Martin’s 2019 Round Up

Hero of the Year: Alvaro Ortiz
The man from Mexico was playing in the Latin American Amateur Championship in January, in the final group on the last day. Unfortunately, his playing partners were slowcoaches and his group was put on the clock. So Alvaro speeded up – by the time he teed off the 13th they hadn’t putted out the 12th and he was waiting by the green as they played their approaches. A rules official had a quiet word and he let them catch up but justice was done as he won the event and gained entry to the Masters.

Whinger of the Year: Bryson DeChambeau
Every Tour pro who complained about the new rules before giving them even the slightest chance of being properly tested should be included in this category but pride of place goes to DeChambeau. In the very first week of 2019, in Kapalua, he described the drop from knee height as ‘a bit absurd’, without giving a reason or allowing even a few days to pass before complaining about the new procedure.

Misunderstanding of the Year: Patrick Reed
Standing in an area of waste land in the third round of the Hero World Challenge, Reed took his clubhead back from the ball, twice, and in the process removed sand so as to improve his lie. Some call him a cheat but he insists it was accidental and because golf is, thankfully, still a game of honour, we must accept his word. It does look iffy, though.

Good News/Bad News Award: Augusta National
It staged the inaugural Augusta Women’s National Amateur and must be applauded for (finally) opening its hallowed fairways to women; let’s hope a professional event follows suit. But then it restricted the top-30 who made it to the third and last day to actually compete at Augusta, and timed the event to coincide with the first women’s major of the year, robbing it of much needed publicity. Oh well, it’s a start.

Finish of the Year: Jennifer Kupcho
In that Augusta event, tournament winner Jennifer played the final six holes in five-under par – the best back nine since Jack Nicklaus in 1986. She and the runner-up with whom she was paired, Maria Fassi, showed enormous skill and grace under pressure. Wow; you mean women can play this game as well?

Pompous Verbiage of the Year: Fred Ridley
The Augusta National chairman was asked if Augusta would go against the new rules of golf and not allow the flagstick to be left in. He could have said ‘No’. Instead, he replied: ‘We think it’s important that there be some consistency in top championship golf, and so you should expect that the Masters Tournament, from a rules perspective, will look very much, if not the same, as what you’re seeing in the major championships and the professional tours.’ This means ‘No.’

Kamikaze Wish of the Year: Henrik Stenson
When a journalist asked the Swede: ‘If you had to choose only one, would it be your wife or 3-wood.’ Henrik replied: ‘That’s a very easy question, it would be the 3-wood,’ before adding: ‘She’s in the US and sleeping so I’m safe for now.’

Hangover of the Year: Francesco Molinari
The supremely likeable Italian strolled through 2018 like a colossus, winning the Open Championship, five out of five points in the Ryder Cup, and hearts and minds everywhere. But in the Masters, cruising to yet another victory, he hit a ball into the water at 12, again at 15, and unravelled like a cheap sweater. He’s only just beginning to get over it.

Tightwad of the Year: Matt Kuchar
The ever-smiling, apparently genial Koooch used a local caddy at the Mayakoba Classic in February. He and David Ortiz agreed that if Matt made the top-10, the caddy would get $4,000. Kuchar won, and added an extra $1,000 as a bonus (his regular caddy would have received $130,000). After much criticism, Kuchar apologised and gave Ortiz $50,000 but did he do it because he belatedly recognised he was wrong, or was it a matter of caving in to the court of public opinion?

What Took You So Long? Award: PGA Tour
In February the tour announced that, with immediate effect, pros would be allowed to wear shorts during practice rounds and pro-ams. To everyone’s astonishment the world did not fall off its axis, the sun continued to rise and there wasn’t a spate of old ladies succumbing to a fit of the vapours. And doesn’t the ban on wearing shorts during tournaments amount to sex discrimination – the women are allowed to do it.

Drama of the Year: Solheim Cup
With half-an-hour to go Europe looked dead and buried. Then Bronte Law won three holes coming down the stretch and Suzann Pettersen showed nerves of steel to make birdie on the 18th and break American hearts.

Best-timed Announcement of the Year: Suzann Pettersen
Immediately after holing that winning putt the Swede revealed that she was retiring. Rarely do top-flight sportspeople choose exactly the right time to exit the competitive arena, but Suzann did.

