2019 Year In Review: 80-61
Back in March, Kevin Kisner won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, defeating Haotong Li, Louis Oosthuizen, Francesco Molinari and Matt Kuchar in the knockout round for his third career PGA Tour win. Early on Saturday morning though, golf fans were treated to something that even just a year prior, would have been thought of as an impossibility: Tiger vs. Rory in a head to head match. Sure, it wasn’t the Ryder Cup, or a final pairing on Masters Sunday, but it was something.
Rory’s been a fixture in this event for years, obviously, but this was the first time that Tiger had teed it up since 2013, a year where both men were knocked out in the first round of the old format. Tiger would go on to win the match 2 and 1, before losing in the quarterfinals to the Jack Fleck-Mike Eruzione-Joe Namath-Jackie Robinson level performance by Lucas Bjerregaard (please, please see the 9:45 mark here of the Shotgun Start for context), but nothing was bigger at the Match Play than seeing these two go head to head for the first time in a real tournament.
For years, all we ever talked about was wanting to see Tiger take on the top players again, even if it was just a couple of times per year, and we actually got to see it happen a bunch in 2019. It was one of those rare moments where in a non-major week, everyone in the golf world was focused on one thing, and it was pretty cool.
Bernd Wiesberger did two pretty incredible things in 2019. Yes, he pulled off the Fleckian Miracle in Austin which we already talked about, but he also managed to win three times on the European Tour without there really being much chatter about it. Granted, part of that is that from my side of the pond, the majority of the focus is on the PGA Tour, and none were major championships, but he was one of only three players to win at least three times on either of the biggest tours in the world in 2019. The other two, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, certainly got far more attention than the 34-year old Austrian who had the best season of his career, by far, over the past twelve months.
Wiesberger wasn’t in great form when he showed up at the Made in Denmark in May. He had missed most of 2018 with a wrist injury, and hadn’t posted a top-10 anywhere in the world since the 2017 WGC-HSBC Champions. His final round 66 was good enough to clip Robert MacIntyre by one shot.
He would finish as the runner-up to Rahm at the Irish Open, and the following week, he outlasted Benjamin Hebert to win the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club on the third playoff hole.
His final win of the season came in October, as he took the Italian Open by one over Matthew Fitzaptrick.
It’s always cool to see a player battle back from an injury that took them out for so long, but to do it the way Wiesberger did, winning three times and firmly planting yourself back in the conversation amongst the best European players in the world, is even cooler.
(Shout out to the European Tour, by the way. Those extended highlight videos are excellent, and something that we need more of on the PGA Tour.)
One of the cool stories to come out of 2018 was everyone getting to know about Hosung Choi. What started as people falling in love with a wacky swing transitioned into people digging in on his background, and he became someone that’s really easy to root for and it’s easy to see why. In a game that has become increasingly cookie cutter in a variety of ways, Choi is unique and that makes him perfect in today’s constantly moving #content landscape.
Choi would go on to win the Casio World Open in Japan at the end of 2018, and was on the verge of cracking the top-200 in the world when the year ended. People, including myself, were calling for him to get invited to more events and because that’s how the internet works these days, it actually happened and it all started at Pebble Beach. Choi was given a sponsor’s exemption to play one of the world’s most iconic courses back in January, and before the year was out, Choi would play in Kenya on the European Tour, as well as getting two more cracks in America at the John Deere Classic and the Barracuda Championship. All four events would result in missed cuts for the 45-year old, but we got a great swing analysis video from Peter Kostis, pointing out that Choi’s swing is actually very technically sound.
So, what did the other players think of Choi? Much like Kostis, Jerry Kelly was impressed with Choi’s swing, as was Rory McIlroy, though Rory wasn’t as sure that Choi should be getting starts on the PGA Tour:
In all honesty, Rory is probably correct that he shouldn’t be getting starts over more ‘deserving’ players, but there are many others where I’d draw the line first before getting to Choi, but that clip is also why we all love when Rory speaks: it’s an unvarnished, real take that I don’t think we get out of anyone else about a player that became an internet sensation and media darling.
I don’t know that we’ll see much more of Choi over here, but even if we don’t, he seems to be settling in just fine back home. He picked up another win at the end of this year, taking the HEIWA PGM Championship, which should cement his status inside the top-200 in the world.
