2018 Year In Review: 40-21
Every year that I’ve done these posts, I’ve had to talk about people passing away, and it sucks. There’s no getting around it, and 2018 was an especially hard year in this regard. Please note that Jarrod Lyle, and the impact of his passing, will be noted in a separate item later in this list. Let’s all hope that 2019 is better than the past twelve months.
- Doug Ford passed away in May at the age of 95. Ford won the PGA Championship in 1955, and the Masters in 1957 amongst his 33 wins as a professional. He was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011. For more on Ford, read the always excellent “My Shot” piece from Guy Yocom in Golf Digest.
- Carol Mann was an institution on the LPGA Tour, first as a player, then as president of the tour, and later as an analyst on TV. Mann won 38 times on the LPGA Tour from 1964 to 1975, including a ten win season in 1968. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1977 at the age of 36. She was 77 when she passed in May.
- Hubert Green passed away in June at age 71 due to throat cancer. In his time on tour, he put together a Hall of Fame resume that included 29 worldwide wins, including the 1977 U.S. Open, and the 1985 PGA Championship.
- Peter Thomson is probably the most underrated golfer of all-time. His 84 worldwide wins, including five Open Championships, is a phenomenal resume, and he is in any reasonable conversation about the best looking golf swings to ever exist. Thomson passed away at age 88 in June. Please take the time to read William Johnson’s 1968 SI piece on Thomson, ‘A Loner’s Crusade’. It’s as good as you’ll find on Thomson, and well worth your time.
- Phil Rodgers was a fixture on the PGA Tour in the 60’s and 70’s, winning five tournaments and becoming agonizingly close to a pair of majors in 1962 and 1963. His greater impact though was as a teacher, and his focus on the short game, and given that Jack Nicklaus went to him, I’d say he was probably pretty damn good at it. He passed in June due to leukemia at age 80.
- Bruce Lietzke won thirteen times on the PGA Tour from 1977 to 1994, and probably would have won more had he played more often. Lietzke always put family above his golf, and never played more than 25 times in a season. I respect the hell out of that. He passed in July at 67 due to brain cancer.
- Celia Barquin Arozamena was murdered in September while on the Coldwater Links Golf Course. Collin Richards, a homeless man, has been detained and remains in jail. Arozamena played at Iowa State, and was named their 2018 female athlete of the year after she won the Big 12 championship. For more information, the Des Moines Register has been covering the story from the very beginning.
- Forrest Fezler passed away on December 21st after a battle with brain cancer. He won once on the PGA Tour, taking the 1974 Southern Open, and had a long career afterwards in golf course architecture working with Mike Strantz. Fezler was definitely best known for wearing shorts on his last hole at the 1983 U.S. Open as a protest to the dress code on the PGA Tour that says all golfers must wear pants. He was 69.
Rest in peace.
Back in January, Dustin Johnson kicked off the calendar year by boat racing the field at the Tournament of Champions. After rounds of 69-68-66-65, Johnson ended up at 24-under par, six eight shots clear of his nearest competitor, Jon Rahm. Obviously, it wasn’t particularly close, but there was one moment that stood out above all of the rest.
On Sunday, Johnson had a comfortable lead when he stepped up to the 433 yard par-4 12th. The 12th is severely downhill, and with a good amount of wind behind him, Johnson driving the green wasn’t just possible, it was expected. And, well, he hit a pretty good shot.
Six inches away from the ace. Sure, it was a little fortunate; all shots of this kind of length that end up that close need a little bit of luck to work out in that exact fashion, but it was an incredible moment. As soon as it happened, I knew that it was going to be on this list, but it shot up higher because of the debate it sparked. Golf’s master takesmith, Brandel Chamblee, fired off this tweet in the aftermath.
Chamblee’s tweet kept DJ’s drive in the news cycle for longer than it likely would have otherwise, and led to all kinds of conversations both on television and online. That wasn’t it for DJ’s big shots though. As he strolled to a win in Memphis at the St. Jude, DJ capped the week by dunking a 9-iron from 171 yards to beat Andrew Putnam by six.
