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Year in Review

Our favorite Golf Digest portraits of 2023

December 28, 2023

Any "Year in Review package" from Golf Digest would not be complete without a return to the images we shared with readers over the course of the previous 12 months. In looking back at 2023, we like to think we worked hard once again at telling a panoply of stories that covered golfers of all walks of life—tour pros, celebrities obsessed with the sport, golfers who have become celebrities thanks to the sport and golfers who celebrate who they are by virture of simply being able to play the sport. Join us in looking back at some of the portrait photography that we felt stood out above the rest in 2023.

Scottie Scheffler

PHOTOGRAPHER: Dan Winters

The reigning Masters champion joined us not far from his home in Dallas for his cover story that ran in our March/April issue ahead of his title defense at Augusta National.

On his mental preparation: "It doesn’t matter where I’m playing, I’m just an amped-up person, excited to compete. The buildup can be a challenge, but when you get out there, all of that melts away. Then it’s just, I know what I’m doing. I can play this game.”

Best piece of golf advice: "When I'm playing my best, I'm focused on the target, the shot shape. … I'm not thinking about swing mechanics."

Cameron Young

PHOTOGRAPHER: Jesse Rieser

The son of a golf professional who grew up in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., Young was in the midst of his second season on the PGA Tour when he joined us in Tequesta, Fla., in March for this cover shoot for our June issue.

Why Young looks so serious on the course: “People think I’m more upset than I am. I don’t smile a ton on the golf course, but that’s just my way of keeping myself in a mental headspace where I can do my job.”

A teammate's assessment of Young: “He’s the grumpiest nicest person I have ever met,” Will Zalatoris says. “He’s the type of guy who can shoot a low number and could be complaining, but I love him,” Zalatoris says. “He’s got a heart of gold—one of my favorite people in the world.”

Trevor Stephens, Cathy Walsh, Chad Pfeifer, Brandon Canesi

PHOTOGRAPHER: Nick Laham

Our foursome of players, among the more than 5.7 million adapative golfers in the United States, came together in New York City for a magazine feature that ran in our July/August issue and chronicled their personal stories as well as the rise of the USGA's U.S. Adaptive Open, which made its debut in 2022.

On making believers: Canesi was born without hands. His left arm ends at the wrist joint, and his right has a malformed thumb and index finger. But he found a way to create a homemade swing when he first took to golf at the age of 6. “Sometimes on the course people say: ‘Oh, good for you that you’re out here.’ Then they’ll see me rip a driver off the first tee, and they know I’m for real.”

On inspiring others: A high school coach turned Walch around to swing a club right-handed, overcoming the challenge of generating enough torque on the club to square the face in time for impact. It made Walch a better player, having posted a career-low 75. “I saw how good these players were and I thought, Maybe I can be a decent player. I just hope us playing golf helps people realize that your life isn’t over just because you’ve got a disability.”

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Butch Harmon

PHOTOGRAPHER: Sam Kweskin

The legendary golf instructor sat in September in Palm Beach for the opening portrait of our "50 Greatest Teachers" package that appeared in our November/December issue.

Back to the Future: Rickie Fowler and Butch Harmon had previously worked together during some of Fowler's best years as a pro. Trying to regain that former, Fowler figured out a way to work again with Harmon despite the fact that Butch no longer travels to events, using Butch's brother Craig as his on-site whisperer. "What if we started working together again, but this time, Craig could be his eyes? Butch and I could send swing videos back and forth, and Craig could keep me on track when I practiced. Butch loved it, and that’s how we reunited. Butch saw right away that I had slipped into some old habits, so the fixes he mapped out were things we’d worked on years ago." The results: Fowler grabbed his first PGA Tour title this summer at the Rocket Mortgage Classic after a four-year winless stretch and made the U.S. Ryder Cup team for the first time xince 2018.

Quality time: Fowler closed his instruction piece with this nugget—"One more thing about Butch: My time with him always has been so fulfilling. He’s helped my technique, of course, but half of what he does for me is self-belief. There’s nothing like having someone on your side who helps you see that the work is worth it and you can get where you want to go. I really believe my best golf is ahead of me."

Retail Crime

PHOTOGRAPHER: Mark Peterman

Peterman shot these still-life images in a studio in Phoenix in May to accompany Mike Stachura's investigative story in our July/August issue about the increasing number of smash-and-grab robberies involving high-end golf equipment.

Bringing a story to life: Upon reading Stachura's notes about some of the brazen robberies that have taken place at golf shops around the country, Peterman built miniature sets to re-create the scenes. He then shot the models to feel like real life/size at first until you look closer.

A worsening problem: In 2022, leading golf retailers (Golf Galaxy/Dick’s Sporting Goods, PGA Tour Superstore and Worldwide Golf Shops) reported 900 crime events. The value of club thefts industry-wide was roughly $6 million in 2022 or five times more than what it was in 2019.

