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Year in Review

The REAL 'best of' 2023: Golf superlatives for the soul

December 15, 2023
TORONTO, ONTARIO - JUNE 11:  Nick Taylor of Canada celebrates after making an eagle putt on the 4th playoff hole to win the RBC Canadian Open at Oakdale Golf & Country Club on June 11, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Folks, if you're inclined to be negative about the state of … well, anything, then you've found plenty of material in the year 2023. Golf was no exception, and it took a special mindset to keep on the sunny side. You might retort with, "What makes 2023 different from any other year in recent memory? At least we didn't have a new pandemic." To which I say, good point. Still, we can't pretend that the state of things are exactly steady, and as you navigate the various year-end posts for this sport we all know and love, we wanted to give you at least one that drills to the heart of the matter of these strange times. And with that, we present:

Golf Superlatives for the Soul, aka "The REAL best of 2023." Tread lightly.

The REAL Best Player of the Year: Nick Taylor

Did other players win more tournaments? Yes. Did Nick Taylor win any majors? No. Were there at least 20 golfers demonstrably better? Yes. But when Taylor buried the 72-foot putt to win the RBC Canadian Open in front of his own fans, it gave us not just the most wholesome moment of the entire year, but the only wholesome moment of the year. Seriously, name another wholesome moment that wasn't immediately or eventually undermined. Name one! Watching the Canadian fans go bananas was one of the coolest, best scenes going. And even when Adam Hadwin got pancaked by a security guard in the aftermath, everyone laughed about it and let it go—including Hadwin! It even resulted in an incredible logo. This is what sports are supposed to be all about, and to have at least one moment divorced from the BS was a godsend.

The REAL Best Fan of the Year: Sleeping Bucket Hat Man

At the PGA Championship, the cameras caught a middle-aged man sleeping on the grass with a bucket hat covering his face, and later looking groggy and eating a snack. As it turned out, he was a hilarious Scottish guy, and catching up with him became one of my favorite stories of the year. It included quotes like this: "I was just getting screen grabs, and it was not the most flattering. I've actually lost 35 pounds, I've been on medication and a diet and stuff, I've actually lost a bunch of weight, and I saw it and was like, "I'm still a fat bastard!" Andy Williams is a treasure.

The REAL Best Media Hero of the Year: Brian Harman

Every year, the GWAA gives out the Jim Murray Award, which honors the golfer who is most cooperative with the press. That's all well and good, but in an age when on-the-record access to players is dwindling to nothing, we have to look in a different direction. And this year, the player who exemplified sterling media relations was Brian Harman. Sure, the 36-year-old PGA Tour veteran is a good quote, a seemingly intelligent guy and someone who gives good nuggets of insight. But that's not why he's getting this award; he's getting this award because when the entire British press tried to rake him over the coals at the Open Championship for being a hunter, he just smiled, rolled with the punches, and somehow both won them over and still managed to shock the world by winning at Royal Liverpool. All hail the Butcher of Hoylake.

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The REAL Best Tournament of the Year: Shriners Children's Open

You know who's a fun young personality? Tom Kim. And the Shriners Children's Open had the good grace to produce him as a winner not once, but TWICE, in the same season. That's some good efficiency! Shout out to the Fortinet for two solid champs in Homa and Theegala, too.

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Orlando Ramirez

The REAL Best Shot of the Year: Chris Kirk almost taking out the Honda Car

Forget Michael “Blockie” Block’s ace. This was the last year of the Honda Classic, and if you're like me, you've always wanted someone to hit the car floating on the water on 18. We almost had it—Chris Kirk, on 18 and leading by one, took a massive risk and tried to reach the green in two. The ball hit the rocks on the front wall of the green, bounced backward, and came like a foot from nailing the car. It was a thrilling near miss, and even though we'll never get to see that car get what it deserves, we love Kirk for giving us hope. (He won the tournament anyway.)

The REAL Teflon Don of the Year: Brooks Koepka

The mafioso John Gotti was once called the "Teflon Don" because nothing could stick to him. He died at age 61 in prison, but let's put that aside … the nickname was good. And this year's Teflon Don, I think, is Brooks Koepka. The year started with him looking a little bit whiny and a lot bit defeated in “Full Swing”, to add to whatever animosity accompanied his departure to LIV. But maybe it was his vulnerability on Netflix, or maybe it was his steadfast neutrality anytime he was asked to comment on LIV or the PGA Tour, but at every stage, he seemed to escape the heated rhetoric and mutual disdain from both sides. Meanwhile, his game kept getting better; he almost won the Masters, won the PGA, and pulled off what felt like an impossible feat by making the U.S. Ryder Cup team while getting zero points from tour events. The guy came out smelling like roses!

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The REAL Courageous Moral Stand of the Year: Keith Mitchell, on Aaron Rodgers

How would you describe Rodgers' 3.0 handicap that helped him win the Pebble Beach Pro-Am? If you were Keith Mitchell, you'd get to the point in a single word: "Crap." Bravo, Keith, for speaking truth to power.

The REAL Vicious Insult King of the Year: Fred Couples

During a PGA Tour Champions breakfast in March, Fred Couples went up in front of a crowd and called Phil Mickelson a "nutbag" and Sergio Garcia a "clown." That is some excellent old man smack talk.

The REAL Merger of the Year: David Duval and John Daly

Nobody really expected David Duval and John Daly to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans when they teamed up this past spring, which was smart, because they didn't come close. However, even if you thought they would fail, nobody could have predicted it would be quite so funny. As Joel Beall documented, the two shot the worst score in the history of the alternate-shot portion of the event (83) and finished 14 shots behind their nearest competitors. Comedy matters, and as such, this is a top-notch merger.

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Jason Allen/ISI Photos

The REAL True Friends of the Year: Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry

It was shocking on Ryder Cup Saturday to watch Rory McIlroy lay into Bones Mackay in the parking lot, especially because of all that had happened with Hatgate and Cantlay and Joe LaCava … none of it involved Bones. That made it bizarre—and a little funny—but the real story is even better. After the brouhaha on the 18th green, in which Lowry stood up for McIlroy by chirping at LaCava, the European team went into the locker room, at which point Lowry launched into what was apparently a rousing tirade against the Americans, up there with the best sports movie speeches, except angrier. That got Rory in a fighting mood, and as he later admitted, he came out of the locker room steaming and looking for the first American he could find. That happened to be Mackay. But the great part of this is that after McIlroy got in Mackay’s face, it was Lowry who got between them and cooled Rory out by getting him into the car. And it was Lowry who, when driving home, pointed out that the video was all over Twitter. So basically, in the span of an hour, Lowry had his buddy's back on the green, got him into trouble by doing the equivalent of "you going to take that?", got him out of trouble when he went wild, and then delivered the bad news that the cameras caught him. To me, that's not just a good friend, that's an absolute friend, and this duo takes the final prize.

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Richard Heathcote