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.
Mondays Off: Steve’s worst shot of his life and Knudson’s handicap is heading up!
Steve played in a tournament and hit one of the worst shots of his life. Knudson’s game is on the decline but his handicap is heading north. Steve talks about member-guest tournaments and the one-day event they have coming up.
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What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for golf?
Golf, like many hobbies, can drive people to do some crazy things—whether it be to play a course on your bucket list, purchase a club you’ve been looking for, or drop everything just to play with your buddies.
As a purely self-diagnosed golf junkie, I have gone out of my way to do all of these things on many occasions, and I have a feeling a lot of others here have some stories to tell similar to these.
The Long Trip
Let me start by saying that I’m not a “Bag Tag Barry” or really a bucket list course kinda guy. Yes, I have courses I want to play, but at the moment the highest on the list starts and ends with the Old Course at St. Andrews – because, simple – it’s St. Andrews. Beyond that, my “hoping to play” list pretty much the standard classics.
But it doesn’t mean that I haven’t gone WAY out of my way to play, especially when you think about the recent 1600-plus mile journey I just took to Sweetens Cove to play in the First Annual “Oil Hardened Classic” run by Eternal Summer Golf Society.
Sweetens has been on my radar since I first heard about it, and if you are at all interested in course architecture I’m sure it has been on your radar for a while too – great piece on it here from WRX Featured Writer Peter Schmitt (You’ve Never played Anything like Sweetens Cove).
When I first heard of this event, I knew it was something I HAD to do. I’ve been playing persimmon clubs (not to be confused will full hickory) for a couple of years now and in case I haven’t made it clear in the past—I love blade irons. To be able to play with a bunch of other “golf sickos” made this something I really wanted to do, and to let you in on a little secret I’ve been hiding for a while, before this I had never done a real “golf trip” before.
Problem: Being in the Great White North puts me a long ways away from South Pittsburg, TN and a golf trip like this with air travel and a rental car was out of the question. So what’s the next best thing? load the car up with a bunch of old wooden clubs, some blades, three golf bags, lots of balls, gloves, enough clothes for a few days, a cooler, and a passport: BOOM my first golf trip.
I-75 was my route for an entire day. 14 hours total with stops: It was an easy drive to Chattanooga, where I filled up on BBQ and stayed the night. From there, it was a simple 40-minute drive over in the morning and with Sweetens Cove in Central Time (just across the line, I should add), I even got a much appreciated extra hour of sleep. The golf course was ours for the whole day and beyond the for fun scheduled matches it was a playground. Groups of 12 people playing the same hole, three-club mini loops, trying out impossible putts on the rolling greens—we did it all.
A few years ago, if you had told me I would drive 28 hours round trip to endlessly loop a 9-hole golf course with persimmon clubs and a bunch of “strangers,” I would have probably called you a total idiot. Now, I can’t imagine not doing it again.
Speaking of long golf trips, how does a 2,700-plus mile round trip to play Cabot Links and Cliffs Sound?
It started with an already planned two-week road trip, Toronto, Boston (to see Fenway), Portland, Halifax then finally to Inverness, Nova Scotia home of Cabot Links—and at the time, only open for “lottery bookers” and resort guests Cabot Cliffs. We had times booked for the links course but Cliffs was another story. Since I’m not one to take no for an answer, and although staying at the resort was well beyond our road-tripping budget, I had a little tip that if you call very early the day you are hoping to play they could potentially find spots for players when resorts guests cancel. Cliffs was still under preview play and tee times were 20 minutes apart so the chances we’re slim but a 5 a.m. alarm and some not-so-subtle begging and bartering got my wife and I an afternoon tee time on the best new course in the world!
It was an amazing experience made even better by the beautiful weather and fun we had that day. I have, still to this day, never had an experience like that on a golf course.
The Must-Have Wedges
I’m an obsessive club collector and builder. There I said it. Not only do I love clubs, but I love the idea of making things, or taking things that are considered less desirable and making them better than ever before.
This all stems from a piece I wrote this spring about a HUGE used club sale about an hour from where I live, Check it out here: Hunting Used Clubs at Fore Golfers Only
Although I did get some fantastic deals at “The Sale,” as the locals call it, there were a few wedges I could not get out of my head after visiting the accompanying retail store after the sale. As I was driving home, in a bit of a snow storm, I couldn’t help but think about the potential of the raw Nike Engage wedges I left behind. I wanted them for a number of reason including the fact that I hadn’t had the chance to work and grind on raw wedges in a while and these were the last Mike Taylor-designed Nike wedges before Nike decided to shut the doors and Artisan Golf was born.
By the time I realized I had to have them, it was already too late to drive back and they were closed, so first thing the next day, I called and asked if they 1) Still had the two exact wedges I remembered seeing 2) if they would hold them for me until the Monday morning after the sale—the only chance I would have to get back there in the next month. Why did I need them when snow was still on the ground? Because I’m a nut!
Monday rolled around, I got out of bed bright and early during another not-so-fun snowfall to shovel the driveway, gas up the car, and drive three hours round trip to pick up two rusty used, Nike Engage wedges for the grand total of $120. But when I finally got the chance to work my magic, it’s hard not to say the effort was worth it.