Rickie Fowler’s win back in February at the Waste Management Phoenix Open was his first full field event win in nearly two years, dating back to the 2017 Honda Classic. 2018 was full of what a lot of people would describe as your typical ‘Fowler’ season, with a bunch of good finishes and a few close calls, but ultimately, not getting the job done. In Phoenix, it was a real struggle for Fowler to close the door. He opened super hot, with rounds of 64-65-64, and carried a four shot lead over Matt Kuchar going into Sunday, but it was about to get a whole lot tougher.
The conditions were significantly worse on the final day, with a lot of rain and wind coming into the Phoenix area, and it seemed like Fowler was affected more than anyone. He was erratic early, somehow saving par from the cart path on the par-5 3rd, but would follow that with a double bogey on the par-4 6th after being stymied behind a shrub:
No one else was playing well either though, and after a birdie on the 10th hole, Fowler’s lead was actually up to five shots. It was at that point though that all hell broke loose for Fowler on the 11th, and he got one of the worst breaks that I have ever seen on the course.
Admittedly, he put himself in position to receive that break, but still, it’s easy to feel for a guy who is punished for a ball rolling into the water when he’s nowhere near it. Somehow, he would go on to make that putt for 7, and after another bogey on 12, it looked like we were seeing one of the all-time collapses on the PGA Tour. Lots of players were brought back into it, including Kuchar, Justin Thomas and Branden Grace, but Fowler was able to steady the ship and make two birdies coming in to take the tournament by two over Grace. Did it help that Grace did this at 17 when tied for the lead? Yes!
But yeah, Fowler ended up with the win despite the 3-over par 74, giving him five for his PGA Tour career and seven total when counting the European Tour. However, poor conditions and bad break or not on the 11th, Fowler didn’t exactly dispel anyone’s belief that he has an inability to close things out when it matters. This was Fowler’s eighth time holding a 54-hole lead on either major tour, and the only time that he hasn’t posted a round over par was at the 2016 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, and while it’s great that he has a larger ability than most to go low when coming from behind, it certainly feels like there’s something there when it comes to holding a lead.
So, where do we go from here with Fowler? It’s hard to know, honestly. He has tournament wins in four of his last five years and is clearly one of the best and most consistent players in the world, but it always feels like he leaves people wanting more, and we all know what that ‘more’ is. There’s probably no one else in the professional game that can benefit more from one win than Fowler, and it stands to reason that he will get that major championship at some point, even if it means he has to do it from the back of the pack.
Sarson’s Note: This is all prior to the Hero World Challenge and the Presidents Cup, which happened after this entry was written. More on Reed near the end of the list!
2018 was the year of Reed #content. There was the obvious stuff like winning the Masters and blasting the decision making of Jim Furyk at the Ryder Cup, but also other things like complaining to rules officials about not getting rulings that Jordan Spieth would get, or when he told a cameraman that he was jingling change loudly while Reed was standing over his ball. We got the full Patrick Reed experience in 2018, and while we didn’t get that to the same level in 2019, there’s still a lot to remember about his last twelve months.
On the course, Reed’s year was solid, finishing inside the top-10 in five starts and winning once, taking the Northern Trust to start the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Reed also continued his trend of playing an absolute ton, teeing it up in 32 events in 2019 across the PGA and European Tours. Tiger Woods, despite taking some of that Ryder Cup shrapnel from Reed, decided to take him on the Presidents Cup team when Reed didn’t automatically qualify.
All in all, a pretty successful season, but as we all know, that’s not where the story ends with Reed. If Tiger took some shrapnel from Reed for the Ryder Cup, Jordan Spieth was one of the guys on the front line taking the direct hit, which made it all the more interesting when the PGA Tour decided to pair the former partners in the first two rounds of the Farmers Insurance Open. Since neither player had really said anything since Reed’s comments, the buzz was palpable. How would they react to seeing each other on the first tee? Would they shake hands? Would they ignore each other? Would Spieth connect with an uppercut to the jaw?
None of that happened. Instead, they hugged it out.
A few days later, Reed was off to Saudi Arabia (much more on that later), and European Tour CEO Keith Pelley presented Reed with an honourary lifetime membership to the tour. Pelley suggested that Reed was getting the honour because of his great performance at the 2018 Masters, and also because of his commitment to the European Tour, which is interesting for a player that still plays the vast majority of his time in America. Reed became only the fourth American to receive the honour, joining Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tom Watson. Yeah.