Later in the year, DJ would also win the Canadian Open, marking his third consecutive year with at least three wins. He did lose his number one spot in the rankings, which he held for 64 straight weeks, and he will start 2019 in the number three spot behind Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose. Still though, not a bad place to be, and I’m sure more success is on the way.
This bit of news came in just under the wire for 2018, but it has the potential to really shake up how the PGA Tour arranges their fields going forward. Brentley Romine was first to report that the PGA Tour is currently looking at a new system to transition the best college players to the pro game. While the system is yet to be finalized, the thought is that the PGA Tour is looking at a draft system, for lack of a better term, to spread college players out to the various tours under their umbrella.
Romine’s reporting suggests that there would be a formula in place to identify the top eligible players, and distributing them across the tours when they turn pro. When I think about how something like this could work, it kinda goes something like this: Viktor Hovland is identified as one of the guys in the top tier of college players, so he gets a set number of starts on the PGA Tour, as if he was a high first round pick in the NBA. The next tier of guys would get “drafted” onto the Web.com Tour, the next to the Mackenzie Tour, and on and on down the line. I don’t know if that’s exactly what it’s going to be, but that’s my thought.
I gotta say: I kinda like it, even if there are some valid criticisms that it’s just a replacement for what Q School used to be. The game is getting younger, and younger each year, and figuring out a system that rewards the best college players in the country, while also allowing the PGA Tour to control the way it operates, does make sense on a number of levels. The fact is though that right now, we simply don’t know enough about this to make a big or small deal of it, but it shouldn’t be long before we have more information. This could be an absolutely massive development, and it is definitely something to follow in the coming months.
When Dustin Johnson took over the number one spot in the Official World Golf Rankings from Jason Day in February of 2017, he became the 20th player to be ranked as the best player in the world, and it kicked off a 64 week stretch where DJ was on top of the mountain. That run has only been bested by three players since the OWGR was introduced in 1986:
- Nick Faldo: 81 weeks from July 1992 to February 1994
- Greg Norman: 96 weeks from June 1995 to April 1997
- Tiger Woods: 264 weeks (lol) from August 1999 to September 2004
- Tiger Woods: 281 weeks (LOLOLOL) from June 2005 to October 2010
Given that only twenty players had ever been ranked as the best player in the world in the 31 years of the OWGR prior to 2018, it’s a big deal that the top spot changed hands nine times over the last twelve months amongst four players. DJ held on to the number one ranking until the middle of May, when Justin Thomas took it for a month. DJ and Justin Rose traded it off from June to October when Brooks Koepka grabbed it for the first time. Koepka and Rose would alternate the title until the present day, where Koepka will end 2018 as the top player in the world.
It’s only the second time in the history of the OWGR that the number one spot has changed hands amongst four different players in a calendar year. You have to go back to 1997 when Tom Lehman, Norman, Tiger, and Ernie Els all had a turn at the top to find the only other time that it occurred. It also very clearly means something to these guys, too.
Koepka said that getting to number one was something he dreamed of as a kid, Thomas admitted that he stayed up after the Players to actually see his name at the top of the list, and Justin Rose paid tribute to his late father on Twitter.
Going forward, it’s probably going to change hands even more often. With so many talented young players at the top of the pile, and the average points being so bunched, 2019 could see even more changes.
The men’s game is getting more and more diverse with each passing year, but I think it’s fair to say that it has a long way to go before it reaches the level of the women’s game. As of this writing, ten different countries are represented in the top-15 of the Rolex Rankings compared to six on the men’s side, and for my money, no one in the women’s game has intrigued me more in recent years than Sung Hyun Park.
Park burst onto the North American scene when she won the 2017 U.S. Open. She was already ranked inside the top-10 in the world prior to the win thanks to an incredible run on the Korean LPGA, with ten wins in a fifteen month stretch, and placing inside the top-6 in three of the five majors in 2016. A win at the Canadian Open gave her two on the season, and allowed her to win both the Rookie of the Year award, and a share of the Player of the Year with So-yeon Ryu. The good play continued in 2018 with a win in Texas in May, but she came to Kemper Lakes and the Women’s PGA Championship in poor form. After the win in Texas, her next four starts included three missed cuts and a T61, dropping her down to sixth in the world rankings.
Park led after the first two rounds, and wound up in a playoff with Ryu and Nasa Hataoka, which she would go on to win on the second hole to claim her second major championship victory at the age of 25.
Park does all of this with a tremendous looking swing, and effortless power. She also seems to generate more spin than anyone I’ve seen on the LPGA Tour, which makes her even more fun to watch. Park will end the season as the number two ranked player in the world behind Ariya Jutanugarn, and she continues to be someone to really watch as we head towards 2019.
Back in August, Justin Thomas won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, posting a 15-under par final score to beat Kyle Stanley by four shots. The win will go down, for now, as the last PGA Tour event to be played at Firestone, as the WGC event moves to Memphis and TPC Southwind in 2019.
I’m conflicted, honestly. Firestone, as it did this year with Thomas, has always been known as a course that produced a quality champion. Venturi, Nicklaus, Palmer, Floyd, Watson, Olazabal, Norman, Mickelson, Duval, Tiger, Vijay, and Rory are just some of the names that have won at Firestone since the PGA Tour made it a regular stop on the schedule in 1961. On top of that, there is a charm in having a venue on the schedule that players like Nicklaus have won on, and that the new generation can still tackle. Even further, TPC Southwind stinks, and going to Memphis in August probably isn’t the best idea, given the high potential for swamp ass with the expected conditions.
Having said all of that, Firestone also stinks. Much like Doral a few years ago, I’ve grown tired of seeing the same average to below average courses on the PGA Tour schedule every year, so I’m always of the opinion that moving it around is a good thing for the viewer, aside from the obvious venues like Pebble and Riviera. All of the holes look the same at Firestone, there are too many trees, and they don’t do enough to make players actually think out there.
Having said all that, it was pretty cool to see Thomas win on Sunday given the story. Thomas’ family, including his grandparents, were in attendance on Sunday and Thomas was visibly choked up to see them. His grandparents had never seen him win in person, and it was a pretty cool way to send Firestone off.
For those of you though who love Firestone, and believe me, all of them seem to exist in my Twitter mentions when I bring the course up, don’t worry. The Champions Tour is heading there for the Senior Players in July, and will be there through 2022.
Over the years, I’ve changed my tune drastically on Johnny Miller. For years, I couldn’t stand listening to him because I thought he was overly critical of the players, and that he had forgotten just how difficult the game is to play, even at the highest levels for the best players in the world. Those things are still true: he is overly critical of the players, and I think he’s relied so much on his fallback lines of players choking in the moment that he has forgotten that sometimes, you just hit a bad shot, and it wasn’t because you choked.
I’ve changed because I’ve learned to accept Miller as a form of entertainment, and listen, you may disagree with him on how to analyze a golf tournament, but you can’t deny that he provides entertainment. It may not always be golf related, but hearing unvarnished takes from Johnny about fracking, politics, or phragmites was always entertaining.
Now though, Miller is stepping down, with his last broadcast being in Phoenix at the Waste Management. Paul Azinger, an equally entertaining man, will be his replacement and it is going to be great to get more of Azinger in my life. Just having him on USGA events wasn’t enough, so he’s going to be great at filling the Miller void, but it just won’t be the same. Miller has been around as the lead golf analyst on NBC since 1990, which is a pretty incredible run, and despite the complaints about him over the years, there will be a lot of people who miss having him on as well.
So long, John.
I’m pretty sure that Jimmy Walker had no idea what he was stepping into back in June.
