A year ago, in a preview for 2014, I made the case for Tiger Woods winning more than one major championship. No huge insight on my part; he had won five times in 2013 and, given his past success at this year’s major venues, I didn't see who or what would stop him. Of course, injury stopped him and I suppose we all could've seen that coming, but he looked so good last year, all of us wanted him to pick up where he left off in 2008.
The game may not need him - in fact I know the game doesn't “need” him - but the game is invigorated by him like never before. Sure, you could argue Francis Ouimet’s win in 1913 was as important to the growth of the game, as were Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan, and most certainly Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. But think of all those greats as ever-ascending notes in an opera, and Tiger took the crescendo to the highest octave. None of us want 2008 to have been his swan song.
But even without Tiger winning majors this past year, 2014 was memorable for many reasons and historic for at least a few.
Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie did in a major what Tiger and Phil never have – they played in the final group together on Sunday and finished first and second, respectively. The talent from the Wie-Thompson pairing and the forecast that came from it gave the LPGA an adrenaline shot in the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Bubba Watson did what he had done before - he won the Masters, thanks to final-round drives at the eighth, ninth and 13th holes that were the beastly equivalent of the C-shaped wedge shot he hit to set up his win in 2012.
The poetic storyline of a Phil Mickelson victory at Pinehurst No. 2, paying homage to Payne Stewart and putting a bow on Phil’s career, proved too good to be true, which is exactly how one could describe the play of Martin Kaymer that week, as he won the U.S. Open by eight.
Butch Harmon proved again why he is the No. 1 teacher in the world. Previously gifted with colossally talented students such as Greg Norman and Tiger Woods, his work with Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler was perhaps the clearest example in teaching today of the impact simple thoughts can have on a player.
Patrick Reed, in saying he was a top-five player in the world before he actually was a top-five player in the world, did his best Ian Poulter imitation. (Poulter had previously said that when he reaches his full potential, “It will be just Tiger and me.”) I’ll say this, though: Reed is a hell of a lot closer to being a top-five player than Poulter ever was to being as good as Tiger. Regardless, we should thank both of these players for having the guts to say what they think, even when it is so contrary to reason. Golf clap to both Patrick and Ian and here’s hoping Patrick picks up where he left off in 2014.
Rory McIlroy won two more majors this year, but most interestingly, he won the third leg of the career Grand Slam, as Mickelson had done in 2013, except Phil was 43 years old. McIlroy was only 25, and when he gets to Augusta National in 2015, should he prevail, he will be the second-youngest to win all four majors. Like Tiger did for so many years, in 2014, Rory exceeded the hype.
Ted Bishop pushed “send” when he should have pushed “delete” in his overreaction, “Lil’ Girl” retort to a book-promoting tweet by the ever-chirping Poulter. Bishop reminded all of us of the quote about taking a lifetime to build a reputation and seconds to destroy one, truer now than ever with Twitter. Almost nobody believes Bishop meant to be demeaning to women, but nor could anyone believe that someone who spoke for so many could speak so poorly.
The Ryder Cup. Nothing bores me more than answering the question of why the United States plays so poorly in this event. This is a circular debate, as in the Americans lose because they don’t come together as a team, and they don’t come together as a team because they are selfish. None of these premises can be proven to support the conclusion, so we always end up right back where we started. What is not boring is watching the Ryder Cup, which is my favorite three days in golf. This year, we were treated to an encore performance by the hilarity of let’s play Blame the Captain.
First, let me say that I have lost track of the number of times I have said Phil Mickelson is a gift to golf - he is. He wins often and plays with a recklessness that is a throwback to Arnold Palmer, and in dealing with crowds and the media he once again gets compared with the King. But what he did in the media center on Sunday night of the Ryder Cup, implying it was Tom Watson’s fault the U.S. lost, was something Arnold Palmer never would've done. It made the American side look even worse, which I didn’t think was possible.
Hence the task force, which is easy to make fun. In theory, getting a group of guys together to brainstorm about how to build a stronger team is hard to argue with; however, the guys you put on that committee should've either showed a passion for the Ryder Cup or been hugely successful in it or, better yet, both. So they put Tiger and Phil and Jim Furyk on the team, who when you consider their stature in the game, are the three worst U.S. Ryder Cup players in history. This would be like letting the guys who punched holes in the boat be in charge of building a new boat. No Paul Azinger, no Dave Stockton, no Ben Crenshaw, no Jack Nicklaus, and pardon me if this seems maudlin in my recruitment of members for the task force, but one has to go back a decade or two to find Ryder Cup passion, intellect and success.
The last thing I am going to say about the Ryder Cup is this: Larry Nelson was promised the captaincy in 1995, didn’t get it and then got stepped over by lesser major winners. What does one typically need to be a Ryder Cup captain? To have won the PGA Championship? Check. He won that twice. How about the national open? Check. How about success in the Ryder Cup? In his first nine matches in the Ryder Cup, he was 9-0. Check. Respect of your peers? Check. For added measure, he served his country on the front lines of battle, willing to put his life on the line for the freedoms we all enjoy. Find those credentials in a player today; go ahead and look. Good luck. Larry Nelson has them all and to those of you who say he's out of touch with today’s players, well, I say to you: How have all those captains who are in touch with today’s players been doing? If there is such a thing as karma for not fulfilling a promise, the PGA of America and U.S. Ryder Cup team are feeling it.
One hundred years from now, when some historian is reading about the year in golf for 2014, I doubt any of the above stories will be placed above the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews deciding after 260 years to allow women as members. It was long overdue, and when Karen Crouse of The New York Times properly called such clubs “corridors of power,” she crystalized a point I had been unable to make to those who simply said, "What’s the big deal? Men just want to play with men."
So that’s it for the year, at least for me as it relates to golf. I hope all of you have a great holiday season and that your predictions for the New Year are better than mine were for 2014.