News & Opinion

'18 features best of golf’s past and future

The year in golf was dominated by the professional game’s youth movement but was punctuated by emerging stars and old stars with a new shine. Here is one man’s top 10 list of the best stories in golf in 2018.

The comeback: Left for dead professionally and abandoned on the side of the road personally, Tiger Woods produced one of the great resurrections in golf history in 2018. A year ago at this time, he was No. 1,199 in the world and hadn’t played competitively in 10 months when he teed it up at the Hero World Challenge. Since then, Woods cranked up the volume in golf like no one else can. He won the Tour Championship in September, attracting galleries that haven’t been seen in years. He has climbed to No. 14 in the Official World Golf Ranking. All at age 42.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods produces the year’s top storyline with a comeback for the ages.

Major domination: Not only did Brooks Koepka win back-to-back U.S. Opens for the first time since Curtis Strange accomplished that feat in 1988-89, but he beat back the field at the PGA Championship – outrunning Woods – and won two majors in a season for the first time since Jordan Spieth did it in 2015. To top things off, he won in South Korea at the CJ Cup in October. He was far and away the choice for PGA Tour Player of the Year and is the model for the prototypical professional golfer of the present – and the future.

Ryder rollover: Just when you thought the U.S. had the Ryder Cup finally figured out, the Europeans gathered their forces and thumped the Americans in Paris, 17½-10½. The victory was thorough, convincing and demoralizing to the U.S. team. Neither Woods nor Phil Mickelson – both picks of captain Jim Furyk – won a point. The American stars were stymied by the narrow fairways and long rough at Le Golf National, the setup of which was a master stroke by European captain Thomas Bjorn. Perhaps the Americans should reconvene the task force.

Hello, DeChambeau: The Mad Scientist apparently has concocted a winning formula. Bryson DeChambeau has four victories since May, including the Memorial and the first two FedEx Cup playoff events, the Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies. Single-length irons, single swing plane and singular belief have combined to turn DeChambeau into one of the players to contend with in the near future. No one believes in his method more than DeChambeau does, and that alone can make all the difference.

Spieth shut out: No one had a more precipitous drop from the top rungs of golf than did Jordan Spieth. Not only did he not win in 2018, but he looked lost in doing it. He has had driver issues for the past couple of years but worked around it by being the best putter on the PGA Tour, perhaps in the world. But in 2018, his putting left him, and he ranked 136th in strokes gained putting. He had a chance to win the British Open but shot 76 in the final round. He failed to make the Tour Championship for the first time in his six seasons on Tour and has dropped to No. 16 in the world.

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Francesco Molinari hoists the Claret Jug at the British Open before he drops the Americans later in the year at the Ryder Cup.

Viva Molinari: He wasn’t on the list of “best player without a major,” but Francesco Molinari vaulted into elite-player status with his victory at the British Open. To boot, the Italian was 5-0-0 at the Ryder Cup, the first time a European player has been unbeaten in five matches. Molinari didn’t exactly sneak up on anyone, but his splendid summer wasn’t predicted, not even by him. He kept his distance down the stretch at the Open from Woods, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy. At the Ryder Cup, Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood teamed for four match victories.

President Whaley: Suzy Whaley made history in November by being elected president of the PGA of America, the first female leader in the 102-year history of the male-dominated association. She paid her dues and rose through the PGA’s sectional and national ranks. For the next two years, she will lead and help shape policy decisions for one of the four most powerful entities in golf. Along with new CEO Seth Waugh, Whaley will feel pressure to create meaningful initiatives to grow a stagnant game.

Triple play: The most underrated, underreported story of the year was the three-victory 2017-18 seasons for DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson. The problem was that none of them won a major championship, and Johnson was the only member of the foursome to contend, having co-led the U.S. Open for three rounds. However, three victories in a season on a PGA Tour that’s increasingly more difficult to get the trophy is something for which a lot of attention should be paid.

Reed’s green jacket: You likely snickered when Patrick Reed won at Doral in 2014 and declared himself to be a top-5 player in the world. Reed is now getting the next laugh, if not the last one, by winning the Masters for his first major championship. The most impressive part of his victory was going nose-to-nose with McIlroy in the final round as McIlroy flinched. And after Rickie Fowler posted 14 under, Reed hit all the necessary shots to win by one. He earned every stitch of the green jacket.

Revamped rules: The USGA and R&A collaborated to streamline some of the Rules of Golf, which will take effect Jan. 1. There will be no penalty for accidentally moving your ball on the green. Committees can mark all hazards as red (lateral). Drops will be made from knee height. Time looking for a lost ball is reduced to three minutes. And courses can make a local rule to provide a drop in the fairway – with a two-stroke penalty – for a ball out of bounds. And the most interesting change is that you can leave the flagstick in when you putt – DeChambeau plans to take advantage of this rule.

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