Newsmakers Of The Year
December 04, 2013
Time will tell if this 15-year-old from Guangzhou, China, is more than a compelling footnote, but even if he's only that, his year is worth noting. When the 2012 Asia-Pacific Amateur champion earned low amateur honors at this year's Masters at age 14 years, five months, he became (by 21 months) the youngest golfer to make a cut in a major and, for that matter, a PGA Tour event—a cut he made despite being penalized one stroke for slow play in the second round. Guan followed up Augusta with a 71st at the Zurich Classic and missed cuts at the Byron Nelson, Memorial and St. Jude events.
Hall Of Fame Reboot
It's simple. The World Golf Hall of Fame has been inducting golf greats at too fast a pace and will deplete its finite future supply—which is smaller than the pool available to team-sport halls—if it doesn't slow down. Accordingly, the WGHOF announced it is suspending its normally annual induction ceremony in 2014, with a planned resumption in 2015. The break will allow an in-depth study of the best way forward, including whether the minimum age for an inductee should be raised from 40 to at least 50.
It proved to be an omen that the first two days of tour play scheduled in 2013 were canceled due to extreme weather, in this case wind. The Hyundai Tournament of Champions was one of 25 PGA Tour events to endure at least one weather delay and one of four to finish a day late. The LPGA took its hits too. The debuting Pure Silk-Bahamas Classic was limited to three 12-hole rounds because of flooding. And the Evian Championship, in its first year as a major, needed to employ tarps on the greens just to be able to complete a shortened 54-hole tournament.
For two weeks in early summer, Perry played some of the best golf of the year by anyone on any tour. He won the Constellation Senior Players Championship and U.S. Senior Open in consecutive appearances, shooting three 63s and a pair of 64s over eight rounds to make up for having blown a late lead at the Senior PGA Championship in May. With a victory at the AT&T Championship in October, the 53-year-old became the Champions Tour's only three-time winner of 2013 and claimed the Schwab Cup (shown) for his season's work.
Golf may be a gentleman's (or lady's) game, but 2013 saw its share of cringe-inducing behavior. The U.S. Solheim Cup team (led by Michelle Wie running to the next tee in celebration when her opponent still was to putt) got the most attention, but fans took things too far as well, including an ill-timed yell during Jim Furyk's swing on the 70th hole of the PGA Championship. That led Ian Poulter to go on Twitter with this extreme solution: "This baba boo sh*t & mash potato crap wouldn't happen at Augusta, The Open, nor would it happen at Wimbledon. Tazer the thrushes."
With each successive victory during the 2012-13 season—all 11 of them—the California men hoped to answer a subjective question with objective measures. Was this the greatest college team of all time? Considering Michael Kim (national player of the year), Max Homa (NCAA medalist), Michael Weaver, Brandon Hagy and Joel Stalter each averaged 70.9 or better, Steve Desimone's Golden Bears had many convinced, but an upset by Illinois in the NCAA semifinals kept them from ending the conversation. At worst, however, the Berkeley boys defined themselves as a team that won't soon be forgotten.
The affable one isn't the first player to discover less can mean more schedule-wise. Neither is he the most prolific part-time competitor in the annals of golf. Nevertheless, the unassuming Wisconsin native, who decided in 2013 to spend more time with his family, was darned impressive in a truncated campaign, placing second four times, posting 11 top-25s in 13 starts, and finishing third in the FedExCup race. Stricker, 46, was so consistent that he made the U.S. Presidents Cup team on points. Not many could do so much with so little.
With almost weekly scrambles to finish PGA Tour events on Sundays, slow play was a major topic of conversation even before young Tianlang Guan was penalized at the Masters with a polarizing punishment that might have been avoided with more consistently administered rules. With initiatives like Tee It Forward and While We're Young (as well as Golf Digest's Time for Nine), golf's leaders are promoting ways of making rounds faster with the hope of both attracting and retaining more weekend players. As for the pace of play on the PGA Tour? It continues to go nowhere . . . slowly. No player has been penalized in a regular tour event since 1995.
After taking over No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings for four weeks, Lewis lost it to Inbee Park though she did not play badly. Park simply won everything the first half of the year. But instead of breaking Lewis, it lit a fire under her. After being toppled in early April, Lewis reeled off 15 top-10 finishes, including a victory at the Ricoh Women's British Open with a birdie-birdie finish at St. Andrews. Lewis, who won three times this year, finished 2013 No. 3 but looks very much like she wants to get back to No. 1.
