Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
What was the “feel good” story of the year in golf?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I could suggest the R&A/USGA Rule Changes, but they were announced in 2017 and won’t be implemented for a couple of weeks, so as good as I feel, it doesn’t qualify for this year. I could also suggest Tiger’s comeback, which was remarkable, but if he were a more likeable guy, I’d feel better than I do. The Euro whitewashing of Team USA in the Ryder Cup was gratifying, for sure. But as a Canadian, I thought it was great that we had our first fellow countryman, Bruce Mitchell, as Captain of the R&A. And above all, I feel “goodest” about Brooke Henderson’s great year on the LPGA Tour. Even though she didn’t perform as well as she would’ve liked in the majors, it was probably her second-best year yet (2 victories including the all-important CP Canadian Women’s Open, 2nd in points, 4th on the money list), with, hopefully, nothing but greater success to come.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Well, someone will write TIGER here, I almost did, that was an amazing feel good story. But Brooke winning the Woman’s Canadian Open, well that was HUGE here in Canada. It may not have been global news, but I sure saw a lot of coverage at the 6 o’clock and 11PM National news and the few days after, and rightfully so. To me for all those reasons and more, that was it.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: The best ‘feel good story’ for me is Francesco Molinari! He won the Open at Carnoustie, the most demanding course in the world, won the European PGA Championship, the Race to Dubai and became the first European Player to win 5 points in a Ryder Cup match. Another was Jo-Anne Carner shooting her age (78) to win the LPGA Senior (Legends) Championship.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): The feel-good story of the year happened two weeks ago at the final stage of Web.com Q School. The night before the final round, Mackenzie Tour competitor Cody Blick had his clubs stolen out of the garage of his rental home for the week. Blick issued a $5000 no-questions-asked bounty for the safe return of his sticks and when that didn’t work, he scrounged together a set of mismatched clubs at the 11th hour. He borrowed a driver from the course superintendent, wedges from the pro shops, a set of stock irons from the onsite Titleist reps, and a heavy putter from some unknown benefactor. Despite all the odds stacked against him, Blick shot the round of the week on Sunday, a 63 that vaulted him 49 spots up the leaderboard and guaranteed him 8 starts on the Web.com Tour in 2019.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Well, it’s easy to pick Tiger for this answer, isn’t it? It was certainly a feel-good story for the world of golf when he won at East Lake, but my feel-good story of the year is fellow Canadian Garrett Rank. What a year for Garrett. He only recently became a full time NHL referee, and obviously has been able to keep his swing tuned up enough to qualify for the US Open at Shinnecock, where he didn’t make the cut, but got to play Sunday as a marker for Beef Johnston! Then he waxed the field at the Ontario Mid-Am the following week (although he only beat me by 19!), won the Ontario Amateur, finished 3rd in both the Canadian Amateur and Mid Amateur, and made the match play in the US Am. Not a bad year for a hockey guy! Still can’t understand how he didn’t get a sponsor’s exemption into the Canadian Open!
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: This past season I served for a couple of months as a marshal (old school) or starter/players’ assistant at a club in B.C. Having read for years and years ‘golf is dying’ stories in the press (gawd love it) and in magazines and online, I was so pleasantly surprised by group after group of 20-somethings showing up at the first tee. They were not exactly wearing PGA Tour kit, but they were stylin’ and they had game. The boom box was blaring, the Stellas were cooling, and the newly legal second-hand smoke was in the air, but they were into it. After seeing some really good swings by ladies wearing knee-highs and guys with Raiders caps on backwards, the future of the game became less of a worry. They may not stay with it to the end like previous generations, but for now they’re into it.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): It’s probably not on par with magnanimous charitable giving or even feel-good stories that involve children and puppies, but it sure makes me feel good when the Yanks get thrashed at the Ryder Cup like they did this year. Oddly, it’s one group of multi-millionaires battling another, and I don’t personally have a vested interest in either team, but sometimes being a fan is anything but rational.
Each year golf writers meet new people, play new courses or travel to new locations. What was your most unexpected golf experience or encounter of the past year?
Deeks: I had a pretty sweet year, personally, playing golf in five different countries; including a wonderful experience competing in the French Senior Golf Association annual tournament, in Normandy. But the most unexpected experience for me was playing the front nine at Portstewart Golf Club in Northern Ireland, just down the road from Royal Portrush, site of next year’s Open Championship. Those nine holes are carved out of towering dunes, flowing up and down and around and over, the most magnificent nine I’ve ever played, and I had no awareness beforehand. The back nine was very ordinary and unmemorable, but I will never forget the exhilaration of the front.
Loughry: Somewhat shameless plug here. It was Men’s night at Coppinwood in May with a friend (thanks pal) and being treated to lunch by another friend (you know who, thanks!). The event was sponsored by UA (Under Armour) and was top notch, entire day. It was PURE golf, a PURE day and just what I needed. Met a whack of new people up there and they were all in the same frame of mind. It was a piece of golf heaven, perfect weather, amazing conditions, add the people, well, it was quite a day. Oh, and there was golf played too.
