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Top 10 golf newsmakers of 2018

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2018 has been a whirlwind of a year for golf. From famous victories to major controversy, there have been no shortage of gripping moments dished out throughout the past 12 months. With the final days of 2018 upon us, here is a look at 10 of the biggest newsmakers of the year.

10. Bubba Watson

Beginning the year ranked 89th in the world, it looked as if Bubba Watson’s best days were behind him. The quirky left-hander didn’t manage a top-five finish in 2017, which makes his 2018 even more impressive.

Watson won three times on the PGA Tour in 2018. His victories at Riviera and TPC River Highlands were impressive, but it is perhaps his dominant display at the WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay in an elite field that proved to himself and the rest of the golfing world that the 40-year-old is still a significant force in the game.

9. The Year The Drought Ended

It was a year which saw a multitude of players come out of the wilderness and re-enter the winner’s circle. Ian Poulter won for the first time in six years with a dramatic win at the Houston Open, Kevin Na buried his demons with a first win in seven years at the Greenbrier, and Webb Simpson, Charles Howell III and Matt Kuchar also claimed impressive victories after suffering long winless streaks.

There was also emotional wins on the European Tour for two men that badly needed a jumpstart to their career. Lee Westwood and Danny Willett both secured big wins in the latter half of the year which will no doubt leave both eager to get going again in 2019.

8. Francesco Molinari

At the beginning of the year, nobody would have thought Francesco Molinari would achieve what he did in 2018. Before this year, the Italian had never won on the PGA Tour and had won just once in the last five years in Europe. But Molinari showed a transformation that shocked the majority of golf fans.

Molinari began by winning the European Tour flagship event at Wentworth, before claiming his first ever title on the PGA Tour at the Quicken Loans National. But it was his performance at Carnoustie a few weeks later that cemented his legacy in the game of golf. The 36-year-old showed poise and ruthlessness when staring down Woods and others on the final day of the Open Championship to take the Claret Jug. The Italian then dominated at the Ryder Cup, going five for five and showing the world that Molinari 2.0 is a very different animal.

7. Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson’s 2018 was, to put it mildly, eventful. The 48-year-old began 2018 by rolling back the years and claiming victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship, but it wasn’t all plain sailing, with the American making the headlines for plenty of wrong reasons over the rest of the year.

Mickelson faced severe criticism for exploiting the rules at the U.S. Open by intentionally hitting a moving ball, as well as claiming that it’s a waste of his time playing courses like Le Golf National. The five-time major champ ended his year in style though, taking down Woods in the first PPV head to head event in the sport’s history, and pocketing a cool $9 million in the process.

6. 2018 Ryder Cup

Golf’s biennial event continues to excite, and 2018 was a thrill a minute ride. From the European perspective, the birth of MoliWood grabbed all the headlines, with Molinari being the first European player ever to win five points, while Fleetwood grabbed four for himself.

As joyous and smooth the event was for the European’s, the week in Paris proved disastrous for the American’s. In-house fighting, a golf course they couldn’t manage, and their star players failing to get going, all contributed to them leaving Le Golf National with their tails firmly between their legs.

5. Bryson DeChambeau

What a year it was for Bryson DeChambeau. Written off by some for being too scientific in his process to succeed at the highest level, DeChambeau proved all the doubters wrong, winning four titles on the PGA Tour within five months. To put that success into perspective, in a period of five months on the PGA Tour, DeChambeau won as many titles as Rickie Fowler has in his career.

There is also his use of a geometric compass on the course, bizarre dramatic malfunctions on the driving range, and his statement that he intends to leave the flagstick in when putting on the green next year (coefficient of restitution, baby) — all incidents which have kept DeChambeau in the spotlight in 2018.

4. Patrick Reed

Like Mickelson, Patrick Reed spent the majority of the year in the news for the wrong reasons. But the only thing the divisive American will care to remember from this year is his career-defining moment at Augusta National. Reed held his nerve down the stretch on Sunday at Augusta to prove that though he may like to talk the talk, he can also walk the walk.

Later in the year, Reed’s conflict with Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk and teammate Jordan Spieth at Le Golf National caused shockwaves across the golfing world. Reed’s lack of remorse for his criticism of the two men that week rubbed many the wrong way, but for Reed, it’s doubtful he will lose a wink of sleep over it. As for Jordan, employing a food taster for next year’s Champions Dinner may not be the worst idea in the world.