In a year of apologies (e.g., Michelle Wie and Brandel Chamblee), the 33-year-old staked himself to the clubhouse lead in May when he expressed regret for a comment made at the European Tour awards dinner. Ten days after a public dust-up with Tiger Woods over course etiquette at the Players, Garcia was asked if he'd invite the world No. 1 to dinner during the upcoming U.S. Open. "We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken," said the Spaniard, regrettably. When tour chief George O'Grady used the word "colored" in his bid to explain Garcia's joke, he too had to issue an apology.
Tweeting while angry continued to be a problem in golf. Stacy Lewis abandoned Twitter after venting her displeasure with Chinese golf fans and a lucky bounce that cost her a tournament win in Beijing. Lee Westwood, meanwhile, apologized to his sponsors following a three-hour, 50-tweet rant against those criticizing his latest failure to win a major, at the PGA Championship. Also employing Twitter to express scorn during the PGA was Jeff Overton, an alternate (and former Ryder Cup player) whose displeasure was aimed at the PGA of America for not giving him an invitation.
The complexity of the three-time major winner has long been established, but the driven Fijian apparently isn't done embellishing his enigmatic persona. Quick synopsis: Singh, obtusely, it seems, admitted using a banned substance—deer-antler spray—which the World Anti-Doping Agency subsequently removed from its list, halting the PGA Tour's intent to suspend him. Singh, 50, sued the tour anyway. Singh's attorney says the suit hinges, in part, on claims that the tour isn't evenhanded in administering its drug policy. Fascinating stuff. Could this be a 2014 top story too?
Tiger Woods' five-victory season in a letter: F. That, at least, was the grade that the Golf Channel analyst gave Woods in a Golf.com column, citing his four rules controversies and noting that he had been "a little cavalier with the rules." Many inferred that Chamblee had accused Woods of cheating. However it was interpreted, Chamblee, never one to shy from criticizing Woods' swing or behavior, ignited a controversy that had Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, telling ESPN's Bob Harig, "I have to give some thought to legal action." Chamblee subsequently apologized.
The PGA of America president may have failed in his effort to block the USGA/R&A ban on anchored putting, but the Indiana public-course operator succeeded in dramatically raising his organization's profile—generally considered to rank below the two ruling bodies and the PGA Tour—in the world of golf. Fighting for 27,000 embattled PGA members hit hard by the recession, Bishop made clear his fight was not just about anchoring but any rule that makes the game more difficult. His real message—roll back the ball and we will opt for bifurcation—was heard loud and clear.
After a record-breaking and historic 2012 in which she became the youngest winner in LPGA history at 15, Ko balanced a busy LPGA schedule in 2013 with schoolwork, all while constantly being asked about turning pro. But the 16-year-old wasn't slowed, recording eight worldwide top-10s including a successful title defense at the CN Canadian Women's Open. In October she announced her decision to play for pay in a lighthearted video alongside New Zealand rugby star Israel Dagg. Ko will likely keep a full LPGA schedule in 2014, commissioner Mike Whan having waived the minimum-age requirement for membership for her.
The 37-year-old Swede's 2013 was easily one of the great comeback seasons in golf history. Burned financially by the Ponzi scheme that sent Allen Stanford away for 110 years and limited by injuries and swing woes that had him ranked as low as 230th on the World Ranking less than two years ago, Stenson went on a second-half money grab that included top-threes at the British Open and PGA, wins at two of the four FedEx Cup playoff events (including the $10 million top prize) and the European Tour's Race to Dubai title (and its $1 million bonus). Ka-ching.
