Ten takeaways from a wild major season

By Ryan LavnerAugust 2, 2016, 12:30 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – The major season began with an awkward exchange, as a heartbroken Jordan Spieth slipped the green jacket onto the shoulders of Danny Willett.

It ended with a heartwarming display of sportsmanship, with Jason Day waiting behind the 18th green to personally congratulate Jimmy Walker on outlasting him en route to his first major title.

Over the past 115 days, we’ve seen just about everything: long-awaited breakthroughs, sublime final-round play and questionable decision-making.

And so before we look ahead to the Olympics, FedEx Cup Playoffs and Ryder Cup, here are 10 takeaways from an unforgettable major season:

Golf is too deep for a Big Whatever. So much for Spieth, Day and Rory McIlroy continuing to mop up major titles. Walker’s win at the PGA was the fifth in a row by a first-timer, and there are plenty of others waiting in the pipeline, from Sergio Garcia to Brooks Koepka to Branden Grace. Day might be the best player on the planet, but at the PGA he was topped by a guy who didn’t have a top-10 since March. Everybody is invited to the parity party.


Photos: Top men's major moments in 2016

DJ realized his awesome potential. Sure, there was a sense of inevitability to Johnson’s victory at Oakmont, but with each close call – and each are-you-kidding-me? moment – it became harder to envision that he would bust through the major barrier. And yet, after years of succumbing to the big moment, he shook off one of the most bizarre incidents in major-championship history and powered his way to victory. How’d he elevate his brawny game to the next level? By shoring up his biggest weakness. In the past year, he’s improved from 53rd to sixth in proximity to the hole from 125 yards and in. For a power player who has a wedge or short iron into more than half his holes each round, that minor improvement proved to be the difference-maker.


This year, at least, there was more action on the 12th hole than the 18th. Spieth’s bid for back-to-back Masters titles came to an end on the most dangerous par 3 in the world, at Augusta National. His first tee shot there at least was understandable – yes, it was a poorly struck iron at an inopportune time, but he’s far from the first player to rinse a shot in Rae’s Creek. What turned Spieth’s big blunder into a monumental mistake was then chunking a three-quarter wedge from the drop zone, leading to a shocking quadruple bogey and a deficit he couldn’t overcome. It was devastating to watch, and now Spieth (and every golf fan) will flash back to that moment every time he walks to the tee. The 12th hole was no less memorable at Oakmont – that’s where USGA officials confronted Johnson and informed him that he might receive a one-stroke penalty after the round, sending the Open into chaos. Which reminds us …


It was not a banner major season for either the USGA or the PGA of America. The blue blazers royally botched the DJ ruling, first refusing to acknowledge that the officials had made an error (even trotting out some legal mumbo jumbo about the preponderance of evidence) before finally conceding it had made a “big bogey.” Throw in USGA president Diana Murphy’s bizarre inability to conduct a trophy presentation (pictured), and the USGA quickly became a punch line – and a punching bag. The PGA’s Kerry Haigh is one of the most well-respected setup men in the game, but even he came under fire for not bumping up tee times during Saturday’s third round. That miscalculation forced players to slog through the longest final day in 64 years. At least it wasn’t all bad news for the PGA: Somehow, the final round was completed before nightfall Sunday, and the unprecedented decision to play preferred lies turned out to be a shrewd move when the fairways became glorified mud pits. By the end of the major season, the controversies and the contentiousness were exhausting. Can’t they just form a three-person committee to make common-sense decisions?


Spieth is adjusting to life in his new world. At about this time last year, he had just polished off one of the greatest major seasons ever, when he finished four shots shy of the single-season Grand Slam. Oh, what a fascinating time since. From melting down at the Masters to bristling at some of the negative questions about his game, Spieth is slowly but surely learning about the expectations and pressure of being a global superstar. Even though he likely was one hole away from adding another major title, all anyone seems to remember now is that he has finished outside the top 10 in each of the past three majors, prompting a slew of “What’s Wrong with Jordan?” thinkpieces. The answer, of course, is nothing, because he’s 23 and history suggests he probably won’t ever top last year’s dream run. At times, the outside criticism has seemed unfair, especially for a two-time Tour winner this season. But Spieth likely realizes now that he won’t be judged like everybody else. Fair or not, it’s the price of superstardom.


