News & Opinion

Arbitrary awards for a superlative season

As we head to year’s end, it’s customary to salute golf’s superlatives from the previous 12 months. Here are some that you might not have thought of:

Theft of the Year: To the LPGA for the four shots it stole from Lexi Thompson in the year’s first women’s major, the ANA Inspiration. She was penalized four strokes on Sunday, the day after – the day after – being found on video to have replaced her ball inaccurately on the green after a viewer e-mailed the LPGA. She was popped for two shots for the violation and two shots for having signed for a lower score than she actually made, even though she didn’t know it at the time. And she was notified after the 12th hole of the final round, going from two shots ahead, to two behind. “Is this a joke?” she asked incredulously. Thompson eventually lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu. Largely as a result, the world’s major tours no longer will allow TV viewers to call in penalties. Four precious shots too late.

Overreach of the Year: To the USGA, for believing that Erin Hills would be the ultimate U.S. Open course. Thinking it would be firm and fast and that the Wisconsin summer wind would blow, USGA executive director Mike Davis set up ultra-wide fairways for a course that had large, uncomplicated greens. Instead, it was wet enough and calm enough that winner Brooks Koepka averaged 322 yards off the tee, hit 88 percent of the fairways and 86 percent of the greens, resulting in a 16-under 272 total. Hardly U.S. Open numbers.

Bogey of the Year: Jordan Spieth’s remarkable 5 at the 13th hole in the final round of the British Open at Royal Birkdale could be the Bogey of the Century (although it’s still early in the 21st century). Spieth was staring at a double bogey or worse after a horrible tee shot at the par-4, 499-yard hole. After what seemed like an eternity, he took a one-stroke drop for an unplayable lie and hit his third shot from the practice range, over a tall dune. Spieth got up and down for bogey, leaving him one shot behind Matt Kuchar. Spieth went on a run of 5 under in the next four holes to win the Open. Wonder whether the R&A will start marking the practice ranges at future Opens as out of bounds?

Sportsman of the Year: Kuchar already had earned the reputation as being one of the game’s most agreeable competitors. But the uncommon patience he displayed while Spieth went through all of the gyrations before hitting his third shot was saintly. It took 20 minutes for Spieth finally to decide what he was going to do, and Kuchar never changed expression, much less voiced a complaint. After it was all over, Spieth apologized to Kuchar. The apology was accepted more graciously than anyone could have expected.

Chest Bump of the Year: Spieth compiled a long highlight reel in 2017. He holed out a bunker shot on the first playoff hole to beat Daniel Berger in the Travelers Championship. As soon as the ball dropped for birdie, Spieth and caddie Michael Greller leaped at each other. Truthfully, it was Spieth’s back against Greller’s chest. But they were airborne at the same time.

Slip-and-Fall of the Year: Dustin Johnson had won his last three starts on the PGA Tour in February and March and was the No. 1 player in the world coming into the Masters. Then, a mysterious fall down some steps in his rental home on the eve of the championship injured his back and made Johnson a shocking WD. As well as he was playing, you can only imagine how differently the Masters and the rest of 2017 might have turned out.

I’ll-Show-You of the Year: Justin Thomas was 310 yards away from the elevated green at the par-5 18th hole in the third round of the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. With all the courage and confidence that he could muster, he blasted a 3-wood that came down within 6 feet from the hole. He made the eagle putt for a 9-under 63, the lowest round in relation to par in U.S. Open history. Thomas didn’t win the Open, but it was an arrival statement. He won five times in 2017, including his first major, at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club.

Look-What-I-Found of the Year: In 2012, Sergio Garcia told the media at the Masters that he didn’t have what it takes to win at Augusta or any other major championship. "I'm not good enough. . . . I don't have the thing I need to have," Garcia said then. "In 13 years, I've come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place." In April, at age 37, Garcia slipped on a green jacket at the Masters for his first major title, winning in a playoff against Ryder Cup teammate Justin Rose. Garcia married Angela Akins in 2017, and now the couple are expecting their first child. How much happiness can one man have in a year?

Disappearance of the Year: A tie between Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. Both players are former No. 1s in the Official World Golf Ranking, and neither won anywhere on the planet in 2017. Both are workout fiends, both lost their putting strokes and both fired their longtime caddies in favor of best friends. Entering 2018, both are the biggest riddles in the game.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf