From epic comeback tales written by Tiger Woods, Brendon Todd and Suzann Pettersen to head-scratching moves by Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar, the game delivered wild swings in emotion
This being the end of the year, it’s quite naturally time to recognize some people in golf who deserve it. But the only place nearly all of these awards will be given is here:
Best Redemption – Love him or hate him, Tiger Woods deserves a world of credit. He’s had four back surgeries and an infamous DUI arrest in 2017, in which he was found on the side of the road not far from his home in Jupiter, Fla., passed out in a running car. He had five drugs in his system. Lesser players – and lesser people – would have been written off and a career left for dead. In fact, most people thought just that. Instead, he underwent treatment for his drug problem and emerged a different person. At age 43, he inexplicably won the Masters. Not only was it his 15th major championship, but it was his first major since 2008. He also played – and captained – the U.S. to a close victory in Australia at the Presidents Cup. Instead of this being the end, many observers are wondering what else he can accomplish.
Most Tears Shed – Without question, the improbable pairing of Amy Bockerstette and Gary Woodland at the Waste Management Phoenix Open left an indelible mark on everyone who watched it as it was happening. Bockerstette, a young woman with Down syndrome who plays on her college golf team, was invited by Woodland to play the famous par-3 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale. She hit a 6-hybrid 117 yards into the right greenside bunker, and got the ball up and down for par. “I’ve got this,” she bravely said when she addressed the putt (video). The scene was viewed millions of times over multiple platforms and made everyone who watched it proud of the game and the people who play it.
Best Comeback – How in the world Brendon Todd made it back to professional golf is a testament to the steel in his will and his unwavering self-belief. He completely lost his game in 2015, hitting shots 40 yards off-line and not knowing when or how it happened. And this wasn’t the first time. He was off the grid in 2009 and stayed there for two years. As he was climbing his way back up, he wondered whether he ought to invest in a pizza franchise because his golf career just might be over. But out of the blue – and this is how things like this happen – Todd won the Bermuda Championship in November and with it, his exemption for the next three years. As if that weren’t enough of a fairy tale, Todd won the very next week at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Remember Al Michaels calling the U.S. Olympic hockey semifinals in 1980? “Do you believe in miracles?”
Biggest Villain – Patrick Reed could win this title every year just for being himself. What happened at the Hero World Challenge when he shoveled sand out of the way – twice – in a waste area to improve his lie without argument was bad enough. But when he justified it by claiming that it was a bad camera angle is way beyond the pale. And to even embrace it at the Presidents Cup with his shoveling motion after a birdie makes you start to wonder whether Reed even has a conscience.
Most Underappreciated – What Ernie Els did with the International team at the Presidents Cup is nothing short of remarkable. Els took a seriously undermanned team against the best players in the world and scared the hell out of the Americans, taking them to the last two matches before the U.S. finally could squeeze out the cup victory. Much like Paul Azinger, who famously put his team in four-man pods to prepare for the 2008 Ryder Cup, Els was secretive about his tactics. But he and assistant Geoff Ogilvy mapped out a strategy to play Royal Melbourne, and the players obeyed. Though the Internationals lost for an eighth consecutive time – and there are no moral victories – the team could be on the cusp of making this competition legitimate.
Top Punching Bag – Matt Kuchar always was seen – by almost everyone – as one of the PGA Tour’s nice guys. Always quick with a smile and a kind word, universally loved. But Kuchar’s 2019 season was one to forget. First, at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in the fall of 2018, he stiffed his substitute caddie, David “El Tucan” Ortiz, paying him a measly $5,000 while Kuchar raked in $1.296 million for winning the event. That faux pas followed him for all of 2019. He even heard about it from the fans at the Presidents Cup. Then, Kuchar wouldn’t concede Sergio Garcia a 6-inch putt in the quarterfinals of the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play. And he tried to argue with two PGA Tour officials at the Memorial that his ball had impossibly become imbedded after the first hop upon landing. He held up play for 20 minutes. Kuchar’s reputation has bruises all over it.
Best (Non) Rivalry – We kept waiting for Woods to have a rival and maybe, for a while, it was Phil Mickelson. But now that Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy have squared off, though not officially, professional golf is about to become more must-watch TV. Koepka shrugged off any suggestion of a rivalry, reminding us that he’s the one with four majors in the past two years and that McIlroy hasn’t won a major since Koepka has been on Tour. But McIlroy won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, and his peers voted him Player of the Year. Somebody now has a chip on his shoulder. Guess who?
Best Mic-Drop Moment – When the Solheim Cup came down to a 7-foot birdie putt that Suzann Pettersen holed to beat Marina Alex and effectively win for the Europeans, the moment was climactic just on its own. Pettersen had played only a handful of rounds of competitive golf after being away from the game for 18 months for the birth of her first child. When she was picked by European captain Catriona Matthew, it was a long shot at best. But Pettersen, who always has been one of the gutsiest players in the game, immediately announced her retirement in one of the best walk-offs in women’s golf.