It’s hard to know what will resonate through the sands of time. Certainly there are things that seem to matter in the present, though the past has shown that the future may wonder what all the fuss was about. On the other end there are moments that are seemingly inconsequential that ultimately prove momentous. All of which to say, time will tell what will be remembered a decade from now in 2033 about the year in golf 2023, but here are 10 things we think might have the most lasting impact.
Jon Rahm’s Masters win
The Spaniard already had reached golf’s summit when winning the 2021 U.S. Open. But there are a handful of individuals that are held to a different standard, their talents beg for more mountains to climb, and failing to do so can classify as squandered potential. Rahm, 29 in November, was in this bunch, yet extracted himself out with a phenomenal final-day performance over 30 holes to capture the green jacket. In his triumph, Rahm became the first European to grab both the Masters and U.S. Open, and the victory came on the 40th anniversary of fellow countryman Seve Ballesteros’ last Masters win and a day that would have been Ballesteros’ birthday. Set aside what he did at year’s end by signing with LIV Golf (we’ll get to that later); his performance in April already made his an integral part of the story of golf in 2023.
It seemed like a feel-good 15-minutes-of-fame tale: A 40-something PGA club pro who contended (and made a hole-in-one!) at Oak Hill, galvanizing those that watched while enjoying every second of it. Except those 15 minutes have stretched far past last May’s PGA Championship, and there’s been a considerable amount of backlash for prolonging the victory parade (to say nothing of Block’s, ahem, conviction in himself). Still, no matter where you stand on Blockiemania, there’s no doubting the man at the eye of the hurricane has cemented his legend.
According to DataGolf, the best True Strokes Gained performance (which takes into account how hard or easy a course was playing, along with the strength of field) since 2004 was Jim Furyk’s 59 at the 2013 BMW Championship. Second is J.B. Holmes’ 62 at the 2015 WGC-Cadillac. We’d be remiss in failing to mention Ken Duke’s 65 at the 2016 Players was fourth. Bryson DeChambeau’s 58 at LIV’s Greenbrier ranks … 328th on that list. Still, 58! It was arguably LIV Golf’s most indelible moment from two years of competition (with a solid celebration, too) and signaled—after a few years in the wilderness—DeChambeau was back to being an elite competitor.
U.S Women’s Open at Pebble
The women’s game often fails to get the same respect as the men’s, and that includes its tournament venues. Though the USGA has brought its flagship women’s event to world-class venues in the past, those meccas are usually the aberration. That changed this year with the U.S. Women’s Open visiting storied Pebble Beach. The world-renowned course helped the championship draw its largest audience since 2014 and produced a memorable week, with Allisen Corpuz coming out on top. With a ridiculous slate of future U.S. Women’s Open sites lined up (including Oakmont, Chicago, Merion and Riviera), this event could mark the line of demarcation of when the women’s game was finally given its due.
Brian Harman vs. the European press
The actual Open lacked final-round drama thanks to a lights-out performance from Harman at Royal Liverpool and his competitors failing to make a Sunday charge. What will endure is the odd sight of the European press—tough crowd, that European press—trying to conjure headlines by taking issue with Harman’s love of hunting, resulting in the remarkable nicknames, “The Butcher of Hoylake” and “Brian the Butcher.” To Harman’s credit, he dispelled any notion that he hunts for sport and answered each question with grace. Still, that one of the nicest guys in the game left with such a cold-blooded reputation remains hilarious.
Phil’s alleged wagers
Phil Mickelson did not have a quiet 2023, doing everything from hocking superhero capes to darn-near winning the Masters at age 52. But Mickelson’s year will best be noted for allegations from his former friend Billy Walters. In Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk, Walters asserted Mickelson waged more than $1 billion in sports betting and lost close to $100 million. Walters also claimed that Mickelson called him to try and place a bet on the 2012 Ryder Cup, an event in which Mickelson was a competitor for the United States. While Mickelson has acknowledged his gambling addictions, he pushed back that “I never bet on the Ryder Cup,” Walters has countered that the bet never went through because Walters didn’t accept it.