Two other things of note: In March, Reed’s wife, Justine, called David Leadbetter in to look at his swing. They agreed that Reed’s swing had gotten too long, and they started working together. Reed also went to Club Champion in Detroit ahead of the Rocket Mortgage Classic to get his putter looked at because he wanted to make sure his specs were right. Apparently the specs were fine, but they found an issue in his setup, prompting a change, and it definitely looks like it made a difference. After his fitting, Reed went on a really solid run, finishing outside the top-30 just once in his last fifteen starts, and his putting definitely improved over after a dreadful run from March through June.
The Reeds do things differently than most, without question, but it’s hard to argue with the success that Patrick has had on the course, assuming it’s all on the level, anyway. 2019 wasn’t as weird as 2018, but he kept things interesting (DID HE EVER!), just as I’m sure he’ll do throughout 2020 as well.
Every year when I do this review, people ask me if I have enough content to actually get to 100 individual stories, and my answer to that is always that I do. The point of this review is to combine all kinds of stories, from the serious to the absurd, and every year, a ton of things happen in the game that fall somewhere on that timeline.
I had already built out my original list when I heard about the Brandon Matthews situation, but I knew that I had to put it on this list somewhere. I’m going to let Scott Van Pelt, Damon Hack, and Matthews himself explain what happened in Argentina.
It’s the kind of story that obviously puts a smile on your face, and a good reminder that for as much as we all love golf and sports in general, that there’s always stuff that matters more. It would have been very easy for Matthews to lose his cool in the moment, or at the very least, not really respond to the tournament director when he told him about the gentleman with Down Syndrome. Instead, Matthews took it upon himself to make the day better for a man who had already suffered so much just because he thought it was the right thing to do.
No, it’s not a tournament win, or a big scandal, or something else that may have larger historical importance on the future of the game, but it matters. On that day in November, Brandon Matthews made a fan for life with a simple gesture of support and understanding, and in the aftermath, made a larger name for himself by doing the right thing. It’s something that Matthews won’t ever forget, and we shouldn’t either.
In recent years, society has become more aware of the importance of mental health. As a result, sports teams and leagues have started to turn a corner on this front, and in 2019, the conversation was louder than ever in golf.
David Feherty, who has been very open over the years about the demons he continues to battle, opened up again to Bryant Gumbel on HBO about the relapse he faced after his son passed away due to an overdose.
A few months later, Chris Kirk announced that he was going to be taking a leave of absence from the PGA Tour to deal with his own alcohol abuse and depression.
In his statement, Kirk said that he didn’t know when he would be back, but six months later, Kirk made his return to the PGA Tour, finishing in a tie for 33rd at Mayakoba. Before he made that return, Helen Ross profiled his family, and his return to the game in a piece for PGATour.com that I highly recommend reading.
In July, Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston posted a blog on the European Tour site about his own struggles, and how he was dealing with his rapid rise to fame a few years ago. His story was a good reminder that no matter how something can look on the outside, it doesn’t mean that everything is great on the inside.
The stories of Feherty, Kirk, and Johnston are all sobering, but they are also all necessary. For a long time, this sort of thing would have been thought as taboo, and the men telling the stories would have been looked at as weak, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The lesson to take away from this is that we don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s head, and even if you think that someone has it all going for them, there’s a fair chance that they are dealing with something unpleasant.
As much as these stories are difficult to hear, I’m happy that they came out because they should also serve as proof that others can come forward if they feel they are struggling. If you are one of those people, please start the conversation with someone you trust. You don’t have to do it alone.
Over the years on the LPGA Tour, there’s always been a lot of talk about how long players were going to stay on tour, and a large reason why that’s been the case is the idea that many of the players would like to start families. Annika Sorenstam cited that, along with wanting to continue to grow her businesses, as a reason for stepping away at 37. Lorena Ochoa did it, too. Ochoa walked away at 28, with two majors and 27 LPGA Tour wins, partially because she wanted to start a family.
The LPGA Tour has always had a maternity policy in place, but over the last few years, players on tour were vocal about how it needed to change to be more forgiving. From Randall Mell:
“Under the current policy, a player has the option of taking maternity leave in the year in which they are pregnant and give birth, or to take it the year after the birth. By choosing to take maternity leave, a player restricts herself to a maximum of 10 starts in that year. The maternity leave policy, however, guarantees the player won’t lose her status when she returns the following year. Under the new policy about to be implemented, there will no longer be that 10-event limit for players on maternity leave. A player will be able to tee it up in as many events as she chooses while on maternity leave.”
So, why does this matter? It should allow the players the flexibility to avoid rushing back to the tour to keep their status in good working order. For players like Sorenstam and Ochoa, that likely wouldn’t have mattered given their other priorities, but for those who want to still make golf their main professional focus, having something that is more flexible is a big win for both the players and the tour. For a real world situation, look no further than Karine Icher, four-time European Solheim Cup member who had to go back to Q-School last month because the new policy written above was not applied retroactively. Icher spoke to John Strege from Golf Digest about the policy and her situation:
“In 2018, Icher already had played in 12 tournaments when she learned she was pregnant. The maternity policy in place at the time required players to have played in 10 or fewer events to take maternity leave to retain their playing status in the following year.
“I played pregnant for pretty much half the season,” she said. “I didn’t want to give up after 12 events. I talked to the LPGA and said that ‘you should change this. The maternity policy completely sucks.’”
The good news for Icher is that she managed to make it through Q-School, and is fully exempt for 2020, and with the new policy in place, it should be much easier for anyone on the LPGA Tour to be both a mother and a professional golfer.
One of the cool things about the U.S. Open each year is getting to see the amateurs who come through, be it from winning the U.S. Amateur or going through any form of qualifying. As Kevin Costner says in Tin Cup, the U.S. Open is “the most democratic golf tournament in the world” because anyone can go play it, assuming they can get through the stages.
One of the shitty things about the U.S. Open each year is hearing about someone who won’t be in the field because they’ve decided to turn pro, and actually make money. That’s because the USGA has always had a rule in place that if you earn an exemption as an amateur, that exemption goes away the minute you turn pro, which has always seemed crazy to me. You can’t blame the kids for doing that, and if I were in their shoes, I’d have a hard time waiting to make money just so I can play in the U.S. Open. In recent years, it’s been split down the middle in terms of who decides to stay as an amateur and who doesn’t.
For instance, Curtis Luck won the U.S. Amateur in 2016, and held on to his status long enough to play the 2017 Masters, but dropped it after that, forgoing his ability to play in the U.S. Open or Open Championship. Viktor Hovland won the Am in 2018, and stayed an amateur through the U.S. Open, winning Low Am honours in both the Masters and the U.S. Open, before turning pro before the Open Championship. The USGA has now changed this rule, basically saying that they don’t want to be the reason why someone does or does not make a living in golf:
“We believe this change gives our champions an important option as they choose whether and when to embark on their professional careers,” said John Bodenhamer, the USGA senior managing director of championships.
“Given the significant purses awarded at the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, we realize how important it is for players to make the most appropriate decision for his or her career, and the positive impact it could have at the outset of their professional careers.”
Hovland was actually a good example of this, as one of the big storylines from the second half of the PGA Tour this season was whether Hovland was going to be able to play well enough to earn his card, despite not being able to collect any money until turning pro after the U.S. Open. Hovland didn’t, falling just short, and while he ended up getting his card anyway through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, it really shouldn’t have been this hard.
Hovland made four starts on the PGA Tour that by any logical measure, should have counted towards his status, but since he remained an amateur, they did not count. Who knows if Hovland’s situation caused the USGA to rethink their stance, but regardless, good on them for making a much needed rule change. The amateur status used to be a much bigger thing in golf, but now that it very clearly isn’t, the USGA needed to act in the best interest of the players and the game at large. This is what this change does, and it allows everyone to get what they want: the players can get paid, they still get to use the exemption that they have rightly earned, and the fans get a chance to see the best players play in the biggest events.
(P.S. Viktor Hovland on the European Ryder Cup team in 2020 is absolutely a thing that’s going to happen, and I cannot wait to see it.)
Jason Day’s 2018 was a successful one. I don’t think that came as a surprise to anyone who has watched him play golf, but after splitting with Colin Swatton as his caddie at the end of 2017, not to mention Day’s propensity to find himself incapable of playing, it wouldn’t have been that shocking if he went back to back years without recording a victory. That didn’t happen though, as Day won twice in 2018, taking the Farmers Insurance Open and the Wells Fargo Championship.
2019 looked to be on track as well, as Day started out the year with good finishes at the TOC, Farmers, Pebble, and the Players. He finished T5 at the Masters as well, but clearly he felt that something was off, as ahead of the U.S. Open, Day brought in the notorious Steve Williams to be his caddie because as he explained it, he felt that he had underachieved to this point in his career.
