Another season has officially closed on the PGA Tour, and below I’ve noted some of the more notable stories this year in Golf. It seems like the season just started a month ago, and here we are waiting for the Hawaiian Swing to kick off in January. Maybe it’s because I found myself watching from abroad for much of the season, but it felt like a different year on Tour. Not a bad year, but different. Anyway, let’s hope that winter passes without much ado and that the Masters gets here before we know it.
2012 Career Breakthroughs
It’s one thing to make it to the big leagues in golf, but with the depth of talent that exists today on the PGA Tour – winning has never proven to be more difficult. As we look at the roster of first-time winners this season listed below, we can’t help but recognize the significance regarding a particular few. In February we marveled at the character that Kyle Stanley showed with his remarkable rebound at the Phoenix Open, when just a week earlier he endured the most humiliating ordeal of his young career by carelessly botching the final hole on Sunday and then losing in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker at Torrey Pines. Three months later, and after 8 long years and 162 career PGA Tour starts, Jason Dufner finally broke through with his first Tour win at the Zurich Classic in April. Rickie Fowler’s tradition of wearing his customary Sunday Orange finally paid dividends in May, as Fowler picked up his first career Tour win by besting Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points in a playoff at the Wells Fargo. Tommy 2-Gloves Gainey finally took advantage of his Big Break stardom and cashed in his first-ever PGA Tour win at the McGladrey Classic back in October, and what had to be the unlikeliest of wins occurred 3 weeks later, as 28-yr-old Charlie Beljan overcame a serious health scare (panic attack) in the 2nd round of the Children’s Miracle Network and went on to win his first Tour victory.
Congrats to all of the following players who picked up their maiden Tour victories in 2012:
February – Kyle Stanley @ the Phoenix Open, John Huh @ the Mayakoba Classic
April – Jason Dufner @ the Zurich Classic
May – Rickie Fowler @ the Wells Fargo Championship
June – Marc Leishman @ the Traveler’s Championship
July – Ted Potter, Jr @ the Greenbrier Classic
October – Jonas Blixt @ the Frys.Com, Tommy Gainey @ the McGladrey Classic
November – Charlie Beljan @ the Children’s Miracle Network
2012 Multiple Winners
The average Tour player starts each season with one basic goal: to play well enough to earn enough money to keep his Tour card for the following year. But for some – it’s not about just winning once, but winning multiple times and putting
themselves in the thick of things on Sunday in the game’s biggest tournaments. With exception of Tiger, you’d be hard pressed to find a group of players who feel they accomplished more than these players did in 2012. And even though Tiger failed in his bid to restart his major championship run, I would have to think that at some level he feels like he had a solid season, at least based on where his game has been the past few years.
Brandt Snedeker – 2 wins: Farmers Insurance Open (January), Coca Cola Tour Championship (September)
Hunter Mahan – 2 wins: WGC Matchplay Championship (February), Shell Houston Open (April)
Jason Dufner – 2 wins: The Zurich Classic (April), The Byron Nelson Championship (May)
Zach Johnson – 2 wins: The Crowne Plaza Invitational (May), The John Deere Classic (July)
Tiger Woods – 3 wins: Arnold Palmer Invitational (March), The Memorial Tournament (June), The AT&T National (July)
Rory McIlroy – 4 wins: The Honda Classic (March), PGA Championship (August), Deutsche Bank Championship (August), BMW Championship (September)
2012′s Biggest Non-Major Tournament Winners
Hunter Mahan – WGC Accenture Matchplay Championship
Justin Rose – WGC Cadillac Championship
Matt Kuchar – The Players Championship
Keegan Bradley – WGC Bridgestone Invitational
Ian Poulter – WGC HSBC Championship
2012 Major Championship Winners
The major championships in 2012 unveiled two first-time major winners, thanks to Bubba Watson’s unforgettable 40-yard bender from the trees at Augusta National and Webb Simpson’s steady final round at Olympic Club in the US Open two months later. But the most improbable major championship story was authored by none other than 43-year-old Ernie Els, who picked up his 4th career major win at Royal Lytham, thanks to a solid final round of 2-under 68 (and not to mention a forgettable finish that Adam Scott will likely never forget). And last but not least, in Congressional-like fashion from a year earlier, Rory McIlroy totally obliterated the field at the Ocean Course in the PGA Championship, setting an all-time record for the greatest margin of victory and picking up his 2nd major championship trophy in the span of little more than a year.