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Ben Griffin

PHOTOGRAPHER: Josh Letchworth

Griffin was an aspiring tour pro until deciding the life wasn't for him, briefly becoming a mortgage loan officer. When he decided that life wasn't for him either, he gave golf another try and eventually earned a PGA Tour card for his rookie season in 2022-23. We caught up with him in Sea Island, Ga., in February for this photo that ran with his "Journeys" story in our May issue.

What caused him to give up pro golf: "The pressure turned me into a fearful golfer. If there was water to the right, my brain would say not to hit it right. The anxiety kept building, and I started playing bad golf. I obsessed over my equipment and swing. I became a perfectionist. You should focus on hitting shots, not hitting the right positions in your swing."

A different approach when he came back: "My girlfriend introduced me to the vegan lifestyle, which also helped. Some people treat food like entertainment, but food is fuel. I eat for energy. Research says veganism helps with inflammation. I’ve never felt better. I used to be fatigued down the stretch, but now I feel fresh enough for another 18 after the tournament is over."

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Lucas Herbert

PHOTOGRAPHER: Jensen Larson

The Australian who grabbed his first PGA Tour win in 2022 took part in a photo shoot in Florida in March for this instruction story that ran in our June issue.

Growing great putters Down Under: Herbert tried to explain why Australia seems to produce more than its fair share of players who know how to use the flat stick—"My theory is that the greens back home are not as manicured and smooth as they are in the United States, so we have to get very good at rolling the ball on less-than-perfect surfaces. When we come here, it’s like putting in a video game. Since the strokes gained/putting stat was introduced in 2011, four Aussies—Greg Chalmers, Aaron Baddeley, Jason Day and yours truly—have ranked No. 1 on the PGA Tour in that category. Chalmers did it twice. Another, Cam Smith, was top 10 twice."

Do this to avoid that: "I spend five minutes a day working on the mechanics of my stroke so that when I’m on the course, I don’t have to think about it. The proper motion is already ingrained," Herbert says. "That way, my mind is free, and all I’m picturing is the ball going into the hole at the ideal angle and speed. If there’s a feel that I have for the stroke, it’s that I’m pouring putts into the hole much like you would pour milk into a bowl. You probably wouldn’t tip the milk carton straight over and pour really fast. It’s a smoother delivery."

Viral golf-course fights

PHOTOGAPHER: Jesse Rieser

Serendipity is required to have a professional photographer around in the event a fight among average golfers might break out on the course. Given the rise in number of those fights, many of which then go viral with a stray video recording, maybe the odds are better it could happen. In the meantime, we did have some fun staging a few altercations to accompany Alex Myers' feature in the October issue on when golfers attack.

You know it when you see it: This vignette from Myers' story helps captures the nuiances of this new breed of viral golf fights—April 21, 2023, was a Friday afternoon like most at Cleveland Heights, the Lakeland, Fla., muny that has 27 holes and does more than 80,000 rounds a year. The tee sheet was packed, the sun was out, and the weekend was starting early for Jacob Guzman, who was enjoying his day as he got to the second hole on the “C” course and heard some yelling. A heated argument was developing between two groups on the tee box of the “B” course’s ninth hole, and so Guzman whipped out his phone. On the previous hole, the short, 464-yard par-5 eighth, one golfer had hit into the group ahead. In retaliation, someone in that group ran over the golf ball with a cart. As the two groups met on the next tee, tempers flared. “We’ve got a fivesome in front of us! We can’t go any faster!” It’s a phrase every golfer has exclaimed in frustration at one point. As the altercation of punches and kicks began, Guzman can be heard saying, “Dude, we could go viral.” Go viral they did, with the video racking up more than one million views within a few days before TikTok took it down because of a “violence guideline violation.” It remains on multiple Instagram accounts.

Explaining the problem: “This reminds me of the road-rage phenomenon,” says Dr. Jeremy Pollack, a social psychologist and conflict resolution consultant in Miami, after reviewing several viral on-course fights we showed him. “I think people aren’t feeling physically threatened. They’re feeling sort of ego threatened.”

Rose Zhang

PHOTOGRAPHER: Mackenzie Stroh

We got time with the budding LPGA star—an amateur phenom who this summer became the first woman to win her first pro start on the LPGA Tour since 1951—in Jersey City, N.J., in September ahead of her cover story and instruction article that appeared in the October issue.

Why it was the right time for Zhang to turn pro: Stanford women's coach Anne Walker summed it up like this—“I liken it to when you open a bottle of Coke, and that Coke’s fizzy. Then you close it back up and then next time, it’s halfway fizzy. Over time, it loses its fizz, right? She was ready to compete with the world’s best. She needed to go while the fizz was still in the bottle.”

Why this Rose might be what you're looking for: The incredible tempo with Zhang's swing is something for average golfers to aspire to—especially men. Says Zhang: "If you don’t have time to hit balls every day, then copying my swing is a more achievable goal than trying to be like those PGA Tour pros who smash it."

DJ Khaled

PHOTOGRAPHER: Mary Beth Koeth

The 10-time Grammy nominated producer, modern-day philosopher and beacon of positivity joined us in Miami in March ahead of his June cover story.