Day talked about understanding that Williams is a ‘no-BS kind of guy’, which is likely one of the more polite things anyone has ever said about him, and that he was going to have to start working harder because otherwise, Williams was going to leave him. Well, six weeks tournaments later, the relationship was over. Officially, Day suggested that it was a mutual decision, telling Evin Priest that there was a “disconnect of old school and new school”. It’s hard to know what that really means, but when you look at the results, it’s easy to see why Day may not have been thrilled. With Williams on his bag, Day’s results were as follows:
- U.S. Open: T21
- Travelers: T8
- 3M Open: T66
- Open Championship: MC
- WGC-FedEx St. Jude: T40
- Northern Trust: MC
David Lutterus would take over for Williams for the last four events of 2019, but it didn’t look much better, with Day’s best finish being a T22 at the Zozo. Day would also pull out of the Presidents Cup as his back flared up again, which, I guess means that the balloon therapy isn’t working as intended.
Day is an incredibly gifted player, who should not have gone winless in two of the last three years, and as important as they are to the success of a player, I don’t think the caddie is the issue here. Day needs to get healthy, and that, I think, starts with changing his swing to not being so violent, something I’ve talked about at length before. If he feels as though he as underachieved despite having a large amount of success to date in his career, the only way he’s going to change that is by getting out on the course and hitting golf shots.
As one of Seve Ballesteros’ former caddies, Ian Wright knows a thing or two about being in the line of fire from the world’s best players, but back in July, Wright was put in the middle of an odd sequence of events by another top player: Lexi Thompson.
After the completion of the Evian Championship in France, Wright was driving a truck with the bags of nearly forty players, en route to the Women’s British Open. One of those bags belonged to Thompson, but there was a big problem: Thompson’s passport was in her bag, making it impossible for her to get to the Open from Geneva. Wright was 45 minutes away from Geneva, and was asked to pull over and wait while Thompson’s caddie could get there by taxi to retrieve the passport. So, sure, it’s weird, but why was this a big deal? Well, as Wright told Randall Mell, the truck was packed tightly, so it took a while to find Thompson’s bag in the first place, and after the passport was retrieved, everything had to be put back. Wright estimated that he was delayed three hours because of this, which then caused him to miss his scheduled ferry to England.
By the time Wright got to Woburn on Monday night, the course was closed for practice, so the forty players who were waiting for their clubs couldn’t actually get onto the course until Tuesday. The players, understandably, were not happy about the situation, and when Thompson was asked about it on Wednesday, she was apologetic about the whole thing:
“He didn’t tell us that he could possibly miss the ferry, or anything like that,” Thompson said. “I didn’t know the possibility of it being that much delayed, or I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I think if any other player was in the situation, and the reaction time that we had, and that he was close to my caddie, I think any player probably would have done it. Like I said, I’m sorry that this had happened, but that’s all I can say.”
In all of the years, I’ve been doing these reviews, this story might be the weirdest one, and if you want more information on it, Thompson’s caddie wrote about the whole situation at the Caddie Network. Thompson would go on to finish in a tie for 16th at the Open, eleven shots behind Hinako Shibuno.
Dustin Johnson won the WGC-Mexico Championship back in February, and we’ll get to his year later on in this list, but the highlight of the week had nothing to do with him. Coming into the week, Tiger was playing well with top-20 finishes at Torrey Pines and Riviera under his belt, and he would add a T10 to his ledger once this week was over. He was trending in the right direction, and in Friday’s second round, he hit what might have been the best shot of 2019. Let’s set the scene:
Tiger was 5-under par for the tournament on the 9th tee. The 376-yard par-4 is fairly straightforward, with a gentle dogleg right shape. Tiger laid up off the tee, but found himself in the bunker off the right side of the fairway, with his ball slightly buried and appearing to be stymied behind a tree.
After constant club switching, he settles on a 9-iron from 134 yards out, and he starts rehearsing a swing that makes him look more Zorro than golfer.
He stands over the ball, aims way left and makes tremendous contact along with a cricket like finish.
The ball heads toward the green, and lands on the left side, but it’s not done. It has so much spin on it that it darts way right, all the way across the green, just missing the pin.