3. Brooks Koepka

Brooks Koepka made it three major championship wins in his last six attempts, as the big-hitting American took the spoils at both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in 2018. As if his year couldn’t get any better, Koepka also claimed the CJ Cup and is officially the year-end World Number One.

Despite his unparalleled success in 2018, Koepka has also made the headlines for claiming that he doesn’t get the respect he deserves from the golfing world. The 28-year-olds emotionless performances make it difficult for golf fans to fall in love with the current best player in the game, but three major championships from his last six appearances speaks for itself, and the chip on Koepka’s shoulder continues to drive him towards golfs biggest prizes.

2. The USGA’s Shenanigans at Shinnecock

The consensus after the third round of this year’s U.S. Open was that the USGA lost the run of themselves. Conditions which were tough but fair on the opening two days were transformed into a brutal, almost unplayable set-up by the USGA on Saturday, which saw carnage take place for the entire day. Zach Johnson and Ian Poulter were two players that were very outspoken about the conditions, with the former stating that the USGA had “lost the course”.

One man that didn’t speak out about the conditions on Saturday was the 36-hole leader who perhaps was the one player who would have been justified in venting his grievance. Dustin Johnson was four-under par after 36 holes at Shinnecock Hills, holding a four-shot lead over the chasing pack and looking in total control of both his game and the event. Had the USGA not tricked up the course to the extreme on Saturday it’s highly likely that the 34-year-old would have picked up his second U.S. Open title. Instead, Johnson got caught up in the bloodbath and saw another opportunity to become a multiple major champion slip away.

1. Tiger Woods

There was only one man who was ever going to take the top spot. Barely able to walk just over 12 months ago, the best and brightest minds of golf’s talking heads all with hardly any exception declared Woods as finished, with some urging the 42-year-old to call it a day. Woods didn’t listen, and instead, produced a comeback year for the ages.

Woods knocked on the door of win number 80 on the PGA Tour early, when finishing runner-up at the Valspar. He then held the lead at the Open Championship for a period on Sunday, before being pipped, and at the PGA Championship, the 14-time major champ produced his best Sunday round at a major, firing a sensational 64 to finish runner-up.

But it was at the Tour Championship that Woods finally got back into the winner’s circle, after a five-year exile. Woods put on a clinic in Atlanta, and his walk through the hoards of adoring fans on 18 on Sunday will be remembered by anyone who was watching for a very long time.

From spinal fusion surgery, to win number 80 on the PGA Tour, and a rise from 656th in the Official World Golf Rankings at the end of 2017 to his current ranking of 13th. Tiger Woods’ 2018 was as close to a sporting miracle as you are going to find.

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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Christopher James

    Dec 26, 2018 at 11:54 am

    Can’t argue with your top ten at all… especially Tiger. Simply by winning the Tour Championship, he became the story of the year. Will be interesting to see if he can win in 2019!

  2. EdJ

    Dec 26, 2018 at 10:36 am

    The US Open at Shinnecock Was the MOST entertaining tourney of 2018. Every player struggled with the ruff and the greens. Four rounds of shits n giggles!

  3. ed chapman

    Dec 26, 2018 at 5:43 am

    Surgeries required because of going beyond the limits the human body can endure with a golf swing far too violent are one thing (Middlecoff was one of many who warned Tiger he’d better cut back to ease the stress) but you obviously have no clue what Ben Hogan went through after surviving a head-on with a Greyhound bud 70 years ago. Expanding your knowledge would enable you to appreciate someone who had the classic example of a near-death experience. Well, you look like a young dude so I guess it would be a stretch for you to understand that there were golfers better than Tiger, because in the old days, 60% fairways hit spelled a-l-s-o r-a-n.

  4. smz

    Dec 24, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    Tiger received a minimally invasive Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF), a procedure that removes a large portion of a degenerated disk that is causing back pain and replaces it with a bone graft.
    I predict his back will re-injure and progress from the L5-S1 fusion to the S1 and S2 vertebrae. He’s a walking time bomb. Good luck Tiger and don’t straighten that left knee so fast otherwise you will be in a wheelchair.

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Courses

The Harding Park experience

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When you turn onto the road that leads to the clubhouse at TPC Harding Park, it doesn’t take long for your eyes to focus on the 18th hole. The road winds between the par-3 17th green on your right and the back tees of the 18th on your left, presenting a direct view down the beautifully doglegged left finishing fairway. And if you weren’t already excited about your upcoming round, this ought to do the trick.

