Newsmakers Of The Year
December 12, 2014
The Donald made as much news for his expanding involvement in golf as he did anything in 2014. The 68-year-old purchased Ireland's Doonbeg G.C. and Scotland's Turnberry Resort, earned praise from tour pros for his renovated Blue Monster course at Trump National Doral in Florida and saw Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey get awarded the 2022 PGA Championship. Meanwhile, his highly anticipated contribution to public golf, Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx, is scheduled to open in spring 2015 and he has hired Tiger Woods to design a second Trump course in Dubai.
Outrageous shots that led to fantastic finishes caught our attention all year. In March, Paula Creamer rolled in a 75-foot eagle putt to win the HSBC Women's Champions. A month later, Matt Kuchar holed a bunker shot on the final hole to take the RBC Heritage title. Kevin Streelman birdied his last seven (!) holes to win June's Travelers Championship, and Bubba Watson converted an eagle bunker hole-out at the wire at the WGC-HSBC Champions en route to a playoff victory. Even while losing in the final to Jason Day, France's Victor Dubuisson (shown) became a recognizable name at the WGC-Accenture Match Play thanks to a trio of desert escapes shots.
Great golf was not the exclusive province of the PGA and European tours. Bernhard Langer's brilliance on the Champions Tour (five wins and 18 top-10s in 21 starts) had many wondering if the 57-year-old German will ever slow down. Meanwhile, Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park and Lydia Ko helped boost the LPGA's popularity and visibility. Lewis, 29, secured player-of-the-year honors, the money title and the Vare Trophy, the first American to do that since Betsy King in 1993. Park, 26, reclaimed the top spot in the Rolex Ranking, and Ko, 17 (shown), took the Race to the CME Globe season-long points race title (the title (and its $1 million bonus).
Change is not a word normally associated with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. But neither, apparently, is never. A mere 260 years into its all-male existence, the game's rules maker outside the U.S. and Mexico announced its first group of female members would be welcomed early in 2015. The Sept. 18 vote (held on the same day as Scotland was voting on independence) means there's one less thing Martin Slumbers, a former Deutsche Bank executive, must worry about going forward when he replaces retiring R&A chief executive Peter Dawson next October.
The fate of the U.S. Ryder Cup team might suggest otherwise, but the state of American golf looked strong with several players, many younger than 30, having successful seasons. Bubba Watson (shown) claimed his second Masters and ended 2014 fourth on the World Ranking. Jordan Spieth lost the Sunday lead at Augusta and didn't win on the PGA Tour, but two runaway victories to close the year reestablished his promise. Rickie Fowler finished top five in all four majors, joining Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to do so. Billy Horschel won the FedEx Cup playoffs, and Patrick Reed had two wins and a strong Ryder Cup debut.
Pinehurst's U.S. Opens
Potential pitfalls were anticipated as the USGA prepped for its two-week U.S. Open odyssey at Pinehurst No. 2. Turns out, the hand-wringing was unnecessary, and the June fortnight in North Carolina was an unqualified success. Two deserving winners emerged: Martin Kaymer (by eight strokes) and Michelle Wie (her first major). With allowances for yardage, greens firmness and hole locations, USGA officials realized their goal of testing the world's best of both genders on one hard, dry course that showcased intelligent water usage and demonstrated that high rough isn't mandatory to provide a stern test.
With a missed cut and a WD in two of his first three starts, it was clear a balky back would be a lingering issue. March 31 surgery meant missing the Masters and U.S. Open, but Woods hoped to salvage something from 2014 with a July return. Turned out he couldn't. Disappointments at the British Open (69th) and PGA (MC) led to more rehab, at which time Tiger also parted ways with instructor Sean Foley. A second comeback at his own Hero World Challenge in December (after a splashy snit with Golf Digest's Dan Jenkins) saw Tiger debut a sleeker physique and freer swing with new consultant Chris Como. But will it help him add to his major victory total, still stuck at 14?
A "lil' " mistake cost the controversial PGA of America president his job less than a month before his term was already set to end in October. When responding to Ian Poulter on Twitter and Facebook, Bishop's "lil' girl" reference was seen as a demeaning remark for the head of a group with a less-than-stellar record on progressive matters. But did the PGA Board of Directors overeact by hastily forcing him out? As Bishop joined the list of social-media casualties, his legacy of putting the association in a better position to influence the game seems likely to grow in stature with the PGA's 28,000 members.
U.S. Ryder Cup fail
The Europeans' 16½-11½ rout at Gleneagles made it three straight Ryder Cup losses for the U.S. and six in the seven matches. Let's call that a trend. Tom Watson, the once inspired pick as U.S. captain by now-deposed PGA of America president Ted Bishop, was handed the reins but he held them too tightly. Apparently "because I said so" isn't the most effective way to lead a team of rivals. At the cringe-worthy post-loss press conference, Phil Mickelson voiced consternation at the lack of communication from on high with the dirty dozen. The soul searching now resides in the hands of a 11-member Task Force.
It's hard to remember now that McIlroy began 2014 searching for his golfing identity. Would he be a prodigiously talented underachiever? Or could he make the all-in leap to focused greatness? By summer's end, his choice was obvious. In winning the British Open, a more assured, strikingly fit and clearly determined McIlroy showed increased finesse, ball control and closing strength. A return to No. 1 came after his WGC-Bridgestone victory, then he made the year officially great by capturing the PGA. The 25-year-old did it all, too, while overcoming the distractions of his broken engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki and an on-going court case with his former agent.