Getty Images

But what if ... 2017 played out differently?

By Will GrayDecember 7, 2017, 1:00 pm

There were plenty of highlights over the past year on the course, from thrilling tournament conclusions to heart-stopping drama at majors. Golf fans were granted a bevy of impressive champions, each with a unique story that led them to the winner’s circle.

But what if the many-dimpled ball had bounced in a slightly different direction? How might the landscape have shifted with minor changes in some of the biggest tournaments of the year?

Without further ado, a look at five of the biggest “what-ifs” from the year in golf:


What if…the Royal Birkdale driving range was out of bounds?

The lore of Jordan Spieth’s Open triumph will always be inextricably linked to the chaotic scene that played out to the right of the 13th fairway during the final round. Spieth had sprayed his drive wildly off-line, but he had the wherewithal to realize that he could take a penalty drop on the adjacent driving range. He managed to save bogey and jump-started an electric finish that earned him the claret jug.

But at many tournament courses, the driving range is considered out of bounds. Had the range been off-limits, Spieth would have either had to take a risky drop on an enormous hillside, setting up a blind and difficult third shot, or trudge back to the tee to take another crack at one of the hardest holes Birkdale had to offer.

At that point even a double bogey would have been a noble goal, meaning Matt Kuchar would have walked to the 14th tee with at least a two-shot lead –  en route to what would have been a breakthrough major title.


What if…Dustin Johnson didn’t slip?

This will likely go down as one of the bigger hypotheticals in recent memory, as an 11th-hour freak injury kept the world No. 1 from playing in the Masters and derailed the momentum he accrued by winning each of his last three starts leading down Magnolia Lane.

Johnson was the man to beat for nearly the entire spring, and without a back injury sustained on the eve of the opening round he would have maintained that status throughout the season’s first major. Instead of Sergio Garcia, it would have been Johnson facing off with Justin Rose down the stretch, each vying for green jacket No. 1 and major No. 2.

Johnson still won four times in 2017, but the floodgates would have opened for a truly historic year with a Masters triumph. And Garcia would probably still be viewed as the best player without a major.


What if…Lexi Thompson had marked her ball correctly?

The biggest rules controversy of the year played out at the ANA Inspiration, where Lexi Thompson was assessed a retroactive, four-shot penalty in the middle of the final round for improperly marking her ball the day prior. A phone call from a TV viewer fundamentally altered the outcome of a major championship, as Thompson went on to lose a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

While Ryu’s name was etched on the trophy, the tournament was Thompson’s to lose – and she wouldn’t have lost it without the penalty. A proper mark would have led to her second win in four years at Mission Hills, and it would have kicked off a torrid season that still netted her the $1 million Race to the CME Globe bonus despite her controversial runner-up.

It would have even meant a little less scar tissue lingering over Thompson as she addressed the 2-foot putt at the season finale in Naples that would have taken her to world No. 1 for the first time.


What if…Jason Day had chipped out?

The Aussie was still in the hunt at the PGA Championship, four shots off the lead when disaster struck on the final hole of his third round. An errant drive onto pine straw led to an ambitious rescue attempt through the trees, one that backfired and led to a quadruple bogey. Any hopes of a second major title vanished in the span of 15 minutes.

While Day still would have faced an uphill battle in the final round, a simple pitch back to the fairway would have likely resulted in bogey at worse. Day would have remained within arm’s length of Kevin Kisner, who went on to bogey the same hole, and would have been an intimidating presence on a leaderboard filled with first-time major hopefuls.

In the end, Justin Thomas’ run to the Wanamaker Trophy may have continued uninterrupted. But Day’s chances would have been kept alive for a win that would have turned around an otherwise disappointing season – and perhaps salvaged his partnership with caddie Col Swatton, which ended a month later.


What if…Brian Gay didn’t crunch the numbers?

Granted, this one didn’t impact the outcome of a major. But Ian Poulter’s resurgent season, highlighted by his runner-up finish at The Players, would have never happened without some number-crunching from Gay and his wife, Kimberly.

When Poulter missed the cut at the Valero Texas Open in April, he believed that he had exhausted his major medical extension without earning enough FedExCup points to keep his PGA Tour card. But after the Gays unearthed an issue with the Tour’s math, the status of both players was adjusted and the Englishman wasted little time in putting his reinstated card to use.

Without a mathematical assist from Gay, Poulter would have been scrapping for playing opportunities all summer long while trying to keep pace with players nearly half his age. Instead, he’ll end the year knocking on the door of the OWGR top 50, with a return to the Masters within reach and a spot on next year’s European Ryder Cup team in Paris a very real possibility.

Getty Images

Descending into golf's depths, and trying to dig out

By Brandel ChambleeApril 23, 2018, 3:05 pm

Watching Alvaro Quiros finish second this past week in Morocco, I was reminded of just how rare it is for player to come back from the depths of golf hell.

Quiros, a player of immense ability, hype and length, won the Dubai World Championship – his sixth win in four years – to close out 2011 and then went down the rabbit hole of trying to change his golf swing. He would miss 11 cuts in 2012 and either miss the cut or withdraw in another 41 European Tour events over the next four years. Because he hadn’t won a major championship, his epic backwards slide in the world rankings (435th prior to this past week) mostly went unnoticed – but it was far from unusual.