The whole conversation around backstopping, where a player doesn’t mark their ball on the green while their playing partners are taking their shots, has been mostly confined to certain corners of Golf Twitter. The logic to it is pretty simple: by not marking their ball, that player is not doing their level best to protect the field. On top of that, it’s a stroke play event that, theoretically, that player should be attempting to win and by not marking their ball, they are potentially decreasing their chances to do just that. To give you an idea of what it looks like, here are a couple of examples from this year:
Shockingly, there were no such concerns about this at the Ryder Cup, or in the WGC-Match Play, best I can tell.
Anyway, Jimmy Walker stepped into this controversy in the lead-up to the U.S. Open at Shinnecock. That tweet from Michael Clayton above is what Walker responded to, and, well, he may have let the cat out of the bag without knowing it.
So, as Clayton rightly suggests, this is against the Rules of Golf and both players should be disqualified, which seems like something Walker was not aware of based on his further replies. The two eventually got on some cordial terms, but there’s still clearly a disagreement here on what should be done. Lee Westwood and Luke Donald weighed in on it as well, and took the complete opposite stance to Walker, suggesting that the ball should always be marked. To me, it seems fairly obvious that there’s actually a rules infraction at play here and should be enforced as such. How to enforce it, especially when there are legitimate grey areas around pace of play and if a player is actually near the green at the time when another player is taking their shot, is a larger question that I don’t have an answer for right now.
How big of a deal is this? So far, it hasn’t become a bigger deal because it hasn’t had a significant effect on a larger tournament. The most prominent example that we’ve seen so far happened at the 2017 Safeway where a shot by Tony Finau that was clearly running out past the hole but stopped allowed Finau to finish in solo second, knocking other players out of a tie for that position.
Just wait though. If this happens in a larger event, like the Players or a major, people are likely going to be up in arms. Can you imagine if it decides the winner of a major? What if, given Walker’s comments about helping players he likes, he doesn’t mark at the U.S. Open, and it allows someone to gain an edge on the rest of the field? Does he get disqualified? Does the other player? It’s a situation that will lead to chaos. Chaos that will lead to some tremendous content, but chaos nonetheless.
Right now, it’s a relatively minor fringe item, but it has the potential to be so much more than that.
Coming into the week at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy was ranked 13th in the Official World Golf Rankings; a good ranking, and one that pretty much every player in the world would be satisfied with, but not one that we tend to associate with Rory. That’s because Rory hadn’t been that low in the rankings since November of 2009, and hadn’t won a tournament in the prior eighteen months. He was still playing exceptionally good golf, but the expectations are super high when it comes to Rory, and it felt like it was long overdue for him to find the winner’s circle.
Bay Hill tends to bring the big names out given the association with Arnold Palmer, and 2018 was no different. When you look at the final leaderboard, there was a staggering amount of big game hunters that finished inside the top five, but Sunday was the Rory show. He went out in 33, and absolutely blitzed the back nine in 31, including five birdies in the last six holes. The last putt on 18 definitely looked a little familiar, too.
The putter, which is usually the thing that everyone points to as what holds Rory back, was lights out all week at Bay Hill leading to that 64. In fact, it’s his best ever event in the strokes gained era with the flatstick.
Rory didn’t win another tournament for the rest of the year, but he was remarkably consistent the rest of the way, jumping back into the top-10 of the OWGR. The expectations are different for him, and he’d probably be the first person to tell you that he expects more out of himself as well, but after some struggles in 2017, 2018 was a really nice bounceback season and I expect an even better one in 2019.
Jessica Korda has been a fixture on the LPGA Tour for the last few years, winning multiple times and largely being thought of as one of the best American players in the world. Her younger sister, Nelly, has also recently joined the LPGA Tour, introducing a pretty rare thing in pro sports: siblings at the top of the game. It’s been a pretty cool thing to watch.
Back in December of 2017 though, Jessica went through a massively painful jaw surgery, detailed well here by Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols. The procedure, which included breaking her nose and jaw, lasted three hours, twice as long as doctors predicted it would, and it left her in rough shape for weeks. Suffice to say, golf was not in the cards for a little while, and the plan for the older Korda sister was that she would be able to make her season debut at the end of February in Thailand. So, how did she do?