TPC Harding Park is San Francisco’s top public track. It was opened in 1925 and was designed by Willie Watson, who also is responsible for the nearby Lake Course at Olympic Club. And Harding Park has already been pegged to host the 2020 PGA Championship, which will only be the second time a municipally owned golf course will host the PGA. And even though the event is over a year away, the facilities are already being prepared for the major.

The clubhouse itself is impressive for a municipal layout; two stories with an event space on the second floor, the layout runs parallel with the 18th fairway, allowing for great views of the back dining patio and balcony. They already have it decorated in anticipation or the PGA Championship with large wallpaper photos of the Wanamaker Trophy, which gives off a serious feeling of legitimacy in the clubhouse entryway. The Cypress Grill, which comes with a full bar, is finished with a full wall of glass overlooking both the final hole and Lake Merced. It was packed at lunch on a Friday when I played…and not just crowded with golfers. The food and view must be good enough to attract regular patrons.

The pro shop is a nice size and the members of the staff were incredibly welcoming and friendly. Most of the apparel was Nike, Adidas and Under Armour but there were a few smaller brands as well. FootJoy was also present and the course’s logo on shirts and hats alternated between the traditional Harding Park logo with the lone tree and the PGA Harding Park logo. There is, of course, already 2020 PGA Championship gear for sale as well.

The course offers carts and pushcarts for rent, but if you do decide to ride, the course is cart path only year round. Rates range from $49-$188 depending on the day and if you are a San Francisco or Bay Area resident.

As you can imagine, Harding Park gets a substantial amount of play, being a first-rate daily fee in a highly populated city. My buddy and I opted to walk as we both believe that’s the best way to experience a course for the first time.

The bad weather earlier this year had left the driving range in disrepair. It was closed during my visit but they are planning to turn that area into a pavilion space for the PGA Championship anyway. Harding Park also has a short course called The Fleming 9 which weaves in between the holes of the Harding 18. That Fleming 9 space will be used as the professionals’ range during the major event.

The course conditions were top quality, especially for a daily fee course with so much traffic. The only real complaint from my group was the presence of so many ball marks on the greens. This can be expected from a course with that number of daily golfers added to the wet conditions of a place like San Francisco. I would imagine that the greens would run much smoother as we get closer to the 2020 PGA. Still, this was nit-picking; the greens were not in bad shape at all.

   

The first thirteen holes at Harding Park are good but don’t rise to the level of “great.” A friendly starter helps maintain pace of play off number one, a slightly right bending par four. The second hole is much like the first, which was a theme of the first 13. Looking back on my round, it’s tough for me to differentiate between each of the first 13 holes. Every hole was really solid, but not exactly unique, with the exception of number 4 and number 10, both fun par 5’s with some character.

Harding Park plays at 6,845 yards from the blue tees, which were the back tees on the day I played. There is a championship tee box that plays at 7169 but they were not set up for us. I would imagine that they’d be willing to do so with a special request. I heard the course is even better from back there. I was told that they will be working to lengthen some of the holes in anticipation of the 2020 PGA.

Along those lines, we were also treated with a special view of what the course will look like for the major next year. The PGA had been out to the course the week prior to my visit and had staked out each fairway with little red flags denoting where they want the first cut of rough to reach. On most holes, these flags were five-to-10 paces inside of where the rough currently was being cut, which showed us exactly how tiny these fairways will be for the pros. It was amazing to see some of the narrow landing spots these guys will be aiming for in a year.

As you walk off the 13th green, the course turns one final time back towards the clubhouse. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, you are about to play five incredible holes in a row to close out your round. The teebox on 14 is snuggled up next to the lake but elevated enough to give you a tremendous view of the water below and Olympic Club Golf Course across the way. The hole in front of you is a 440-yard par 4 that steadily climbs uphill with a gently slanting fairway to the left, pushing landing drives towards the water. As I stood over my approach shot, I looked around and then wrote “best hole so far” down on my scorecard. That was true. Until the next hole.

