What we'll remember in golf from 2019
So much of the “Year in Golf, 2019” centers around one Sunday afternoon in April, and rightfully so. Tiger Woods’ victory at the Masters was a galvanizing moment for golf fans everywhere. And golf media, too. We weren’t immune to feeling the same feelings as everyone else when Woods won his elusive 15th major. When we asked our staff, then, to reflect on their memories of the year, not surprisingly many gravitated to Georgia and the visceral images formed there. But 2019 came with some less-publicized individual moments as well. Indulge us as we journey back over the last 12 months to remember what made the “Year in Golf, 2019” personally so memorable.
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Favorite memory of 2019? For a moment, it was the electricity surging through Augusta National on Masters Sunday, from the time Tiger Woods walked out of the clubhouse and down to the first tee, to when he made his way up the hill from the 18th green and into another green jacket. Goosebump inducing. But for a week, the Open Championship is almost always my favorite of the year. The anticipation, the links, the people. It feels like a journey to another time, and it oozes charm. I’d been to Ireland and Northern Ireland once before, in 2015, for a feature on Rory McIlroy. That week, I hung with the best player in the world, played one of the best courses on the planet, Royal Portrush, and saw Van Morrison perform “Brown Eyed Girl” at a private dinner for maybe 200 people. Somehow, the sequel lived up. In returning to Portrush, the week included pegging it on the No. 1-ranked course in the world, Royal County Down, writing a story from a tent in the Open’s camping village, another from a pub, and watching an Irishman hoist the claret jug. I saw Rory reduced to tears in a way he’d never shown us, and was reminded just how much he means to the people back home. I witnessed incredible sunsets over the North Atlantic from our rented home on the little finger of land just west of the course, walked to work most days and drank Guinness into the night. (It really is different there, creamy and smooth.) I played a course purported to have the narrowest fairways in Europe, The Island, and lost only one ball. What a week: The people, the links and the anticipation of another Open ahead. —Brian Wacker
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The funny thing about lifelong memories is you usually don’t realize when you’re making them. These moments, which remain clear in your head decades after they transpire, kind of just … happen. You don’t fully understand their significance until much later, when you’re nursing a whiskey with friends, laughing until it hurts at dinner about something that happened 10 years ago. At least, that’s my experience. There are certain moments that don’t fall under for the “normal” memory-making protocol, because they’re just that special. I’d imagine proposing to your wife, or having your first kid—I’ll report back once I do one of those things—qualify as a “real-time” memory. You know damn well while it’s happening that you’re going to remember this for the rest of your life. The entire day of Sunday, April 14 was a real-time memory for me. I was there covering my first Masters for Sports Illustrated, and Tiger had worked his way into contention. Play started about four hours earlier than normal due to a forecast of thunderstorms, which meant an alarm four hours earlier than normal—mine went off at 5:47 a.m. (I’m a sevens guy don’t ask), and I sprang out of bed knowing there was a chance I’d get to write a story that day about Tiger Woods winning the Masters. I listened to two songs, always two songs, in the shower—“Electricity” by Dua Lipa and “Friends” by Flume—and my heart was pounding as though I was the one with the chance to win the Masters. You know what happened next. But that moment, the butterflies I got in the shower on Sunday morning of this year’s Masters, that’s why I’m so damn lucky to do what I do. —Daniel Rapaport
David Cannon/Getty Images
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The most memorable moment of the 2019 season for me is surely a popular one: I don’t know if you heard, but Tiger Woods won the Masters. The only reason I feel OK choosing this as my favorite moment is because I was there. Not only that, it was my first time at the Masters. The fact that I saw Tiger’s nearly unbelievable win on my first trip to Augusta isn’t always met with joy. One of my favorite retorts from someone I told was, “You wanna know who won the first Masters I ever saw? Charl Schwartzel.” No disrespect to Mr. Schwartzel, but almost any other win must pale in comparison to watching Tiger in 2019. I was lucky to be there.
The win came into focus on Amen Corner. I’d been following Brooks Koepka’s group because the groups around Tiger were so big, it was hard to maneuver around to be able to see everything. And, I thought Koepka was going to win. I was almost right. I likely made a lot of enemies when I cut dozens of patrons waiting in line to get into the grandstand that overlooks 11 green, 12, and 13 tee. The top row of the grandstands are reserved for Augusta National members and media, and a security guard saw my badge and let me up. There was an empty seat and I settled in and watched four of the last six players put it in Rae’s Creek. When Koepka did it, I knew his chances of winning were over (and with them any bragging rights I had within our family Masters pool). But when Molinari put it in the water, it felt fake. Because with his ball in the water, Tiger was going to win the Masters.
I eventually returned to the media center to watch the final stretch of holes from there but when Tiger almost aced 16, I had to go back out to the course. I had to be there on the 18th green. I couldn’t miss it. Unsurprisingly, all of the people in the world also wanted to be on the 18th to catch a glimpse of Tiger’s winning putt. I couldn’t see far enough to count how many rows away I was (curse my short legs), but I tried to wriggle my way through the throngs of people, trying to get close enough to see something, anything. It didn’t take long for me to realize my efforts were futile. I was frantic. How could I be here, and not be able to see, with my own eyes, Tiger complete one of the greatest comebacks in sports? But in the realization of my fate, I surrendered to the energy of the crowd. I let their cheers tell me when Tiger’s approach hit the green and felt the vibration of the roars as his winning putt dropped.