She won, of course.
Powered by a course record 62 on Friday, Korda dominated the course, firing a 25-under par total and besting Moriya Jutanugarn and Lexi Thompson by four shots. It was Korda’s first win on the LPGA Tour in two and a half years.
Not to be outdone, Nelly would go on to win her first LPGA Tour event in October, taking the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship by two shots.
The Korda story, detailed above by Golfing World, was a pretty fascinating one to begin with, even before Jessica’s health concerns. To go out and win her first tournament back is a phenomenal accomplishment, and watching Nelly go out and win as well must have been pretty special. Just a very cool story, and one that is surely going to continue for years to come.
Jason Day had a rough 2017. It was his first year since 2012 where he didn’t post a win, and he dealt with some pretty serious family issues that would derail anyone’s year. From a purely on-course perspective, Day was bound to see a little bit of regression from his otherworldly run on the greens in 2016, where he was the first player in the strokes gained era to go an entire year gaining more than a full shot on the field per round on the greens alone.
2018 though, saw a bit of a bounce back for Day. He won his first start of 2018, taking the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in a playoff over Alex Noren and Ryan Palmer (shoutout J.B. Holmes), and followed that up with a runner-up finish to the Wizard at Pebble the following week. Things were already looking up for the former world number one.
A few starts later, he won again, taking the Wells Fargo Championship by two over Aaron Wise and Nick Watney.
He didn’t really do a whole lot of note after this week, but there’s no doubting that Day’s a talented player, who can do some serious damage on the PGA Tour when he stays healthy.
Much like Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson managed to keep himself in the news in 2018 for way more than just his play on the course, which was brilliant in some moments, and downright dreadful in others. It sounds incredibly dumb to have a brand partnership listed this high in a stories of the year feature, but it has to be because of a few things:
First, anything involving Phil is going to generate interest, and there’s no greater proof of that than all of the content created around Phil’s ability to lift his leg way in the air. Secondly, some of the stuff that Phil does defies every bit of logic imaginable, and as a result, we kinda just have to talk about it.
It all started when Phil showed up to the Masters to play a practice round with Tiger, Fred Couples, and Thomas Pieters. The idea of Tiger and Phil playing a practice round together, much less one at Augusta National the day before the Masters, is something that I can confidently say no one ever saw coming, but nearly as confounding was what Mickelson was wearing.
Long sleeves. Full button. Dress shirt.
Phil looked like he belonged in a cubicle, not at Amen Corner. It was bizarre as hell, but less than a month later, it all made a whole lot more sense when it was announced that Phil had signed on with Mizzen and Main, the company behind the shirt. He actually owns part of the company as well, as does Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. Phil would go on to wear some version of that shirt in pretty much every tournament for the rest of the year, and if you’re so inclined, you can also purchase them yourself. Seeing Phil play golf in a dress shirt, especially in the middle of the summer, was weird enough but that isn’t where this ends. On August 2nd, we were treated to this:
Just…wow. Bask in the glow of these screengrabs. Ensconce yourself in them, and know that for some reason, someone came up with this idea and the world is a better place for it.
Also know that the single best video that came out of this partnership wasn’t even the one that’s embedded above. This is a work of art.
So, why is this ranked so high? Think about it. How many hall of fame calibre players, in any sport, would ever go out of their way to do something like this? It’s dumb, it’s completely unexpected, and it’s something you will never forget for as long as you live.
The meteoric rise of Justin Thomas in the last two years has been really fun to watch for all of the obvious reasons, not the least of which is the idea that people have, for the most part, stopped referring to him only as “Jordan Spieth’s good buddy”. Thomas is a superstar, and coming into the Honda Classic at the end of February, he was on a ridiculous run. Thomas had put together five wins in his last twenty-eight starts, and while there were also six missed cuts in that stretch, it was proof that when Thomas was on, there’s pretty much no one in the game that can stop him.