Rory has fallen behind. The belief here – and surely many other places – was that in 2016 McIlroy would reassume his spot atop golf’s pecking order. He’d be healthy … hungry … motivated. Instead, he fell flat in a Saturday showdown with Spieth at the Masters, missed the cut at the U.S. Open, never factored at Troon and then self-immolated on the greens at Baltusrol. McIlroy’s long game might be peerless, but until he figures out a solution to his putting woes, the gap between him and the No. 1 ranking will only grow wider.


Henrik Stenson’s Open performance will go down as one of the best all time. After every major there’s a rush to declare that what we just witnessed was one of the best duels, rounds or shots in the game’s long history. Oftentimes, we’re simply victims of the moment. Not so, however, when it came to putting the thrilling head-to-head battle between Stenson and Phil Mickelson in the proper perspective. Blowing away the field, they needed just 128 shots, combined, in the final round at Troon, with Stenson becoming only the second player to win after closing with 63. The famed Duel in the Sun had better stars, with legends Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus trading blows at Turnberry. The final round at Troon had better golf.


Phil has plenty left in the tank. Though he remains as unpredictable as ever, Mickelson proved at Troon (and at other stops earlier this year) that he isn’t slowing down, even as an arthritic 46-year-old. We’ve taken for granted that Mickelson has been so good for so long – he won on Tour as a 20-year-old amateur! – but the offseason work with new coach Andrew Getson has helped revitalize his stagnant game. Even if he never captures that elusive Open, it’s easy to see him contending at the majors as he approaches the Big 5-0 and beyond.


The condensed summer schedule helped and hurt in equal measure. Though DJ and Stenson could ride their good form into high finishes at multiple majors, the quick turnaround time proved costly for stars like Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Adam Scott, whose game was just a touch off this summer. Quite simply, there wasn’t ample time to correct any swing flaw. Fowler, in particular, took a massive step backward in 2016. Two years after finishing in the top 5 in all four majors, and a year after winning three times worldwide, he bombed out with two missed cuts and two other middling finishes outside the top 30. It’ll be a long wait until April.


The PGA should consider a new date for the 2020 PGA. It’s clear that the Olympics undermined the year’s fourth major, creating a buzz-less atmosphere at Baltusrol and a wave of burnt-out players. In a seven-week span, the game’s elite teed it up in three majors and a World Golf Championship event. By the time the PGA arrived in late July, several players were dragging and ready for an extended break. Let’s face it: It’s too much demanding, high-pressure golf, and the product suffered. Assuming men’s golf remains in the Olympic rotation in 2020, the PGA would be wise to consider all options – March? May? October? – to help differentiate the event from just another big tournament in a year full of them.

Hensby takes full responsibility for violation

By Rex HoggardDecember 13, 2017, 5:28 pm

The PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program manual covers 48 pages of details, from the pressing to the mundane, but for Mark Hensby the key section of the policy could be found on Page 5.

“The collector may allow you to delay reporting to the testing area for unavoidable obligations; however, you will be monitored from the time of notification until completion of the sample collection process,” the policy reads. “A failure to report to the testing area by the required time is the same as a doping violation under the program.”

Hensby, a 46-year-old former Tour winner from Australia, didn’t read that section, or any other part of the manual. In fact, he said he hasn’t received the circuit’s anti-doping manual in years. Not that he uses that as an excuse.

To be clear, Hensby doesn’t blame his anti-doping plight on anyone else.

“At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility,” he told GolfChannel.com.

Like Doug Barron, Scott Stallings and even Vijay Singh before him, Hensby ran afoul of the Tour’s anti-doping policy because, essentially, of a clerical error. There were no failed tests, no in-depth investigations, no seedy entourages who sent Hensby down a dark road of performance-enhancing drug use.

