new world number one, dropping Ko down out of that spot for the first time in 84 weeks.

Ryu would then take it from Jutanugarn, and she held it until the first week of November when Sung Hyun Park became the new world number one. Park’s reign was short lived though, as she would relinquish her spot to China’s Shanshan Feng, who will finish 2017 at the top of the mountain. That’s five different players who were at one point, listed as the number one ranked player in the world in 2017, and if Lexi Thompson had won the final tournament of the year, she would have been number six. That is a crazy amount of shuffling at the top of the world, especially after Ko had dominated the rankings for so long. Here’s how they sit right now heading into 2018:

Rolex Rankings

Shanshan Feng

Sung Hyun Park

So Yeon Ryu

Lexi Thompson

In Gee Chun

Ariya Jutanugarn

Anna Nordqvist

I.K. Kim

Lydia Ko

Christie Kerr

As we look forward, it’s hard to know who to pick out and it’s very possible that 2018 looks very similar with the shuffling. If I had to put money on anyone to take it over, it would be Park, but I still think Ko is too good to struggle for much longer.

15 LOW

We all know the story by now: the golf courses are struggling to keep up with the advances in technology and the development of players. Everyone hits it further now than they used to, and because the players know more about their swings than ever before, they can go insanely low when everything is working as expected. In 2017, we saw a ton of super low scoring, including the following:

  • Three players (Justin Thomas at the Sony Open, Adam Hadwin at the CareerBuilder and Sam Saunders at the Web.com Tour Championship) shot 59.
  • Thomas also shot 63 at the U.S. Open, becoming only the fifth player to ever do that and the first since Vijay Singh in 2003 at Olympia Fields.
  • Haotong Li shot 63 in the final round at the Open Championship, and for a minute, looked like he was going to have a chance to win the thing outright before he got Speithed.
  • Branden Grace shot 62 at the Open Championship, becoming the first player to shoot 62 in a major championship.
  • Ross Fisher set a new scoring record at the Old Course, firing a 61 along with many others that week who went super low.

Now, there are reasons for all of these things, of course. Birkdale was a par-70, so Grace and Li’s scores may not mean as much in the eyes of some compared to a “regular” par-72 layout. As Johnny Miller would tell you, Erin Hills wasn’t a traditional U.S. Open setup, and there was little to no wind on that Sunday at the Old Course to protect the venue from surrendering the low scores. All of these things can be true, but the fact is that it’s clear that the courses now are not properly equipped to handle the current combination of the equipment and player talent, and they’re only going to get exposed even more going forward.

So, is this a problem? It is because we don’t want to get to a point where the Old Course is not challenging enough for the pros. Also, we don’t want to have a situation where the governing bodies feel the need to trick out golf courses (lightning fast greens, pins on knobs, etc) just in the name of protecting par. That’s not fun for the players or for the viewers. Good shots and great rounds end up becoming meaningless if everyone does them all the time.

I don’t know how to fix this, aside from reigning in the equipment, but what I do know is that the answer is not simply making the courses longer. That’s not sustainable for golf going forward, and on top of that, I don’t think the players are overly worried about the courses being longer. They’ll be able to adjust anyway. Like I said in a previous post, this one bears watching because more and more people are speaking up about it, and eventually, something is going to have to be done.

14 DJ

The Masters never strikes me as a tournament for Dustin Johnson to win. I know he’s had good finishes there the last two times he’s teed it up, but it just never feels like the place for him. Coming into the 2017 tournament though, he was as hot as you could possibly be. Three straight tournament wins at Riviera, the WGC-Mexico Championship and the WGC-Match Play had Johnson looking like the man to beat, especially when you consider the T6-T4 finishes he’d racked up at Augusta in 2015 and 2016. It really felt like it could be his year in 2017.

Then he fell down a flight of stairs and had to withdraw from the tournament.

Seriously.

The shine never goes away at Augusta regardless of who is playing or not playing, but when Johnson withdrew, it did take something away from the tournament. It felt like we were robbed of seeing the best player in the world attempting to do something that many people believed (myself included) he could never do, and it sucked. I mean, he tried to go out there and play, but it was pretty clear on Thursday when he was warming up that he was in no condition to play golf.

On top of that, there was historical significance at play as well. If Johnson played, he had a chance to join Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Jack Burke Jr. and Tiger Woods as the only players to ever win four consecutive PGA Tour starts.

It felt like if there was ever a chance for Dustin Johnson to win the Masters, it was 2017 and he never got to the first tee.

13 2019

For the most part, the big events on the golf calendar have stayed pretty similar over the past decade or so, but back in August, changes were announced that completely change the current formula. The result is that starting in 2019, things should end up feeling a lot more balanced.

The Players Championship is the first big move, as it will be heading back to March for the first time since 2006. In its “place” in May will be the PGA Championship, as it will move from its current August date and become the second major championship of the year instead of the fourth. So, what this ends up doing is spacing out the biggest PGA Tour events of the year, with one coming in each month.