Schurman: My most unexpected experience wasn’t entirely unexpected. Last spring, I contacted Jim Deeks to ask of opportunities within the golf industry for an aspiring, golf writing grandfather. He connected me with Peter Mumford and the ‘Knights’ of the Round Table. Now after these past few months, I’m glad he did! I enjoy the challenge of the weekly provocative questions, the insight of each of the writers and effort required to keep up with the current events. At a time when I should probably just go away, I find myself watching, reading, studying and conversing in golf related information. I love the involvement it takes and thank Peter, each of the other contributors, and anyone who reads the discussions. In particular, thank you, James!
Kaplan: I started a new job this year, so I didn’t really have the opportunity to travel to a new golf location or really play much golf other than my normal ClubLink rotation on the weekends. But I will tell you that my home course switched its French fries up to these horrible hickory stick things. They are abominations. And somehow, of all the ClubLink courses, only my home course made that change. I’m still upset about it.
Rule: I’m lucky to be able to play golf around the world, and had some amazing experiences in 2018, including playing Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand with my girlfriend and 3-month-old son riding along in the golf cart. That was certainly a memorable day! But the most unexpected experience this past year was playing Pebble Beach for the first time, where I was randomly paired up with a father and daughter, who were playing the course for the first time. It was a perfectly sunny Monterey afternoon, and throw in the fact that the fourth in our group was easily the strangest person I’ve ever played with, it made for quite the memorable day! He was the only person in our group in a cart and was easily the slowest player. He regularly drove 100 yards past where his ball was, clearly thinking he hit the ball as far as Brooks Koepka, and then when he parked his cart and duffed a shot 20 yards, he would chase the ball, hit it another 20 yards, repeat that 4 times, and then have to walk back to get his cart that he forgot. It was frustrating, but at the same time pretty amusing in hindsight!
Quinn: The leading edge of tropical storm Florence was just hitting bucolic Stirling, Ont., as the brother-in-law and I paused for another pint. We’d just secured his dock for a second time as now whitecaps ripped across this portion of the Trent Canal system. Tired branches were giving up and littering the driveway of his home. Our wives had long passed on the co-ed Friday Nine at the club. As a ferocious gust bent a centuries-old Oak above his window-rattled home, he looked at me and we silently agreed. We had to go. Half an hour later we teed it up at Oak Hills, a wonderful 36-holer. We played the Highland and only the front. The gale was so convincing that 3 irons stood in for 9 irons on the westward holes. We could not stand on tee boxes lined by trees for fear of not making it back for dinner. On the 5th, about 350 yds or so par 4 dogleg right around a stream with Florence shouting in my backswing, I accidentally nutted a 3-wood that rode the maelstrom and landed about 30-yards from the apron. Then, with the follicles clinging desperately to cover some of the pate, I played 56-degree ten feet (at least) left of the pin to ride the gale and the bloody thing went in. We played #9 in the most ferocious part of the storm. Sodden, cold, well and truly exhausted, we agreed that was the most fun we’d had on a golf course in a long, long time and repaired for a single malt or two.
Mumford: I was fortunate to travel to several locations this past year and play “short courses” at each. First up was The Cradle at Pinehurst Resort, a brilliant, very short routing crafted by Gil Hanse with typical Pinehurst greens and surrounds. That was followed by several rounds on various short courses at the Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama, where again the greens were spectacularly convoluted. Finally, a round at Mountain Shadows in Scottsdale hammered home the concept that short courses can be fun, challenging and a very legitimate alternative to the four to five-hour round. Golf has always been a game about scoring and the short courses emphatically prove that point.
Looking ahead to 2019, which player will break through to win their first major?
Deeks: If he can keep his head when all about him are losing theirs, I’d say Jon Rahm.
Loughry: Well, I picked him in 2018 to do some great things and he played quite well but never really busted out. I still think he’s on the verge, for me its Jon Rahm. He’s the guy to watch in 2019, he has all the tools, he just needs to finish it a few more times to get to that next level and knock off a couple of Majors or several Tour wins. Make me look good Rahmbo!
Schurman: Why not go all the way? Choosing one player to win out of four chances can’t be that difficult! So, count me as all ‘in’! PGA – Bryson DeChambaeu. Masters – Jon Rahm. US Open – Xander Schauffele. The Open – Tommy Fleetwood.
Kaplan: My money is on Patrick Cantlay to ruin Koepka’s attempt at a three-peat by breaking through at the U.S. Open.
Rule: I’ve answered Lee Westwood to this question for probably the past 10 years, but perhaps it’s finally past his time to win a major! So, I’ll move on and choose another golfer for whom I’m a big fan, and that’s Tony Finau. One of the good guys on tour and he’s always seemingly knocking on the door. This year he won’t over-celebrate anything to injure an ankle, and will be in contention in at least two majors, winning one of them.
Quinn: This may be the year when this is the toughest question. The mega-millions purses have attracted young athletes like no other era. Watching the ball striking and the distances, any of these young gunners can win a Major if they don’t think about it Saturday night. I’d like to see Cameron Champ blast it past the USGA and blow up their tenuous grip on history.
Mumford: I’ve been touting Jon Rahm’s abilities for a couple of years now and expect him to win multiple majors in a long, illustrious career but I think Tommy Fleetwood may get there first with a win at Augusta. The long-haired Englishman has all the tools but his most important asset may be his demeanour, which seems more unflappable than the rest of the young wannabes.