Golf's 10 Biggest Newsmakers In 2015\nTaking stock of the year by counting down the top players and stories\nThe reigning NCAA and U.S. Amateur champion joined Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore as just the fifth player to win both titles in the same year. Yet the means by which the Clovis, Calif., native gained entry into this elite club suggests he really is in the company of one. A physics major at SMU, DeChambeau takes a scientific approach to the game. It explains his devotion to the heady swing theories of Homer Kelley’s The Golfing Machine, as well as the unusual fact that all the irons he plays are the same 37½ inches in length. His trademark newsboy cap implies a fondness for Ben Hogan, but it’s Moe Norman whose ball-striking the 6-foot-1 DeChambeau strives to emulate. Despite also qualifying for the U.S. Open and making the U.S. Walker Cup team, not everything went his way. In October the NCAA banned the SMU men’s golf team from postseason play in 2016 because of rules violations involving a former coach, causing the senior to leave school to better prepare his game for an appearance at the Masters in April and the start of his pro career some time next summer.\nThe club that reigning NCAA and U.S. Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau joined is small. The 22-year-old stands beside Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore as just the fifth player to win both titles in the same year. Yet the means by which the Clovis, Calif., native gained entry in 2015 suggests he really is in the company of one. A physics major at SMU, DeChambeau takes a scientific approach to the game. It explains his devotion to the heady swing theories of Homer Kelley’s The Golfing Machine, as well as the unusual fact that all the irons he plays are the same 37½ inches in length. His trademark newsboy cap implies a fondness for Ben Hogan, but it’s Moe Norman whose ball-striking the 6-foot-1 DeChambeau strives to emulate. Given the number of skeptics who told him he was wasting his talent by following his road less traveled, there is justice in the rewards DeChambeau garnered in 2015, which also included qualifying for the U.S. Open and a spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team. Still, not everything went his way. In October the NCAA banned the SMU men’s golf team from postseason play in 2016 because of rules violations involving a former coach. Denied the chance to defend his individual title, the senior chose to leave school to better prepare his game for an appearance at the Masters in April and the start of his pro career some time next summer. Doubters will say his style is too unorthodox to succeed at the highest level. But if 2015 proved anything, it’s that DeChambeau’s unique road shouldn’t be underestimated. \n“Big hat, no cattle” was how Johnny Miller had described Rickie Fowler in June 2014. “Most overrated” (along with Ian Poulter) was the finding of a Sports Illustrated poll of tour players in May 2015. Unflattering? Certainly. Unwarranted? More reasonably debatable. Either way, Fowler countered the negative portrayals in dramatic fashion in 2015. Days after the SI published its poll, Fowler won the Players Championship, and later added victories in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open and the Deutsche Bank Championship. The run helped him climb to sixth in the World Ranking. “I want to be the best player in the world at some point. But, yes, being called overrated, I won three times, so thanks for the poll, I guess,” Fowler said at the Deutsche Bank, evoking laughter. The last laugh is the best kind, but Fowler had known for a while he was close to breaking through, having ended 2014 ranked 10th in the world, largely on the basis of top-five finishes in each of the four majors that year. “It was just a matter of time,” he said. His time finally came on the closing holes of the Players. He played the last four holes of regulation in five under par, including a birdie on 17th’s island green. He birdied 17 again in a three-hole aggregate playoff with Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia, then birdied it for a third time in a sudden-death playoff with Kisner. It was exciting. It was dramatic. And it was overdue.\nNever before, in what has become a gloriously—and, at times, sadly—intense competition, has the final result of the Solheim Cup come down to a do-or-die putt in Match No. 6 of the Sunday singles. But that was the case at Germany’s St. Leon-Rot Golf Club in late September. Without Gerina Piller rolling in a gutsy eight-footer (shown) for par on No. 18 to defeat Caroline Masson of Germany, 1 up, the favored United States would have failed to win the cup, the same outcome as in 2011 and 2013. When Match No. 6 came to the last hole with Piller 1 up, Europe had 13½ points. After Masson’s par, a bogey by Piller would have ensured a 14-14 tie, which would have kept the cup on the eastern side of the Atlantic. But Piller poured it in to add momentum to the Sunday landslide, the Americans winning the last five singles matches to take 8½ of the 12 points, turning their 10-6 deficit into a 14½-13½ victory. All of which happened after