Putt of the Year: Suzann Pettersen
See above.

Optimist of the Year: Marina Alex and Caroline Masson
Jointly awarded because on day two of the Solheim Cup the weather was awful. We had ten tenths cloud cover, winds gusting up to 40mph and intermittent squally rain. Yet both of these idealists, despite wearing woolly hats, mittens and several layers of clothing, had sunglasses on the back of their heads.

Storm in a Teacup of the Year: Tiger Woods
In November during an Australian radio interview he forgot himself and swore or, as prissy American media outlets told us: ‘Dropped the F-bomb.’ He’s an adult and sometimes grown-ups use bad language, even when they’re not supposed to. We’re a lot more childish being egregiously offended by it than he is for doing it.

Strangest Decision of the Year: PGA Tour pros
In voting for their player of the year, pros opted for Rory McIlroy (three wins, 14 top-10s) over Brooks Koepka (three wins, nine top-10s). But Koepka’s record in the majors was far superior; T2, 1st, 2nd, T4. Rory’s record, in comparison, was T21, T8, T9 and MC. Could it be that Brooks’ outspokenness has made him unpopular with his peers? Or perhaps the other pros attach greater significance to Rory winning the $15 million FedEx Cup bonus – no, they couldn’t possibly be that shallow.

Blowhard of the Year: President Donald J Trump
He has a plaque on his locker at Trump International GC, Palm Beach, declaring him 2018 club champion – for an event in which he never competed. Trump met the man who did win the championship, Ted Virtue, and challenged him to a match to see who really was top dog. Trump, who owns the course and is, of course, president of the United States, won. He also lays claim to 17 other club championships, none of which are legitimate. Completely shameless.

Remarkable Round of the Year: Kevin Chappell
In November 2018, Chappell had back surgery involving a microdiscectomy (removal of part of a herniated disc) and laminectomy (removal of the back of one or more vertebrae). His first event of 2019, after a nine-month absence, was in the oddly named A Military Tribute at the Greenbriar. In the second round he shot an 11-under 59 which included nine consecutive birdies.

Major of the Year: The Masters
It wouldn’t matter if an unknown, one-legged, blind haemophiliac came from nowhere to win any of the other three, the greatest sports story of the year was Tiger’s resurrection at Augusta in April. Rarely has a sportsperson fallen so low and climbed back so high. Shane Lowry’s smiling stroll to The Open at Royal Portrush would melt the heart of a money-lender but Brooks Koepka (yawn) in the US PGA and Gary Woodland in the US Open both looked in (almost complete) control throughout.

Jumping on the Bandwagon Award: President Donald J Trump
In the immediate aftermath of Tiger’s historic 15th major, at The Masters, he was invited to the White House and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Politicians always like to link themselves vicariously to sporting success, with the implication that they are somehow responsible, and America’s 45th president is no exception.

Bad Trip of The Year: Anonymous security guard
During that historic Augusta win a security guard, rushing to clear a path for Tiger, slipped, slid into The Man and left him hobbling. Everyone held their breath but he was soon walking okay. Tiger was fine, too.

Depressing News of the Year: Tiger Woods’ Health
Neck strain, back strain and oblique muscle strain all caused him at different times to miss tournaments, before a fifth surgery (albeit minor one) on his left knee in August further disrupted his intended schedule. All those years swinging like a whip-crack have done irreparable damage to his body. But then The Master stormed back to win the Zozo Championship in China. Only the greatest do the seemingly impossible.

Announcement of the Year: Tiger Woods
He is writing his memoirs and said: ‘This book is my definitive story.’ The man has a long memory and knows how to carry a grudge so prepare yourselves for a bit of payback under the guise of setting-the-record-straight.

Statistic of the Year: US PGA Championship
For the first time in the history of the game the world’s best 100 players teed up in the same event. And then they didn’t. A week before the start, previous winner Justin Thomas withdrew with a wrist injury, leaving only 99 of the world’s best in the field.

Least Appreciated Champion of the Year: Brooks Koepka
Four majors in eight starts; the only man to successfully defend both the US Open and US PGA, and in the process break all sorts of scoring records by opening his PGA defence with rounds of 63, 65. Koepka has nevertheless failed to win the hearts of many golf watchers. Ruthless efficiency will do that; fans want to cheer people, not robots.

