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)
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.
Boy, did Thanksgiving come and go in a tryptophan-induced haze. Got buried so deep in turkey and stuffing, I neglected to post this article in a timely fashion.
Having scarfed the last scrap of leftovers, here are a few of the thousand things that make me thankful to be a golfer:
No. 1 on our bucket list.
Walking a deserted course, solo, first thing on a Sunday morning.
A three-and-a-half-hour round.
Courses where you can’t possibly plunk a house off the tee.
A foursome without one of the guys who top this list.
Playing partners who know when to call off the hunt for a lost ball.
The golf equipment geeks who hang out here.
Friendly starters and marshalls.
Old-school Scottish caddies, like these guys.
ShotLink, the all-knowing PGA Tour stat-keeping tool, for those occasions when I just have to know which player is most likely to bunt a drive less than 240 yards, or score the lowest with a late second-round tee time going off the 10th tee. (Seriously, it’s all in there.)
Thing o' beauty: Rory McIlroy's swing.
Mike Keiser (visionary founder of Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links).
The town of St. Andrews, Scotland – No. 1 on my bucket list of places to visit.
Minimalist design and the architects who practice it.
Firm, fast conditions.
19th holes that serve local microbrews.
Rory McIlroy’s swing.
Matt Kuchar’s smile.
Tiger Woods’ glare.
Luke Donald’s putting stroke.
Handheld GPS devices and rangefinders.
The USGA’s Mike Davis, whose U.S. Open setups emphasize shotmaking and imagination over hacking out sideways from ankle-deep rough.
Street-style golf shoes.
Caddyshack quotes. Some of the best are short: “Don’t sell yourself short, Judge, you’re a tremendous slouch.” Others, classically long: “So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.”
It sure is, Carl. It sure is.
All together now: USA! USA! USA!
Feels pretty good once every two years, doesn’t it? Put another way, it’s a good thing America has the Presidents Cup to stir up some pride in between Ryder Cup whippings.
Tiger Woods celebrated in style.
The United States once again took the International team to the woodshed, winning the 2011 Presidents Cup by a more-dominating-than-it-sounds 19-15 margin. And this was supposed to be the year the Internationals -- an Aussie-heavy squad playing on home turf -- broke a five-match victory drought.
Instead, the Americans succeeded where they so often fail against Europe’s Ryder Cuppers: on the greens. The U.S. squad made miles of twisting putts across Royal Melbourne’s diabolical, wind-whipped surfaces, continually snuffing any spark of a comeback.
With Uncle Sam’s finest pushing their all-time record to 7-1-1 against the Internationals, a question lingers: Why don’t the Americans play like this in the Ryder Cup? The Europeans have claimed four of the past five and six of eight since 1995.
Who knows? And for now, who cares? America’s golf community should enjoy the moment.
After all, the next Ryder Cup is just 10 months away.
The Presidents Cup produced a bevy of heroes and goats. We singled out these for polite applause and tacit disapproval:
Royal Melbourne: Talk about living up to the hype. The Alister MacKenzie-designed masterpiece delivered compelling theater each day, the constantly changing conditions only highlighting the layout’s brilliance. And somehow, the setup crew kept things fair despite green speeds in excess of 14 (!) on the Stimpmeter.
Jim Furyk: Coming off his worst season since his rookie year, Furyk didn’t figure to make a big impact. Surprise! By going 5-0, Furyk paced the Americans and became the first player over 40 to win all his Presidents Cup matches.
Fred Couples’ captain’s picks: To the chagrin of many, Freddie followed rule No. 1 in making his captain’s picks: Never, ever pass up Tiger Woods. While Woods’ 2-3 record was nothing special, he played well in team-match defeats and even better in singles. For good measure, Woods clinched the Cup with a 4-and-3 beatdown of Aaron Baddeley on Sunday. Couples’ other choice, Bill Haas, was solid in splitting his five matches.
The Ryder Cup: Still golf's best.