Max Homa, as he usually does, summarized the whole thing pretty well:
Much like Phil after going off the pinestraw and through the trees at Augusta, Tiger would go on to miss the putt and settle for par, but it doesn’t change the fact that this kind of artistry is rarely seen on the PGA Tour. Along with his bunker shots at Hazeltine and Glen Abbey, this one at Chapultepec deserves to be in Tiger’s pantheon of great shots, and one that we’ll never forget.
As of this writing, Patrick Cantlay is the 6th ranked player in the world, which feels about right given what he’s accomplished in the last couple of seasons, but seemed absolutely impossible not that long ago.
Cantlay was always supposed to be a star. He was the number one amateur player in the world, holding the record for most consecutive weeks at the top with 54, and there was a ton of hype around him when he turned pro back in 2012. It all went away quickly though, as a serious back injury derailed him, causing him to only play in six events in 2014, and not playing at all in 2015 or 2016. His best friend and caddie was also killed in a hit and run incident in 2016, further setting Cantlay back, but when Cantlay came out on tour in 2017, he blew everyone away.
In fourteen starts on the PGA Tour, he didn’t miss a single cut, with his worst finish coming as a T48 in both the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Canadian Open. He would go on to win his first PGA Tour event later in the year, taking the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, propelling himself nearly 1400 spots in the world rankings from where he started the year. 2018 yielded a lot of good results, but over the past twelve months, Cantlay has been a consistent presence. Eleven finishes inside the top-15 in nineteen starts is impressive for anyone, but the biggest came at Muirfield Village, when Cantlay posted a final round 64 to win the Memorial by two over Adam Scott.
It was one of the best rounds of the year, with Cantlay coming in with a true strokes gained of 8.57. Cantlay’s win back in 2017 was monumental for him personally, and validation that he could compete at the highest levels, but winning at Memorial is a different level than the Shriners thanks to the consistently high quality field that show up to try and win Jack’s tournament.
I always think that there are three levels of victories on the PGA Tour: the first level is for tournaments like the Shriners, which are fine events, but don’t always attract a field that makes people really take note of the victories. The second level is for events like the Memorial, WGCs, and the Players where most of the big names are there, and the final level is the major championships. Cantlay now has wins on the first two levels, and he looks more than ready to win on the last one as well.
Regardless of what you think about Johnny Miller, the news from last year that he would be retiring in 2019 was a big deal. For the last 29 years, Miller has been in the NBC booth, firing off take after take on everything in golf, and in February, Miller signed off on the Saturday broadcast of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, giving way for Paul Azinger to take over in the booth beside Dan Hicks.
It made all the sense in the world for Miller to depart on Saturday, allowing the broadcast to be devoted to him without getting in the way of telling the story of who was going to win the whole thing, but man, it would have been perfect to have Miller in the booth on Sunday. As we already discussed, Rickie Fowler hung on to win that event, but he struggled mightily on Sunday in bad weather. Azinger was fine, and was the logical replacement for Miller, but having one final call with Miller getting on Fowler for not being able to close a tournament properly would have been a fitting exit. Alas, they made the switch on Saturday, producing a video of NBC personalities saying goodbye to Miller.
(Please watch the above video, if only to hear Carson Daly tell Miller they both won tournaments at Pebble, a low-key moment of the year contender.)
I’ve always enjoyed Azinger, but i have to be honest: I missed having Miller around after he left. I’ve gone back and forth on him over the years, but ultimately, we don’t have enough commentators in North America telling us what they actually think with no filter. You may not have always agreed with him, and I know I didn’t, but I think what’s definitely true is that we could use more commentators like Johnny Miller and not less.
Remember back in 2016 when Muirfield, home of one of the best golf courses in the world, decided to vote against having women be part of their club? Remember how the R&A basically told them that until they rectified that, they would no longer get another Open Championship? Well, they re-voted in 2017, and sure enough, they finally found some common sense by voting to allow women for the first time in club history.
Back in July, the first twelve women to be invited in the 275 year history of the club were finally able to join, and while the R&A hasn’t announced when Muirfield will host again, they have said that they are officially back as part of the ten course rota. Early bets would say 2023 or 2024 for Muirfield make the most sense.
I’m happy to see this get resolved, not because I wanted to see Muirfield host again because in truth, I would have been fine either way, but because this is the sort of thing that people can absolutely point to as a reason why golf will struggle to grow. Sure, private clubs can do what they wish, but as an important landmark in the game, you should be doing things the right way, and the fact that it took this long, with multiple votes, was insane. By the way, there is definitely still a whole lot of people at Muirfield who really want no part of women at their club, and I would have loved nothing more than to see the reactions from them when those women walked through the doors for the first time, realizing that their club had now been invaded by women who were likely better than them on the golf course. Scenes.