The Wedge Guy: You and your wedges (survey results part 2)
As I promised last week when I presented the first layer overview of the GolfWRX/Wedge Guy survey, today I’m going to dive into the section of the survey where you shared your thoughts and feelings about wedges and your wedge play. I’ve made a study of golfers and their wedges for nearly 30 years now, and have always found it fascinating. It also has helped me immensely in breaking from traditional wedge design to address what golfers have told me about where they need help most.
I’m proud that this insight gained from golfers over those years led me to develop “the Koehler sole,” which I patented back in 1990, and have brought to market as both the “Dual Bounce Sole®” and the “V-SOLE®”. That insight also guided me to begin to introduce higher and higher CG in wedges since the mid-90s (which almost all wedge companies have finally begun to do to one degree or another), and to create the first progressively weighted wedges with the SCOR™ line in 2011.
But this is about you and your wedges, so let’s dive right into what you all shared in the surveys.
First of all, you GolfWRX readers are way ahead of rank-and-file recreational golfers in the respect you show for your wedges, with 70 percent or more of you carrying at least four wedges, counting the set match “pitching wedge” that came with your set of irons. I’ve long been an advocate of having more wedges in your bag to give you more options in prime scoring range. As manufacturers have continually strengthened the lofts of the set-match pitching wedge, down to as low as 43-44 degrees in some models, it just makes sense.
Partly as a result of this attention, you GolfWRXers rated your wedge play much higher than golfers at large, based on my prior research. What I found interesting is that fewer of you rated your wedges play outside 75-90 yards as a strength of your game (26 percent) than you did on your wedge play inside 75-90 yards (30 percent). Almost 30 percent of you said your wedge play outside of 75-90 yards was “not as good as it should be,” but just 21 percent said the same about your wedge play outside 75-90 yards. It is generally accepted that full swings are harder to master than the partial swings those short-range shots require.
I have an intern student at University of Houston-Victoria diving into these surveys to cross-tabulate all the answers to reveal more interesting insight for all of us to share, but that is going to take a few weeks, I’m sure, as there is a lot of data here. But what my takeaway from this question is that the vast majority of revealed you have lots of opportunity to improve this segment of your game, as 70-75 percent of you rated your wedge play in both categories as average or below-average. One way to do that is to re-allocate your practice time to hit more wedge shots of different distances, really focusing on distance control. Which brings me to the next couple of questions.
Two questions are very closely linked, as proven by the answers you shared. Nearly an identical number of you responded that your full-swing trajectories were “about right,” and your distance control was “pretty good.” But the majority of you said your trajectories trended too high and your misses come up short almost all the time. You are not alone—my experience with wedge design and golfer feedback is that this majority of you GolfWRX readers is actually much better than the majority of all golfers.
The harsh reality is that this is not all your fault. While mastering wedge play is probably the hardest part of the game, the design of wedges aggravates these two problems. Robotic testing of wedges indicates that essentially all models on the market are very unforgiving of impact moving around the face. We all know that low-face impact, nearly bladed wedge shot is going to fly low and have lots of spin (i.e. “thin to win”). And that likewise, that shot you catch high in the face is going to fly high, come up short and have much less spin.
Tour professionals spend countless hours working to perfect their wedge impact point to be low on the face, a goal helped by the very tight-cut fairways they play. But for the rest of us playing higher-cut fairways, the ball is sitting up more and we are much more likely to catch the ball higher in the face, which—by design—causes the ball to fly higher and have less spin. Conventional wedges have as much as a 20 percent lower smash factor when impacted just half an inch above the “sweet spot.”
The fact is that consistent wedge distance control requires a consistent impact point, lower on the face. One way to try to improve in that regard is to focus your eyes on the forward edge of the ball when you are hitting any wedge shot, but particularly on full swing wedges. From a technique standpoint, your left (or lead) side must be more influential on these shots. In other words, try to make impact with your hands ahead of the clubhead. I’ll dive into that whole subject in a dedicated article soon.
I believe that this challenge of wedge play is aggravated by when and where the majority of you purchase your wedges—let me explain that reasoning.
The vast majority of you are playing relatively new wedges, with 36 percent having purchased them in the last year, and another 43 percent playing wedges that are 1-3 years old. That’s the good news—your wedges are relatively fresh. But now for the bad news.
Almost 45 percent of you said you purchased your wedges at a large off-course retailer, which means you most likely purchased wedges with a heavy, stiff steel shaft—but how does that compare to the shafts in your irons? Is it a match or even close? If not, I’ve learned that the wrong shaft is a huge factor in wedge play, as it creates a feel disconnect in prime scoring range. My experience is that, for most golfers, a thoughtful re-shafting of your wedges to produce the same weight and flex as in your irons will make a huge difference in your wedge-range performance.
This is getting a bit long so let me share another interesting takeaway from this survey, then leave you with another question to sound off about.
Less than 18 percent of you said your last purchase was of a different brand with the goal of improving your performance. I find that puzzling, as I’ll bet nearly 100 percent of you chose your last driver, putter or irons specifically with that goal in mind.
I can only take that to mean that you have relatively low expectations of improvement when you buy wedges—can you all share some thought with me to help me understand why that is?
Thanks, and I look forward to some lively dialog this week. I don’t chime in often to your comments, but I will this week if you want to have a discussion. Should be fun!
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