While Woods’ and Haas’s combined 4 ½ - 4 ½ record may seem pedestrian, it compared quite favorably with the International captain’s picks. Which leads us to…
Greg Norman’s wild-card selections: Baddeley was bad, posting a 1 ½ - 3 ½ record. Robert Allenby was worse, putting up a big, fat doughnut against four defeats. That’s a combined score of 1 ½ - 7 ½, making Norman’s pre-Cup criticism of Couples ring rather hollow.
The Presidents Cup’s standing alongside the Ryder Cup: Sure, it’s fun to win. But until these matches become more competitive, the Ryder Cup will remain golf’s biggest biennial affair. By a longshot.
In case you missed the Australian Open – which you probably did, considering it took place a gazillion time zones away from the U.S. – Tiger Woods came thisclose to winning his first tournament since 2009.
Tiger Woods tantalized Down Under.
He didn’t, finishing third thanks to a Saturday 75 that cost him the lead. For most of the event, though, Woods had the Aussie crowds and international golf media buzzing. His drives were straighter than usual, the irons old-Tiger crisp, the putter showing more than occasional flashes of sizzle.
Following his third-round flop, Woods charged back with a final-round 67, falling two shy of Greg Chalmers’ winning score of -13. The display left most everyone impressed, if not quite ready to declare Tiger “back” just yet.
Left high and dry by too many Tiger teases the past couple years, some wags noted that he finished behind two journeyman types (Chalmers and runner-up John Senden). More importantly, though, look at the guys right behind him: Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Jason Day and Nick Watney. They’ve played some decent golf lately, haven’t they?
Bottom line: another non-win for Woods – still the only golfer for whom a third-place finish against a world-class field is regarded as a disappointment. But it bodes well for his – and America’s – chances in this week’s Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
We’ll be staying up for that one.
The Presidents Cup: As if the controversies surrounding Fred Couples using a captain’s pick on Woods and Steve Williams’ foolhardy remarks about Tiger weren’t enough to spark interest… The matches got a further boost from Woods’ performance and that of International team members Scott, Ogilvy, Day et al. The Ryder Cup still reigns supreme when it comes to biennial team competitions, but the Presidents Cup continues to catch up quickly.
Oh, and we can’t wait to see Royal Melbourne, one of golf’s most revered sites. Architecture geeks rejoice!
John Daly: After intentionally drowning a half-dozen balls before walking off the course midway through his first round, Daly proved yet again that he’s a complete waste of a sponsor’s exemption. The man needs help.
In general, I think people find too many things to complain about. (So Facebook changed its news feed – WHO CARES?)
Spare her your cheesy come-on lines, please.
I’m working to curtail my own griping, but it’s hard work, especially where golf is concerned. That’s why I’ve decided to share my list of golf pet peeves -- you know, as part of the self-improvement process.
Judging by my list, you might think I really hate the game. Nothing could be further from the truth. I only have so many irritants because I love it so much.
In no particular order, golf-related stuff that drives me up the flagstick:
- Guys who hit on beverage-cart girls. Dude, she’s the same age as your daughter!
- Courses with too many attendants. Not because I don’t appreciate the service, but because I rarely carry cash and feel like a tool not tipping them.
- People who hunt endlessly for lost balls. Just drop one already. Your chance of breaking 70 ended on the first hole.
- Golfers who drive to their partner’s ball, wait for him/her to hit, then go to their own ball. Either drop them off and drive to your ball, or leave the cart and walk to yours. You should be ready to hit as soon as they’ve finished.
- Clichés in website course descriptions. For example: “Nestled amongst (notable geographic or topographical feature), our championship course is a challenging yet fair test that’s enjoyable for golfers of all levels.” Sadly, the same can’t be said for your writing.
- Those who don’t know they’re supposed to rake bunkers or, far worse, don’t bother. Then again, I suppose it’s my fault for following the rules and not taking a free drop from a footprint.
- Temporary greens. I know they’re sometimes a necessary evil. They’re still an evil.
- Trees overhanging green entrances.Golf has enough land-based hazards, thanks.
Say it right, or don't say it at all.
- People who say “expresso” instead of “espresso.” OK, this one’s not golf related. Just makes me want to throw a club.
- Perfectly walkable courses that require carts. Don’t even get me started.