The 15th and 16th holes both follow the same blueprint: fairway bunkers at the elbow of the dogleg, grabbing the longer drives and forcing a club selection decision off the tee. The lake is still running along the left side of each fairway, giving a completely different feel to these holes than you had on the course’s first 13. At only 330 yards, hole 16 plays much shorter than the previous two lake-side par 4s. But the green slopes enough to make you nervous on your putts and keeps the hole from being an easy birdie. Honestly, after these holes were behind me, I took a moment to look back down the fairway and appreciate how good these holes were.

Hole 17 is a 175-yard par 3 that was playing much longer with a solid wind in our faces. The green is positioned near the entrance into Harding Park and, as I previously mentioned, one of the first views of the course you get as you arrive. The green is slightly elevated and protected by two bunkers in front. It requires a long and accurate tee shot, which is difficult because the 18th hole looms large to the right of the green. And once you finish on 17, it’s just a short walk over to the 18th tee.

The final hole is Harding Park’s most special. A 440-yard par 4, the tee shot requires a carry over the lake to a dogleg left fairway. The longer hitters can take a more aggressive line over the trees to cut off a substantial amount of distance. And by longer hitters, I mean guys like Tiger Woods and John Daly.

The fairway is picturesque. 18 is one of those holes that you want to take your time on. It just has a different feeling. The green is slightly elevated, providing amazing views of the clubhouse and Lake Merced. It is the perfect finishing par 4, giving you everything you could possibly want in a golf hole: strategy, challenge, and beauty all wrapped into one. And then it leaves you feeling grateful for having decided to play Harding Park.

 

 

 

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Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the RBC Heritage

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. On Sunday, we saw C.T. Pan claim the RBC Heritage, holding his nerve down the tricky finish to win his first title on the PGA Tour. Here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action

Hot

C.T. Pan rode a hot putter to victory over the weekend at the RBC Heritage. Despite struggling slightly on the greens on day one of the event, Pan hit blistering form over the next three days with the flatstick and finished the tournament having gained over six strokes over the field for his work on the greens. It isn’t the first time that the Taiwanese player has done so either, with this being just his third best weekly performance with the flat-stick of his career. Pan also gained almost four strokes around the green, in what was a week-long display of short game excellence. Take a full look at what clubs drove Pan to victory at the RBC Heritage here.

Matt Kuchar is having a spectacular season on Tour, and at Harbour Town, the American produced the best putting performance of his career to date. The 40-year-old gained 9.4 strokes over the field on the greens at Hilton Head, beating his previous best total of 8.3 strokes which came at the 2012 Players championship, an event which he won. Kuchar’s putting peaked over the weekend, where he gained six of those 9.4 strokes.

It may just have been yet another solid top-20 finish for Webb Simpson at the RBC Heritage, but the signs are very good that something better is just around the corner for the American. Simpson produced his best display of 2019 tee to green at Harbour Town, gaining 7.5 strokes over the field with his long game, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise since the former U.S. Open champion came into the event having gained strokes in this area in nine of his last 10 outings. Look for Simpson to get himself in the thick of things on a Sunday afternoon soon.

Cold

Dustin Johnson’s collapse on Sunday at Harbour Town was a shock to many. The 34-year-old fired a 77 to plummet down the leaderboard in the final round, and Johnson’s irons were the issue behind him not getting the job done. The American lost strokes to the field for his approach play three out of the four days and finished 63rd in this department for the week. Johnson lost a total of 3.2 strokes to the field for his approach play, which is the worst total in this area of his career.

Bryson DeChambeau missed the cut at the RBC Heritage, and the blame for this lies almost entirely with his putting. DeChambeau lost over five strokes to the field for his work on the greens over the two days he was around at Harbour Town, his worst performance with the flatstick since 2017.

Jordan Spieth’s woes continue, and once more those woes continue to be caused from the Texan’s long game. Spieth may have made the cut last week, but the three-time major champion lost three strokes to the field off the tee, and his approach play wasn’t much better. Spieth lost strokes in all of the significant strokes gained categories at the RBC Heritage bar one – putting. Spieth’s putting continues to be the only part of his game that is delivering at the moment, as his play off the tee continues to cause him fits. The 25-year-old has now lost a total of 14.5 strokes for his play off the tee since the WGC-Mexico.

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Podcasts

On Spec: New Level Golf founder and designer Eric Burch

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An in-depth discussion with golf industry veteran Eric Burch: how he got his start in golf, how he has contributed to the club fitting industry, and his new company New Level Golf, which produces forged irons and wedges for every level of golfer.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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