the darkness-delayed four-ball match between Suzann Pettersen and Charley Hull against Alison Lee and Brittany Lincicome ended Sunday morning with the kind of incident that can spark a furious comeback. Lee thought her short putt on No. 17 was conceded and knocked it away. But Pettersen insisted no concession was made, giving the hole—and ultimately the match—to Europe. Lee was in tears. Hull was in tears. Lincicome was in shock. And Pettersen was adamant. “You don’t do that to your peers,” U.S. captain Juli Inkster said. “It’s just B.S. as far as I’m concerned.” While it seemed endangered in 2009 when the U.S. won for the third straight time, the Solheim Cup isn’t going anywhere. It now has a Ryder Cup intensity—for better and worse—that is going to make the next go-around in 2017 at Iowa’s Des Moines G.&C.C. a must-see event.\nWhen Dustin Johnson returned from his voluntary-but-still-mysterious six month “leave of absence” last February, the curiosity factor was even higher than the expectations. But the immensely talented Johnson reoriented quickly, losing a playoff at Riviera, then winning at Doral for his ninth PGA Tour victory before posting a career-best T-6 at the Masters. Clearly back to being one of the world’s best players, Johnson, however, lost arguably his best chance to transcend that category—and his still star-crossed career—at the U.S. Open. After birdieing the 71st hole and dominating Chambers Bay’s long par-5 closer with a monstrous drive and a 5-iron to 15 feet, Johnson’s chance to make 72nd-hole history ended with a stunning three-putt that handed the trophy to Jordan Spieth. Three weeks later, Johnson’s weekend disappearing act at the Open Championship reaffirmed the enigma of D.J. After opening with rounds of 65-69 to take the lead on an Old Course catering to his PGA Tour-leading driving distance (317.7 yards), Johnson faded badly with back-to-back 75s to finish T-49. A T-7 at the PGA meant another year without his first major. Still, the publicly phlegmatic Johnson, 31, sees little changing. “Next year I want to do the same thing,” he said. “Just be consistent, keep doing exactly what I’m doing and put myself in a position to win.” But Johnson has plenty of room to improve in key areas—notably sand saves (where he ranked 178th on the tour), scrambling (119th) and even greens in regulation (70th). For all the fans hoping to see Johnson make a Jason Day-size leap in 2016, more of the same won’t be quite enough.\nThe feats from Lydia Ko in 2015 are impressive for anyone, but astounding for someone who didn’t turn 18 until April (she still doesn’t have a driver’s license). There are, of course, the accomplishments related to her age. In February, she became the youngest to reach No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, a spot she still held at the end of the season after briefly relinquishing it to Inbee Park. A brilliant final-round 63 at the Evian Championship in September made Ko the youngest to win an LPGA major. And a victory in October at the Fubon Championship in Taiwan, her fifth and final title of the year, shattered Nancy Lopez’s record for the youngest player to 10 LPGA wins by 3½ years. Ko also joined Lopez, Beth Daniel and Annika Sorenstam (all Hall of Famers) as the only women to be rookie of the year one season and player of the year the next. Her $2,800,802 in winnings in 2015 has been exceeded only by Yani Tseng’s $2,921,713 in 2011, but throw in her $1 million for winning the year-long Race to the CME Globe bonus and Ko easily had the most lucrative season by an LPGA player. Ko was great from top to bottom: second in GIR; second in putts/GIR and second in scoring, her 69.441 trailing Park by less than 0.025 strokes per round. With Ko, there seems to be a future with no limits—except any she imposes herself. She says she’ll retire when she is 30. By then, she’ll surely own many more LPGA records.\nTiger Woods spent the year riding an express elevator to irrelevancy as a competitive golfer, plummeting outside the top 400 in the World Ranking and facing additional adversity after undergoing his second and third back surgeries in 19 months. Perhaps sensing that a return to mastery is decidedly dubious, Woods delivered a doleful press conference Dec. 1 punctuated by this tidy summation: “There’s really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards.” The former World No. 1 was referring to his long rehab outlook, but he just as easily could have been referencing any inspiration that could be taken from his short 2015 season, which started shakily with the chipping yips and was marked by several unbecoming personal records. Most notably, Woods missed the cut in three majors for the first time in his career, and he did so spectacularly, failing to break par in any of the six rounds at the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship. Auguring his summer of discontent was an epic calamity at the Memorial. Just two years removed from his fifth victory at Jack Nicklaus’ event, part of a five-win, player-of-the-year season, Woods cratered to a career-worst 85 in the third round. Nearing his 40th birthday later this month, Woods has competed in just 18 events in the last two injury-plagued seasons. More than waning skills, his faltering health appears to be the factor that will put an end to his era—perhaps the most spectacular golf has ever seen. Woods says he wants to return to tournament golf “with all my heart,” but his acceptance of a U.S. vice-captain post at next September’s Ryder Cup would indicate he isn’t expecting a comeback to competition in 2016.