Bubba Watson – The Masters, Webb Simpson – US Open, Ernie Els – The Open Championship, Rory McIlroy – PGA Championship
2012 Rookie of the Year
Although this was John Huh’s first year on the PGA Tour, he truly was a rookie in name only, as the 22-yr-old American spent three years grooming his game on the Korean Tour circuit. Huh would notch his first ever professional tour win on the Korean Tour in 2010, and then moved on to the Asia One Tour in 2011, finishing 15th in that tour’s order of merit. He finally decided to give the PGA Tour a shot by entering Q-School in the fall of 2011, and made the cut on the number in the final stage to earn his Tour card for 2012. In just his 5th start on the game’s biggest stage, Huh became the first rookie success story of the season, defeating Tour veteran Robert Allenby in a playoff at the Mayakoba Classic and securing his first Tour career win. For the season and in addition to his first career win on the PGA Tour, Huh amassed 4 top-10′s, including a runner-up finish at the Valero Texas Open, and finished inside the top-25 on 12 occasions. Congrats to John Huh – the PGA Tour’s 2012 Rookie of the Year.
2012 Player of the Year
It came as no surprise to anyone last week when Rory McIlroy was crowned the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year, but midway through the season it certainly wasn’t looking that way. After
picking up his first win of the year at the Honda Classic, Rory’s game went into a mini tailspin of sorts. There was the disappointing T40 finish at the Masters, where he was expected to 2-step with Tiger for the coveted Green Jacket… and as he was entering the straightaway for the season’s 2nd major, he missed 3 weekend cuts in 4 starts. Sure enough, this year’s US Open would render a little payback on last year’s behalf, as the defending champ was clearly unprepared to deal with all that Olympic Club required. As irony would have it, McIlroy finished 10-over par after two rounds, failing to even make it to the weekend.
But as truly great players do, McIlroy did. After yet another disappointing major championship showing at the British, finishing T60, Rory got to work rewriting the ending of his season. It started with yet another remarkable record-setting performance in another major championship, lapping the field at Kiawah by a whopping 8-stroke margin and picking up his 2nd career major championship win, and ended with him winning back-to-back events in the FedEx Cup series playoffs. It’s not always how you start, but most always it’s how you finish. Within a matter of 29 days, Rory won three times, one of which was a major. At only 23 years of age, he’s already at the halfway mark of achieving the coveted career grand slam.
2012 FedEx Cup Winner
Most of you know that I’m not particularly fond of the FedEx Cup concept, for numerous reasons, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t glued to the coverage during the last two playoff events. It’s not that it doesn’t belong, but that I think the points need to be redistributed in a manner that at the very least identifies the best player during the playoffs. How a player can win half of the playoff events and not win the damned thing is beyond me…
But that’s a different matter, I suppose. In the final leg of the Tour Championship, everyone knew where they stood and what needed to be done. And Brandt Snedeker, to his credit, went out and got it done in stellar fashion. I guess if McIlroy didn’t win the Cup, Snedeker was as good an alternative as any, especially given the career year he enjoyed. For the season, Sneds had 2 wins, 1 runner-up finish, a 3rd place finish, 7 top-10′s and 10 top-25′s. In 22 weeks of work, he only missed the weekend on 2 occasions and raked in a few thousand shy of $5 million. The $10 million was certainly a well deserved bonus as far as I’m concerned.
2012′s Most Memorable Shot
He fidgets. He’s said that his mind races, he struggles concentrating sometimes while he plays. He’s emotional, it doesn’t take a whole lot to bring him to tears… or, for that matter, to rattle
his cage. He’s incredibly unorthodox, yet remarkably talented. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, proof being earlier in the year when he went on the record stating his opposition to belly & long putters, saying they shouldn’t be allowed. He’s got every shot in the bag, except a straight one. And he’s admitted several times over the years that he plays the game by the seat of his pants, unafraid to take the big gamble.
When you look at a venue like Augusta National, and then compare that to a player like Bubba Watson – it all suddenly starts to make sense. It’s the one major tournament each year where a player can pick his poison… light rough, big greens with slopes and backboards that allow you to be creative, and holes that beg you to simply let the big dog eat. And when it comes to dogs, no dog is bigger than Bubba’s, who led the tour in driving this year with an astounding 315 yard average. This course in its current modern day setup was essentially made with a brave, exciting player like Bubba Watson in mind.
So it’s not that big of a surprise that a player like Watson would win. But the way he won? The shot that would define the tournament, or as Tin Cup would say – define the moment? You can’t draw that shot up. Computerized launch monitors literally start to frazzle and short circuit when you enter all of the data in play on that shot. You enter the yardage, then the lie of the ball on the pine needles, then the angle of launch needed at impact, then the degrees of bend needed to move the ball around the overhead canopy of pines to somewhere remotely near the green? Here’s what the computer will tell you: File Not Found. That shot doesn’t exist! But it did that day, and it very well might be the greatest shot ever hit in the past 50 years of the tournament.
