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.
On Spec: Please don’t play blades (or maybe play them anyway)
Host Ryan talks about the different ways to enjoy the game and maximizing your equipment enjoyment which doesn’t always have to mean hitting it 15 yards farther. The great debate of blades vs cavity backs is as old of an argument you will find in golf but both sides can be right equaling right. Ryan explains why.
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What’s going on with the decline in putting on the PGA Tour?
Watching the PGA Tour recently, I was struck by Frank Nobilo commenting on how professionals and their instructors work down to the smallest detail, a reflection on the intense competition on the PGA Tour and the fact that to be successful you cannot ignore anything. He made this comment with his thumb and forefinger barely not touching for emphasis.
That being the case, the numbers below should cause major introspection by every player and their coach. They are self-explanatory and have been verified by a third party expert who deals in putting data.
All figures are Shotlink data from the PGA Tour. To preclude undue influence by an anomaly years 2003-5 are averaged as are 2016-18
Average make percentage from 5 distances, 2003-2005 combined
- 6 FEET: 71.98 percent
- 8 FEET: 55.01 percent
- 10 FEET: 43.26 percent
- 15-20 FEET: 19.37 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.96 percent
Average make percentage from the same 5 distances, 2015-2018
- 6 FEET: 70.43 percent
- 8 FEET: 53.54 percent
- 10 FEET: 41.39 percent
- 15-20 FEET: 18.80 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.33 percent
- 6 FEET: 1.55 percent
- 8 FEET: 1.67 percent
- 10 FEET: 1.87 percent
- 15-20 FEET: .57 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: .83 percent
One comment, green conditions have been vetted to the point where they are not considered a culprit. Faster, yes, but pristine surfaces, and very consistent week to week. There are some outliers like the U.S. Open greens but they are included in the data shown and caused no significant spike for that week.
Further, on the subject of greens, today’s professional has booklets showing green patterns, high MOI putter heads, instruction from putting specialists, and caddies, expert green readers in their own right. Bottom line: if anything the greens help not hurt.
So your turn. Look at the data. Appoint yourself all-powerful guru to improve putting data. What would your plan, be? Oh and this little tidbit so you can earn a huge consulting fee: We took six players, three on either side of the halfway point, your solution resulted in a one-shot per TOURNAMENT improvement. Average INCREASE in earnings for the season: a smidge over $500K!
A merciful new local rule
This April, within a list of 2019 Rules Clarifications, the USGA and R&A quietly authorized a new Local Rule that you can expect to see enacted everywhere from the U.S. Open Championship to, if you’re lucky, your own club championship.
New Local Rule E-12 provides some protection from an unintended consequence of Rule 14.3c, which requires that your ball come to rest in the relief area for the drop you’re taking. When I first read about this option, I confess that I was a bit skeptical. But now that I’ve experienced the Local Rule in action, its value has become very clear.
My initial skepticism came from the fact that I like it that every time, we drop we now must drop in a relief area. I also like the simplicity of requiring the ball to come to rest in that relief area — no more awkward need to figure out if your ball stayed within two club lengths of the point where your drop first struck the course, as used to be the case. So right from the start, I was very comfortable with the new rules in this regard. But in some cases, particularly for those who haven’t carefully studied the revised rules, this simple approach has caused problems.
The freedom this new Local Rule provides applies exclusively to back-on-the-line relief drops, such as you might make from penalty areas or for unplayable balls. It’s a bit complicated, but let me take you through how it helps. We’ll use yellow-staked penalty areas as an example. Last year, for back-on-the-line drops such as these, you’d identify the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and draw an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point, select a nice place to drop anywhere you chose back along that line, and then let it drop. If you picked a point sufficiently back, and your ball didn’t hit anything prohibited, and it didn’t stop more than two club lengths from where you dropped it, you were good to go.
This year, instead of dropping on that imaginary line, you drop in a relief area that surrounds that imaginary line. Just like before, you identify the edge of the penalty area where your ball last crossed, go back as far as you wish along an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point — but now you should identify a relief area around your selected drop location. To do so, you pick a point on the line, then define a relief area one club length from that point no closer to the hole. So you typically have a semicircle two club lengths in diameter in which to drop. If you drop a foot or two back from the front edge of the semicircle, there’s almost always no problem with the ball coming to rest outside the releif area and you’ll be ready to play. But if you drop right on the front edge of your defined relief area, or if you didn’t bother to identify a point/relief area along the imaginary line before you dropped, and your ball bounces and comes to rest even the slightest bit forward — it’s now outside the relief area and subject to a two-stroke or loss of hole penalty for playing from the wrong place if you end up hitting the ball before correcting your mistake.
That might seem kind of harsh — you take a back-on-the-line drop like you did last year, it bounces and stops an inch forward, you hit it — and you get severely penalized. If you had simply established the relief area an inch or two forward, things would have been perfectly legal! The 2019 rules, in their effort to simplify and make consistent the drop/relief procedure, created an unintended potential trap for players that weren’t careful enough managing their business. This seemed like it was going to be a big enough problem that the USGA and R&A decided to graciously do something about it: Introduce Model Local Rule E-12.
When this Local Rule is adopted, a player is given some additional freedom. If he or she applies the relief area/drop principles correctly, there is, of course, still no problem. But if he or she ends up with the ball somewhat outside the relief area, there still might be no penalty. As long as the ball originally struck the course within where the relief area should be, and as long as it didn’t come to rest more than one club length from where it first hit the course when dropped, you can still play it penalty-free (as long as it’s not nearer the hole than where the ball originally lay in the case of an unplayable ball drop, or nearer the hole than the edge of the penalty area where the ball last crossed for a penalty area drop).
While all that’s a bit complicated sounding, in practice it’s intuitive. And as an added bonus, it probably doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it or even know it’s in force — there are simply more occasions when you can blissfully, even ignorantly, play on penalty-free.
This new Local Rule provides another advantage as well. When it’s in effect, an opponent or ref (or a TV viewer) won’t have to concern themselves with whether or not the player making the drop actually followed the recommendation of first defining a relief area before making a back-on-the-line drop. If you’re at a distance, and you see a player taking a drop which bounces slightly forward, you can relax. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should rush up and confirm that the ball didn’t squeak out of the player’s intended relief area in an effort to prevent the player from incurring a penalty. One way or another, everything is more than likely just fine.
With all that in mind, maybe you’d like to see the specific wording of E-12:
“When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.
“This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).
“This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.”
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