After a 65 on Saturday, Thomas was in the final pairing at PGA National with Luke List, one shot back of the lead. While the two of them were having a good battle, much of the attention was being paid to Tiger, who put in his first good performance of 2018, with a solo 12th finish. Thomas would end up besting List by one in the final round, setting up a playoff, which he would win on the first hole.
That doesn’t tell the whole story though. Thomas was involved in an incident on the 16th tee with a heckler. The fan, who had been apparently following Thomas and List throughout the round, yelled for Thomas’ ball to get into a bunker after he teed off, and Thomas was not impressed, having the fan kicked out after the comment.
Thomas addressed the issue the next day, admitting that while he shouldn’t have had him kicked out, he still didn’t appreciate the comments that were made to both him and List during the round.
So, here’s the thing: most people who watch golf love the emotion that Thomas plays with, and on some level, I’m sure it probably makes him a better player. However, as he becomes a more visible name in the game, jackasses like the guy he ejected are just going to become more commonplace, and he’s going to have to figure out a way to deal with it because, unfortunately, those clowns aren’t going away anytime soon.
You may have heard this already, but Sergio climbed the mountain in 2017 in a multitude of ways. Not only did he win the Masters, in addition to two other wins on the European Tour, including one at Valderrama, but he also got married. 2017 was a massive year for Sergio, and I’m sure that because of that, there were even more eyes on him as the calendar flipped to 2018.
And 2018 started out great, too. After ending his long relationship with TaylorMade, Sergio jumped ship to Callaway, and immediately won his first tournament with the new sticks, taking the Singapore Open on the Asian Tour by five shots over Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira. Sure, it wasn’t a huge event or anything, but obviously a sign of good things to come, right? Well…not quite.
See, Sergio had a decent run in the lead-up to the Masters, finishing inside the top-10 in his last two stroke play events at the WGC-Mexico Championship, and the Valspar. He also went 3-0 in his group at the Match Play before getting bounced by Kyle Stanley in the final sixteen, so he was doing fine when he got to Augusta, but that’s where the good vibes end for a little while.
Sergio hit five balls in the water on the 15th in Thursday’s opening round, before posting a 13. It’s the highest number ever made on the 15th, and ties Tommy Nakajima’s 13 on the 13th hole in 1978 as the largest number ever posted at the Masters.
This led Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner, and many others if I’m being honest, to tweet something along the lines of how Sergio won’t be naming his next kid Firethorn. This was after the stories came out that week about the naming of his first child, Azalea, back in February. Sergio’s wife, Angela, did not take kindly to the remark.
Sergio would go on to fire 81-78 over the two days, three shots worse than Larry Mize and nine shots worse than fellow countryman Jose Maria Olazabal, to miss the cut by a mile. Decent finishes would happen on the European Tour in Germany, France, and Portugal, but Sergio would end up missing the cut in all four major championships for the first time in his career, and missing the FedEx Cup Playoffs. This incomprehensible run of poor form also brought into question whether or not he would be a captain’s pick for Thomas Bjorn’s European Ryder Cup side, as there was no chance he’d make it in on points alone.
Bjorn ended up taking Sergio to France after that T7 in Portugal, and he didn’t disappoint. Sergio went 3-1 in his four matches, including a 2 and 1 defeat of Rickie Fowler in Sunday singles. That win made Sergio the all-time points leader in the Ryder Cup, as his 25.5 points in nine events surpassed Nick Faldo’s record of 25. Clearly something clicked for Sergio as well at the event because he went on a great run at the end of this year, repeating as champion at Valderrama, and finishing as the runner-up to Lee Westwood in South Africa before posting a T9 and T6 to end 2018.
It was a tough season, but it ended up being pretty sweet at the end of it all, and it definitely bodes well for a rebound in 2019. Vamos.