Just a simple misunderstanding combined with bad timing.

Hensby, who last played a full season on Tour in 2003, had just completed the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship when he was approached by a member of the Tour’s anti-doping testing staff. He was angry about his play and had just used the restroom on the 17th hole and, he admits, was in no mood to wait around to take the urine test.

“Once I said, ‘Can I take it in the morning,’ [the Tour’s anti-doping official] said, ‘We can’t hold you here,’” Hensby recalled. “I just left.”

Not one but two officials called Hensby that night to ask why he’d declined to take the test, and he said he was even advised to return to the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.) to take the test, which is curious because the policy doesn’t allow for such gaps between notification of a test and the actual testing.

According to the policy, a player is considered in violation of the program if he leaves the presence of the doping control officers without providing the required sample.

A Tour official declined to comment on the matter citing the circuit’s policy not to comment on doping violations beyond the initial disclosure.

A week later, Hensby was informed he was in violation of the Tour’s policy and although he submitted a letter to the commissioner explaining the reasons for his failure to take the test he was told he would be suspended from playing in any Tour-sanctioned events (including events on the Web.com Tour) for a year.

“I understand now what the consequences are, but you know I’ve been banned for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and I don’t take performance-enhancing drugs,” Hensby said.

Hensby isn’t challenging his suspension nor did he have any interest in criticizing the Tour’s policy, instead his message two days after the circuit announced the suspension was focused on his fellow Tour members.

“I think the players need to read that manual really, really well. There are things I wasn’t aware of and I think other players weren’t aware of either,” he said. “You have to read the manual.”

It was a similar message Stallings offered following his 90-day suspension in 2015 after he turned himself in for using DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

“This whole thing was a unique situation that could have been dealt with differently, but I made a mistake and I owned up to it,” Stallings said at the time.

Barron’s 2009 suspension, which was for a year, also could have been avoided after he tested positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor for what were by many accounts legitimate health issues.

And Singh’s case, well that chapter is still pending in the New York Supreme Court, but the essential element of the Fijian’s violation was based on his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which contained a compound called IGF-1. Although IGF-1 is a banned substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that the use of deer-antler spray is not a violation if an athlete doesn’t fail a drug test. Singh never failed a test.

The Tour’s anti-doping history is littered with cases that could have been avoided, cases that should have been avoided. Despite the circuit’s best educational efforts, it’s been these relatively innocent violations that have defined the program.

In retrospect, Hensby knows he should have taken the test. He said he had nothing to hide, but anger got the best of him.

“To be honest, it would have been hard, the way I was feeling that day, I know I’m a hothead at times, but I would have probably stayed [had he known the consequences],” he admitted. “You’ve got to understand that if you have too much water you can’t get a test either and then you have to stay even longer.”

Hensby said before his run in with the anti-doping small print he wasn’t sure what his professional future would be, but his suspension has given him perspective and a unique motivation.

“I was talking to my wife last night, I have a little boy, it’s been a long month,” said Hensby after dropping his son, Caden, off at school. “I think I have a little more drive now and when I come back. I wasn’t going to play anymore, but when I do come back I am going to be motivated.”

He’s also going to be informed when it comes to the Tour’s anti-doping policy, and he hopes his follow professionals take a similar interest.

Getty Images

Lesson with Woods fetches $210K for Harvey relief

By Will GrayDecember 13, 2017, 2:51 pm

A charity event featuring more than two dozen pro golfers raised more than $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, thanks in large part to a hefty price paid for a private lesson with Tiger Woods.

The pro-am fundraiser was organized by Chris Stroud, winner of the Barracuda Championship this summer, and fellow pro and Houston resident Bobby Gates. It was held at Bluejack National in Montgomery, Texas, about an hour outside Houston and the first Woods-designed course to open in the U.S.

The big-ticket item on the auction block was a private, two-person lesson with Woods at Bluejack National that sold for a whopping $210,000.