- Cart paths too close to fairways. They’re eyesores, cause havoc on half-decent tee shots, and scrape ugly scuff marks on golf balls. Sooo not cool.
- Courses that water fairways and greens after it rains. I’m no superintendent, but surely you can override the automatic timer.
- The idea that golf is an elitist game. The trappings of private club golf can be snooty, for sure. The game itself is egalitarian to the core.
- Rory Sabbatini’s swing. Looks like he’s swinging a sledgehammer. Of course, he has the personality to match.
- Black golf gloves. Yuck. Just, yuck.
- Televised interviews with corporate executives. I know they pay for the privilege, and give tons of money to charities, but…Yuck. Just, yuck.
Got any golf pet peeves of your own? Sure you do. Feel free to share ’em in the comments.
And stop being such a whiner.
Oh, to spend Halloween playing Pumpkin Ridge, the famed Oregon club whose Witch Hollow and Ghost Creek courses scare the knickers off the heartiest golfing souls.
Instead, we’re summing up this weekend’s action from the pro tours while waiting for the trick-or-treaters to trickle in.
Luckily, there’s plenty to report. Golf’s global reach was apparent as a slew of U.S. stars battled in Malaysia and Rory McIlroy won a non-official but highly lucrative event in China, where Taiwan’s Yani Tseng continued to terrorize her so-called competitors.
Our idea of a Cinderella costume
We’ll make this week’s rundown quick. Gotta slip into our Carl Spackler costume for tonight.
Bo Van Pelt: The 36-year-old has quietly become one of the PGA Tour’s steadiest performers, but has had trouble closing the deal when in contention. He practically slammed it on Sunday, winning the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic in Malaysia by six shots. Van Pelt’s final-round 64 earned him a cool $1.3 million and a big shot of confidence from beating Camilo Villegas, Vijay Singh, Robert Allenby and other stars in the Asian Tour event.
Sergio Garcia: It’s fitting that on Halloween, we’re comfortable declaring this of the former poltergeist: He’s baaaack. Garcia followed up his victory at the Castello Masters with another at the Andalucia Masters, beating countryman Miguel Angel Jimenez by a shot. Home cooking has been kind to Garcia, who became the first Spaniard to win a stroke-play even at storied Valderrama.
Rory McIlroy: The international man of mystery pocketed $2 million – golf’s biggest payday – by fending off Anthony Kim in a playoff at the Shanghai Masters. It didn’t get him any closer to Luke Donald’s No. 1 world ranking, but the win confirmed that McIlroy remains plenty hungry following his U.S. Open triumph.
Yani Tseng: The game’s top female made the most of her own trip to China, winning the Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open for her 11th worldwide victory this year. That includes a pair of majors and marks Tseng the clear choice as golf’s most dominant player, regardless of gender.
450-yard par 4s: For the first time ever, average driving distance on the PGA Tour eclipsed 290 yards for an entire season (290.9 to be precise). To put that in perspective, Lee Janzen’s average tee shot in 2011 was 290.1 yards. In 1993, the year Janzen won his first of two U.S. Opens, he averaged 257.1.
He was 29 then. He’s 47 now. Frightening how much equipment has changed, isn’t it?
All hail Luke Donald, the undisputed No. 1 golfer in the world.
Technically, Donald has stood atop the world golf ranking since May 29, when he unseated fellow Englishman Lee Westwood. But there’s been plenty of clamor in the meantime, his critics arguing that Donald hadn’t done enough to earn the top spot.
Nevermind that no one else had, either, since Tiger Woods abdicated the throne last year. The major-less Donald, who went five years without a PGA Tour win (2006-2011), was an easy target.
With his incredible come-from-behind victory at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in Orlando, Donald silenced the doubters. Six straight birdies and a closing 64 were his polite way of saying “Shut up,” in proper King’s English, of course.
As a bonus, Donald leapfrogged Webb Simpson to claim the tour’s money title with a cool $6,683,214 on the year. That’s even more impressive when you consider how much he plays overseas. In fact, Donald’s in position to win the European Tour’s money race as well, which would make him the first person to take both in the same year.
Yeah, he’s No. 1.
