Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf. This is the year-ending edition.
Jordan Spieth (+10%): He is already the face of the sport, at age 22. The only question: How can Spieth possibly top one of the best seasons of all time?
Lydia Ko vs. Inbee Park (+8%): The 18-year-old sensation and the newly minted Hall of Famer combined for 10 wins and three majors in 2015, with their duel for player of the year coming down to the final hole of the final event. We can’t wait to watch how this respectful rivalry develops.
Big 3 (+7%): Remember all of the apprehension about who will fill the void in the post-Tiger era? It seems silly now, with three dynamic, affable, articulate under-28 stars putting the game in a chokehold.
Youth Movement (+6%): From Ko to Spieth, from Lexi Thompson to Justin Thomas, from Brooke Henderson to Matt Fitzpatrick, the 2015 golf year was dominated by players who can barely enjoy their breakout years with an adult beverage. The best part? Even more studs are in the pipeline.
Rickie Fowler (+5%): Overrated no longer, Fowler has toned down his Crayola look and committed himself to maximizing his considerable talent. His Players victory was the most thrilling tournament of the year, and he added Ws against top-notch fields in Scotland and Boston. The next step is to win a major – and to create a Big 4.
Bryson DeChambeau (+4%): One of the most fascinating amateurs in years took his game to the next level with victories at both the NCAAs and U.S. Amateur – just the fifth player to complete that double dip in the same year. Set to turn pro after the Masters because of his college team’s postseason ban, the quirky DeChambeau will continue to be one of the most talked-about players next summer.
U.S. cup teams (+3%): Sure, the Americans got walloped like never before at the Walker Cup, but the red, white and blue also staged an incredible rally at the Solheim Cup, continued their dominance in a down-to-the-wire Presidents Cup, and brought a new level of attention to Ryder Cup news conferences after Tiger Woods was named an assistant captain.
Kevin Kisner (+2%): No top player made a bigger jump in 2015, rising from No. 236 to No. 18 in the world rankings. At 31, Kiz is entering the prime of his career and now must be viewed as a serious contender to win a major and earn a spot on his first Ryder Cup squad.
Rory McIlroy: His decision to play soccer in the middle of the season cost him a shot at two majors and the playoffs, but his 2015 was far from a complete disaster, with four victories worldwide. Motivation should not be an issue in ’16.
Henrik Stenson and Stacy Lewis: They had nearly identical seasons, combining for no wins and 16 top-3 (!) finishes as the game’s next generation of stars pushed them into the background.
Bubba Watson: Quite literally, he held steady – he’s No. 4 in the world, just as he was at this time last year. He is one of the most enigmatic talents, a player capable of blowing away the field when engaged, but he lacks the week-to-week consistency of Spieth, Day and McIlroy.
Dustin Johnson: After returning from his six-month hiatus, he put on an awe-inspiring power display at Doral but also, incredibly, added to his long list of major meltdowns, three-putting from 12 feet at Chambers Bay and kicking away a 36-hole lead at St. Andrews. He’s too talented not to break through for at least one major … right?
Jason Dufner (-1%): A new body didn’t lead to different results, as Dufner had one of the biggest slides in 2015, finishing in the top 10 only twice and dropping from 38th to 129th in the world.
Anchorers (-2%): Life without the long putter began in earnest for the likes of Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley, and it resulted in the worst years of their career. Throw in longtime anchorer Bernhard Langer, and these players’ transition will continue to be a major storyline to watch in 2016 and beyond.
Team Europe’s Old Guard (-3%): Before Graeme McDowell’s victory at Mayakoba, it looked like a lost year for the Ryder Cup stalwarts, with Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Thomas Bjorn all dropping out of the top 50. Don’t be surprised when a new-look European team heads to Hazeltine.
Phil Mickelson (-4%): Winless for more than two years, Lefty axed the best swing coach on the planet in hopes that a few new ideas will coax one more major out of his 45-year-old body.
Suzann Pettersen (-5%): The villain of the Solheim Cup, Pettersen’s unsportsmanlike conduct overshadowed the competition, ticked off players on both sides of the pond and ensured that she’ll get a frosty reception during the 2017 matches.
Michelle Wie (-7%): After the best year of her career, she was more like the Big Uneasy in 2015, battling injuries and ineffectiveness during a forgettable season. A bona fide superstar, it’s reasonable to wonder whether Wie still has the drive to be one of the world’s best players.
Tiger Woods (-9%): After three back surgeries in 19 months, an uncertainty hangs over Woods like never before. At this point, it’s no guarantee that he will tee it up next year, or ever again.