Other participants included local residents like Stacy Lewis, Patrick Reed and Steve Elkington as well as local celebrities like NBA All-Star Clyde Drexler, Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.

Stroud was vocal in his efforts to help Houston rebuild in the immediate aftermath of the storm that ravaged the city in August, and he told the Houston Chronicle that he plans to continue fundraising efforts even after eclipsing the event's $1 million goal.

"This is the best event I have ever been a part of, and this is just a start," Stroud said. "We have a long way to go for recovery to this city, and we want to keep going with this and raise as much as we can and help as many victims as we can."

Getty Images

LPGA schedule features 34 events, record purse

By Randall MellDecember 13, 2017, 2:02 pm

The LPGA schedule will once again feature 34 events next year with a record $68.75 million in total purses, the tour announced on Wednesday.

While three events are gone from the 2018 schedule, three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China.

The season will again start with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island (Jan. 25-28) and end with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., (Nov. 15-18).

The LPGA played for $65 million in total prize money in 2017.

An expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The site will be announced at a later date.

The tour will then make a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club the following week, in a new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company. Both new West Coast tournaments will be full-field events.

The tour’s third new event will be played in Shanghai Oct. 18-21 as part of the fall Asian swing. The title sponsor and golf course will be announced at a later date.

“Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency — continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “There is simply no better [women’s] tour opportunity in the world, when it comes to purses, global TV coverage or strength of field. It’s an exciting time in women’s golf, with the best players from every corner of the globe competing against each other in virtually every event.”

While the Evian Championship will again be played in September next year, the tour confirmed its plans to move its fifth major to the summer in 2019, to be part of a European swing, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

The Manulife LPGA Classic and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational are not returning to the schedule next year. Also, the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open will not be played next year as it prepares to move to the front of the 2019 schedule, to be paired with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

The U.S. Women’s Open will make its new place earlier in the summer, a permanent move in the tour’s scheduling. It will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek Golf Club outside Birmingham, Ala. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (June 28-July 1) will be played at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on the north side of Chicago and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2-5) will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.

For the first time since its inception in 2014, the UL International Crown team event is going overseas, with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, scheduled to host the event Oct. 4-7. The KEB Hana Bank Championship will be played in South Korean the following week.

Here is the LPGA's schedule for 2018:

Jan. 25-28: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; Paradise Island, Bahamas; Purse: $1.4 million

Feb. 15-18: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open; Adelaide, Australia; Purse: $1.3 million

Feb. 21-24: Honda LPGA Thailand; Chonburi, Thailand; Purse: $1.6 million

March 1-4: HSBC Women's World Championship; Singapore; Purse: $1.5 million

March 15-18: Bank of Hope Founders Cup; Phoenix, Arizona; Purse: $1.5 million

March 22-25: Kia Classic; Carlsbad, California; Purse: $1.8 million

March 29 - April 1: ANA Inspiration; Rancho Mirage, California; Purse: $2.8 million

April 11-14: LOTTE Championship; Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; Purse: $2 million

April 19-22: HUGEL-JTBC Championship; Greater Los Angeles, California; Purse: $1.5 million

April 26-29: Name to be Announced; San Francisco, California; Purse: $1.5 million

May 3-6: Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic; The Colony, Texas; Purse: $1.3 million

May 17-20: Kingsmill Championship; Williamsburg, Virginia; Purse: $1.3 million

May 24-27: LPGA Volvik Championship; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Purse: $1.3 million

May 31 - June 3: U.S. Women's Open Championship; Shoal Creek, Alabama; Purse: $5 million

June 8-10: ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer; Galloway, New Jersey; Purse: $1.75 million

June 14-17: Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Purse: $2 million

June 22-24: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G; Rogers, Arkansas; Purse: $2 million

June 28 - July 1: KPMG Women's PGA Championship; Kildeer, Illinois; Purse: $3.65 million

July 5-8: Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic; Oneida, Wisconsin; Purse: $2 million

July 12-15: Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I; Sylvania, Ohio; Purse: $1.6 million