It was a moment that proved the ability of an individual to harness the complete attention of a crowd, to challenged popular belief about failure, resurrection, the ability of human will. It was a moment where golf felt as important as it did powerful. I was lucky to be there. —Keely Levins
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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We are spoiled and insolent and jaded, golf fans. We see Pebble Beach, the finest convergence of land and sea known to man, and mumble it could be better. We criticize Brooks Koepka for a lack of magnetism. We belittle Rory McIlroy for opening the Open with a quad when we couldn’t possibly fathom the weight on his shoulders. I’ll be the first to admit guilt to these sentiments, if not more so than others. Which is why my favorite 2019 memory isn’t so much a memory but a series of lessons in appreciation.
To appreciate that a place with the glamour and pizzazz of Pebble exists, and that a poor man’s version resides down the road. To appreciate golf, a sport often too subservient and docile, has a man who will beat his chest like Brooks then back it up when it matters. To appreciate the fortitude and vulnerability of McIlroy, whose Friday at Portrush showed you can still win in defeat.
Brendon Todd taught us to appreciate the present, for you never know when it can disappear. Shane Lowry taught us to appreciate the unifying power of sports, while Brandon Matthews taught us to appreciate the game because it’s only a game and there are bigger concerns than a missed six-footer. Tiger Woods taught us to appreciate that made-for-movie moments can happen in real life.
To have appreciation for the big, like Suzann Pettersen’s Solheim-winning putt, and the small, like a man getting to fulfill a 40-year dream, for the heart-warming (Scott Harrington) and heart-breaking (Nate Lashley), and appreciate the game has room for all.
What I’ll remember about 2019? That there is room for the critical in golf; there needs to be, in fact. But it shouldn’t outshine what drew us in the first place, a passion that should be … well, appreciated. —Joel Beall
Keyur Khamar/PGA Tour
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Since joining Golf Digest over the summer, I’ve played more golf and accumulated more blisters on my hands than ever before. Nevertheless, despite competing with my coworkers for the Seitz Cup and playing with Hot List cohorts in Mesquite, Nev., what I’ll most fondly remember from 2019 is taking my dad to Pound Ridge Golf Club and playing 18 holes for his birthday. Although neither one of us is particularly “good” at golf, it was still the best way to spend a day. We were out early on a relatively quiet and brisk day. We mainly concentrated on not embarrassing ourselves. With the early tee time, we had free run of the course with no one rushing us as we searched for balls. This was critical. I can’t remember the scores, but I do vividly recall us driving along, complimenting/ridiculing each other’s swings, and chatting about all sorts of things. We ended the session, of course, with a feast of nachos and artery-clogging sandwiches at a nearby sports bar, relishing in a Dallas Cowboys implosion. I’ve had so many good days since joining Golf Digest, but not a single one has been better than the one in which my dad and I somehow hit the ball into seemingly every body of water in all of New York. —Greg Gottfried
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Naturally, the best day of my life had to involve some golf. I called myself the luckiest man on earth on July 20, marrying the love of my life. Before Katie and I celebrated with the wedding of her dreams, a group of 12 of us teed it up at Heron Glen in Ringoes, N.J. Making things more memorable, the 20th was one of the hottest days in New Jersey history—it was already 90 degrees when we were the first three groups to tee off starting at 6:30 a.m. Knowing how nervous brides can be, we didn’t snap any big group shots in our scramble to get back on time. But my brother, Dallas, and I got a picture to mark the day. He and I also were lucky enough to go to Bandon Dunes in May to play in the Golf Digest Family Fourball. It was a memorable year on and off the course, but my wedding day takes the cake. —Stephen Hennessey
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My favorite golf moments are often experienced in person, but for 2019, the one that jumps to mind occurred an ocean away, involving a golfer I never gave much thought to before. Saturday at Royal Portrush, the third round of the Open Championship. Shane Lowry shoots 63 before a sort-of-home crowd (Portrush is in Northern Ireland; Lowry hails from Clara, in the Republic of Ireland four hours south). Yes, Lowry went on to win the Open, his first major, the next day. But Saturday, as he holed seemingly every putt he looked at and was serenaded across the course by a crowd eager to claim him as their own, Lowry had no idea what lay ahead. Maybe he’d go on to win. Maybe he’d disappear into the scenery as he had in major final rounds before. What struck me was how at that moment it didn’t matter. “I said to [caddie] Bo Martin walking off the 17th tee, We might never have a day like this on the golf course again,” Lowry said that evening. “So let’s enjoy this next half hour. You know what I mean? And that’s what I did.” Too often in golf, and really in life, we view everything through the prism of what it ultimately meant, but the beauty of that Saturday for Lowry is how it stood on its own merits. It was clear from his words, from his smile, even from the cadence of his steps walking to the 18th green, that the moment needed no additional framing. A six-stroke win and a claret jug are how most will define Lowry’s week at Portrush. More impressive to me was the victory he savored the day before. —Sam Weinman
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This summer I found myself in an unusual position: caddieing in the club championship finals at Rock Ridge C.C. in Newtown, Conn. (I’ve previously had the privilege of playing in it a time or two.) Making matters stranger was that I was on the bag for a relatively new friend, Michael Simes. On the other side was one of my dearest friends, Frank Gavel. After nearly two decades of trying, Gavel was playing in his first final, so it was kind of a big deal for him. Inside I was rooting for a tight match with good golf.