Prior to the start of the U.S. Women’s Open in May, the big story was what was going to happen with the weather as the players got ready at Shoal Creek. Subtropical storm Alberto was in the area, and the players were doing their best prior to the event to get as much practice in as possible because they knew the rest of the week was going to be touch and go. The course was closed to the public on Monday, and that closure was extended to everyone on Tuesday, players included. With the closure, defending champion Sung Hyun Park decided to go to Top Golf to get some swings in.
Even on Wednesday, the USGA couldn’t open the course until the afternoon due to weather and attempts to clean the course up as best as possible. The USGA debated going to lift, clean, and place, but ultimately decided against it, and the course was ready to for play on Thursday morning. Despite a significant amount of areas on the course being designated as under repair, the tournament pretty much went off without a hitch, and on the weekend, it looked like it would be a runaway win for Ariya Jutanugarn.
Jutanugarn started the weekend three shots back of Australia’s Sarah Jane Smith, but ended up besting Smith by seven on Saturday to lead by four going into the final day. That lead was extended to seven after Jutanugarn made a birdie on the par 4 ninth hole, but that’s when things got interesting thanks to some incredible putting by Hyo-joo Kim.
Jutanugarn’s win gave her two major championship victories at the age of 23, and ten total wins on the LPGA Tour. She would go on to win the Scottish Open in July, wrapping up a year that included the season long Race to the CME Globe title, the Player of the Year, and the number one spot in the world. Not a bad run.
The leaderboard at the end of four days made it look much closer than it really was, but make no mistake: Webb Simpson dominated the Players Championship in May. Rounds of 66-63-68 gave him a seven shot lead over Danny Lee heading into the final day, allowing Simpson to post a 73 and cruise to a four shot victory.
It was Simpson’s first win in nearly five years, with his last coming at the Shriners in 2013. Simpson also finished in second place at the Wyndham, and if it wasn’t for Brandt Snedeker’s opening round 59, he may have won that one as well. 2018 was definitely Webb’s best season since his breakthrough 2011 campaign, and it’ll be the first year he ends inside the top 20 in the Official World Golf Rankings since 2012.
The long awaited changes to the PGA Tour schedule were formally announced back in July, and it really is a gamechanger in a lot of ways. The schedule for 2019 feels way more balanced, with a good cadence of big events, and it should allow the PGA Tour to get all of their biggest events out of the way prior to the start of the football season, which has been a goal for quite some time. The major changes:
- PGA Championship moves from August to May (good luck with those May New York dates, PGA of America!)
- Players Championship returns to its old spot on the schedule, moving from May back to March
- FedEx Cup Playoffs drop from four to three events, with Boston getting the boot for 2019, but coming back in 2020 on a rotation.
- New events in Detroit and Minnesota at the end of June / early July.
- WGC-Bridgestone moves from Akron to Memphis
- Canadian Open moves from July to June, getting a much better spot prior to the U.S. Open instead of after the Open Championship
- Houston and Greenbrier removed, but will be reintroduced in the 2019-20 fall season
The European Tour also made changes in reaction to the PGA Tour, moving some events around to later in the season, presumably on the hope that their big name players will come across and play. The BMW PGA Championship, long thought of as the flagship event of the tour, has moved from May to September. The Italian and French Opens have moved from June to October, flipping with the Valderrama Masters, which will now happen in the summer. Tommy Fleetwood also, apparently, saved the British Masters from extinction, as he’ll host at Hillside in May prior to the PGA.
These changes should honestly be very good, and it all leads to us essentially having the world schedule that we’ve wanted for years. It’s just not really written down that way just yet.
As a society, we really don’t talk enough about Bubba Watson’s 2017. I don’t mean just golf; I mean, his 2017, and the decisions he made for all of it to happen, need to be talked about at a much larger level. As I mentioned in my 2017 Year In Review, no one in the history of the Official World Golf Rankings has fallen as far as Bubba did from 2016 to 2017 when they finished that first year inside the top-10. Bubba dropped 79 places in a year, which is actually unheard of when you’re that high on the list to begin with, all because he wanted to play with pink golf balls.