July 26-29: Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open; East Lothian, Scotland; Purse: $1.5 million

Aug. 2-5: Ricoh Women's British Open; Lancashire, England; Purse: $3.25 million

Aug. 16-19: Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim; Indianapolis, Indiana; Purse: $2 million

Aug. 23-26: CP Women's Open; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Purse: $2.25 million

Aug. 30 - Sept. 2: Cambia Portland Classic; Portland, Oregon; Purse: $1.3 million

Sept. 13-16: The Evian Championship; Evian-les-Bains, France; Purse: $3.85 million

Sept. 27-30: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Purse: $1.8 million

Oct. 4-7: UL International Crown; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $1.6 million

Oct. 11-14: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $2 million

Oct. 18-21: Name to be Announced; Shanghai, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Oct. 25-28: Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship; New Taipei City, Chinese Taipei; Purse: $2.2 million

Nov. 2-4: TOTO Japan Classic; Shiga, Japan; Purse: $1.5 million

Nov. 7-10: Blue Bay LPGA; Hainan Island, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Nov. 15-18: CME Group Tour Championship; Naples, Florida; Purse: $2.5 million

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 4, Jordan Spieth

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 13, 2017, 1:00 pm

Dismissed because he’s supposedly too short off the tee, or not accurate enough with his irons, or just a streaky putter, Jordan Spieth is almost never the answer to the question of which top player, when he’s at his best, would win in a head-to-head match.

And yet here he is, at the age of 24, with 11 career wins and three majors, on a pace that compares favorably with the giants of the game. He might not possess the firepower of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but since he burst onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has all that matters – a better résumé.

Spieth took the next step in his development this year by becoming the Tour’s best iron player – and its most mentally tough.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Just a great putter? Oh, puhleeze: He won three times despite putting statistics (42nd) that were his worst since his rookie year. Instead, he led the Tour in strokes gained-approach the green and this summer showed the discipline, golf IQ and bounce-back ability that makes him such a unique talent. 

Even with his putter misbehaving, Spieth closed out the Travelers Championship by holing a bunker shot in the playoff, then, in perhaps an even bigger surprise, perfectly executed the player-caddie celebration, chest-bumping caddie Michael Greller. A few weeks later, sublime iron play carried him into the lead at Royal Birkdale, his first in a major since his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters.

Once again his trusty putter betrayed him, and by the time he arrived on the 13th tee, he was tied with Matt Kuchar. What happened next was the stuff of legend – a lengthy ruling, gutsy up-and-down, stuffed tee shot and go-get-that putt – that lifted Spieth to his third major title.

Though he couldn’t complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA, he’ll likely have, oh, another two decades to join golf’s most exclusive club.

In the barroom debate of best vs. best, you can take the guys with the flair, with the booming tee shots and the sky-high irons. Spieth will just take the trophies.

THE MAJORS

Masters Tournament: Return to the 12th; faltering on Sunday (T-11)

Spieth pars 12, but makes quad on 15

Spieth takes another gut punch, but still standing

Article: Spieth splashes to worst Masters finish

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U.S. Open: 1 over usually good ... not at Erin Hills (T-35)

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The Open: Unforgettable finish leads to major win No. 3 (1st)

Spieth survives confusing ordeal on 13

Photos: Spieth's incredible journey on 13

Take it, it's yours: Spieth gets claret jug

Chamblee: Spieth doesn't have 'it' - 'he has it all'

Article: Spieth silences his doubters - even himself

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PGA Championship: Career Grand Slam bid comes up well short (T-28)

Article: Spieth accepts that Grand Slam is off the table


TWO REGULAR TOUR WINS

AT&T Pebble Beach

Article: Spieth rising from 'valley' after Pebble Beach win

Travelers Championship

Spieith wins dramatic Travelers in playoff

Watch: Spieth holes bunker shot, goes nuts


FUN OUTSIDE OF TOUR LIFE


PHOTO GALLERIES

Photos: Jordan Spieth and Annie Verret

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Photos: Jordan Spieth through the years