It turned out to be a great match with excellent golf, capped when Gavel came back from 5 down with nine to play, by shooting 33 on the final nine of the 36-hole match, to force overtime. On the first extra hole Gavel had a two-footer for the win. Michael and I stood off to the side, ready to take off our caps and shake hands with the new champ.
Then it got cruel.
Gavel missed the putt, and Simes won the title with a par on the next hole. My new friend and I engaged in a long celebratory embrace, but inside I was crushed for Frank. That evening, a group text thread was full of sympathy and the requisite jokes about drinking heavily. Then Michael sent me one he received from Frank. “Great playing today. Congrats CC.” CC being the nickname we give all our club champions.
That July day reminded me the game produces wonderful new friendships while maintaining enduring ones. That it can be teasingly soul crushing, but also produce people capable of amazing class. I was lucky to have a front-row seat to it. —E. Michael Johnson
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My favorite memory of 2019 came at the U.S. Women’s Open in early June, where Lexi Thompson was one off the lead heading into the final round. Unfortunately for Lexi, it ended in near-miss fashion, a trend that’s followed her since her lone major victory in 2014 at the ANA Inspiration. Her T-2 finish at the Country Club of Charleston was her third runner-up in a major, and her ninth finish inside the top five. Needing only to shoot even par to force a playoff, or one under or better to win, Thompson shot 73 on a brutally tough day in South Carolina. Considering how good of a chance it was to finally get major No. 2, it had to be absolutely crushing.
But you wouldn’t have known it by the way Thompson handled herself after the round. Obviously, she was disappointed, but she did her best to hide it, answering every question and fulfilling every media request. Most impressively, she signed every autograph and took countless pictures with young fans:
I’m not going to say that this is something that wouldn’t happen on the PGA Tour, because that’s unfair. But, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where one of the top players in the world let a major slip away and then immediately walk off the course and start taking pictures and signing autographs for fans. Lexi is by far the most popular golfers on the LPGA Tour and one of, if not the, best players. The way she handled herself after another crushing Sunday speaks to why she’s so beloved. —Christopher Powers
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Early in the year, I had the opportunity to interview Fox News anchor Bret Baier, an avid golfer and an accomplished journalist who knows what questions to ask. One of them was the one he posed to the Dalai Lama three years ago: Have you ever seen the movie “Caddyshack”? Obviously, every fan of the movie would understand. The Lama, as Bill Murray calls him in the film (rhyming Lama with ’Bama), said he had not seen it and denied he was a big hitter. “Badminton,” he replied. Well, I was interested in the backstory, whether Baier was hesitant to go there in an otherwise serious interview. “I’m hearing the Dalai Lama, and I’m thinking of Bill Murray and ‘Caddyshack,’ ” Baier said. “I thought, Man, if there’s an opportunity at the end of the interview, I’m going to do it. Obviously, there were serious issues to talk about—Tibet and China and inner consciousness and …” But he did it. He went there. “It was very funny to my golf buddies,” Baier said, noting that his friend Graeme McDowell was among those howling. It was funny to all of us, Bret, and enjoyable to revisit the Lama interview with you. —John Strege
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When I watched Tiger Woods hug his son, Charlie, just off the 18th green at Augusta National after his Masters win, I teared up. It wasn’t the most becoming look in the Augusta National media center, but I couldn’t help it. For a father and son to share that moment, well, of course it stirred up plenty of emotions. But I didn’t truly appreciate what the two of them must have been feeling until three months later, when I walked with my daughter to the first tee at The Cradle, the captivating nine-hole par-3 course at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort. Caroline had been taking golf lessons for a while, but we had never played a round together until that hot sticky day in July. They let us off early, so for a while it was just the two of us out there, walking and giggling and having a blast. To see her smiling face as she carried her clubs, and to give her a high-five when she made a long putt, well, it’s something I’ll never forget. When we walked off the last hole—way, way too soon—we gave each other a big hug, Tiger and Charlie style. Caroline looked at my face and said, “Dad, you’re sooooo wet.” I laughed, the beads of sweat from my forehead now mixed with tears coming down my cheeks. “Did you have fun?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. I know I’m not the first parent to share an incredible experience on a golf course with his or her child, but I’m grateful I’m part of the club. I hadn’t won the Masters, but I did have one of the great days of my life. —Ryan Herrington