Regardless of what happens for the rest of their careers, Danny Willett and Jordan Spieth are going to be inextricably linked. Willett’s win at the 2016 Masters, rightly or wrongly, has been looked at far more for the fact that Spieth collapsed on the back nine than as a positive bit of play from Willett. Spieth had a chance to win back to back green jackets, and in the span of 42 minutes, gave it all away to Willett, leaving us with a scene that will be impossible for any of us to forget in the immediate aftermath of the tournament.
It’s been a rough go for Willett in the past few years though, with injuries taking a severe toll, compounded by the fact that as a Masters champion, Willett felt obligated to keep playing. Willett missed the cut in half of his twenty-six starts in 2018, falling in the world rankings to 462nd just two years after that Masters win, but he figured something out at the end of the year, winning the DP World Tour Championship.
This year, he still missed the cut in more events than he would have liked (8 of 26), but he triumphed again, winning the BMW PGA Championship. Yes, the BMW PGA has lost a little bit of lustre in recent years, but it’s still one of the European Tour’s flagship events, and brings out a field comparable to events like the Waste Management Phoenix Open on the PGA Tour. On top of that, it’s a little more special when it’s an Englishman winning at Wentworth.
After the final putt dropped, Willett was interviewed greenside, and was asked what was the biggest factor in him getting his game back, and his answer was pretty great:
“Just an undying want want to get back there. I was willing to change whatever had to be changed, and I think that’s hard to do. I think it’s hard to jump full throttle into something that you’re not sure is going to work out or not.”
An undying want. I love that, and it’s good to see Willett back in a place that allows him to have fun again on the golf course.
At 21 years old, we don’t talk enough about how good Joaquin Niemann is. Much like Patrick Cantlay, Niemann was the number one ranked amateur in the world before turning pro last year. He did what so few players do, earning both temporary member status, and then a full card for 2018-19 after just eight starts. By doing that, Niemann became only the third player to earn a tour card without having status at the start of a year, and without going to KFT Finals. So, yeah, he’s good, and he made that even clearer in November when he steamrolled the field at the Greenbrier to pick up his first PGA Tour win.
Rounds of 65-62-68-64 allowed Niemann to run away with a six shot win, and no doubt led Presidents Cup captain Ernie Els to select him for his International side. One of the cool things about Niemann is his ability to work the ball in a bunch of different directions, which you don’t see a ton of on the PGA Tour these days. From Els:
“I’m really, really impressed with his game and his ball flight,” Els, who has played once previously with Niemann, told me from South Africa. “The way he can move the ball. You need to flight it and be able to play in wind. As a kid he’s young, he’s got no brain damage on stuff that happened. So, he’s fresh and ready to go. He wants to win. I was impressed with the way he got his card. Not too many guys have done that. For an international player to do what he did on the U.S. tour really takes some doing at that age.”
Imagine getting that kind of praise from Ernie Els as a 21-year old.
His swing scares the hell out of me in that I’m sure that we’ll be seeing him make adjustments in the next few years because his back is bothering him, but for now, it’s intoxicating to watch him swing the club. Between him, Matt Wolff, Viktor Hovland and others, the future of the PGA Tour is looking very, very bright.
I’m sure you may have heard, but: 2019 was a pretty good year to be Tiger Woods. We’ll get to all of the reasons why later on in this list, but there were also some moments where that wasn’t the case, and all of them had to do with his body. Let’s run them down:
- In March, Tiger withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational before it started, citing neck pain as a result of his fusion surgery. He started to feel pain at the Genesis Open in February, and it got worse in Mexico, so he decided to take a pass on Bay Hill.
- In June, Tiger was spotted with KT Tape on the back of his neck at the U.S. Open, suggesting that the cold weather was making it harder on him. “My back impacts every shot I play, it’s just part of the deal,” he said. “Let me put it this way, I feel every shot I hit. I think that’s always going to be the case from here going forward.”
- In August, Tiger withdrew after the first round of the Northern Trust, with an oblique strain.
- Later in August, Tiger would undergo a fifth surgery on his left knee to repair minor cartilage damage.
