2019 Year In Review: 40-21
Unfortunately, as we do every year, we lost several important figures in the history of the game in 2019.
- Alice Dye passed away at age 91 in February. Typically known as the wife of legendary course designer Pete Dye, Alice was an accomplished player, winning the 1968 North and South Amateur, representing the Americans in the Curtis Cup and winning multiple senior women’s titles as well, along with advising the game at the highest levels on councils of the USGA and the LPGA. Her work as an architect though is what will always get the most attention, as she was instrumental in Pete’s career, designing signifcant elements of courses like TPC Sawgrass and the Ocean Course at Kiawah. Famously, it was Alice’s idea to create the par-3 17th as an island green at Sawgrass.
- For more on Alice Dye, read Ron Whitten’s Golf Digest tribute.
- Dan Jenkins, golf’s most famous writer, passed away in March at the age of 90. It’s impossible to sum up Jenkins in just a few lines, but I think all of you reading this are keenly aware of his impact: hundreds of major championships covered for outlets like Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated, multiple must read books, and a style that now, probably wouldn’t fly because it was far too honest for many people at the top of the game. I mean, just read this, and tell me that Jenkins wouldn’t be crushed by people today if he spoke like this as a 30-year old journalist. He was one of a kind, and the best who ever did it.
- For more on Dan Jenkins, read the obituary written By The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis, and Tom Callahan’s piece in Golf Digest.
- Marilynn Smith, one of the founders of the LPGA Tour, passed in April at 89. Smith won 21 times on the LPGA Tour, including two major championships and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006.
- Gordon Brand Jnr, eight-time European Tour winner and two-time European Ryder Cupper, passed away at the age of 60 at the end of July after suffering a heart attack.
- Longtime sportscaster Jack Whitaker passed away at the age of 95 back in August. Whitaker worked for both ABC and CBS, and while golf wasn’t always his focus, if you are of a certain age, you’ve seen Whitaker all over golf broadcasts. I tend to remember him most from hosting the latter years of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, but Whitaker worked all kinds of tournaments, including the Masters, where he was once banned by Clifford Roberts for calling the fans a ‘mob’ before being welcomed back a few years later.
- Six-time European Ryder Cupper Brian Barnes passed away in September at the age of 74. Barnes is most well known for defeating Jack Nicklaus twice on the same day in the 1975 Ryder Cup, back when the final day had two rounds of singles play. The nine-time European Tour winner was known for being a colourful character on the course as well, frequently smoking pipes and wearing knee high socks with shorts.
Rest in peace.
For the ninth consecutive year, Sergio Garcia won an official tournament, taking the KLM Open by one shot over Nicolai Hojgaard in September. Nine years is a pretty impressive run, but man, that victory doesn’t even come close to the most noteworthy thing that Garcia did in 2019. Let’s run it down:
- We’ll start in February, when Garcia was disqualified from the Saudi International for damaging multiple green sites. This is under the new rule where tournaments can throw players out if they feel they haven’t lived up to the expected code of conduct.
- In that same tournament, Garcia threw a tantrum in a bunker, and unlike the other ones, this one was caught on video.
Garcia would go on to apologize for both incidents, and he faced no further punishment from the European Tour, which makes no sense of course, but hey, that’s generally the way things go. It didn’t go unnoticed though, with Brooks Koepka speaking out about Garcia’s stupidity:
“That’s just Sergio acting like a child,” Koepka continued. “It’s unfortunate that he’s got to do that and complain. Everybody’s got to play the same golf course. I didn’t play very good, but you didn’t really see anybody else doing that. You’re 40 years old so you gotta grow up eventually.”
All valid points by Koepka, but we’re not done!
- In July, Garcia was playing in the Open Championship at Portrush, and clearly wasn’t feeling it. After hitting the driver, he was seen throwing it back at the caddie, who happened to be his brother, Victor.
- The next week, Garcia was in Memphis and took a massive chunk out of a tee box at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
So, what the hell is going on here? This is a guy who is about to turn 40 who, to Koepka’s point, is still acting like an utter child. I understand that we all get frustrated out there, and if one of these things had happened over the last twelve months, I’m sure we wouldn’t be here talking about it right now, but all four of them? Four! How is this still a thing? I know that in a lot of circles, I’m looked at as a Sergio defender, and that’s mostly because when he isn’t doing these things, he’s a figure that is very easy to enjoy watching, but holy shit, none of this is excusable.
You can add these items to the list, alongside spitting in the cup, multiple instances of throwing clubs, shoes, and bunkers, and you know, the whole fried chicken stuff, which he skated on far too easily. It’s sad to see, but after 2019, I don’t know how anyone can look at him as anything other than a petulant child at best. He should be embarrassed for his behaviour over the last twelve months.
We’ve all grown up with Golf Digest. Since the magazine was founded in 1950, it has been a driving force in all things golf, and despite its importance feeling diminished in recent years, it’s still a name with brand recognition and value. Back in May, Discovery bought Digest from Conde Nast for a reported $30 million, adding the magazine to its growing portfolio of golf properties, as they are already working alongside the PGA Tour on their international GolfTV offering.
In general, I’m torn on what this means. On one hand, even though I’m not crazy about everything that Digest does now versus what they used to produce, I’d much prefer that they remain a voice in the space than if they were to just disappear into the ether. On the other hand, I worry about what this deal means for the long term in terms of objectivity, and if Discovery / PGA Tour will try to exert some power and influence over editorial decisions. Monopolies are rarely good, and this feels like it has the potential to get to that point at some stage.