The Ryder Cup itself wasn’t much of a match, which, depending on one’s perspective, is a nod to Team Europe’s continued ability to elevate their collective output when at home, the upshot of Americans putting self over squad, or the byproduct of a broken system. However, the Ryder Cup was not short on theatrics, thanks to Patrick Cantlay, Joe LaCava, and a mid-match story on … (check’s notes) .. hats. On Saturday, a media report emerged that the U.S. locker room was “fractured” because of Cantlay, who was refusing to wear a hat in protest of players not getting paid for their participation. In response, Europeans fans jeered Cantlay Saturday afternoon while singing, “Hats off to the bank account.” Cantlay—who dropped a bomb on the 18th green to win his match against Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick—responded by pantomiming a cap tip to the crowd. Cantlay’s caddie, LaCava, went a step further, waving his hat in the air for 90 seconds on the green, including right in the face, and line, of McIlroy, leading to a parking lot confrontation that evening. And if all of the above seems beautifully bizarre, well, it was, which is why its memory will not fade anytime soon.
In March the USGA and R&A proposed a Model Local Rule that would roll back golf ball distances at elite competitions. This bifurcation blueprint was met with heavy criticism from the PGA Tour, PGA of America and many OEMs. In response, the USGA and R&A instead issued a universal change to the Overall Distance Standard, a move that will roll back the golf ball for all players at the elite and professional levels. The change will not go into effect until January 2028 for elite competitions and for everybody come January 2030, and technological advancements may soon negate these initial changes. Conversely, the reason this rollback is notable is the governing bodies telegraphing that the ball may not be the only alteration when it comes to distance, with the next focus potentially on drivers. A sign that this is not a one-and-done battle with distance, but a new, ongoing war.
Jon Rahm’s defection
LIV failed to sign any marquee names in its second season, and its ratings were such a flop that the league eventually stopped making them public. But any belief that LIV was dead in the water turned out to be premature, as the Saudi-backed circuit signed Rahm—arguably the best player in the world—amid negotiations between LIV’s financial backer and the tour. The move will either be remembered for accelerating a peace treaty in the professional game, or furthering the divide, and nothing in between.
With the imposed Dec. 31 deadline drawing near, the golf world remains in the dark if the proposed partnership between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund will come to fruition. No doubt the result will factor into how the June 6 announcement is ultimately remembered. Yet the initial shock and emotional responses from many in the sport to that day, to say nothing of the ensuing fallout, will not be forgotten.
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In contrast to the 10 moments listed above, here are five things that took place in 2023 that we can safely say won’t like on in the golf zeitgeist. —Ryan Herrington
‘Tee-gate’ in Dubai
It started when Patrick Reed threw a tee at Rory McIlroy in an attempt to “say hello” as the new year kicked off at the Dubai Desert Classic. McIlroy then threw a dagger at Reed in a press conference—upset over getting a subpoena from Reed’s lawyer on Christmas Eve—and the spat was on. It was the silly kind of fluff that went down smooth in January when we were all easing into the golf year but in hindsight seems not just figuratively but literally crazy. The one saving grace was that it actually spilled on to the course, McIlroy pulling out a one-shot win over Reed.
Jordan Spieth buys an RV for travel on tour
Apparently, a roller coaster wasn’t for sale.
Brooks Koepka’s beef with Matthew Wolff
We saw Koepka’s bullying tactics during his feud with Bryson DeChambeau. But they took on a meaner tenor when he took aim on several occasions at Wolff, a member of his Smash GC squad in the LIV Golf League. Forget for a moment Wolff’s mental health history and the possibility that lingering issues might explain his unsteady play during the 2023 season. Is there any more despicable part of team sports than “management” sending messages through the media to players? So why is that what became the most notable part of the team conversation this year with LIV?
Lucas Glover’s pants
The former U.S. Open champion’s victory at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, a week after winning the Wyndham Championship was impressive given it was only this past summer that the 44-year-old was seriously questioning whether his putting was good enough anymore to content on the PGA Tour. It became infamous for the sweat stains on his pants as claimed the title, an epic case of swamp ass. Thankfully, it will be a storyline that is undoubtedly lost to posterity.
Rickie Fowler’s concession at the Ryder Cup
In the moment, it was controversial. How do you concede a putt that would guarantee your opponent wins the Ryder Cup, even if it was only 2 feet, 8 inches? But that’s what Fowler did in his singles match with Tommy Fleetwood on Sunday at Marco Simone, and you’d have thought he had given away nuclear launch codes from the reaction it engendered on social media. The reality? There was no way the U.S. was coming back, even if Fleetwood choked over that bunny and somehow lost the next two holes to Fowler. And with Europe ultimately winning 16½-11½, Fowler’s decision will be a footnote to all the genuine craziness of that week in Rome.