News & Opinion

Midseason Awards salute PGA Tour season on the brink

Coronavirus has been a tough opponent in 2020, but highlighting the season’s top feats might prove to be just the right antidote

Welcome to the halfway point of the PGA Tour season.

I’m not making this up. This week’s canceled WGC Match Play would have been the 25th tournament of the scheduled 49 official events.

Not to be Debbie Downer, but it’s possible the golf season is over and we just don’t know it. That’ll be up to the coronavirus pandemic – have you heard about it? I hope it’s not the case, but as the virus spreads through the U.S. like, well, a virus, we have to consider the possibility.

Presidents Cup 2019
Nobody in golf enjoys winning more than Tiger Woods, who piled up a few more Ws in 2019, notably at the Masters and then as player-captain of the Presidents Cup.

Let’s ignore the dark and cloudy horizon, however, and celebrate The Season That Is/Was, with my Midseason Awards. Or have you got something better to do while sequestered in your basement with a case of Pringles, a DVR and “The Complete Emma Peel Megaset” of “The Avengers”?

Here we go…

Player of the Year. For sheer impact, nothing beat Tiger Woods’ winning the inaugural Zozo Championship (my new favorite tournament name to say out loud) in late October to tie Sam Snead on the all-time victory list at 82. But there’s more. Woods was a force who led the U.S. to a comeback vicotry at the Presidents Cup in Australia in December and, most observers agreed, was the best player on the course. He went 3-0, set the mark for most career Presidents Cup match wins (27) and did it while also captaining the team.

And, oh, I didn’t mention that Woods had another minor knee surgery in August. Sure, he’s missing in action in 2020, but he already made his mark. Tiger Woods is your POY.

Non-Tiger Player of the Year. It’s all about the Ws, as Woods likes to say, but does one big victory outweigh two smaller ones? In the absence of any truly big events, no. So let’s go with the numbers. Nice job by Brendon Todd, who won the Bermuda Championship (an opposite-field event) and Mayakoba Classic, but the NTPOY has to go to Justin Thomas, who won the Sentry Tournament of Champions and CJ Cup Nine Bridges in South Korea.

A third option might have been…

The Top Dog Cup. This goes to the player who has earned the most Official World Golf Ranking points in the current calendar year. You wouldn’t guess who’s No. 1 in this category if you had 10 tries. Congratulations … Patrick Reed? It’s easy to overlook that he won the World Golf Championships event in Mexico. It’s also easy to overlook him because he’s so … popular.

Best major championship. Sheesh, nice editing. How’d this get here? We haven’t played one yet. The Masters is postponed (until October?). The PGA Championship is delayed until the 12th of Maybe Never and may have to move away from Virus Central in California. The U.S. Open is in New York, where the virus is on a tragic hot streak, and since the governor ordered Winged Foot closed, its June date is on the chopping block. And I’m not feeling overly confident about the British Open in July, now that the Olympic Games in Tokyo have been delayed from August until next year, either. This category has no winner.

Best almost major championship. The Players Championship could have been the biggest tournament of the season, if only it could have been finished. All right, it didn’t look like a major championship on the opening day when Hideki Matsuyama shot 63 in lovely, calm conditions and par was about 69. That happens when the Stadium Course becomes scoreable with soft conditions and no wind. A few players didn’t finish 18 holes, which is fairly inexcusable, but it didn’t matter. Tour commissioner Jay Monahan took the world’s temperature and just before 10 p.m., pulled the plug on the Players. No winner in this category, either.

Play of the Year. Monahan announced that he would suspend his salary, which is a huge number (reportedly $3.9 million in 2017), while the Tour is dark during the coronavirus shutdown, and senior tour staffers will take a 25 percent pay cut. It’s a smart move and an important gesture. That’s how you lead.

The Mike-Drop Award. Nobody ended the initial should-we-or-shouldn’t-we-keep-playing debate better than LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan, who explained why he postponed a slew of events, including the ANA Inspiration: “I feel fairly confident we could play without our fans. But can I live with it if I’m wrong? If I’m wrong, I’ll regret that the rest of my life. This is a decision I may not like, but I don’t think I’ll ever regret it.”