For now, everything seems like it’s running as normal, but it could be something to keep an eye on as we move forward here.
Every year, there are tournaments that get won by players you’ve pretty much never heard of, and that’s because anyone who plays golf for a living is really, really good at it, and all it takes for them to climb the mountain is one hot week. The reality is that for every player like Matt Kuchar, there are probably ten guys grinding on the lower levels of pro golf who just need a shot at making their dreams come true, and in 2019, two names on the PGA Tour stood out.
Adam Long has spent the majority of his professional career grinding on the mini tours, and made it to the PGA Tour for the first time in 2019 as a 31-year old. Truthfully, it probably didn’t go as well as he would have hoped in totality, with fourteen missed cuts in thirty-one starts, but in just his second start, Long won the Desert Classic with rounds of 63-71-63-65, besting Adam Hadwin and Phil Mickelson by one shot. He came to the 72nd hole with a share of the lead on Sunday, and he put himself in a pretty bad position off of the tee. Long would go on to pull off one of the shots of the year:
Nate Lashley won the Rocket Mortgage Classic in June, running away with a six shot victory over Doc Redman. Much like Long, Lashley is a veteran of the mini-tours who finally got regular starts on the PGA Tour at the start of the 2017-18 season as a 36-year old. Lashley’s story is one of perseverance through intense emotional trauma, and it was starting to become national news as he was close to winning the event.
Lashley’s parents and girlfriend died in a plane crash on the way back from watching Lashley play a tournament while he was a junior at Arizona, something that understandably took Lashley a really long time to get over.
“I think about my parents all the time,” Lashley said. “And thinking about them today, I was getting a little emotional. Walking up 18, even before I hit my second shot, [I was] thinking about my parents, because without them I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
Golfers posing for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue isn’t a new thing. Prior to 2019, ten players had done the deed, from Belen Mozo and Camilo Villegas to Greg Norman and Gary Player. Here are some of the Koepka photos:
Ordinarily, this probably wouldn’t lead to an entry on this list, but it does for a couple of reasons. First, Koepka is arguably the best player in the world, so when he does anything, it’s likely going to be news, but the main reason was that rumours were swirling about how Koepka went on a crazy diet to prepare for the photoshoot, something which Koepka didn’t confirm or deny as being the reason why he lost the kind of weight that he did. He admitted that his diet wasn’t great on the Tuesday before the Masters:
“Kind of‑‑ I mean, the diet I was on was probably not the best. I was like 1,800 calories a day. I mean, you’re not going to be in the best physical shape at that point. You look at somebody like Michael Phelps or somebody like that eating 6,000 or 7,000 calories by lunch time. But I wanted to do it and try to lose some weight, and maybe went about it a little too aggressively for just a long period of time and the intensity of what I was doing.”
Koepka had lost distance, and had what many thought was a rather pedestrian start to the season because of this weight loss. Brandel Chamblee called it “the most reckless self sabotage that I have ever seen of an athlete in his prime”, while Koepka suggested that other players “don’t have the balls to do it”, which was probably true, and he seemed flustered at the idea that people were talking about him like he didn’t know what he was doing:
“At the time, I wasn’t playing good golf either,” Koepka said. “That’s not an excuse. I’ve lost a bunch of weight before, and I’ve gained a bunch of weight. Phil (Mickelson’s) done it, and everybody’s happy that Phil did it, and then I did it, and I get criticized. I don’t know what the deal is. I mean, all I’m concerned about is making myself happy. I’m going to do what I want to do. I think everybody out here knows that by now. I’m going to do it my way and enjoy the ride.”
Koepka’s lead in the ‘invented slights’ leaderboard continues to grow by the day, but as we’ll get to later in this list, he had a pretty good finish to the season once the weight was back, and the pictures were in the rearview.
With two wins under her belt already in 2019, Sei Young Kim was one of the frontrunners to take the CME Group Tour Championship, the final tournament on the LPGA calendar. This year, the tournament was made even bigger by CME, who decided to throw more money into the pile: $1.5 million would go to the winner, which may not seem like that much in professional golf circles, but for the women, that meant this was going to be the highest purse in the history of the game.
Kim held the lead in each of the first three rounds, and would go on to claim the title with a 25-foot birdie putt on the last hole.
Just a great putt, with perfect weight for a record purse. It doesn’t get much better than that.
For the longest time, the European Tour was a place where the best Europeans stayed and played their golf, with appearances in the United States being few and far between aside from major championships. That has obviously changed a lot in the last few years where, essentially, the European Tour is often looked at as a place to play in a down week, or in preparation for a larger tournament. We’re far removed from the time that Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy decided to skip the Players, drawing the ire of the PGA Tour and many in the game.
Still though, players keep up appearances, not wanting to fully shut the door on the tour that made them into the players they are today, and some even help the tour out by hosting tournaments. McIlroy is a prime example of this, as in recent years, he has hosted the Irish Open, bringing a level of prominence to an event that needed a boost. McIlroy hosted the tournament from 2015 to 2018, winning it in 2016 in one of the best moments of the year.
