The first official two-year season – 2014-2015 – in the history of the PGA Tour is over. Last year, the PGA Tour began its season for the first time in October, which ran through September of this year. While the 2015-2016 season is already underway, let’s look back at the season, or year, that was – in case you can’t quite remember what went on.
Just like all the TV pundits and know-it-not-alls predicted, Eldrick Woods had a tremendous golfing season, regained his form of old and saved golf (cue the dramatic movie music).
No, Eldrick Woods was 0-for-the season. In 11 starts he managed just one top-10 finish, made six cuts, didn’t make the weekend because of his play four times and withdrew once.
Guess what, televised golf survived.
It even thrived.
Every time ol’ Eldrick turned a good round on Thursday or Friday, the TV golf people were so excited it was as if they were about to slip into some euphoric psychotic state. Alas, Woods didn’t come close to winning and ended his season no closer to equaling or passing the record of all-time major professional victories held by Jack Nicklaus.
The highlight of Eldrick’s year might have come at the Masters, when he hit a tree root on his downswing and injured his wrist. It did give him a chance to demonstrate his medical prowess. According to Woods, the shot dislocated a bone but he popped it back into place right then and there, without even a wince.
Sure he did.
It also turns out that the surgery Woods had on his back in September was, in fact, performed by Woods on a practice putting green at course near his house. Hey, many of TV’s golf talkers bought Tiger’s ludicrous assertion about his wrist, why not push it to the extreme?
Make way for Spieth
So it wasn’t Tiger’s year. No, the season belonged to Jordan Spieth with his five victories, including two majors and the Tour Championship. Jason Day won five times, including his first major, quite the campaign most others seasons, but not in 2015. It was good enough for him to finish second in the player of the year voting to Spieth.
Spieth first took home the hardware in mid March at the Valspar Championship, but two weeks later Jimmy Walker was the hot hand, recording his second victory of the season. By year’s end, Walker wasn’t mentioned in the conversation of the best player in the game even though he recorded five PGA Tour victories in a 17-month span. He did not, however, notch another “W” after March.
Spieth followed up the Valspar by taking home the biggest paychecks the Masters and U.S. Open have ever handed out and became one of only six players to win those two tournaments in the same year. Tiger did it most recently before him.
Spieth then caused much controversy in the golf world by choosing to play the John Deere Classic the week before the Open Championship was going to be held at the Old Course in St. Andrews, instead of heading over a week early to practice and get acclimated to the time change. Spieth’s first PGA Tour victory came in 2014 at John Deere, and he wanted to show his allegiance to the tournament. A fine gesture by Spieth, but when he finished second by one shot in Scotland, chatter resumed about whether or not his decision ultimately cost him a place among the game’s very best – never mind a run at immortality if he had also garnered the PGA Championship.
We’ll never know, now will we.
Brown at Chambers Bay
Oh, and wasn’t the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay something? Boy, brown turf sure makes lots of golfing and non-golfing folks more than a bit uncomfortable. In fact, it made some downright angry.
“What’s wrong with the grass,” I heard one golfer bellow out at a bar.
“Nothing,” I replied. “It’s just dormant.”
“Well it looks dead. They should fire that superintendent!” he shot back.
Jay Blasi, the lead designer of Chambers, summed up the mindset of the golfing public when we talked weeks after the tournament.
“They turned on the TV set and it looked like a British Open and that didn’t sit well with them,” he said.
Putts bounced all over the place and many players, scribes and announcers called it unfair. The changing of the pars on the first and 18th holes confused almost all. Unfortunately, lost in all of it was the wonderful design that forced players to think and choose spots to hit to, to ruminate before driving so as to determine the placement that would give them the desired approach angle.
According to Blasi, the layout was designed primarily for the average golfer; it is after all a daily-fee facility, but there were locations specifically for the golfing aristocracy.
“There are lots of width but in that there is a hidden area the pro has to find,” Blasi said.
You know who found those places of respite most often? The player who had a good outing at Chambers in 2010 when it hosted the U.S. Amateur and who now has a former Chambers caddie on his bag.
Yep, that Spieth guy is no do dummy.
Looking at the players
Just when it looked as if Spieth was firmly in the top spot and so far ahead that no one could challenge him, Jason Day came along. He won once early in the year and then the week after the Open Championship he garnered the Canadian Open title. Then he added the PGA Championship with a record 20-below total on the par-72 Straits Course at Whistling Straits.
The Spieth kid finished alone in second three shots back, which means he had two first, a second and a fourth in the majors.
Day wasn’t done either. He reeled off the Barclays and the BMW Championship, giving him three victories in five starts. Suddenly, Spieth had company at the top, but he outlasted the challenger at the very end.
Former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy hurt himself kicking a ball and fell to No. 3 even though he won the WGC Match Play Championship, Wells Fargo Championship and the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic.
Bubba Watson had a pretty good year. He took the Confederate Battle Flag off the hood of the General Lee, put his second trophy from the Travelers Championship on the shelf and ended up ranked fourth in the world just head of Ricky Fowler, who took home two pieces of hardware, one from the Players Championship and the other from the Deutsch Bank Championship, for his second and third career PGA Tour wins.
In early October it was a victory that went all but unnoticed that might serve as a knock on the door of the world golfing elite by Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, 21, who won the British Masters going wire-to-wire for his maiden European Tour title. Fitzpatrick’s name could ring a bell. He captured the 2013 U.S. Amateur at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., ironically on the centennial of Francis Ouimet’s stunning upset of Englishmen Harry Vardon and Jim Barnes in the U.S. Open. In 2016 Fitzpatrick might just force his way into the upper echelon of golf whether Spieth, Day or McIlroy like it or not.
Over on the woman’s side, there was a rather tense situation.
While there might not be crying in baseball, there is in men’s and women’s golf (along with a lot of whining) and that was demonstrated at the Solheim Cup. During a four-ball match, American Alison Lee mistakenly thought her European opponents had conceded a 16-inch putt on the 17th hole so she picked up and thereby lost the hole. Ultimately, Lee and Brittany Lincicome were beaten in the match two-down. They were in tears on the 18th green when it was all over.
Fingers were pointed. Accusations hurled. Integrities questioned.
Originally, Suzann Pettersen, who along with Charley Hull was charged with bad sportsmanship among other hanging crimes, was unrepentant over the incident, which came as no surprise to tournament-tested match play golfers – making someone putt out from 16 inches or less is acceptable.
“We are all trying to win,” Pettersen said. “It was very clear from Charley and me that we wanted to see the putt (taken).”
A day later, though, Pettersen had a change of heart and on Instagram produced one of the great apologies in the history of organized sports, at least in this section of the universe. It read in part:
“I’ve never felt more gutted and truly sad about what went down Sunday …
“I am so sorry for not thinking about the bigger picture in the heat of the battle and competition. I was trying my hardest for my team and put the single match and the point that could be earned ahead of sportsmanship and the game of golf itself! I feel like I let my team down and I am sorry.
“I hope in time the U.S. team will forgive me and know that I have learned a valuable lesson about what is truly important in this great game of golf which has given me so much in my life.”
By the way, the American team, which apparently did forgive her, prevailed, 14.5 points to 13.5 points as the tears of joy (at least for the U.S.) flowed.
This was also the first year the LPGA Championship, a major, became the KPGM Women’s PGA Championship and was run by the PGA of America and not the LPGA. Not surprisingly, Inbe Park won the event as she had in the previous two years. The tournament was held at Westchester (New York) Country Club for the first time. Park ended the year ranked No. 1 in the world.