Newsmakers of the Year: Honorable mentions

By Will GrayDecember 8, 2015, 8:00 pm

A busy year in golf means that some compelling stories don’t make the cut.

There was history made in Scotland and drama at TPC Sawgrass. Trophies were won, sure – but some big names also let hardware slip through their fingers. Oh, and the clock on one of the game’s biggest rule changes continued to tick.

All gained headlines, but none of them were among the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. The list will be revealed, one by one, day by day, beginning Tuesday with No. 10 Donald Trump. For now, let’s take a look back at the honorable mentions from this past year:

Dustin Johnson: Johnson began the year on the sidelines, with his six-month leave of absence stretching into February. There were highlights both on and off the course, as the birth of his son, Tatum, was followed by a win at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March. But there were also lowlights, as Johnson three-putted the final green at Chambers Bay to lose the U.S. Open and then forfeited a 36-hole lead at St. Andrews the following month.

Grand Slam: One of the most elusive feats in golf entered the conversation not once, but twice this year. First it was Spieth, who gave the single-season slam its best run since 1953 when he captured both the Masters and the U.S. Open before coming up one shot short at the Open Championship.

Then there was the Grand Slam that wasn’t, as Inbee Park won her fourth different major at the Women’s British Open. The LPGA deemed it a career Grand Slam, but other outlets, including Golf Channel and the Associated Press, said no because the Evian Championship wasn’t deemed a major until 2013 – one year after Park won the event.

Eras: Has the Tiger Era closed? Has the Spieth Era begun? Is this the newest incarnation of the Big Three? Incredible performances from several of the top golfers in the world led many to paint in broad strokes this past year. Those narratives were aided by the fact that the rise of a new crop of stars coincided with Tiger Woods’ worst season ever. But the summer was dominated by Spieth and Jason Day, who along with Rory McIlroy separated from the pack atop the world rankings and drew comparisons to the halcyon days of Nicklaus, Palmer and Player.

R&A women members: After 260 years, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews became a co-ed institution. Its 2,400 members voted “overwhelmingly” in September to admit female members effective immediately, and the first wave of new additions included the likes of Annika Sorenstam and Laura Davies. Now the focus shifts to the three remaining all-male clubs in the Open rota – Muirfield, Royal Troon and Royal St. George’s.

The Players: It was arguably the most exciting tournament of the year, as storylines abounded on the Stadium Course. Woods, battling injury, made the cut on the number but never contended. Sergio Garcia nearly won the event where he and Woods had been embroiled in controversy two years prior, and Kevin Kisner continued his affinity for overtime.

But in the end, the event belonged to Rickie Fowler, who closed the tournament in historic fashion. Fowler birdied the famed par-3 17th hole three times on Sunday, including twice during a four-hole playoff, and outlasted both Garcia and Kisner to seal the biggest win of his career.

Bryson DeChambeau: When you join a list that includes the likes of Woods, Nicklaus and Phil Mickelson, you’re doing something right. DeChambeau completed an impressive double this summer, first winning the NCAA individual title then following with a U.S. Amateur victory in August. With his SMU team banned from the postseason next year, DeChambeau won’t return to defend his NCAA title, but it won’t be long before he and his evenly-measured clubs are on the PGA Tour.

Phil Mickelson: While Woods’ slide garnered more headlines, Mickelson’s season wasn’t much better. Sure, there was the runner-up at the Masters, but Lefty was largely absent from leaderboards, and at age 45, he hasn’t won since the 2013 Open Championship. He failed to reach the Tour Championship for the second straight season and ended the year by closing a significant chapter in his career, replacing longtime swing coach Butch Harmon with a relative unknown in Andrew Getson.

Anchoring ends: After being debated into the ground for more than a year, the anchoring era finally came to a close. Some anchorers opted to ride it out until the bitter end, as David Hearn and Tim Clark were seen using long putters well into the fall. Others, like Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley, used the year to transition to a shorter model, while Adam Scott couldn’t quite make up his mind.

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.