Now on to our cheers and jeers, golf style, for the weekend that was:
Luke Donald: Did we mention that he played alongside Simpson for all four rounds of the CMN? Or that Donald was two shots behind his playing partner, and four shots off the lead, with eight holes to go?
Disney trappings aside, this was a gutsy performance. It may just have locked up PGA Tour Player of the Year honors, too. Donald was one of seven players with a pair of wins this season (not counting two in Europe) and by far the most consistent of the bunch.
The lone missing piece to his resumé remains that elusive major. At age 33, his time is now.
Sergio Garcia: While Donald was busy stamping his signature on the 2011 season, Garcia marked his resurgence complete with an 11-shot victory at the Castello Masters. The Spaniard thrilled a home crowd with a final-round 63 to lap the field, dedicating his win to the late, great Seve Ballesteros.
Having emerged from the oblivion that was 2010, Garcia may be poised to finally fulfill the potential he flashed as a teenager and 20-something. Welcome back, El Niño.
David Duval and Ben Curtis: A pair of former Open Championship winners, Duval and Curtis failed to earn exempt status for the tour in 2012. Duval, who seemed to be inching (ever so slowly) back to something like his old form, slipped to 152nd on the money list by missing the CMN cut. Curtis did likewise to finish 149th for the year.
For a so-called gentleman’s game, golf sure can turn acrimonious.
The latest examples include the revelation of a years-long, alpha-male spat between Greg Norman and Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy’s stunning split with agent Chubby Chandler. While no nasty words have been exchanged (publicly, at least) in the latter instance, it’s surely not an amicable parting.
Who needs reality TV when golf gives us this kind of drama?
All that, plus word on a jaw-dropping new course on the Chinese coast and an adult beverage bearing Arnold Palmer’s name and mug, in our weekly roundup of entertaining golf news.
Shark vs. Tiger
We were thinking Norman’s most recent comments about Tiger’s unworthiness as a Presidents Cup captain’s selection might have been spurred by Woods breaking the course record – shared by Norman – at the Medalist Club in Hobe Sound, Fla.
BTW, Norman designed the course, too. Double-ouch.
Turns out the animosity between the two goes back more than a few weeks, according to this article by Robert Lusetich. Apparently, sharing Butch Harmon’s time when both were under his tutelage was more than these supposed grown-ups could handle.
Norman tried to defuse the rancor in an email to Lusetich. “I have said this before and I will say it again, I hope Tiger does turn his game around,” Norman wrote. “It would be great for golf.
“I have said all I need to say about this.”
Let’s hope not. We’re kind of enjoying this little spat.
Big Mac attack
Another off-course bombshell dropped Friday morning, when news of McIlroy’s defection to Horizon Sports Management hit the wires. The 22-year-old U.S. Open champion spent his formative years with Chandler’s International Sports Management group, whose clients won four of five majors starting with the 2010 Open Championship.
Chandler has been praised for his delicate handling of McIlroy’s career since the Northern Ireland phenom turned pro at age 18. No definitive answer yet as to why McIlroy jumped ship to Horizon, a relatively new firm based in Dublin whose stable includes Ernie Els and Graeme McDowell.
Will this episode become another black eye for the likeable McIlroy, following his dismissive remarks about links golf and a Twitter spat with a TV announcer over McIlroy’s caddie?
Or is it just another sign that McIlroy has an inner ruthlessness that belies his outward charm? Image be damned, that could bode well for his future.
Chinese fireworks from Coore & Crenshaw
We don’t have much to say about the new Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw course in Shanquin Bay, China, except that it looks spectacular. This being a Coore-Crenshaw design and seaside, to boot, it should draw plentiful attention from architecture aficionados.
Darius Oliver has a detailed review and terrific pics at Planet Golf.
Sorry Arnie, we’ll stick with beer
Not sure about the sales prospects for the new Arnold Palmer Hard Malt beverage – half ice tea, half lemonade, and 5 percent alcohol – but I do know one golfer who won’t be trying it.
That would be me. If Arnie ever slaps his name on a hoppy pale ale or toasty imperial stout, count me in.
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