In 2019 though, McIlroy’s foundation dropped out of the event, leaving Dubai Duty Free as the title sponsor. That wasn’t unexpected, necessarily, as tournament sponsorships change all the time, but what was unexpected was that McIlroy didn’t even play in the event. For the first time since he turned pro in 2007, McIlroy took a pass on his national open suggesting that he was doing so to properly prepare for the Open Championship at Portrush:
People weren’t happy about it. Roy Curtis slammed McIlroy in the Independent, suggesting that it was his absolute duty to attend the tournament, and that it was a slap in the face to the new host, Paul McGinley that he decided not to attend.
“Yet, if the Rory Years sprinkled stardust on the event, his snubbing – and, dress it up anyway, shine it with endless PR polish, but it remains a terrible snub to McGinley – is the equivalent of emptying the contents of a septic tank onto Lahinch’s world famous Dell and Klondyke putting surfaces. It bathes the build-up to that week in July in a toxic sludge.”
Tell us how you really feel, Roy. Damn! Listen, the history of Rory McIlroy, Ireland and everything that comes with it is too complicated to boil down into a couple of paragraphs, but suffice it to say, it’s a lot. There’s a lot going on here, and McIlroy is almost certainly in a no-win position when it comes to any of it. McGinley, for his part, didn’t seem to mind that McIlroy wasn’t coming, suggesting that he understood why he made the choice he made.
In any event, we’ll have to wait and see on whether McIlroy will commit to playing in the Irish Open in 2020, but it also feels like we may be at a tipping point with McIlroy and whether or not he’s going to keep being a member of the European Tour. That has been a story for the last few years, and it happened again back in September when McIlroy met with Keith Pelley to discuss the situation. They eventually landed on a setup that worked for both sides, but it always feels to me like this marriage is on a bit of shaky ground. I can assure you that Pelley certainly doesn’t like the idea that he seemingly has to negotiate with McIlroy on this every year, so it’s something that bears watching. Of course, there’s the whole ‘you must be a member of the European Tour to play on the Ryder Cup or captain it’ thing that looms over the situation, so that’s always something to think about as well.
Still, less than two weeks after that meeting with Pelley, McIlroy suggested that course setups need to be more difficult on the European Tour. Speaking to reporters after the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, McIlroy said the following:
“I’m sort of honestly sick of coming back over to the European Tour and shooting 15 under par and finishing 30th.”
Rory would later receive some heat for the comments, as he usually does when he is critical of anything related to the European Tour, and he clarified on Instagram in the aftermath.
Does the course setup critique have merit? I mean, maybe, but there are multiple events on the PGA Tour schedule as well that routinely have winning scores that go into the 20-25 under par range, so I don’t know that it’s necessarily the right idea. Suggesting that you get punished for bad shots on the PGA Tour is fairly laughable as well.
Regardless, I think we’re headed for a few different things to happen, maybe not in 2020, but sometime in the not so distant future. It’s going to go, I think, something like this:
- McIlroy decides to give up his card for good. Pelley tries to convince him otherwise, but can’t.
- European Tour changes their rules around the Ryder Cup because they can’t have players like McIlroy taking a pass at their most important event.
- The global tour discussion heats up, and probably doesn’t happen for a long time, but we can all dream, right?
One of the great things about golf in 2019 is that so much of it is recorded and preserved now that pretty much anything of significance, levity, or interest at the pro level is going to be seen. It’s cool, and something that is obviously only possible now with the advancement of technology, and the willingness to share these clips online. That final point is the important one though: there’s so much golf happening around the world, and it’s so hard to broadcast all of it live, that we need to spread the #content online, and that shouldn’t be a problem, except sometimes, people aren’t going to want it all to get out. Multiple instances of this happened in 2019.
We already talked about Sergio Garcia damaging those greens in Saudi Arabia, right? This was a large European Tour event, with a ton of big name players, Garcia included. Presumably, at least one of the incidents had to be caught on film given that the European Tour films everything, and that Garcia did the damage to FIVE separate greens. I don’t understand how the only ‘proof’ we have of any of the damage is the photo from Martin Dempster below.
Even the bunker being destroyed by Garcia had to be captured by someone on the ground! With how quickly Keith Pelley, seemingly, wanted to sweep this one under the rug as well as the entire tournament in Saudi Arabia, I’m not surprised that we haven’t seen footage, but I’m sorry: I just don’t believe that there’s nothing on this one.
Arguably worse in my mind are when things get posted online, but get mysteriously taken down after the fact. Two examples of this from the past twelve months:
In March, Jon Rahm and his caddie had a back and forth during the final round of the Players Championship. Rahm found the bunker on the par-5 11th hole, and caddie Adam Hayes tried to get him to lay up given all of the factors swirling around at the time. Rahm didn’t have a great lie in the bunker, wind was swirling, and there was nothing but trouble short of the green, not to mention that Rahm was leading the championship at the time. Rahm disagreed, and went at the green anyway, putting it in the water and would eventually finish five shots back of Rory McIlroy’s winning score.
The head shake by Hayes as Rahm goes into the bunker is TREMENDOUS. In that moment, you can tell that Hayes knows this shot is about to cost him and Rahm a ton of money, and maybe even the championship, but he can’t say anything! Rahm has made up his mind, and nothing is going to stop him at this stage. It was a small, but fun bit of television that you couldn’t take your eyes off of as it was playing out.
A couple of months later, Matt Kuchar was playing in the opening round of the Memorial in soggy conditions. Kuchar was on the 17th, and after getting to his ball, he noticed that it landed in a pitch mark. Tough break, right? Well, Kuchar decided to call in a rules official for an incredibly drawn out conversation that lasts over seven minutes.