Thankfully for Bubba, and the rest of us, to be honest, he decided to make the switch away from Volvik and back to Titleist for 2018. And what happened? He was at least able to turn it on at certain events, namely the ones he’s had success at in the past, and he was better overall than he had been in 2017. The graph below shows his Strokes Gained numbers in the major individual categories, and while that may not look like he made significant gains, he actually did in that he wasn’t a net negative. Given how good he is off the tee, he really only needs to be average or slightly above to remain relevant, which is what he was in 2018.
- Three wins in 2018 (Riviera, Match Play, Travelers) compared to zero in 2017.
- Same number of top-10 finishes, two fewer missed cuts.
- Finished 2018 in the 17th spot in OWGR, versus 89th the year prior.
- Got rejected by Tracy McGrady in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game
In all honesty, it’s great to have Bubba back in the mix again. Totally understand why people don’t like him, but much like Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter, he’s a character in a world that is often far too bland. He makes things interesting, and there’s still no one better to watch when there’s a pro tracer shot on the course. It was cool to see him come back strong, and I hope it continues in 2019.
From the outside looking in, it would be very easy to assume that Lexi Thompson was living something close to the perfect life, but in 2018, she let us in to some of her personal struggles. Back in July, Thompson posted on Instagram that she was taking some time off to “recharge my mental batteries”.
Thompson cited the events of the past year, on and off the course, as things that had brought her to this decision. We all know about the issue at the ANA which caused all kinds of controversy, but her mother was also fighting cancer, and she lost her grandmother as well. Thompson came back in the summer, and had some indifferent play before she posted again on Instagram, talking about some of the issues she’s had over the years feeling confident about her body.
These kinds of posts are obviously very personal, and they definitely meant a ton to her. Less than a month later, Thompson won the season ending CME Group Tour Championship, her first win of 2018.
This story is an important one because of a few reasons. First, it should serve as a reminder that even though we may think someone is living that perfect life, there’s always the possibility that they aren’t, and we shouldn’t make that assumption. Secondly, it takes a lot of courage for someone to come out and be public with news like this, and if someone like Thompson is willing to do it, it may encourage others to do the same with their own struggles. Even for the professionals, life can and should be about more than just golf.
You know, at some point, I’m going to stop putting a story on this list about the players complaining about the U.S. Open setup, but not this year! Shinnecock was a return to a more traditional kind of U.S. Open, with high scores and a course that bordered on the unfair. It’s a formula that the USGA has been using for decades, and after Erin Hills produced a birdie fest in 2017, it was obvious that the 2018 version was going to look very different.
Things actually started off well for the USGA, though. Early in the week, people were feeling great about how the course was looking and playing. Sure, it was tough, but that was always going to be the case at a U.S. Open held at Shinnecock. The first two rounds went by without much complaining, as low scores were out there if you were precise, as evidenced by Dustin Johnson’s 4-under par total going into the weekend, but then, it all unraveled.
On Saturday, we saw an Open Championship style “luck of the draw” play out, but in this case, it probably could have been avoided if the course was set up in a way to be more fair. What happened? Daniel Berger and Tony Finau set the pace by posting 66 early in the day when conditions were rather benign, but by the time the later groups got on the course, the wind had picked up, and the pin positions that were in place became nearly impossible to navigate once the greens sped up in the Long Island sun. The players were not impressed.
There are a couple of things about that ZJ quote: first, he shot 72, which many players would have taken on Saturday, but that interview was done just as the leaders were going off. It was only going to get worse. The afternoon wave came in mostly with rounds in the mid to high 70’s, with a few players getting into the 80’s as well. Mike Davis, chief decision maker with the USGA on these things, came out after the round and vowed that the course would be slowed down because the setup was too difficult.
The course ended up being far more playable on Sunday, with scores back again in the high 60s to mid 70’s that no one was going to complain about. Tommy Fleetwood even shot a 63, and was nearly able to steal the trophy from Brooks Koepka.
Can’t wait to see what the USGA does with Pebble in June!