Ian Baker-Finch won the 1991 Open Championship, but just three years later, when he played 20 events on the PGA Tour and missed 14 cuts, he no longer looked anything like a recent major champion. In 1995, he played in 18 events and either missed the cut, withdrew or was disqualified from every one of them. In 1996, he missed the cut in all 11 events he entered on the PGA Tour; and in 1997, he shot 92 in the first round of The Open, withdrew from the championship and stopped playing professional golf.

Like Quiros, Baker-Finch’s downfall came after his biggest win, when he finally thought he had the time, because of the 10-year exemption he received, to change his golf swing.

David Duval won the 2001 Open Championship and just two years later he shot 83-78 in the same event and missed the cut, which was one 16 events he either missed the cut or withdrew from that year. In 2005, he missed 18 cuts in 19 starts. Duval’s competitive demise may well have been precipitated by injuries and an existential malaise after winning golf’s oldest championship, but it was accompanied by queries far and wide as to how to correct his swing and thinking, just like Baker-Finch before him and Quiros thereafter.

These desperate searches for help, like the indelible ink stains on dyer’s hands, are the one common thread amongst those who suffer from the absolute negation of their technical and then creative abilities. Those who take as indisputable the theories of others are, in the deepest sense, wounding their own intuition. They are controverting the evidence of their own senses in such a way that is comforting to the insecure player, but tragic to the artist. To quote Carl Jung: “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”

As I write this, PGA Tour winners Steven Bowditch (1,885th in the world) and Smylie Kaufman (337th) are in similar downward spirals in their careers and no doubt are desperate for, and susceptible to any suggestion.

One player they can look to who made it back from the frantic madness that accompanies losing one’s game, is Henrik Stenson. He put his trust in one man, Pete Cowen, even though while working with Pete he missed 14 cuts in 2002, followed by 15 missed cuts in 2003, and 11 in 2004. What Stenson did not do was panic and run from teacher to teacher, from shrink to shrink, as the missed cuts piled up.

Stenson, with Cowen’s help, slowly built one of the most reliable swings in the history of the game. A swing that regularly leads events in fairways found and greens hit in regulation. A swing that authored the lowest score ever shot in major championship history. A swing that is a far cry from the OB-launching swipes he was taking in late-2001 and 2002.

Given the soul-eating depths of where he came from, a place from which few have dug themselves out of, I watch Stenson play golf with a far great admiration than I otherwise would, and similarly was pulling for Quiros in Morocco. The same way I am pulling for Bowditch and Kaufman to find their games again.

Getty Images

Langer skipping Senior PGA for son's HS graduation

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 2:53 pm

Defending champion Bernhard Langer will miss this year’s Senior PGA Championship to attend his son’s high school graduation.

Langer made the announcement Monday, during Senior PGA media day at Harbor Shores in Michigan. The event will be held May 24-27.

“I won’t be able to defend my title this year because my son graduates from high school that very same weekend,” he said. “Family comes first in my life, so I have to be there to celebrate.”

Langer said that his son, Jason, will play golf for the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. Langer and his family live in South Florida.

Langer won last year’s event at Trump National outside Washington, D.C. The 60-year-old has no wins but three runners-up in eight senior starts this season.  

Getty Images

Landry reaches OWGR career high after Valero win

By Will GrayApril 23, 2018, 12:40 pm

After notching his first career PGA Tour win at the Valero Texas Open, Andrew Landry also reached unprecedented heights in the latest installment of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Landry shot a final-round 68 at TPC San Antonio to win by two shots, and in the process he cracked the top 100 in the world rankings for the first time at age 30. Landry started the week ranked No. 114, but he's now up to 66th. The move puts him within reach of a possible U.S. Open exemption, given that the top 60 in the May 21 rankings will automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills.

Trey Mullinax went from No. 306 to No. 169 with his T-2 finish in San Antonio, while fellow runner-up Sean O Hair jumped 29 spots to No. 83 in the world. Jimmy Walker, who finished alone in fourth, went from No. 88 to No. 81 while fifth-place Zach Johnson moved up five spots to No. 53.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


Alexander Levy took home the title at the European Tour's Trophee Hassan II, allowing the Frenchman to move from No. 66 to No. 47. With no OWGR points available at this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Levy is guaranteed to stay inside the top 50 next week, thereby earning a spot in The Players.

Idle since an MDF result at the Houston Open, former world No. 1 Lee Westwood dropped two spots to No. 100 this week. It marks the first time Westwood has been ranked 100th or worse in nearly 15 years, ending a streak of consistency that dates back to September 2003.

The top 10 in the rankings remained the same, with Dustin Johnson leading off at No. 1 followed by Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose. Rickie Fowler remains No. 6 with Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia rounding out the top 10.

With no starts announced until the U.S. Open in June, Tiger Woods dropped two more spots to No. 91 in the latest rankings.

Getty Images

What's in the bag: Valero Texas Open winner Landry

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 12:34 pm

Andrew Landry won his first PGA Tour event at the Valero Texas Open. Here's a look inside the winners' bag.

Driver: Ping G30 (9 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 65X shaft

Fairway woods: Ping G (14.5 degrees adjusted to 15.5), with Project X HZRDUS Yellow 75X shaft; (17.5 degrees), with Project X HZRDUS Yellow 85X shaft

Irons: Ping iBlade (3-PW), with Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 105 S shafts

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 (52, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400 shafts

Putter: Ping PLD ZB-S

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x