While we’re at it, we could hand Whan the statuette as best-ever LPGA commissioner in modern times. He’s a slam dunk.

The Bunker Mentality Trophy. The only nominee, and therefore the winner, is Patrick Reed, who scuffed sand away with his club on practice swings in a bunker during the Hero World Challenge. He seemed to know what he was doing as he was doing it. A controversy ensued after the round. Reed accepted a penalty but never acknowledged that he did anything wrong. His questionable actions painted him into a villain’s role that he’s going to have a tough time escaping.

Fans heckled him mercilessly at the Presidents Cup, where Reed reacted on one green by pretending to shovel sand. Golf hasn’t had many bad-guy roles over the years, but Reed unwisely has made himself a target as the game’s leading antagonist.

Audible of the Year: The Safeway Open gave former NFL quarterback-turned-broadcaster Tony Romo an exemption to play in the tournament. It paid off big when Romo shot a 2-under-par 70 in the opening round – lower than Justin Thomas or Phil Mickelson – and scored major national attention. CBS Sports had Boomer Esiason ready to go in case Romo made the Safeway cut and would miss the Vikings-Bears game. Romo shot 78, missed the cut and made it to Chicago.

While Romo didn’t get earn a golf check, he later signed a new CBS contract that will pay him $17 million a year, more than he ever earned as a football player.

The Scandinavian Trophy. This goes to a player who won with the best finish. (Scandinavian, Finnish – sorry, this award’s sponsor likes bad puns.)

Webb Simpson looked as if he were out of contention at the Waste Management Phoenix Open when he hit a drive that caromed off a marshal’s chair and into a pond at the 15th hole. But he birdied the final two holes to force a playoff with Tony Finau, then won on the first extra hole with a third straight birdie. That’s a clutch Finnish, er, finish.

“Unfortunately,” Finau said, “it’s how the cookie crumbles.”

Wait … there were cookies?

Most Clever Tribute. Everyone saw the obvious Kobe Bryant tributes at TPC Scottsdale’s par-3 16th hole in the Phoenix Open’s final round. The flagstick flag was yellow and had purple numbers — an 8 on one side and a 24 on the other, representing Bryant’s jersey numbers for the Los Angeles Lakers. The number 24 was painted into the grass on the green’s front.

Only players and caddies who checked the pin sheet, however, knew that Sunday’s pin placement was 8 yards from the green’s left edge and 24 yards from the green’s front.

Best Player Tribute. Several times during the Phoenix Open, Justin Thomas donned a replica of Kobe Bryant’s jersey from Lower Merion (Pa.) High School, a way-deep tribute. Thomas put it on to play TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole in the final round and made a timely tribute birdie en route to finishing third.

“It’s always a fun week,” Thomas said. “Somehow, it gets crazier every year.” Somehow? You’re the one who wore a Lower Merion basketball jersey, man.

Rookie of the Year. This is a close race. Scottie Scheffler, a former University of Texas star, finished third twice among four top-10s and won $1.67 million. That’s an impressive debut. Nothing is tougher than winning, however, so the ROY should go to Viktor Hovland, the first Norwegian golfer ever to defrost this well. Hovland won the Puerto Rico Open, was 10th at Greenbrier and earned only half as much as Scheffler. But the smiling, likable Hovland has the W, and that’s the difference. So, go ahead and play “Ja, vi elsker dette landet” – Norway’s national anthem – and we’ll all sing along.

Quote of the Year. Patrick Cantlay, waiting to tee off at the 17th hole during the Sentry Tournament of Champions and annoyed that the players ahead had paused to don rain gear during a sudden shower: “These pampered [bleeps] need to play.”

Quote of the Year, 1A. Cantlay, overheard on the same tee by NBC microphones again: “Two more holes and we can get a Mai Tai.” Ah, those were the days, when bars were open and served adult beverages.

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