A handful of players had seasons that were terrific – although certainly nothing Tiger-like. Nonetheless, a year that they can tell their grandkids about someday. Golf Channel.com senior writers Jason Sobel, Randall Mell and Rex Hoggard, along with editorial director Jay Coffin, all jump into the mix with their choices of whose year they would most want.
By JASON SOBEL
I’ll begin my opening argument with a statistic: The top 5 players on the Official World Golf Ranking – Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Steve Stricker and Dustin Johnson – have combined to win 10 titles worldwide this season. That’s an average of two wins per player. Not a bad clip.
Until you compare it with the No. 1 player on the Rolex Ranking. That player, of course, is Yani Tseng – and she owns just as many titles this season as the top 5 in the men’s game combined.
I don’t know if it’s fatigue due to recent domination by players such as Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa or a perceived lack of depth on the LPGA, but Tseng’s season has been largely taken for granted. Of those 10 wins, seven have come in LPGA-sanctioned events and two were major championships. I shouldn’t need to remind you that all of the four major winners on the men’s side failed to win multiple majors this year or that the no-doubt-about-it global player of the year in Donald has yet to claim his first.
In fact, in glorifying Tseng, I’ll even invoke another T name: Tiger Woods. In his most successful seasons, Woods won 10 times worldwide in 1999 and 2000, but never more than that. Yani still has three remaining starts in which to surpass that total.
No, she won’t make as much bank as Donald, nor will she garner as many headlines as McIlroy. But if you’re looking for the best golfer of 2011 and the one whose season you’d most like to emulate, I don’t see how Tseng can be overlooked.
By JAY COFFIN
This year belonged to Rory McIlroy and everyone else was just along for the ride. A case can be made for several other players, but I would love to have had McIlroy’s roller-coaster season more than anyone else’s.
Think about it, in the span of seven months McIlroy has been labeled a major choker; called the heir apparent to Tiger Woods; said he didn’t like the elements of a British Open; injured his wrist badly at the PGA Championship; began dating the No. 1 women’s tennis player in the world; dumped his agent and got into a Twitter spat with a television reporter who was critical of him and his caddie. He remains adored by nearly everyone in his homeland on the Emerald Isle, and many fans in the United States can’t wait to see what he’s made of next year as a full-time player on the PGA Tour. Other than that …
Luke Donald was a better player, Yani Tseng won more tournaments, Bill Haas won more money and Keegan Bradley won a major, plus another PGA Tour event, but McIlroy was in the news more than anyone not named Tiger Woods. Sometimes it was not for the best of reasons, but often it was for reasons that most of the golf world would kill for.
The U.S. Open romp alone is enough to give McIlroy the nod in this debate; all the other elements combined make it a season to remember.
By REX HOGGARD
A Grand Slam may be the pinnacle of the game, but it is consistency over the long haul that defines greatness and why, whether they admit it or not, most PGA Tour players would covet Luke Donald’s 2011 calendar over all others.
Even Jack Nicklaus’ major mark, the benchmark by which all others are graded, comes with a compelling caveat to this truth. We remember the Golden Bear’s 18 majors, but it’s Nicklaus’ 19 runner-up finishes in majors that show how dominant he really was. He didn’t have a great decade, he had an unbelievable career.
Similarly, Donald didn’t catch fire in the fall. The Englishman posted four worldwide victories in 2011, missed just two cuts around the globe in 24 events and finished inside the top 10 in 75 percent of all his starts.
Donald also collected style points along the way, winning the BMW PGA Championship – a marquee European Tour stop – in May to unseat Lee Westwood atop the World Golf Ranking; birdied six of his last nine holes on Sunday at Disney to win his second Tour title of the season and clip Webb Simpson for the cash crown; and won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February without ever being pushed to the 18th hole.
Majors may be what the public remembers, but memorable seasons are what every player wants.
By RANDALL MELL
Luke Donald would be my choice as PGA Tour player of the year, but if you’re asking me whose season I would most like to have this year, it’s a completely different question.
In fact, Donald’s a distant third on my short list of answers to that question.
Bill Haas’ season is tempting, even though it's a one-win season. I’d take his year over Donald’s just to have Haas’ week at the Tour Championship, where he won the $10 million FedEx Cup jackpot and the $1.44 million first-place tournament check. Haas won almost twice as much money in one week in Atlanta as Donald won this entire PGA Tour season.
But, hey, money isn’t how this game measures greatness. Player-of-the-year awards aren’t really, either. And for that reason, I’m taking Keegan Bradley’s year, because he won a major championship. I have to believe that Donald and Webb Simpson, the other logical choices as player of the year, would trade their years for the Wanamaker Trophy that Bradley won at the PGA Championship. A major secures a more revered and prominent place in the game’s history than any award voted upon by players.
Apologies here to Yani Tseng, who is easily enjoying the best year in golf with 10 worldwide titles, seven of them LPGA victories, two of them major championships, but I wouldn’t be very comfortable in the women’s locker room or wearing skirts, so I’m taking with Bradley’s year.