Cut Line: No shortage of compelling stories in 2014

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The maintenance staff at TPC Sawgrass couldn’t grow the stuff, Mike Davis and the USGA made a statement by keeping Pinehurst No. 2’s turf on the edge of extinction and women crashed through golf’s grass ceiling in dramatic fashion in 2014.

The season-ending edition of Cut Line looks back on a year defined by equal parts growth and growing pains.

Made Cut

Game changing. Women’s golf was the undisputed champion of the year both on and off the golf course.

Competitively, the LPGA enjoyed an embarrassment of riches with major victories by the high-profile likes of Michelle Wie (U.S. Women’s Open) and Lexi Thompson (Kraft Nabisco Championship), compelling drama between Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park and a breakout season by super rookie Lydia Ko.

Off the golf course, however, women’s golf was equally compelling with the Royal & Ancient’s decision to include women in September with 85 percent of the club’s global membership approving a change that was more than two centuries in the making.

And finally, in November the PGA overwhelmingly elected Suzy Whaley the association’s next secretary, putting the Connecticut club professional in line to become the PGA’s first female president.

“Our theme for this week was driving the game forward, and certainly we are looking to be inclusive to all of those who want to play the game,” Whaley told GolfChannel.com. “As we move forward I hope we show that, and I hope I can be a part of that.”

Golf’s grass ceiling may not have been completely shattered in 2014, but it has certainly started to crumble.

Rors returns. He’d failed to win an event on the PGA Tour, didn’t advance to the Tour Championship and raised eyebrows throughout the game with his wholesale jump to Nike Golf in 2013.

What a difference a year makes for Rory McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman’s bounce back year was historic, with bookend major triumphs at the Open Championship and PGA Championship wrapped around his maiden World Golf Championship title (Bridgestone Invitational).

He added another victory at the European Tour’s flagship event (BMW PGA Championship), and for good measure helped lead Europe to another victory at the Ryder Cup.

McIlroy has always been reluctant to compare himself with Tiger Woods, but after a Hall-of-Fame calendar it may be time to start warming up all that legacy talk.

Brown is beautiful. Those who tuned into June’s U.S. Open expecting to see the normal fare of thick rough ringing lush fairways likely had a difficult time digesting the dusty brown images on their televisions, but for Mike Davis Pinehurst No. 2 was perfect.

“I’m beaming to see that brown tinge to the golf course, the absolutely perfect condition of the putting greens,” said Davis, the USGA’s executive director.

While the hard and fast conditions were the perfect competitive mix for Davis and Co., the USGA’s statement was clear and much more far-reaching – given the challenges facing golf courses across the country brown may become the new green.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A year on the edge. For an organization that prides itself on decorum, the year was a mosh pit of missteps and media minefields for the PGA of America.

Things began to unravel for the association at the PGA Championship when officials tried to beat darkness and an approaching storm by having the final two groups essentially play up as a foursome.

While few, if any, questioned eventual champion Rory McIlroy’s credentials, the move didn’t sit well with Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler and prompted an apology from the PGA.

That miscue was followed the next month when Tom Watson did, well ... pretty much what most observers expected. The 55-year-old was out of touch with his modern players, sought little or no input from his team and was outcoached by Europe’s Paul McGinley.

From there things only got worse for the PGA when president Ted Bishop fired off an insensitive tweet directed at Ian Poulter and was removed from office.

The association ended the year with the first meeting of the Ryder Cup task force, a group some consider an overreaction, and a lone silver lining – 2015 is a new year.

Tiger 5.0. To be fair, while it was a lost year for Tiger Woods it’s impossible to grade the former world No. 1 any other way – incomplete.

He managed just seven Tour starts, missed two cuts, withdrew twice, fired a swing coach, hired a “swing consultant” and spent more time in his doctor’s office than he did on the leaderboard.

While he tied for last place at his own Hero World Challenge and had almost as many chunked chip shots (nine) as he did birdies (14) at Isleworth, Woods’ holiday cup was half full after remaining upright for four days.

“First thing's first: playing tournament golf without being in pain, without having to call my physio every day or having to put out fires with my body,” Woods said. “It was nice to be able to hit the ball the way I did this week.”

While the jury is very much still out on new coach Chris Como, most observers were impressed with a new action that relies less on TrackMan and more on The Man. Tiger remains the game’s ultimate enigma.

As he pointed out earlier this month at Isleworth, “I’m not quite 40 yet ... I’ve still got some time.”

Perhaps, but as the great Yogi Berra once opined, “It’s getting late early.”


Missed Cut

A lack of editing skills. Ted Bishop was not the first person in the golf world to run afoul of Twitter’s inherent dangers, just the most notable to lose his job in 140 characters.

Bishop’s insensitive tweet – which, strangely enough, was sent in defense of a former European Ryder Cup captain – led to his impeachment as president of the PGA and has become the textbook example of how not to use social media.

Without the aid of an editor, the most dangerous thing for a public figure is quickly becoming the “send” button.

Tweet of the year: @TedBishop38pga “Faldo’s record stands by itself. Six majors and all-time [Ryder Cup] points. Yours vs. His? Lil Girl.”

Stunted growth. Whether the issue was too much play, too little sun or too much rain, some of the putting surfaces at TPC Sawgrass were less than tournament ready for May’s Players Championship.

The Tour responded by removing trees and plans to convert to a hardier variety of Bermuda grass after the 2015 Players.

But this year’s agronomic episode was hardly an isolated occurrence and led some to ask an age-old question – was the grass greener when The Players was held in March?

Best of times, worst of times. Few, if any, have endured a roller-coaster like the ride Dustin Johnson found himself on this season.

After winning his first World Golf Championship to start the season last November, Johnson took a voluntary leave of absence that Golf.com later reported was a six-month suspension following his third failed drug test, sued a former adviser over what he claims was a $3 million racketeering scheme, and revealed that fiancée Paulina Gretzky was pregnant with the couple’s first child.

Whatever the truth behind Johnson’s sabbatical and the outcome of his legal plight, 2014 qualified as a bad year for DJ.