In this year-ending edition, we celebrate the year of DJ, the best of Bryson and a season unlike any other.
DJ’s day. For the vast majority of his World Golf Hall of Fame career, Dustin Johnson has been proving to the world the benefits of competitive blinders.
When he lost the 2010 PGA Championship after a bizarre rules infraction, he shrugged and moved forward. When he lost the ’15 U.S. Open on the 72nd hole, he stewed for exactly 5, according to various accounts, and never looked back.
Emotions and the enormity of the moment were pitfalls that simply didn’t impact him and when he tore through the FedExCup playoffs with victories at The Northern Trust and Tour Championship to win the season-long crown following a bout with COVID-19, he’d already secured his place as one of this strange season’s most compelling stories.
But it was in November at the Masters where he evolved from a stoic golf machine into a truly endearing champion. DJ was born about an hour’s drive from Augusta National and attended college in South Carolina. Of course winning the Masters would mean the world to him, but the emotional release following his five-stroke victory was so wonderfully off-brand.
“It's just incredible, obviously, as you can tell,” Johnson said, fighting back tears.
For the first time in his career the world could tell.
Resilience. With every major professional and college sport now back at work following March’s pandemic shutdown it’s easy to dismiss the Tour’s return to action, but that would ignore a Herculean effort.
The Tour was the last sport to turn off the lights in the spring as COVID-19 began to alter everyday life and it was one of the first major sports to return to competition in June during a time when a vaccine seemed years away and the coronavirus still felt like a mystery to most.
Without the benefit of a “bubble” to protect their players, the circuit created safety protocols and testing when other leagues were perfectly content taking a wait-and-see approach. When things seemed to be careening wildly off the tracks following a spate of positive tests, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan flew to the Travelers Championship with a message.
“We need to learn to live with this virus,” Monahan said in June. “This virus isn’t going anywhere ... You’re going to have more [positive] tests going forward.”
Throughout the Tour’s continuing comeback, the commissioner has remained on point - it hasn’t been the message his members want to hear but it’s the message they need to hear.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Reluctant senior. In January, we asked Phil Mickelson his plans for 2020 with his 50th birthday looming in June and a Tour resume that was light on recent success. The answer was pure Lefty.
“When I stop hitting bombs I'll play the Champions Tour, but I'm hitting some crazy bombs right now,” Mickelson said with a smile. “No, I still have speed, there's no reason I couldn't play out here. I hit the ball every bit as far.”
Mickelson missed the cut in four of his next five Tour events before the pandemic halted play in March and he began to change his thoughts on the over-50 circuit. In August he won his first start on the PGA Tour Champions (Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National). In October he won in his second start on the senior circuit (Dominion Energy Charity Classic).
Lefty still seems committed to playing the PGA Tour for the foreseeable future but there’s no denying that any cameos he makes with the over-50 set are good for the PGA Tour Champions and the continued success is good for Mickelson.
Being Bryson. Where do you start with DeChambeau?
2020 was the craziest of years for everyone but for the 27-year-old, this will be a season he’ll never forget.
He arrived at his first start in January in Abu Dhabi 17 pounds heavier than he’d been a month earlier. When he restarted his schedule in June at Colonial, he’d added yet another 20 pounds, eating pretty much anything that was shoved in front of him.
He won the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July with a 313-yard driving average and threatened to redefine the game, or break it over his knee, with his commanding victory in September at the U.S. Open.
He said Augusta National was a par 67 for him and then missed the cut.
He was on the wrong end of rule dust-ups at the Memorial and WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and was trolled by Brooks Koepka for the latter.
Bryson was insightful and confusing and weird and impressive. But mostly he was entertaining.
September madness. Pencil the Ryder Cup in every other year as any season’s can’t-miss event. The matches are almost always golf’s most compelling theater and this year’s bout in Wisconsin had all the key ingredients.
Steve Stricker would lead the U.S. side in his home state and was going to cry a lot. Padraig Harrington would redefine what it means to be a captain with his hyper- analytical approach to golf and life, and the American team would be favored ... again.
This isn’t criticism of the PGA of America for postponing the matches until 2021. Unlike other stops on the patchwork post-quarantine Tour schedule, a Ryder Cup without fans isn’t a Ryder Cup at all. What made this postponement/cancellation stand out, is that among all of the postponements/cancellations the Ryder Cup is almost always the year’s defining event for all manner of reasons.
Without the matches it just made 2020 feel even more empty.
Pace of play. Among the list of things that the pandemic took from golf in 2020 the most overlooked, and curious, was what had been billed as a new era for pace of play on Tour.
In the wake of a few high-profile slow-play incidents (we’re looking at you, Bryson) the circuit created a policy that many believed would put some much-needed teeth into policing slow play, including an observation list for the circuit’s slowest, penalties for excessive shot times and increased fines.
The reimagined policy also shifted the focus of officials tasked with keeping tabs on the slow at heart from timing groups to keeping individual players on pace.
The new policy was set to begin in April at the RBC Heritage following an education period, but when the pandemic halted play in March and pushed the Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, stop to June the roll out was put on the shelf until 2021.
Frustration among players had been building for years and the new policy was an encouraging move by officials who always seemed reluctant to speed up the habitually slow and having to wait another year for change felt like, well, slow play.