Crass Prediction of the Year: Hank Haney
In advance of the US Women’s Open, Tiger’s former coach said: ‘I’m gonna predict a Korean. That’s gonna be my prediction… Well, I’d go with Lee. If I didn’t have to name a first name, I’d get a bunch of them right.’ He was proven right when Jeongeun Lee6, who added the digit to her name to help distinguish her from the other Lee’s, lifted the title but he could have been just a tad more diplomatic.

Pathetic Spat of the Year: Hank Haney and Tiger Woods
After Haney’s misguided prediction, Tiger weighed in by saying that Hank ‘Got what he deserved,’ by being thoroughly trashed on social media. Haney responded with: ‘Amazing how Tiger Woods now has become the moral authority on issues pertaining to women.’ Gentlemen please, you’re supposed to be grown-ups.

Round of the Year: Shane Lowry
The Open, third round, course record 63, and all done with a grin that would make a Cheshire cat jealous.

Worst Round of the Year: JB Holmes
The Open, final round. The American started the last day with only two players ahead of him; he finished it with only three behind him in a field of 73. A horror-show 87 that should be locked into a strong box in a corner of the mind never to be visited.

Venue of the Year: Royal Portrush
Magnificent links finally gets The Open back after a 68-year wait and demonstrates to the world just how fine a layout it is. Well, the R&A does like to move, like all bureaucracies, at a less-than-urgent pace.

Avaricious Excess of The Year: Phil Mickelson
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy turned down appearance fees of $3.5 million and $2.5m respectively to appear in next February’s Saudi International. Phil Mickelson nobly stepped up, despite the event clashing with the Phoenix Open, in which he has competed for the last 30 years, won three times and had 11 top-10 finishes. He said: ‘After turning down opportunities to go to the Middle East for many years, I’m excited to play and see a place in the world I’ve never been.’ So it’s not about the money, then.

Idiot of the Year: Sergio Garcia
In January the volcanic Spaniard became the first European Tour player to be disqualified for serious professional misconduct, after he deliberately damaged several greens in Saudi Arabia. It didn’t help him achieve maturity as in subsequent events he had a meltdown in a bunker, gouged a large divot from a teeing ground and threw a driver at his caddie. Perhaps his infant daughter can teach him something about anger management.

Over-Reaction of the Year: Korean Professionals Golf Association
When Bio Kim was in the middle of his backswing on the 16th hole of the weirdly-named KPGA’s DGB Financial Group Volvik Daegu Gyeongbuk Open a ‘fan’ who should know better, took a picture and a distracted Kim barely shunted his drive 100 yards. In anger he turned to the gallery and flipped his middle finger. He was subsequently fined $8,000 and banned for three years, later reduced to 12 months. That’s like saying we’ll hang and draw (stretch you on a rack) but not quarter you.

Good News of the Year: Shane Lowry
By winning The Open he made sure that Americans did not make a clean sweep of 2019’s majors. It wouldn’t do for them to get too uppity.

Quote of the Year: Shane Lowry
After three rounds of The Open, Shane led by four strokes, the same margin by which he led the US Open in 2016, when he shot 76 to finish T2. When reminded of this in the press centre and asked how he felt, he replied with admirable candour: ‘I’m shitting myself.’

Breath of Fresh Air of the Year: Hinako Shibuno
The irresistible, giggling 20-year-old was virtually unknown outside her native Japan before she played in the AIG Women’s British Open. Equally unknown was the fact that you can miss a two-foot putt in a major golf tournament and laugh, and go on to ram home an 18-foot effort on the 72nd hole to win. Time and experience may wear her down but let’s hope not.

Hole of the Year: 9th, East Lake GC
In the second round of the Tour Championship, Chez Reavie and Louis Oosthuizen walked off the green with a combined total of three strokes. Chez made the longest ace on the US tour in 2019 (230 yards) and Louis followed him in with a birdie two.

Misguided Marketing of the Year: FedEx Championship
Justin Rose can earn $5 million a year for having a Mastercard logo on his shirt collar, and the earnings of almost all tour golfers are so far beyond the everyday as to be out of sight. So for the PGA tour to relentlessly tell us that the winner of the FedEx cup collects a $15 million bonus misses the point by miles. We may be envious of the cash they carry home but we don’t judge their ability or become a fan because of it. It might even put us off just a tiny bit.