We’ll get into more of Kuchar’s rules violations, and other shenanigans later in this list, but much like Rahm, this was good TV, especially because Kuchar is so clearly in the wrong that by the time the second rules official comes over, he’s not having any of it.
So, how else do these two things relate? Well, the PGA Tour posted both of these conversations online, leaving them up for several hours until they were taken down. Why were they taken down? Who knows, but for golf fans, these are the kinds of things that people want to see, even if it ends up making certain people look bad. We shouldn’t have to rely on amateur video recordings of someone’s television like the YouTube videos above to find out about this sort of thing, and in reality, it’s highly possible that these videos will eventually be scrubbed from the internet as well.
The NBA does a great job of marketing its game and players online, and one of the ways they do that is by posting everything, and letting other people post anything they want without fear of them getting a takedown notice. Ultimately, this is where the golf world needs to go, but when they’re taking down their own footage, it makes it hard to see a world where that’ll be a thing in the near future.
Post your content! It’ll be fine, I promise.
Bryson DeChambeau had a pretty good year in 2019: One win (Omega Dubai Desert Classic), seven other top-10 finishes, and his first ever automatic berth representing his country at the Presidents Cup. It wasn’t as good as his 2018, but expecting him to top a four win year would have been unfair. However, none of that is why we’re here talking about Bryson because, man, he did and said a lot of shit that we just have to talk about.
- Let’s start with the Saudi International, where Bryson went and played after winning in Dubai. Bryson joined the many players falling in line after receiving an appearance fee by extolling the virtues of the European Tour, and Saudi Arabia in the video below. As I’ve said several times already on this list, more to come on that tournament later on.
- Bryson would then move on to destroying property. In back to back weeks, Bryson angrily swiped at a bunker at Riviera, and then damaged a practice green in Mexico.
- On the actual golf course, he was laid into for slow play repeatedly, taken to task by Andy at the Fried Egg with data, but also by players on the tour, including Brooks Koepka. Bryson responded, as all intelligent higher thinking individuals like himself do, saying ‘screw all y’all haters’.
- He was still trying to be very sciency, starting with him taking forever to hit a damn wedge into the green in Dubai, calculating everything imaginable and somehow not earning a slow play penalty. He kept talking about the terminal velocity being the reason for keeping the pin in on putts, though many people still believe that it actually doesn’t help at all, and he went on and on about living on the third standard deviation.
On top of all that, as the season ended, Bryson made it clear to everyone what his goals were for the next few months: bulk. Bryson wanted to get big before 2020, and when he showed up at the Presidents Cup in December, he was definitely…bigger.
Just another year in the life of Bryson DeChambeau.
Over the last few years, the LPGA Tour has made some impressive strides in growing their business. Tournaments have been saved, and prize funds have been raised, leading to LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan being very highly regarded by everyone in golf circles. His recent contract extension, done fairly quietly, is proof that those in power think he’s the right person for the job.
The biggest move they’ve made though was done in November, as they announced a merger of sorts with the LET, the Ladies European Tour. The LET, much like the LPGA years ago, is not in the best shape financially. They can’t afford to compete with the LPGA in terms of purses, and their schedule has dwindled in recent years. It isn’t a straight merging of the two tours, but more of a partnership, with the LPGA floating the LET money, and essentially, treating the LET as the gateway to the LPGA.
“At its foundation, this joint venture is about creating opportunities for our members to pursue their passion, and their careers as professional athletes. In just the 60 days since we began working on this joint venture, we have already seen a dramatic impact on our LET Tour schedule – an impact that will be a positive result for virtually all of our LET members.”
The idea, from what I can tell, is that the LET is essentially going to be a feeder tour for the LPGA much like the Korn Ferry Tour is right now on the men’s side for the PGA Tour. This, of course, begs the most obvious question: how closely is Jay Monahan monitoring this situation? If this works out well for both the LPGA and LET, would Monahan try to pitch something similar to Keith Pelley and the European Tour? Granted, it isn’t an apples to apples comparison of the European Tour and the LET, but I also don’t think it’s as far off as many in charge of the European Tour would like you to believe, either.
At the end of it all, this is something that deserves your attention because we could be looking at the first blueprints of what a global golf tour could look like, even if we’re still probably far, far away from that becoming a reality.
Looking back on the last twelve months, there’s probably an argument to be made that no one was more consistent than Jon Rahm. In 25 worldwide starts, Rahm won three times, and finished outside of the top-10 in just eight starts, and one of those came at the Players, where we just talked about how he had the lead on the 11th tee on Sunday.
So, does it feel like you may have missed that Rahm was that good? Well, if it does, that could be because he did most of his damage in the second half of the season, and largely in Europe. After back-to-back missed cuts at the PGA Championship and the Charles Schwab Challenge, Rahm finished T3 at the U.S. Open, and was the runner-up to Christiaan Bezuidenhout at the Andalucia Masters before winning his first tournament of the year at the Irish Open:
Rahm piled up the good finishes on both major tours before winning in back-to-back starts on the European Tour, taking his national open in Spain and the DP World Tour Championship. Rahm would finish the year by falling one shot short of Henrik Stenson at the Hero World Challenge.
Rahm now has nine wins as a pro in just ninety starts to go along with a boatload of other good finishes. Some will probably knock him down a touch for having several of those come in Europe, with his only full field wins on the PGA Tour coming at the 2017 Farmers and 2018 CareerBuilder, but in my mind, there’s really nothing left for him to prove aside from the big one: winning a major championship. His game travels well enough to be a contender anywhere, assuming he can keep his cool, anyway.
