With 2012 nearly upon us, it’s time to bid adieu to 2011 – a topsy-turvy year in golf that managed to entertain, start to finish, with or without Tiger Woods on stage. Here are one blogger’s picks for the year’s best – and best forgotten – people, moments and assorted objects.
Putter of the Year: Long (by a grip handle over Belly)
Putt of the Year: Keegan Bradley, PGA Championship, 17th hole of the final round
Quote of the Year: “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.” – Ernie Els on using a belly putter
Prize of the Year: Cured Spanish ham
Headline of the Year: Saltman wins body eight in ham for hole-in-one
Ham of the Year
Ham of the Year: Ben Crane
Player of the Year, Men: Luke Donald
Player of the Year, Any Gender: Yani Tseng
Youngster of the Year: Lexi Thompson
Streak of the Year: Donald’s 449 holes without a three-putt
Meaningful Meaningless Win of the Year: Tiger Woods, Chevron World Challenge
Performance for the Ages of the Year: Rory McIlroy’s eight-shot victory at the U.S. Open
Cutthroat of the Year: McIlroy, who dumped his girlfriend and his agent in 2011
Gag-Inducing Celebrity Couple Nickname of the Year: Wozzilroy (McIrloy and his new squeeze, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki)
Resurrected Career of the Year: Tie -- Sergio Garcia and Thomas Bjorn
Celebrator of the Year: Open champion Darren Clarke
Beverage of the Year
Beverage of the Year: Guinness Stout
#$!*& of the Year: Steve Williams
Innocent Bystander of the Year: Adam Scott
Captain of the Year: Fred Couples (Presidents Cup)
City of the Year: Jupiter, Fla. (aka the “new Orlando”)
Amateur of the Year: Patrick Cantlay
Lowlife of the Year: John Daly (who has officially retired this dubious honor)
As a guy who grew up playing woods made of a strange substance called wood, I find many of today’s drivers unappealing to the eye. There’s only one form a driver should take, and that’s pear-shaped.
So my heart skipped a beat when I saw Cleveland Golf’s new Classic Driver, due out early next year. Mahogany finish. Brass-colored face “insert” and sole plate. The word “Classic” scrolled on the crown as an alignment aid. Even a black leather head cover in a shape the company calls “RetroBarrel.”
Cue Homer Simpson drooling sound.
In a word, this is one gorgeous golf club. But that’s the end of the Cleveland Classic’s similarities with its ancestors. (You know, the ones made from trees.) The Classic maxes out the USGA volume allowance at 460cc, about three times the size of a persimmon driver head. Its face is massive – the deepest on the market, according to Cleveland. And off-the-rack models are powered by an ultralight Miyazaki graphite shaft.
While it’s not yet for sale to the public, the Classic has already been tested on Tour. In fact, 2011 Rookie of the Year Keegan Bradley used it en route to winning (with Brendan Steele) the Franklin Templeton Shootout last weekend.
Bradley, who strikes me as the traditional type, instantly fell for the club’s old-school aesthetics. “When I looked at the new driver, honestly, I loved it,” he gushed. “I love the gold face on it… You look down at the face and the thing that you focus on is the sweet spot. I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s gonna change the way drivers are made.”
Of course, Callaway, Ping, TaylorMade et al will have something to say about that. In fact, TaylorMade just introduced its new wood lineup, which carries a decidedly non-traditional name: RocketBallz.
May the best club win.
Could 2011 have ended any better for golf fans?
All signs point to a thrilling 2012, and beyond, as the stars aligned in spectacular fashion during the latter stages of this season. Here just a few recent developments that signal a looming golden age:
- Tiger Woods regains winning form at the Chevron World Challenge.
- Luke Donald cements No. 1 ranking by topping the U.S. and European money lists.
- Wunderkind Rory McIlroy follows up his U.S. Open triumph with another victory (Hong Kong Open) and six top-sixes in his last eight starts.
- Sergio Garcia claims two titles in his native Spain.
- Young Americans Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson and Bill Haas dominate the FedEx Cup playoffs.
- Jim Furyk goes 5-0 to pace the U.S. Presidents Cup effort.
Luke Donald aims to keep his No. 1 ranking.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Professional golf is flush with great players in or entering their prime, aging stars with gas left in the tank, and emerging lads with big games and matching personalities.
Never has golf’s international talent pool been this deep or wide. For proof, here’s a breakdown of current standouts by age group:
Young guns (under 30): Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Alvaro Quiros, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Nick Watney, Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley, Bill Haas, Ryo Ishikawa, Matteo Manassero
Prime-timers (30-somethings): Tiger Woods, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy, Aaron Baddeley
Elder statesmen (40-plus): Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, David Toms, K.J. Choi, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez
Getting excited yet? Me too.
Grrrr... The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
Back in the day, Golf Digest’s list of America’s toughest courses was its de facto list of the country’s top courses. When folks stopped equating difficulty with quality, the magazine introduced new criteria – like design balance and shot values – and changed the rankings to America’s best courses.
Now it’s doing both. Golf Digest is out with an updated list of the 75 toughest tracks in America, and it is indeed a Murderers Row.
No. 1 is the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, and I can vouch for its nastiness firsthand. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the remainder of the top five: 2. Pine Valley GC (N.J.) 3. Oakmont CC (Pa.) 4. Spyglass Hill (Calif.) 5. Bethpage Park, Black Course (N.Y.)