  • March: The Players Championship
  • April: The Masters
  • May: The PGA Championship
  • June: The U.S. Open
  • July: The Open Championship

On top of this balance, it should theoretically allow the PGA Tour to finish the FedEx Cup Playoffs in August and get the season done with prior to the start of the NFL, which is something they’ve always wanted to do. Commissioner Jay Monahan isn’t saying much about what the final schedule is going to look like, but that has to be the calculus here. It was also announced that the 2019 Presidents Cup, being contested at the lovely Royal Melbourne, will be played in December instead of the usual September slot.

In addition to these major changes, the European Tour announced that they’d be moving the BMW PGA Championship to September, and in theory, they stand to benefit if the FEC Playoffs are over in early September as well. If that’s the case and players still want to play, they could easily make the jump to Europe and play in the Race to Dubai.

The only thing that I don’t understand about this is why the PGA of America agreed to it. They don’t get anything out of making this move, and on top of that, a lot of their venues are not exactly optimized for May golf, starting with the one in 2019 as they head to Bethpage Black. It’s going to be interesting to see how a Northeast course is received in May by the players. Ultimately though, these changes are positive. It gives us a more balanced schedule, and theoretically, an earlier end, which is good for everyone involved.

Also, when you really think about it, we’re closer to that global schedule than people realize, aren’t we? If you believe that the European Tour tends to own the schedule early with the Middle East, followed by the PGA Tour through May or so, that makes sense to me. Then you have the Irish / Scottish / French Open stretch in Europe, followed by the FedEx Cup Playoffs and ending with the Race to Dubai. I mean, it’s not formalized, but it seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it?

12 PHIL

I don’t know if you guys know this, but Phil Mickelson is a U.S. Open win away from the career Grand Slam. True story, and with six runner-up finishes in his career, he’s faced more heartbreak in that event than probably any golfer in history.

2018 will be the fifth anniversary since the last one of those runner-ups, and as Mickelson gets set to turn 48, it’s pretty obvious that time is running out here. So, from a golf standpoint, it was super surprising that Mickelson decided to skip the event entirely in 2017. However, he had a pretty damn good reason to skip it, as his daughter was graduating high school and giving the commencement speech.

Now, there was a lot of typical Mickelson bluster about potentially hopping on a jet to get to Erin Hills depending on the weather, but he made it clear that he wasn’t seeking sympathy or trying to get the school to change the date. Part of me thought that it was going to be some kind of calculated ploy on his part to get the date changed, but it really wasn’t, and come Thursday morning at Erin Hills, Mickelson was not in the field. Mickelson also pointed out that the decision was actually not a difficult one for him, despite what people like myself may have thought.

“I love the (U.S.) Open, but this is a special moment for us. I mean, my daughter’s speaking, she’s giving the speech there at graduation. It’s just one of those things, you need to be there. So it wasn’t a hard decision at all.”

If I had to bet on it at this point, I’d definitely be betting that Mickelson ends his career without a U.S. Open win, and as much as that’s probably going to bother him, I’m guessing that if he had skipped his daughter’s graduation, that he’d regret that one even more. The funny thing is that if you look at the next few venues (Shinnecock, Pebble, Winged Foot and Torrey), they are all courses that Mickelson has had a pretty good level of success on in his career. Like I said, I’m not betting on it, but he’s pulled off crazy things in the past. It would be fitting for this to be one of those times.

11 54

The 2017 Evian Championship was the final major of the LPGA season in September, and it was won by Anna Nordqvist, who is now a two-time major winner. That, unfortunately, was not the story from France, as for the second time in five years, the tournament was reduced to 54 holes.

Evian Resort Golf Club was hammered with rain on Thursday, and play was called with scores already on the leaderboard. Jessica Korda and So Yeon Ryu were at the top of the board at 2-under par when play was halted. LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan made the call to scrap the scores for the round because conditions were going to be very different on Friday and no player had yet to complete nine holes.

The issue here though is that we are talking about a major championship. These are the tournaments that are supposed to be held in higher regard than everything else on the schedule, and reducing it to 54 holes basically makes that idea completely useless. As Ryan Lavner pointed out for Golf Channel, this is a credibility issue and considering that this tournament was made into a major championship just a few years ago, it’s not exactly living up to the lofty standards that all of us place on majors. The players, as you can expect, were not happy about the decision either:

I totally understand that the LPGA was in a tough spot here, and no one wants to see any tournament extend past the final day, but when it comes to certain events, 54 holes is simply unacceptable. Can you imagine that uproar if something like this were to happen at the Masters or the Open? There would be anarchy in the streets! Everything possible needs to be done to make sure that major championships are given 72 holes, and the LPGA Tour made a big mistake here that I hope will never happen again.

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