It’s so hard to say when someone is going to win one of those since there’s only four each year, but it really feels like it’s only a matter of time before he has one of them, and it could really be any of the four.
Over the last few years, there’s been a subtle nod to the idea that the PGA Tour would love nothing more than if the Players was a major championship. There’s always been the “well, if there was a fifth major…” talk that surrounds the tournament each year, and on the NBC broadcasts of the event, it’s given a level of prestige that would make the casual fan believe that it was a major championship.
On one hand, I get it. The tournament is played on a difficult course, and attracts a field that rivals, if not surpasses the ones that the major championships have. On the other hand, it’s not a major championship, so, you know, stop trying to make it a thing. You know how everyone knows someone who at one point tried to give themselves a nickname? That’s the PGA Tour with the Players.
This year though, the ambush marketing campaign was stepped up to a whole different level. It started when the “Season of Championships” promos started to appear on broadcasts, usually in the form of a board listing the important dates on the calendar. With the reorganized schedule, this meant the board included the Players in March, Masters in April, PGA Championship in May, U.S. Open in June, Open Championship in July, and the FedEx Cup Playoffs in August. Maybe it’s harmless, but it’s also a very thinly veiled tactic, attempting to convince you that the Players, and the FedEx Cup Playoffs, mean as much as the other four, when that is frankly, not true.
The ‘Gold Standard’ line shown above also became a thing, clearly trying to place it in some kind of line alongside the major championships, and see, a lot of this stuff is just surface level, right? But it started to seep deeper and deeper into the coverage as well. PGA Tour Live cut away from coverage of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill to show players arriving at the Players. To show them arriving! While in the middle of a tournament! That people are paying to watch! Charley Hoffman and Patton Kizzire sent out photos and videos on social media declaring the Players a major championship, and the broadcast was full of talk about the importance of this event, now with the schedule change, of kicking off a super important stretch of golf. It was…over the top.
The most overt one though? The World Golf Hall of Fame, at some point in 2019, started declaring the Players Championship a major! How did they do that? Well, if you look at the bios of individual players enshrined in the Hall of Fame, you’ll see that the Players Championship isn’t listed under the PGA Tour wins section anymore: it’s listed under ‘Professional Majors’. So, congrats to five-time major winner Fred Couples, who won two Players Championship titles, alongside two senior championships and the 1992 Masters. Jack now has an extra three majors, and I assume this means Tiger has an additional two, though we’ll have to wait until he’s inducted to find out. Also, congratulations to newly crowned major champions Fred Funk, Stephen Ames, Tim Clark, Matt Kuchar, and Rickie Fowler! You guys reached the summit!
Look, maybe one day, we’ll all decide that the Players Championship is a major, but if we do, there are repercussions, and what about those other tournaments from previous years that were once considered to be on par with major championships, like the Canadian Open and the Western Open? Do those now also get some kind of consideration? This is a very slippery slope, and for a game that cares about tradition as much as it claims, this kind of rewriting of history shouldn’t happen.
Ask yourself this: when Sergio Garcia won the Masters in 2017, why was he so relieved? It was because he finally won a major championship. It was the thing he had been chasing for twenty years, and he finally got it done. He was happy when he won the 2008 Players without question, but it didn’t mean the same as what he did nine years later. There’s a difference between the two, even if a lot of people would prefer if you believed otherwise.
Towards the end of the year, some major changes were announced at CBS to go along with the news that the network, along with NBC, had renewed their pact with the PGA Tour through 2030.
Gary McCord and Peter Kostis are now out at CBS, replaced by Davis Love III and Trevor Immelman, while Frank Nobilo is also making the transition from part-time to full-time CBS analyst, leaving the Golf Channel after fifteen years. Michelle Wie is also joining the team, though her role from what I can tell, is yet to be fully announced. Unsaid in the above linked release is that Lance Barrow is stepping down as well after the 2020 season, with Sellers Shy set to take over as the new producer for CBS Golf.
That’s a lot of change in one year, especially for a team that has remained fairly steady over the years, David Feherty’s departure aside. So, let’s take a look at the departures first.
McCord started with the network in 1986. He was famously banned from Augusta National for his ‘bikini wax’ line in 1995, and his brand of humour was often, at least in my view, a break from the rest of the monotony on the CBS broadcast. Having said that, since Feherty’s departure to NBC a few years ago, it has always felt to me like McCord’s place on the broadcast was a weird one: kind of shoved into a corner, with no one really interacting much with him. At least when Feherty was there, he had someone to bounce the crazy off of, and he would get a response. McCord, understandably, was not a fan of the decision and lobbed a grenade back at CBS for the way they handled the whole thing, alleging that just two years prior, they had told him he could go out on his own terms because of his tenure.
Kostis joined the CBS crew in 1992, and unlike McCord, tended to take things a little more seriously on the broadcast. Kostis is renowned for his teaching ability, working with players like Paul Casey on their swings, and while his role as an on-course reporter was fairly standard with what you see from others, it was his attention to detail on breaking down swings that made him a special commentator. It was different when he first started, and to this day, it remains something that you can absolutely learn from sitting on your couch at home. Kostis was always value added to the broadcast, in my view. For his part, Kostis was apparently told that the reason for his departure was that the telecast had ‘gotten stale’.