Lacking neither confidence nor grace, 20-year-old Jordan Spiethis a young head with an old soul. Spieth's rookie year wasn't close to being the best ever, but it was a damn fine one, every step up incrementally more uncommon than what preceded it. Off the course the word universally chosen by his peers to describe him was "mature." On the course he could be imprudently aggressive and impatient. And a lethal closer. He became the youngest winner on the PGA Tour in 82 years when he claimed the John Deere Classic, finished 10th on the money list, and was a captain's pick for the Presidents Cup, making him the youngest U.S. participant in the event's history.READ MORE >>>
Duf•ner: intransitive verb; 1: to lean or incline backward in an awkward sitting position; Duf•ner•ing: noun; 1: the state of being lethargic, comatose or sluggish; inactive; inert; vacant; torpid; sedentary; somnambulant. It began on Twitter, sparked by a candid photo of Jason Dufner in a state of inner serenity, or perhaps waiting for lunch. Thanks to his friend, Keegan Bradley, this pose of rumpled respite trended on social media. Soon, everyone was Dufnering but no one did it quite as well as Jason himself, who Dufnered his way to victory at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill CC.
If someday there is a sporting award for quickest exorcism of demons, the trophy might bear the likeness of Adam Scott. Less than nine months after blowing the British Open, the 33-year-old became the first Australian to win the Masters. That's an exorcism two-fer. After his emotional major breakthrough, Scott could have coasted the rest of the year—and who would have blamed him? Instead, he won three more times worldwide, including the Australian PGA and Masters (along with a World Cup team title with countryman Jason Day) during a conquering-hero return Down Under, which edged him, deservedly, ever closer to the No. 1 world ranking.
John Kenneth Galbraith said, "Money ranks with love as man's greatest source of joy, and with death as his greatest source of anxiety." McIlroy, No. 1 a year ago and winless in 2013 until overtaking Adam Scott on the last hole of the Emirates Australian Open, has the love and money whirligigs in the air simultaneously. There's been plenty of anxiety but, prior to the Aussie triumph, not much joy. His new Nike clubs, his social-media breakups and make-ups with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, and his hiring and firing of agents would make better daytime TV than golf.
History buffs circled 2013 on their calendars as soon as the USGA announced it would be returning to the triumvirate of Merion, The Country Club and National GL of America (shown). Three of the most historically significant courses in American championship golf would all be hosting events even as logistics and technology suggested they were past their prime. Not only did the trio pull off stunningly successful competitions, they had players, officials and fans yearning for rapid return visits. Merion produced more U.S. Open challenge than even its strongest supporters imagined, The Country Club looked better than ever during the U.S. Amateur, and National, hosting its first event since the 1920s, witnessed a dominating performance by the U.S. team at the Walker Cup.
When your name is in a sentence with Hall-of-Famers Babe Zaharias, Mickey Wright and Pat Bradley, you know you had a pretty good year. Park joined that trio as the only players to win three LPGA majors in a season, taking the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Wegmans LPGA Championship and U.S. Women's Open before finishing T-42 at the Ricoh Women's British Open and then T-67 at the Evian Championship in its first year as the tour's fifth major. That Triple Crown plus three other victories pushed the 25-year-old to No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, and she held off a late charge by Suzann Pettersen to be the LPGA Rolex Player of the Year, remarkably the first from South Korea (which has had eight rookies of the year).
The USGA took center stagein all sorts of ways in 2013. In May, it joined with the R&A to ban anchoring effective Jan. 1, 2016. Three months later, the USGA made more news by deciding to end its 20-year partnership with NBC as the broadcaster of its championships in favor of new suitor -- and television golf novice -- Fox, beginning in 2015. There was the successful U.S. Open at Merion in June and an unsuccessful coup from within in the fall. After all that, executive director Mike Davis summed it up: "I feel better about the USGA right now than I've ever felt in my 25 years. We are in a great place."READ MORE >>>
Mickelson finally won a major Open in 2013 -- it just wasn't the one anyone was expecting. Less than a month after coming up agonizingly short again at the U.S. Open, Lefty's stunning Sunday at the Open Championship gave him his first claret jug and a fifth major overall. Mickelson's final-round 66at Muirfield, including birdies on four of the closing six holes, will go down as one of the great rounds ever. It also will make his longtime pursuit of a U.S. Open that much more interesting. A win in his national championship would make him just the sixth golfer to accomplish the career grand slam.READ MORE >>>
The good? Five wins. The bad? Almost as many rules controversies and the fact that none of Woods' victories came at a major championship. Add it all up and Woods remained golf's most newsworthy figurein 2013. Woods returned to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking and won the PGA Tour's Player of the Year for the 11th time, but he garnered more headlines for not gaining any ground on Jack Nicklaus' major mark and his multiple rules run-ins.READ MORE >>>