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.