The point that the broadcast had gotten stale is absolutely true. It is nowhere near the quality of the NBC or FOX broadcasts that we see, but as Kostis noted in that link above, I have a hard time believing that it had much to do with the specific broadcasters. The issues with the CBS broadcast are the same that we’ve talked about before: too many commercials, a glutton of sponsored segments, the coverage gap, and just a general lack of golf shots shown compared to the other networks. Even when they try to innovate, they seem to draw the ire of golf fans:
I have nothing against the people they’ve brought in. Love is fine, and Nobilo has proven that he is an excellent broadcaster. I always enjoy listening to Wie as well, but it’s hard to know where that’s going to land until we see how CBS plans on using her. The larger issue is that I always feel like the CBS crew isn’t set up for success, which is why it’s so interesting that Barrow is stepping down at the end of the year. He’s the heartbeat of the broadcast, and everything is run through him. As a result, I really don’t think you’re going to see much change in 2020, but it’s possible that something does change in 2021 when Shy takes over.
This is a big story for a number of reasons: longtime faces have been removed, they’re not happy about it, and because of that, the way that people consume the broadcast is going to change. I’m curious to see how these changes play out, though I feel like this is going to be an even bigger deal in 2021 than it will be in 2020.
If 2018 was the year that Brooks Koepka started to let people in on his personality, 2019 was the year that he started to take people on headfirst. Over the years, we’ve gotten used to players coming out swinging when they see things they don’t like, but usually, it doesn’t come from the absolute best in the world. Koepka though, clearly sees things differently, and is more than willing to engage in a way that we don’t often see at the top of the sport.
He took on the entire PGA Tour, suggesting that half of them in the field at the PGA Championship had no chance to win, and he picked a nonsensical fight with FOX over an alleged snubbing of him in promotional materials in the lead up to the U.S. Open. He also suggested that the idea of any kind of rivalry with Rory McIlroy wasn’t a real thing because ‘he hasn’t won a major since I’ve been on the PGA Tour’. McIlroy took it all in stride, and actually kind of agreed with him, but these are the kinds of things that strike anyone in golf as being different. We’re used to seeing this in other sports, but golf has never functioned like this. We’ve never really seen someone, at the top of the mountain like Koepka, come out swinging at the rest of the game. As long as he’s able to back it up, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t, it’s fun, and refreshing, honestly.
But, in 2019, his main adversary seemed to be Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, who has seemingly made a point to doubt Koepka at every turn, or so it seems from Koepka’s standpoint. We already talked about Chamblee’s comments on what he deemed Koepka’s ‘reckless’ weight loss, but it was far from over between the two. Over the years, many players have had a back and forth with Chamblee, but no one has seemed to do it with as much vigour as Koepka.
For some reason, Chamblee went in on Koepka’s toughness after the first round of the Masters, questioning whether he was tough enough to win the event that he held the lead in after the first day of play. Chamblee then, very intentionally it would seem, left Koepka off of a list of players who could challenge Tiger in the aftermath of his Masters victory, suggesting that it was really only about Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. Koepka’s response wasn’t difficult to interpret.
Lastly, in August, Chamblee mentioned Koepka again. This time, he was criticizing where he was standing when McIlroy was attempting to hit a shot. Koepka, naturally, saw it and responded to Chamblee on Twitter.
Brooks Koepka is great for the game for any number of reasons, but the one thing that stands out is something that golf fans are simply not used to: he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about what you or I think of him, he doesn’t care about offending other players by speaking his mind, and he certainly doesn’t care what Brandel Chamblee thinks, either. Now, is he inventing some of these slights as some kind of fuel to go forward? Probably, at least in the case of the FOX issue noted above, but this game is hard, and if you want to have the kind of success that Koepka has had, and wants to continue to have, you need to do whatever works.
For him, this works, and for us, we get to sit back and watch one hell of a show. Enjoy it, everyone.
It’s always been a popular refrain that Tiger Woods never really gave anyone much in interviews, and that he was boring when speaking to the press. I don’t necessarily disagree with that thought, but I also think that a lot of that has to do with what we were asking Tiger to comment on in the first place. Tiger’s at his very best, with a microphone in front of him, when he gets to geek out on golf. Ask him questions about classic courses like Royal Melbourne, or the specifics of a shaft, or the lies that you get in the rough, and you’ll likely end up getting something out of him that dispels the notion that he doesn’t have a whole lot to say.
Rory McIlroy, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. McIlroy has always been one of, if not the best, interview in the game. He gives long, thoughtful answers to questions, even if they seem mundane, and it feels like you get a window into his soul with nearly every response. It’s pretty impressive, and something that I’ve always said is more admirable than his actual golf game, which is obviously pretty damn admirable to begin with.
What sucks for us, both as people who cover the game and the fans who enjoy watching and listening, is that both players signed exclusive deals with companies to do just that. Tiger announced his deal at the end of 2018, signing on with Discovery’s GolfTV, an extension of the PGA Tour’s business where he would do exclusive interviews, practice tips, and all manner of things that give fans access to that geekiness that people love about Tiger. For McIlroy, he signed on with Golf Channel to launch GolfPass, a similar setup to the one Tiger has with GolfTV, along with exclusive members perks for instruction, travel and the like.
Both ventures offer some form of free content, but for the most part, you’ll have to subscribe and pay if you want access to two of the top names and minds in the game. Now, I’m not against paying for content, and would encourage all of you to do so for the places that you wish to support, whether it’s No Laying Up, The Athletic, or any other outlet that needs funding to do what they do so well. But in these cases, I worry about what this means for them giving interviews and stories to outlets that aren’t so…managed.
