With the calendar turned to December, we’re using our bully pulpit once more to stick up for an under-appreciated category in the world of golf. Actually, maybe it’s a sub-category since what we’re chronicling here are a handful of objects that have little if any material value on their own, but when given their proper respect and the appropriate context, became highly relevant parts of the discussion in remembering what happened in golf this year.
Welcome, again, to our list of the Newsmakers of 2019, inanimate-object division.
As we explained last year when we inaugurated this endeavor, much of golf’s history is intricately tied to non-living, non-breathing things. And the examples we used last year are applicable again now because, well, they’re still non-living, non-breathing things. The green jacket. The Swilken Bridge. The Stimpmeter. Tiger’s Sunday red shirt. It remains only appropriate that we give these “things” their due. You might call this minutia. And well, you’re not entirely wrong. But we like to think of them, as highly entertaining minutia, a subtle but huge difference.
With that, indulge us in identifying a handful of the most important “things” in golf in 2019.
It’s easy to remember how Masters week finished for Tiger Woods. But what about how it began? When he met with the media in his Tuesday pre-tournament press conference, Woods sported a black polo golf shirt with a orange, black and white logo out front that felt both new and oddly familiar. True Tiger aficionados quickly recognized the image as “Frank,” the headcover that developed its own persona in series of late-1990s TV ads. Woods—or more precisely Nike—used the moment to bring Frank back to life in logo form, and, well, the Internet went all Internet-y for it. The limited number of shirts ($65) placed on Nike’s website that day went quickly. Fans similarly have gobbled up Frank golf hats ($35) when they eventually became available at retail in August.
Nike major outfits
When the sports apparel behemoth wasn’t setting Facebook ablaze dropping a tiny tiger/Tiger logo on Woods’ shirt, it was making its mark with unique looks at major championships. Company officials took the advice of an old colleague of ours at Golf Digest, Marty Hackel, who used to insist that the way apparel companies could best utilize scripting in major championship is by having all their players wear essentially the same clothes. I’m not necessarily trendy enough to tell you whether what was worn was really a winning look (Twitter seemed to have mixed reactions). But it certainty resonated over time—particularly the week Brooks Koepka wore it to win the PGA Championship. Four days of constant—and consistency—wear made the patterns memorable.
My mom likes to complain about seeing people chewing gum in public. There is something unsavory in watching them chomp away, she said, a look that reminds her of cows chewing cud. (How often she watches cows chewing cud, I’m not entirely certain.) I was left to wonder, then, whether she’s given up on watching pro golf, then, what with seemingly everybody chomping away. Tiger and Phil were among the most visible. Is it really necessary? Apparently so, said Woods, who when asked about it at the Masters said that gum helped curb his appetite while playing. Interesting. Of course, all I could think is what kind of gum are they chewing that could last quite so long …
The proliferation of Cannabidiol, and its availability in any number of products marketed to golfers, continued in 2019. CBD turned up in everything from lotions to sports drinks. Even gum. Let’s put the obligatory disclaimer out there: CBD, which is extracted from marijuana plants, does not actually get you “high.” It is one of several chemicals found in these products. But CBD is believed by many to reduce anxiety, inflammation, sleeplessness and alleviate chronic pain. Several players on the PGA Tour Champions, including Charles Schwab Cup winner Scott McCarron, swear by the stuff (and endorse it too). On the PGA Tour, Bubba Watson became the first to endorse it back in May.
Henrik Stenson's 3-wood
It’s hard to believe Stenson played the same 3-wood for eight years. Well we’ll let you in on a little secret: He wasn’t playing the same exact 3-wood the whole time. Stenson had a handful of the Callaway Diablo Octane Tour models that he swapped in when one got old, eventually coming down to the last in the batch. When that one went, it was the end of an era, Stenson having exhausted his spares and settling on a new model, the Callaway Epic Flash Sub Zero. The 43-year-old Swede can only hope it will bring him the same type of success.
ESPN Body Issue
It was either vanity run amok, or an athlete at the peak of his popularly taking advantage of a unique opportunity. Either way, that Brooks Koepka posed for the ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue feels appropriate given his primo athletic physique. But when Koepka mentioned he was losing weight (24 pounds!) ahead of the photoshoot, it birthed its own naked debate. Detractors—most notably Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee—derided Koepka for jeopardizing his game (at its peak) to keep off the extra weight. Koepka responded with his usual vitriol, letting Chamblee know he didn’t care what he had to say, and that he only had to answer to himself. When Koepka wound up winning the PGA Championship in May, his fourth career major, the World No. 1 appeared vindicated … before appearing in the buff.
Royal Greens Golf & Country Club
Exactly what the sand in this desert oasis did to Sergio Garcia, we’re uncertain. But it had to be something fierce given the temper tantrum the Spaniard displayed during the second round of the Saudi International in February. Amazingly, this wouldn’t even be the most tempestuous moment of the week for Garcia. A day later, Garcia was disqualified from the tournament for committing “serious misconduct” under new Rule 1.2a. Specifically, he was accused by fellow golfers of purposely hitting his putter into the green on several holes, causing damage to the putting surfaces. No video surfaced of this, but Garcia admitted to the act and apologized. Garcia is going to return again to the event in 2020. We haven’t gotten comment from the course to see if it wants to see him.
Pat Perez’ $10K Vegas dinner bill
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas … until somebody publishes a photo of a nearly $10K dinner bill on Instagram. And then, well, you might just find out a story about an incredibly fun looking weekend that Pat Perez and his wife, Ashley, had in September. You can learn more of the details here, including how they opened a bottle of wine from Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain given to Pat and Ashley on their wedding day. Long story short, if you want to party on the PGA Tour, Perez is the man to hang with.
Phil Mickelson's cellphone
Remember when your so-desperate-to-be-cool uncle got his first cellphone and came running to you to figure out how to download Instagram. Two weeks later, he had every social-media app this side of MySpace downloaded on his phone and had turned into a head-down, blurry-eyed zombie. Well, we’re picturing Phil Mickelson playing the role of fun uncle, slowly understanding what he was actually holding in his hand before becoming gleefully drunk with power at the universe he was now able to control and manipulate. In actuality, we’ve all benefitted; Mickelson’s Phireside Chats landed more on the spectrum of fun than redundant. Just think what might happen when Mickelson learns how to really use iMovie. Watch out Scorsese.