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Opinion & Analysis

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 the Assistant Editor at GolfWRX. He can be contacted at gianni@golfwrx.com. Follow him on Twitter @giannimosquito

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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Opinion & Analysis

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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Opinion & Analysis

By definition, there will be no 2020 U.S. Open. Here’s why the USGA should reconsider

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In 1942, the USGA decided to cancel the U.S. Open because it was scheduled so soon after U.S. entry into WWII.  They did this out of respect for the nation and those called to war. There was a Championship however called The Hale America National Open Golf Tournament, which was contested at Chicago’s  Ridgemoor Country Club. It was a great distraction from the horror of war and raised money for the great cause.

All the top players of the era (except Sam Snead) played, and the organizers (USGA, Chicago Golf Association, and the PGA of America) did hold qualifying at some 70 sites around the country. So effectively, it was the 1942 U.S. Open—but the USGA never recognized it as such. They labeled it a “wartime effort to raise money” for the cause.  Their objection to it being the official U.S. Open was never clear, although the sub-standard Ridgemoor course (a veritable birdie fest) was certainly part of it.

The USGA co-sponsored the event but did not host it at one of their premier venues, where they typically set the golf course up unusually difficult to test the best players. Anyway, Ben Hogan won the event and many thought this should have counted as his fifth U.S. Open win. The USGA disagreed. That debate may never be settled in golfer’s minds.

Ahead to the 1964 U.S. Open…Ken Venturi, the eventual winner, qualified to play in the tournament. His game at the time was a shell of what it was just a few years earlier, but Kenny caught lighting in a bottle, got through both stages of qualifying, and realized his lifelong dream of winning the U.S. Open at Congressional.

Ahead to the 1969 U.S. Open…Orville Moody, a former army sergeant had been playing the PGA Tour for two years with moderate success-at best. But the golfing gods shone brightly upon “sarge” through both stages of qualifying, and the tournament, as he too realized the dream of a lifetime in Houston.

Ahead to 2009 U.S. Open…Lucas Glover was the 71st ranked player in the world and had never made the cut in his three previous U.S. Opens. But he did get through the final stage of qualifying and went on to win the title at Bethpage in New York.

Ahead to 2020…The USGA has decided to postpone the event this year to September because of the Covid-19 virus. This was for the fear of the global pandemic. But this year there is a fundamental difference—the USGA has announced there will be no qualifying for the event. It will be an exempt-only event. By doing so, the event loses it status as an “open event,” by definition.

This is more than a slight difference in semantics.

The U.S. Open, our national championship, is the crown jewel of all USGA events for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is just that: open. Granted, the likelihood of a club professional or a highly-ranked amateur winning the event—or even making the cut—is slim, but that misses the point: they have been stripped of their chance to do so, and have thereby lost a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to realize something they have worked for their whole lives. Although I respect the decision from a  health perspective, golf is being played now across the country, (The Match and Driving Relief—apparently safely)

So, what to do? I believe it would be possible to have one-day 36-hole qualifiers (complete with social distancing regulations) all over the country to open the field. Perhaps, the current health crisis limits the opportunity to hold the qualifiers at the normally premier qualifying sites around the country but, as always, everyone is playing the same course and is at least given the chance to play in tournament.

In light of the recent “opening” of the country, I am asking that the USGA reconsider the decision.

 

featured image modified from USGA image

 

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Podcasts

TG2: Reviewing Tour Edge Exotics Pro woods, forged irons, and LA Golf shafts

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Reviewing the new Tour Edge Exotics Pro wood lineup, forged irons, and wedge. Maybe more than one makes it into the bag? Fujikura’s MCI iron shafts are some of the smoothest I have ever hit and LA Golf wood shafts get some time on the course.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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