The best interviews that McIlroy has given are to people like Paul Kimmage, or his series of podcast spots with NLU, and while Tiger hasn’t really done much in that regard, the chances of getting something that isn’t highly manicured in the public space feels very unlikely. For what it’s worth, I get it from their perspectives: they’ll still do post-round scrums, but if everything else is under one umbrella, it makes their lives so much easier. Unfortunately, it doesn’t result in the kind of output that we’d like to see, which I just think ends up making them feel less authentic than they’d be otherwise.
It’s a sign of the times, I guess, but I’d much prefer it if I got to hear Soly interview McIlroy than Carson Daly.
Rumour has it that 2019 was a pretty good year for Tiger Woods. He’s going to finish the year firmly inside the top-10 in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time since 2013, largely on the backs of two wins, and a few other solid finishes. We’ll get to the larger win later in this list, but back in November, Tiger made history at the Zozo Championship.
Tiger won by three shots over local favourite Hideki Matsuyama, capturing his 82nd PGA Tour title, tying him with Sam Snead for the most wins of all-time. Rounds of 64-64-66-67 make it seem like he strolled pretty easily to victory, but the win didn’t come easy. Tiger actually started the tournament with bogeys on his first three holes before righting the ship.
Even after watching Tiger win the Tour Championship in 2018, these victories feel like a gift and something that we need to cherish. Earlier in this list, I talked about all of the injuries that Tiger fought through just in 2019, and how they serve as a reminder that it’s highly possible that all of this come crashing down at some point. I really do believe that, and while it seems inevitable that he passes Snead at some point in 2020, we should never forget where he came back from to get to this point.
Of course, there’s an argument to be made that Tiger should already have credit for passing Snead, but let’s not get too much into that. Just do yourself a favour, and watch the nearly 50 minute video posted above. More on Tiger shortly.
If you’re reading this top 100, I feel fairly confident in suggesting that you probably think the golf ball goes too far these days. Whether that’s because of the ball, the clubs, the players being stronger than ever, or some combination of all three, the idea that the ball travels at the distances that it does now is a problem. It’s also not a new problem, but something that brought this whole thing back into focus earlier this year was the amount of players who had drivers that were failing tests, meaning that they were non-conforming.
It all started back in July, when Xander Schauffele’s Callaway Epic Flash failed the COR test, apparently by a small margin. This happened on the Tuesday before the tournament started, so Schauffele wasn’t in any trouble, and he was able to get a new replacement in the bag that conformed to the rules before the tournament started on Thursday. For his part though, Schauffele wasn’t happy with how the situation was handled. After word got out that Schauffele failed a test, he went on the offensive, suggesting that other drivers failed as well, and that since this came out, people were calling him a cheater.
“Other drivers failed. I’ll just say it, I’m pretty sure a PXG driver failed and a TaylorMade driver failed and the Callaway driver failed.”
“This matter should be private. But [the] R&A didn’t do their job in keeping it private,” Schauffele said. “It is an unsettling topic. I’ve been called a cheater by my fellow opponents. It’s all joking, but when someone yells ‘cheater’ in front of 200 people, to me it’s not going to go down very well.”
The R&A gave a standard non-response to the criticism, and it pretty much went away after that, but in September, the PGA Tour also instituted a new policy on driver testing, randomly testing players on practice days to ensure that they are conforming. The result? At the Safeway Open, five players are believed to have failed the driver test, according to Reuters. Corey Conners, Robert Streb, Jason Dufner, Michael Thompson and Mark Hubbard are the players who are alleged to have failed the test.
So, what does this mean? Truthfully, I don’t really know. The testing is going to continue throughout the year, and it’s good to know that the PGA Tour is taking it seriously enough to get the illegally hot drivers out of play, but the problem lies more with the legal hot drivers, which is an issue that the PGA Tour can’t really do anything about until the USGA and R&A do something about it first. Until that happens, we’ll hear stories like the ones above that are interesting, but ultimately, don’t mean a ton for the game at large.
Phil Mickelson is still one of the game’s best players, but two notable streaks ended for him in 2019.
First, back in November, Mickelson fell out of the top-50 in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time since November of 1993, a remarkable run of 1,353 straight weeks. According to Will Gray at Golf Channel, that run is the longest of all-time, roughly seven years longer than Ernie Els. That kind of consistency is absolutely mind bending, especially for someone who I think we can all agree, doesn’t have the reputation for being the most consistent player, but it just goes to show how good he’s been, and how healthy he’s been able to keep himself, that he hasn’t had a single week where he’s slipped.
Secondly, after he fell out of the top-50 and didn’t qualify on points, the inevitable happened when Tiger Woods didn’t select him as a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup. Mickelson had played in twenty-four consecutive team events for the United States, in either the Ryder or Presidents Cup, teaming with everyone from Tom Lehman and Corey Pavin to Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau. Much like the top-50 streak, I have a really hard time believing that anyone else will ever get to twenty-four appearances, let alone having them be consecutive. For comparison sake, and I know that there were injuries involved here, Tiger has only appeared in 17 team events for the Americans in his career, so I feel like we’re in pretty safe territory here for Mickelson.
What’s interesting about all of this is where it places Mickelson in the game going forward. This June, Mickelson will turn 50 making him eligible for the Champions Tour, something which I’m guessing he has little interest in joining, though I’m sure the PGA Tour would love for him to tee it up a few times to get some people through the gates.
