Jordan Spieth was nearly perfect, the PGA Tour was perfectly baffling and Chambers Bay proved to be an imperfect storm at this year’s U.S. Open as Cut Line reviews an eventful 2015.
Jordan rules. When Jordan Spieth began his year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open there were doubts.
Doubts he could close out a PGA Tour victory despite finishing 2014 with back-to-back victories in Australia and the Hero World Challenge. By the time he completed his historic 2015 season there were no such concerns.
The 22-year-old wunderkind won the Masters in record fashion – setting 36- and 54-hole scoring records and tying the 72-hole record – the U.S. Open, and he came within one putt of possibly winning the first three legs of the single-season Grand Slam.
After adding a runner-up showing at the PGA Championship, Spieth closed the year with a fifth Tour title at East Lake to claim the FedEx Cup.
“I’m extremely pleased and I'm happy to go into the offseason now with this year under my belt knowing that I can do this,” Spieth said at the World Challenge earlier this month.
As he exited 2015, no one, not even Spieth, was doubting his ability to close.
Roars and rehab. En route to his first start of the season in Abu Dhabi, Rory McIlroy penned a few goals for 2015 on the back of his boarding pass.
When the Northern Irishman returns to the Middle East early next year he should add a footnote to that list – avoid “kickabouts.”
The Northern Irishman derailed, however innocently, what was shaping up to be one of the most competitively compelling seasons in recent history when he injured his left ankle playing soccer in July and missed title defenses at the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Prior to his extracurricular snafu, McIlroy matched Spieth with victories at the WGC-Match Play and Wells Fargo Championship. When he did return at the PGA Championship he was rusty and regretful, but by the time he wrapped up his year with a victory at the European Tour’s finale in Dubai his season had come full circle.
“I saved the best for last,” he smiled in Dubai. “I feel like I finally showed this week what was in there. I just needed to find something to be able to let it out and thankfully this week I was able to do that.”
The possibilities to add to next year’s boarding pass are limitless, let’s just hope he commits to cutting back on the “kickabouts.”
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Top heavy. Attendance was up, viewership at all-time levels and sponsorship nearly universal across all platforms, and yet the Tour still found ways to bewilder in 2015.
To start the season, the No Fun League nixed what is largely considered the greatest show on grass when the circuit announced it would no longer allow players to throw items into the crowd adjacent the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale because of safety concerns. This follows the Tour’s move to end the always-entertaining caddie races on No. 16 a few years ago.
At the CIMB Classic in November John Peterson was last in the field of 77 players when he teed off on Sunday with a “Happy Gilmore” swing. After multiple calls from the Tour regarding the incident, Peterson took a unique approach to the potential fine.
“I told them I’d tweet that I’d been fined and then start a GoFundMe page to pay the fine,” Peterson said. “I bet it would have worked.”
Even the Tour had to laugh at that.
Task at hand. Technically, the U.S. Ryder Cup task force was formed in late 2014 in the wake of another European boat race at Gleneagles, but the details and delivery were a central theme in 2015.
As a sign of progress, American captain Davis Love III spent more time texting with Tiger Woods during the Presidents Cup than he did serving as an assistant captain in South Korea.
“We saw some things that we want to be part of the plan next year,” Love said. “If you don’t think the task force is working, Tiger Woods is interested in what’s happening this week to apply it to the Ryder Cup.”
Woods’ commitment level has been elevated to the point that he bought in as a vice captain for next year’s matches – along with Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker – whether he turns his competitive fortunes around or not. The PGA of America’s move to bring the players into the process seems to have injected new life into the event.
Those same players now must do their part and bring some much-needed parity to an event that has been largely one-sided for the better part of two decades. The alternative is another loss and the uncomfortable question – where do you go from here?
Tweet of the year: @JordanSpieth “Pebble yesterday. Cyprus Point today. Spyglass tomorrow. Hard to imagine a better 17 miles than out here.”
Actually, it was Tour rookie Justin Thomas’ response to Spieth’s grammatical faux pas that earns the year’s top tweet: “[It’s] Cypress you dropout.”
His social media miscue ended up being about the only thing that Spieth, who did bolt the University of Texas early to turn pro, got wrong in 2015.
Bay watch. Some of the greens at Chambers Bay were rough around the edges for the U.S. Open, others were dead long before the first tee shot went in the air for Round 1.
As U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis explained, bringing fine fescue grasses to the Pacific Northwest is a tricky proposition. Yet making an agronomic gamble at the national championship was probably not the most egregious mistake officials made at this year’s U.S. Open.
With apologies to Dustin Johnson – who probably would have converted that birdie putt at the 72nd hole at, say, Muirfield Village – a major championship golf course that doesn’t afford spectators a single view of the eighth hole and only limited glimpses of many other holes is fundamentally flawed.
“For the architect, Robert Trent Jones, to say that they built this golf course for the U.S. Open is awful,” said Billy Horschel, who was also not a fan of the putting surfaces. “I heard today that Mike Davis had input in this golf course, which blows my mind even more that they would build a golf course and not think about the fans and the viewing aspect of it.”
The Open will return to the Pacific Northwest municipal course sometime in the future. Let’s hope they’ve perfected 10-story grandstands and a green thumb by then.
Trump-ed. Donald Trump has vaulted to a substantial lead in the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in large part thanks to his bombastic ways, but his politics aside it was golf’s reaction to The Don’s histrionics that missed the mark in 2015.
In July, Trump said “the Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States,” adding that in many cases they are “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”
The PGA of America cancelled this year’s Grand Slam of Golf, which was to be played at Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles, but the LPGA, PGA Tour and USGA all balked when faced with a chance to make a stand.
Despite the fallout from Trump’s comments, the Ricoh Women’s British Open was played at Trump Turnberry, the WGC-Cadillac Championship will continue at Trump National Doral and the candidate’s course in Bedminster, N.J., is still set to host the U.S. Women’s Open in 2017.
Growing the game has become a central theme for all of golf’s ruling bodies, yet when faced with a real and meaningful chance to make an inclusive statement they blinked and hoped the political winds would blow by.