2012′s Most Magnificent Meltdown
It pains me to write this, because despite having a goon for a caddie – I like the guy. What’s not to like? He’s a good looking guy, well spoken, easy going, and has a beautiful golf swing that should’ve won him a dozen or so more tournaments than it has. But you only have so many opportunities to win major championships, and you’ll probably never find yourself in the final round of a major with a 4-shot lead with only 4 holes left to play, ever again. I also have a lot of respect for Ernie Els, who also embodies those same qualities, but let’s be very real here – it was the mother of all Christmas presents. The only way Adam Scott could lose the Open Championship would be to drop 4 shots over the final 4 holes, which is precisely what he did. I’m not saying that Scott’s implosion in 2012 overtakes Van de Velde’s back in ’99, but it was very close.
The Miracle at Medinah
We had the equivalent of a 4 touchdown lead in the 4th quarter. And then, despite the history of this event suggesting otherwise, we assumed that they would give up. We needed a measly 4-1/2 points out of the remaining 12 points available on
Sunday, and deep down we thought we’d zapped their spirit. “Bubba’s good for a point Sunday, now we’re looking at 3-1/2… Keegan has played brilliantly, he’ll pick up a point for us to get to 2-1/2. Same with Phil, same with Kuchar, same with Dufner, same with Webb… hell, it won’t even be a contest. We don’t have to win every match, the momentum is clearly on our side this time around, it’s our time.” Now obviously I can’t say for sure that any player on our side had that exact mindset heading into Sunday… I’m sure each player had the goal to go out and win his individual match, but we had enough of a cushion for some players to assume that there was no way we were gonna lose. I’m guessing the champagne was being iced as the first match got underway that final morning, in fact.
But the truth of the matter is that the momentum that we thought we had heading into Sunday was actually favoring the Euros. Ian Poulter’s incredible closing stretch of 5 consecutive birdies to snatch a point away from what was an all but certain point for the home team Saturday afternoon – that set the tone for the European squad Saturday evening. “These guys are not invincible” – that’s the statement that his win in that match conveyed to the rest of the European team, and that was the spark that fueled the incredible comeback Sunday. And as bad as our performance was on Sunday, the Euros’ performances were 1000 times greater. They took the momentum that Poulter gave them the evening prior, and they played without fear, they played inspired, and they played to win. And we simply played to not lose, thinking that somewhere on that roster – 5 of our guys would step up and deliver.
Watching the event happen the way it happened on Sunday – it stirred some emotions that I’d felt back in ’99, just watching as an unbiased fan. What the Europeans did that Sunday was definitely on the same page as what happened at Brookline – special, memorable, and incredible. But as an American fan who is growing tired of seeing us lose this event over and over and over – I gotta tell ya – I’m left with this one thought: barring some sort of policy that requires European players who play in the US to represent the US in future Ryder Cups, I’m not sure that we’ll ever assume ownership again in my lifetime. I just don’t think it means as much to us as it does them. $.02
Photo by David Cannon
The End of the Belly and Broomstick Era
It was only a matter of time, because too many players were having success using them. Although the USGA and R&A granted current players who use the belly and longer putters plenty of time to make the needed adjustments to conform to the new rule change that is slated to take effect in 2016, I think there’s a very good possibility that the official rule change could go into effect sooner… call this initial recent announcement a testing of the fallout, if you will, and judging by the general consensus – I think it passed rather easily. I’ve maintained that an acceptable grace period was warranted in the event that anchoring would become banned, because naturally this new rule change has every reason to impact careers. But to grant a grace period of 3 years, in my view, is about 18 months too long. Obviously the game’s ruling bodies feel otherwise, and I respect the argument that they’d prefer to offer players too much time to adjust as too little.
While everyone seems to be focusing on the impact this will have on the PGA Tour, I see some far more serious repercussions for some of the older players on the Champions Tour who use them. Some of these veterans have bankrolled quite a bit of additional retirement income thanks to the new found ability to make putts, and I think the impacts on some of those players who do use them will be much more significant than on the younger players at the next level down. Of course, the USGA/R&A might’ve been taking that into account as they were establishing the grace period, since those currently on the Champions Tour still have three more years to collect those post-retirement paydays.
I personally don’t care one way or the other as it relates to the issue, only to say that from the professional level – I find it interesting that there’s more urgency dealing with belly and long putters than the one thing that (imo) has and continues to change the game on a far greater scale: the golf ball. John Daly led the Tour in driving back in 1995 with an average of 297 yards. Today, 297 yards is the average length on tour, and 340-350 yard drives aren’t uncommon. If we’re talking about protecting the game at that level, the ball represents far more harm than anchoring a putter.
As always, thanks for reading!
So long, 2012….