- At the Presidents Cup in December, Tiger couldn’t go out and play on Saturday because according to Fred Couples, he “wasn’t physically right”.
Every player on tour is dealing with some form of injury, or tightness, or something that makes them uncomfortable, and there’s no way that we’d be talking about all of them in this same way, but obviously, things are a little sensitive when it comes to Tiger’s injury history. Clearly, none of these things bothered him too much given how well he played all year, but what they do a good job of illustrating is how we can’t take any of this current run for granted. There’s going to come a time, in the not too distant future, when he’s not around, and it’s likely going to be because of something similar to the list above.
Enjoy it while it lasts, everyone.
Every year when I do this review, there’s a story about how someone didn’t know the rules and it cost them in a big spot. This time around, it happened at arguably the most important event of the year for some: LPGA Q-Series. To set the scene, LPGA Q-Series is an eight round grind where a small number of players will earn their tour card for the following season, with this specific issue happening in the sixth round held at Pinehurst No. 9.
The group of Christina Kim, Dewi Weber, and Kendall Dye were playing the par-3 17th, with Kim having honours. Weber was next, and as she was over the ball, Dye got the attention of Weber’s caddie, asking what club she was hitting. Weber’s caddie confirmed for Dye that it was an 8-iron, though Weber apparently pulled the wrong club out of the bag, hitting a 9-iron instead. Dye proceeded to hit a 7-iron onto the green.
This is a violation of the rules, and a pretty obvious one, actually. I have never played golf at a high level, and I have always known that you can’t ask the other players and caddies in your group, essentially, for advice. That is a direct example of not protecting the rest of the field. Oftentimes, you’ll see a towel hanging over a player’s clubs, and one of the reasons is so the other players in the group can’t see what club is missing from the bag.
Kim, a veteran of the game, obviously knew the rule and told the players that they had committed the infraction once they completed their rounds. Both Dye and Weber were docked two shots, even though Weber had no idea it had happened, and neither player would end up earning their cards at the end of it all. That’s not where the story ends though, as Kim, for some reason, had to defend herself for everything from telling the players after the round to even just enforcing the rule in the first place!
So, here’s the thing: part of the reason Kim had to defend herself was because some people suggested that this happens all the time. One of those people was Dye, who took to Twitter and took responsibility for not knowing the rule, but said that was because she has seen it done ‘thousands of times’.
That’s a complete and utter mindblow to me, someone who has never played a competitive round of golf in my life, and someone who usually thinks the rules of golf go way too far. This one though is as simple as can be, and makes total sense. How does this happen all the time? If it does, that’s a larger problem that needs to be addressed. As soon as the field isn’t protected, tournaments essentially become meaningless.
Kim, for her part, ended up earning her card back when it was all said and done, and is likely still hearing from people about calling this out, which is absolutely insane.
Don’t be one of those people.
You know, it says a whole lot about the quality of a player when a season like the one Justin Thomas had in 2019 feels like a bit of a letdown, but that’s kinda where I’m at. Thomas was really, really good over the past twelve months, finishing outside of the top-20 in only six of his twenty-three starts, and only missing two cuts.
The year started well, with two third place finishes at the TOC and Phoenix, and a runner-up to J.B. Holmes at Riviera, where he entered the final round with the lead but fired a 75 on Sunday. He took some time off in the middle of the year to rest an ailing wrist, but the back half of the season was tremendous, with no finish worse than a tie for 17th after the middle of July. In that, Thomas won twice, taking the BMW Championship and the CJ Cup. That BMW Championship included a third round 61, his best round of the year by nearly a full stroke when looking at true strokes gained. Thomas was a ridiculous 9.6 strokes better than the field that day at Medinah, thanks to an incredibly dialed in approach game.
Thomas was incredible in 2019, finishing 4th in Strokes Gained: Total, despite posting a negative value on the greens, which goes to show you how good of a ball striking season he had. I think my thought that his season was a bit of a letdown comes from the idea that he wasn’t really a factor at the biggest events of the year, minus Riviera, but given the timing of his layoff, part of that definitely had to do with his wrist issues. However, it’s impossible to argue with the kind of consistent player that he’s become, which I don’t think many people would have pegged him as when he first came up.
It’s probably the most obvious thing to say, but he’s set to have a huge 2020 with the wrist issues behind him. If he can clean up some of those putting issues, and even become an average putter again like he was in 2017, we could be looking at another year where Thomas solidifies himself as the best player in the world.