\nAs 2014 came to a close, few were arguing about the identity of the world’s best golfer. Rory McIlroy, almost three ranking points ahead of then-No. 2 Henrik Stenson, was universally hailed as the game’s next dominant figure. But things change. One year on, McIlroy is, statistically at least, now “only” the third-best player on the planet, behind Jordan Spieth and Jason Day. By that simple measure, 2015 must be deemed a disappointment, especially as the 26-year-old prodigy failed to add to his tally of four major-championship victories. Blame will inevitably be attributed to McIlroy’s now infamous soccer “kick-about” with friends not long after the U.S. Open, which resulted in a badly sprained ankle. Still No. 1 at the time, McIlroy was forced to miss his next three events: the Scottish Open, the Open Championship (at his favorite links course, St. Andrews) and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, all three carrying weighty ranking points. By the end of the PGA Championship, where a rusty McIlroy returned to competition, Spieth was the new No. 1. Nevertheless, a strong case can be made for the Northern Irishman’s continuing pre-eminence. For the third time in four seasons he finished first in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, winning the season-ending DP World Tour Championship en route to claiming that crown—and recharging the competitor within him.\nJason Day’s ascent to World No. 1 might have been one of the most surprising developments of 2015, but not because he lacks the requisite ability. On the contrary, the talented Aussie had been a classic underachiever whose best moments had come in disappointing near misses at major championships. No, it was the fact that preceding his meteoric rise was a frightening fall (literally) toward the end of the second round of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. A severe bout of vertigo put Day flat on his back, and although he gutted out a T-9 finish, his season appeared in jeopardy. Instead, after a proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment for a viral infection, Day embarked on a “sick” tour of excellence, winning four times in six starts, including the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. His 20-under-par score set the 72-hole record for most under par in a major, and with his fifth victory of the year, a six-stroke runaway, he overtook Jordan Spieth for the world’s top ranking. Day’s time on that perch lasted one week, but getting a taste has made him only hungrier. “I was the best player in the world, I felt, for most of the summer … and I want to be more of a dominant player and be at the top of the World Ranking list for a long, long time,” said the 27-year-old, who finished the year with another prize: a new baby daughter, Lucy. “I know how hard I had to work this year, so I’ve got to work extra hard next year.” If Day builds on his breakthrough season in 2016, no one will be shocked.\nTwo major championship wins. Five PGA Tour victories. $12 million in on-course earnings. The FedEx Cup title. No. 1 on the World Ranking to close 2015. By just these objective measures, Jordan Spieth seems the clear choice for Golf World’s Newsmaker of The Year. If, however, for some reason you need more proof, there’s the subjective accomplishments the 22-year-old Texan turned in that provide a fuller view of a truly impressive year. Start with the fact that Spieth, unlike any golfer save Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods in their primes, made winning the modern-day calendar Grand Slam appear genuinely possible. If not for being on the course for an ill-advised 32-minute Saturday-morning restart of the second round at St. Andrews, high winds blowing his ball off the 14th green and costing him a stroke, Spieth might have added the Open Championship to his Masters and U.S. Open titles, and the PGA at Whistling Straits becomes the most anticipated golf tournament in history. As the chance at sports immortality slipped away, Spieth’s humble personality got its opportunity to shine. If there’s a more likable twentysomething athlete around, have that person come to Dallas so he or she can challenge Spieth to see who can help walk the most grandmothers across the street in an hour. Any outward modesty, though, belies Spieth’s inner competitor. Happy to share the spotlight with Rory McIlroy and Jason Day or any other rival you’d throw at him, Spieth rarely can stomach seeing their names above his on a leader board. So now comes the hard part: the encore. Expectations will follow, and accomplishing the same or more in another calendar year might not be possible. Like Woods trying to match 2000, Spieth will be chasing 2015 for his entire career. Lucky for us, we get to sit back and see if he’ll catch it.