Others of note include TPC Sawgrass (7), Pinehurst No. 2 (10), Pebble Beach (14) and Augusta National (31).
Of course, tackling any of these courses is even tougher when you’re paired with one of Golf Digest’s 18 Most Annoying Golf Partners, whose aggravating ranks include our personal No. 1, the Cart Girl Schmoozer.
If the cart girls at these places are as mean as the courses, methinks our buddy would incur a rather harsh penalty.
Most of Tiger Woods’ wins take one of two forms: epic blowout or last-hole Houdini act. His latest victory fell squarely in the latter category, appropriate since it saw Woods finally escape the clutches of mediocrity.
Tiger was almost this happy after winning the Chevron.
Woods’ breakthrough at the Chevron World Challenge, where he birdied the final two holes to spear Zach Johnson, ended two years of winless, meandering golf. Of course, now everyone wants to know what comes next.
Check that: Everyone wants to predict what comes next. It’s a pointless exercise for sure, since only time and Tiger will tell. But it’s worth analyzing using the evidence from Woods’ recent play, going back to his solid efforts at the Australian Open and Presidents Cup.
Let’s break it down into three parts:
Tiger’s swing: I’m having trouble adjusting to Woods’ new, Sean Foley-crafted action; his hands are lower than before, and he has to rotate the arms abruptly on the backswing to get the club on plane. So I can only imagine how tough it’s been for Tiger to integrate these new positions and moves.
But darned if he doesn’t seem to have it almost down pat. The spectacular shots have returned and, more importantly, he’s making the routine shots look routine again.
Tiger’s health: We have to go by our eyes and Tiger’s words, both of which assure us his Achilles and knee are A-OK. No telling if they’ll stay that way, but for now, we pronounce Tiger fit as a flagstick.
Tiger’s mind: It all boils down to this, doesn’t it? I have a personal theory, based on one enlightening semester of introductory psychology, that Tiger felt something completely foreign in the wake of his sex scandal: shame. His self-loathing subconsciously undermined him on the golf course, telling Tiger he didn’t deserve to win. The result: Poor play, especially on the greens, any time he got into contention.
Or maybe he just wasn’t releasing the blade properly. Either way, it appears Tiger’s finally licked the issue.
What do you get the golfer who has everything? Something non-golf-related, of course.
Since no actual golfer (except maybe Donald Trump) has literally everything, we’ve prepared a list of holiday gift ideas suitable for just about anyone who plays the game. Our picks cover the budgetary spectrum, from affordable stocking stuffers all the way to “in their dreams.”
Straight from St. Andrews Claus himself, our picks for 2011’s best golf gifts:
Miura Limited Forged Black Blades
Golf vacation of a lifetime: We won’t tell you where to send your favorite golfer; suffice it to say, Scotland, Ireland and Australia/New Zealand merit serious consideration. Your best bet is to book through an experienced, respected golf tour operator like Perry Golf. They’ll take care of every detail, right down to fixing your pitch marks. Price: $1,500 and up. Way up.
An in-home golf simulator: These are all the rage among golfers with the space and disposable income to install one. P3ProSwing is one of the more affordable suppliers, and its packages allow you to “play” famous courses and analyze your swing. Price: Starting at $599; most popular package is $1,228.
Black beauties: Master clubmaker Katsuhiro Miura -- principal of Miura Golf -- is renowned for the look and feel of his luscious forgings, as his Limited Forged Black Blades attest. The appearance is so striking, in fact, your recipient may choose to display them rather than play them. Price: $2,200 (3-iron through PW)
Major ducats: Every golf fan dreams of attending the Masters, but Barack Obama will be elected president of the NRA before you’ll score passes to that event. Your golfer will have to settle for the U.S. Open, played next year at San Francisco’s splendid Olympic Club. The USGA is currently running a holiday special – jump on it before Jan. 2, 2012 to grab some extra goodies. Price: $450 for individual Weekly Grounds Ticket.
Walk this way: We believe the game should be played on foot, and that those feet should be comfortable on their 5-mile journey around the course. Every major manufacturer makes lightweight, comfy shoes these days, so you can’t go wrong with FootJoy, adidas, Ecco, or any of the big brands. But we’re partial to upstart TRUE Linkswear, whose ultra-low-profile, spikeless kicks have made a big impression. Price: Starting at $129.
Cligear golf cart
Push it good: Sticking with the theme, toting a bag over the shoulder for 18 holes can really wear you out. A push cart makes things so much easier. Aficionados adore the folding 3-wheel models made by Clicgear, available in nine colors with a bundle of accessories. Price: $199
Scotland’s Caddies: This charming film, available on DVD, delivers 69 minutes of old-school Scottish loopers spinning yarns about everything and everyone. Caddies from St. Andrews, Troon, Dornoch, Turnberry, Gleneagles and other classic courses tattle on celebrities like Jack Nicholson and Sean Connery. They take on cheaters, too, as well as Americans and the dreaded French. The scenery is spectacular. Price: $19.95
Sock it to ’em: Socks are socks, right? Wrong. Kentwool uses super-fine Merino wool to make a sock so comfortable, the company says it can boost your energy and make you play better. Some sock, huh? Pros like Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson think so. Price: $24.95 for a pair of Tour Standard models.