Story of the Year?

There’s a very good question that was asked of us who participate in the Fairways Round Table this week.  And since I submitted my answer earlier today, I’ve given it a little more thought.  The question is, “Looking back at 2016 through the Olympics, four majors, changes at equipment companies, new technology, deaths, etc, what has been the story of the year?”

My response mentioned the return of golf to the Olympics, and the passing of Arnold Palmer, and just slightly behind those two, the great final day mano-à-mano match between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson at Royal Troon.   I suppose I could have given a mention to the American team victory at the Ryder Cup, but it really wasn’t that much of a surprise, or a big deal, was it?

From a more nationalistic point-of-view, I would certainly acknowledge the incredible success achieved on the LPGA Tour by our now-19-year-old sensation Brooke Henderson.  Brooke has one more tournament left in the season… it’ll be her 30th of the year… and wouldn’t it be awesome if she won it?

Just this past weekend, we had a sad story in Canadian golf, with the passing of Dawn Coe-Jones, who for several years in the 80s and 90s, was Canada’s premier woman professional, following the fine career of Sandra Post, and before the ascendancy of Lorie Kane.   By all accounts, a lovely lady.

In fact, looking back, this has been quite a momentous and transitional year for golf, even if nothing overly earth-shattering seems to have occurred.  But when we compare what the landscape looked like on January 1st, to where we sit in mid-November, I’d say we’ve had quite a few surprises.

Take the Olympics, for one.  At the start of the year, we were still concerned whether the brand-new Olympic golf course was going to be ready on time to permit play.  It not only was, but it proved to be an outstanding layout that the players raved about, and it delivered very exciting golf from both genders.  It was unfortunate, to put it mildly, that a number of big name male players passed on the opportunity to play for their countries – names like McIlroy, Spieth, Schwartzel, Day, and Scott – based on the relatively flimsy excuse of fear of mosquitoes.  (As it turned out, no one was bitten because there were no mosquitoes in Brazil.)   In spite of their absence, Olympic golf turned out to be a big hit, and I’m sure it will succeed even more in 2020… although I still wish they’d change to a different format.

Not many people would have thought that this would have been Arnold Palmer’s last year.  Sadly, I think we all had quite a shock when we saw a much more gaunt Arnold seated on the verandah at the Masters, with his friends Gary and Jack.  So the news of his death in late September seemed much more likely than it had before we saw him in April.  I’m not sure why, but I’m often quite cynical at how certain famous people are almost deified at the time of their deaths.  But in the case of Arnold Palmer, I don’t believe it’s possible to overstate the man’s greatness as a human being, or his impact on the sport he embraced, or on sports in general.

The Round Table question also raised the matter of changes at equipment companies.  To be more specific, Nike has announced they’re getting out of golf equipment, and there’s been some rationalization at adidas and Taylor Made.  To be honest, I’m amazed that there are still so many different brand names manufacturing golf clubs and balls; I would’ve thought there would have been even more falling by the wayside by now.  Some people believe golf is in serious decline.  Others say it’s just reverting to its core business, to where it was before the advent of Tiger Woods created such a boom around the turn of the century.  I don’t think anyone knows the real answer to that.

But I must admit I do shudder with some trepidation about the future of our game.  Golf has had its ebbs and flows over the last 120 years, but I think it may never see another boom.  Too difficult for adults to learn, too expensive to get into, too time-consuming for young parents, too hard to justify leaving the office for… plus another twenty reasons that didn’t really exist twenty years ago… all working against a revival.

But back to this year.

One story I didn’t mention, and I haven’t seen my colleagues’ answers yet so maybe someone else will… but this year was quite remarkable for being The Year that Tiger Didn’t Come Back.  And at the same time, The Year That Nobody Really Gave a Damn that Tiger Didn’t Come Back.  Statistically, I suppose 2014 will go down as the year that the Tiger Woods career ended, but until just a few weeks ago, I think everyone was anticipating his return.  Now, nobody seems to care.  So in that sense, I think 2016 may well have marked the end of the Tiger Woods Era.

And that, one day, may be considered the biggest story that 2016 had to offer.

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