Let's go golfing!!!: “God gave me life, and he gave me a blessing, and I show my gratitude every single day,” Khaled says. “I love golf because it’s like my connection with God, too. It’s kind of like my one-on-one time with him.”

This is for real: “I want to be clear: This is not a joke. This is something that’s part of my life," says Khaled, whose first official handicap was a 14. "Everywhere I go they scream ‘Let’s go golfing!’ It’s just something that comes out of my soul and my heart. It’s a beautiful slogan that came from a true organic space in my life, and you’re gonna see a lot of things with ‘Let’s go golfing!’ You’re gonna see some beautiful things.”

Paige Spiranac

PHOTOGRAPHER: Caroline Tompkins

The pro golfer turned social-media lightning rod came to New York City in April for our photo shoot ahead of the cover story about her that ran in our June issue.

Getting acquainted: Caroline Tompkins says she never had met Spiranac before the photo shoot. "I’m not a golfer, and with my work, I didn’t seem like a photographer Golf Digest would reach out to. I thought there’d been a mistake. But then I looked up Paige on the Internet, and I understood."

Standing out from the crowd: Asked if she felt pressure photographing Spiranac given how heavily photographed she has been, Tompkins was honest and forthcoming: "Yes, but lucky for me, I think she’s only really been photographed in one kind of way, so I was confident my approach would be different. Also, I’ve photographed a lot of celebrities who have been photographed so much. A neat early moment was when your photo editor, Stephen Denton, and I simultaneously emailed each other the same reference point: a Larry Sultan image of his dad practicing his golf swing. Sultan had this famous body of work where he photographed his parents’ house with these colorful carpets and kooky interiors. He had another about porn sets. They were actually these beautiful moments of opulent interiors and very beautiful portraits of women."

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Wyndham Clark

PHOTOGRAPHER: Stephen Denton

The newly crowned U.S. Open champion met us in West Nyack, N.Y., in July, shortly after his victory at Los Angeles Country Club, for a September cover story about his journey in golf after the passing of his mother, Lise.

A competitor, like his mother: Both of Clark’s parents, Lise and Randall, were athletes. Randall played tennis at the University of Arizona and had a brief professional career before a series of knee injuries ended his dream. Lise could throw a football with a perfect spiral and often beat her two sons, Wyndham and his younger brother, Brendan, in heated ping-pong matches. “I would get so mad sometimes because I’d come home to find new dents in the table where they’re slamming the paddles or breaking paddles,” Randall says with a laugh. “She was super competitive. She loved trying to compete with Wyndham in whatever it was.”

Winning changes everything: Before his U.S. Open victory, Clark grabbed his first PGA Tour title at the Wells Fargo Championship in May. The import of these wins is amplified when you hear Clark describe the challenges he faced trying to develop in his early years as a pro. “This game really magnifies winning. If you don’t win, you’re kind of neglected,” Clark says. “Because I didn’t win, people didn’t talk about me. It was frustrating to me because one, I knew I was good enough to win, and two, it’s hard to keep your card every year. It was hard seeing peers have success, and I wasn’t.”

Golf Digest

Mackenzie Stroh

Jennifer Kupcho

PHOTOGRAPHER: Mackenzie Stroh

The 26-year-old LPGA major champion was photographed in New York City in January for an instruction feature that ran in our April issue.

Feeling the flow: "You know how athletes talk about being in the flow state?" Kupcho explained while describing what happened in her two biggest career wins. "That’s what happened to me during the third round of the 2022 Chevron Championship, when I made nine birdies and shot an eight-under-par 64—low round of the tournament by two shots. I hit 13 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. I was out of my mind and completely in my body. It was the same feeling I had when I won the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019."

It's OK to be angry: "After a poor shot, a lot of amateurs don’t know how to react," Kupcho says. "Some overreact and get really angry with themselves. Others show little to no emotion. I’m not afraid to react. I might even bang my club into the ground. The key is to get your frustration out without being too much of a distraction so that you have a clear mind for your next shot—and your frustration doesn’t carry over into future shots. Bad shots are going to happen, and sometimes underreacting can be just as bad as overreacting."

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Jack Nicklaus

PHOTOGRAPHER: Jesse Rieser

Investigative journalist Jeffrey Toobin wrote a feature on Nicklaus' legal battle against the company he founded for our May issue. Nicklaus posed for us for the story at his house in Florida in March.

Where things stand: On December 9, 2022, Justice Joel M. Cohen issued a preliminary order that amounted to a compromise of sorts. Nicklaus could continue designing golf courses, but he couldn’t market them with the trademarks he had sold to the company, like “Golden Bear” and “Jack Nicklaus Signature.” However, the order left a significant ambiguity. Could Nicklaus himself start designing golf courses on his own, outside the company, and promote them just with his own name? The plaintiffs say no; Nicklaus’ team says yes. A definitive answer might take years. The judge has scheduled depositions in the case to take up most of 2023, with a motion for summary judgment—that is, a dismissal before trial—to be filed in early 2024. Then, depending on the outcome of that ruling, a full trial would probably take place in 2025—with appeals to follow.

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