Mickelson also said earlier this year that he doesn’t feel like he’s ever going to win a U.S. Open, the one thing that is missing from his lengthy list of accomplishments. As obvious as that may have been to the rest of us before he said it, it’s still a stunning admission from a man who has always been supremely confident that it was going to happen at some point. Do you know what will make it harder for him to win one? The fact that as of this writing, he is not currently qualified for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot next year.
All of his prior exemptions are now expired, and since his one win last year came prior to the U.S. Open, that doesn’t count as a new exemption. He could still quite easily get into the tournament by playing well early in the new season, either by winning a full-point allocation event on the PGA Tour, or by playing consistently well enough to get back into better standing in the OWGR, but as of now, he may not even be teeing it up at Winged Foot, let alone having a great chance to win the whole thing
But, surely, the USGA could give him an exemption to the event, right? They’ve done that before, and for players that are far less accomplished than Mickelson. Well, sure! They could absolutely do that, but the USGA very rarely gives out exemptions to players who haven’t won the tournament in the past, especially not recently. Plus, you know, there’s the whole thing about how Mickelson has destroyed them at almost every opportunity in the past 20 years, so I can’t imagine that there are too many people at USGA headquarters who are looking to give him a freebie. Would Phil Mickelson attend a local or sectional qualifier to play in the U.S. Open? It’s a fascinating question that we may soon have an answer to unless he can get in some other way.
These things had to come to an end for Mickelson at some point, but the good news is that I don’t think he’s done, at least not yet. Assuming that he picks his spots well, I think he can still absolutely be a contending force on the PGA Tour for the next little bit, but it feels like his days of being a consistent threat are likely done.
You’ll be forgiven if you didn’t know who Hannah Green was coming into 2019. The Australian had made her LPGA Tour debut at the end of 2018, finishing in solo third at the Australian Open, but in truth, didn’t do much else of note coming into 2019. In fact, when she missed the cut at the Vic Open back in February, she was ranked 144th in the world, and though she had some decent finishes after that, Green was only ranked 114th coming into the week at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Hazeltine.
After an opening round 68, Green sat alone atop the leaderboard. She backed it up with a 69 and a 70, leading after each of the first three rounds, and after some struggles in the middle of her final round, Green picked it back up to post a final round 72, going wire to wire to win her first major championship, and her first LPGA Tour event.
After it was all done, Green talked about how great it was to have a no-pressure environment around her, thanks to her living arrangements that week with Karrie Webb and other Australian players. Even she, it seemed, couldn’t believe that she had just climbed the mountain to become only the third ever major champion from Australia, joining Webb and Jan Stephenson.
Later in the year, Green would go on to win the Cambia Portland Classic for her second LPGA Tour victory. I always love these stories because much like I talked about earlier with Adam Long and Nate Lashley, these are the truly life changing ones. No matter what happens from here on out, Hannah Green is a major champion, and that’s pretty cool.
It’s a (no pun intended) rule that every year in this list, I have to talk about the Rules of Golf. Why? Mostly because they are ridiculous and over the top, and when you combine that with (typically) pampered tour pros who complain about everything, they end up creating this #content explosion cycle. Let’s run them down!
- In January, Haotong Li got hit with a penalty under the latest revision to the Rules of Golf because it was deemed that his caddie was still behind him as he went to hit hit putt on the 18th green at the European Tour’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic. This interpretation of the rule moved Li from a tie for 3rd to a tie for 12th, costing him roughly $100,000.
- The following week, Denny McCarthy was hit with the same penalty at the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open. In this case, many players sounded off on the ridiculousness of the situation, including Justin Thomas, causing the PGA Tour to actually rescind the penalty.
- Rickie Fowler found himself in violation of one of the new rules, when he had the sheer and utter audacity to drop a ball from shoulder height in Mexico and not from the knee. That caused him to have another penalty added to his score, and he decided to have some fun the next time that he was in that position, the following week:
- Similar to McCarthy, Adam Schenk was penalized for having his caddie behind him at the Honda Classic, which again, led to Thomas stepping in on behalf of his fellow players and a bizarre back and forth with the USGA.
- Padraig Harrington and Thomas Bjorn came to the defense of the rules makers, while those very same rules makers seemed to disagree on how well it was all going.
- Meanwhile, Harold Varner III got a penalty for assembling a driver on the course, Adam Scott called the new rules a ‘laughingstock’, and Darren Clarke fought a bird feeder.
And that’s not all! We’ll get to the bigger rules stories of the year later in this list, but my god, that’s a lot of nonsense, isn’t it? Look, the rules aren’t going away anytime soon, and neither is the disdain that a lot of the players have for the people who are running the game, but all of it makes everyone look rather silly, and where it all stems from is that the rules are too broad, they always contradict each other, and clearly, not enough people understand them.
Lee Trevino always said that the Rules of Golf should be able to fix on a matchbox, and while that seems like a bit of a stretch, the point still stands: there’s too many of them, and the attempt to simplify them in 2019 actually made things more complicated. Take the Fowler example. Why should he have been penalized because he dropped from shoulder height and not knee height? Why does that matter? Could you explain that rule to a fan who didn’t know about golf and actually have it make sense? I’m guessing you couldn’t.
I don’t know what the solution is here, but what’s obvious to me is that this is working for precisely no one: the players, the fans, the media, and the people in charge who are setting the rules in the first place.