Remarkable and unpredictable year in golf

By John FeinsteinDecember 8, 2015, 1:30 pm

It was, first and foremost, the year of Jordan. But it was also the year of Jason. And Zach. It was the year Tiger Woods confessed that he understood mortality. It was the year when soccer – pickup soccer at that – changed the storyline for a major championship. 

It was also the year when the Presidents Cup had some drama and the Solheim Cup became a melodrama. It was the year that Lydia Ko and Inbee Park dueled to the finish line to be queen of the women’s game. 

It was the year when the U.S. Open began each morning with a guessing game: Par 4 or par 5? Only Mike Davis knew. It was the year of the new Big Three: Spieth, Day and McIlroy. Or would it be a Big Four with Rickie Fowler jumping on board? 

And, it was the year of the task force. 

In short, 2015 was the year that golf had just about everything one could possibly ask for in terms of storylines and drama. 

Think first about the four major championships: Spieth's bravura performance going wire-to-wire at Augusta; Spieth's birdie and Dustin Johnson’s three-putt at spectacular but quirky Chambers Bay; Spieth and Day each missing the three-man playoff – won by Zach Johnson – at St. Andrews by inches; and finally, Day putting on a historic performance at Whistling Straits to hold off Spieth and win his long-awaited first major. 



The only down note connected to the majors was McIlroy’s absence from St. Andrews. Two weeks prior he was playing pickup soccer with some friends when he tore ligaments in his ankle. All the kid’s horses and all the kid’s men couldn’t put him back together again in time to defend the title he had won a year earlier in Liverpool. 

McIlroy made it back to play respectably in the PGA but his major season was effectively ended by the fluke injury. He did win in Dubai at year’s end, reminding everyone that he plans to be a major factor next year. 

After winning the PGA, Day then played so spectacularly the first three weeks of the playoffs – winning twice in dominant fashion – that there were actually some saying he could win Player of the Year honors if he climaxed his run with a win at East Lake. Spieth put an end to that talk by winning for a fifth time to wrap up everything there was to be wrapped up. 

And so, one year after everyone agreed the next 10 years would be dominated by McIlroy, Spieth dominated in much the same way McIlroy had in 2014, and moved to No. 1 in the world rankings. With Spieth (22 years old), Day (27) and McIlroy (26) ensconced in the top three spots in those rankings it seemed clear that golf’s new order had arrived. 

Of course, Johnson reminded everyone that the old guys can still play, too, when he won the British Open nine months prior to turning 40. 

Johnson is two months younger than Woods – who will hit 40 on December 30. The year wasn’t nearly as joyous for the man who transformed the game early in this century as it was for many others.

Once, Woods never missed cuts – making 142 in a row at one point. In 2015, most of his starts were divided into two categories: those in which he struggled to make the cut and those in which he missed it by a mile. 

He shot a historically-awful 82 in the second round at Phoenix, then walked off the golf course a week later in San Diego saying that his glutes weren’t firing. He managed to conquer the chipping yips in time to finish T-17 at the Masters, but that turned out to be his best performance in a major. He missed the cut comfortably in the other three. 

Through it all, Woods kept insisting it was all a process, that he saw progress and that he just had to stick to what he was doing. He finally did show some progress in Greensboro, contending for three rounds before a final-round 70 dropped him from a tie for second to a tie for 10th. 

On that same day, Davis Love III shot 64 and, at age 51, won for the 21st time in his career. 

Love was a major figure in the sport all year because he was the surprise choice as next year’s Ryder Cup captain. Love was part of the 11-man task force assigned to figure out a way to stop the bleeding for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, which dropped to 2-8 dating to 1995 after the debacle at Gleneagles. 

When Love realized that everyone in the room was (metaphorically) looking at him (he was on the phone) during discussions about who should be the next captain, he began calling the other players on the task force as soon as the group took a break. 

“I’ll do this,” he told them all, “but only if I have your word you’ll do anything I ask you to do.”

That included accepting a role as vice captain for those who weren’t on the team, which is why several months later, Woods, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker were named along with Tom Lehman to be assistants. 



The task force discussions were Mickelson’s one real victory of the year. While he struggled with his game, his imprint was clear on many of the decisions made by a group that came into existence in large part because of the invective Mickelson directed at previous captain Tom Watson. The players need more input in all decisions, Mickelson insisted. Six players were on the task force, with Mickelson the most vocal. 

The year came to a stunning conclusion on a quiet Tuesday in December when all the important golf had been played and everyone was ramping up for 2016. 

By then, Woods had been absent from the golf course since that Sunday in Greensboro when he began to feel pain in his hip. A few weeks later, he underwent back surgery, again. And then, stunningly, he had to go back for yet another procedure. 

Woods arrived at the exhibition event he has hosted for a number of years to play host to the 18-players competing and to all his various sponsors. When he met with the media for a pre-tournament news conference everyone expected the usual platitudes about process and progress and staying the course. 

Instead, they listened to a Woods they had never heard before. There was, he said, no timetable for his return or even for beginning rehab. He talked about his career almost as if it was past tense saying at one point, "Anything I do from here on will be gravy." If he didn’t catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories, “I’ll still have had a pretty good run.”

Woods’ run has been spectacular. Hearing him concede that the end of that run may be in sight was stunning, even shocking. 

In a sense, though, it was an apt ending for 2015. Because, in truth, almost nothing that happened during the year was predictable: Spieth’s dominance; Day’s remarkable summer; Johnson’s Open victory; even Love’s win in Greensboro. No one saw any of that coming anymore than they foresaw Woods opening his mouth and, for all intents and purposes saying, “yup, I’m mortal, too.” 

Which is why predicting what is to come in 2016 is just about impossible. Which means, like the year just past, it should be remarkably compelling. 

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”

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PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.

LPGA:

We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.

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Sharma closes on Monday, wins Joburg Open

By Associated PressDecember 11, 2017, 12:43 pm

JOHANNESBURG – Shubhankar Sharma won his first European Tour title by a shooting 3-under 69 Monday in the final round of the weather-delayed Joburg Open.

The 21-year-old Indian resumed his round on the eighth green after play was halted early Sunday afternoon because of storms. He parred that hole, birdied No. 9 and made par on every hole on the back nine.


Full-field scores from the Joburg Open


Sharma finished at 23-under 264, three strokes ahead of the pack, and qualified for next year's British Open, too.

''I actually wasn't going to come here about a week ago ... so I'm really happy that I came,'' said Sharma, who shot 61 in the second round. ''I don't think I'm ever going forget my first time in South Africa.''

Erik van Rooyen (66) was second, three strokes ahead of Shaun Norris (65) and Tapio Pulkkanen (68).

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 pm