Ridiculous Numbers of the Year: FedEx Championship
The total prize fund is $70 million; the eighth placed man earns more than $1 million and the golfers tied for last place – Dustin Johnson and Lucas Glover – are happier to the tune of $400,000. That’s approaching half-a-million dollars for coming last. Never has failure been so well rewarded.

Welcome Innovation of the Year: The Rules
They have been reduced from 34 to 24 and now assume that if you do something wrong it’s because you made a mistake, and not that you’re a lying, snivelling cheat. They speed up play, apply common sense, and simplify a code of behaviour that previously was only properly understood by two eccentrics in a St Andrews attic.

Scapegoat of the Year: Bryson DeChambeau
Yes, taking 2 minutes and 16 seconds over an eight-foot putt is complete nonsense but he’s not the only tortoise. The real problem is with the tours that don’t have adequate sanctions, meticulously applied, to the slowcoaches. The European Tour seems to be making a start by revising its slow play policy but don’t expect too much – this story flares up and dies again at regular intervals.

Worst Best Season of the Year: Rory McIlroy
He won three times and two of those victories, the Players’ Championship and season-ending Tour Championship are the biggest events on the US tour. Almost more remarkably, in 17 US tournaments he was only out of the top-10 five times. It all adds up to cumulative winnings in America of $24,285,286 in 2019. I’ll spell that out: twenty-four million, two hundred and eighty-five thousand, two hundred and eighty-six dollars. And he would have swapped it all to win The Open at Royal Portrush.

Worst Start of the Year: Rory McIlroy
Royal Portrush, 1st hole of The Open and the bookies’ favourite hoicks it OB and ends up with a quadruple-bogey eight, leading to a 79 that all but kills his chances.

Fading Career Award: Phil Mickelson
Way back in February he won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am that just about qualifies as a proper tour event, he had only one other top-10 all year and finished 47th on the money list. In June 2020 he turns 50 and becomes eligible for the Champions Tour and not even his genius can ignore the ravages of time. Most top-flight careers end with a whimper rather than a bang and in America, at least, Phil is becoming almost as well-known for his tweets as his golf.

Worst Shot of the Year: Gary Woodland
In the PGA Tour season finale, the Tour Championship at East Lake GC, the reigning US Open champion had a horror-show in the second round. In deep rough 55-yards short of the 18th green, he bladed his wedge shot straight into the clubhouse. He ended up making triple-bogey eight.

Most Predictable Result of the Year: America wins the Presidents Cup
And this was written in August, before the event took place. American golfers say they love the contest because it’s friendlier than the Ryder Cup but who wouldn’t like a competition they have won 10 times out of 12, with one loss and one tie?

Mountain out of a Molehill Award: John Daly
Everyone’s favourite redneck was a big fan of retail shopping monolith Walmart and often posted tweets extolling its virtues. But in May he visited his local store to find only one service lane open, so had to check over 100 items through the self-service machines. Furious, he tweeted: ‘I will never step foot into #Walmart again!’ and berated the store for its lazy staff. Okay Big John, time for a reality check.

Rules gaffe of the Year: Lee Ann Walker
She took part in the Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick Resort (sounds a bit smutty) in Louisiana but was not aware that the rules no longer allow a caddie to stand directly behind a player as they putt and this was only brought to her attention halfway through the back nine in the second round. Lee Ann had to add 42 penalty strokes to her first round, turning an 85 into 127, and 16 to the second round, rounding her 74 up to 90. Oops.

Scheduling Disaster of the Year: The Majors
The US PGA, in consultation with no-one, it seems, decided to move its PGA Championship from August to May, to allegedly avoid a once-every-four years clash with the Olympics, which again includes golf. Cynics, however, have pointed to the fact that our majors now fall completely outside the American football season, so TV viewers don’t have to choose between their favourite golfer and quarterback. Our majors are now squeezed into four months of the year, when they should be the showcase events, around which everything else is organised.

Astonishing Performance of the Year: Rich Beem
At age 48 the Beemer plays just one event a year – the US PGA Championship – because as a former winner he is exempt until he reaches 65. This year it was held at the ridiculously long Bethpage Black and against all odds and predictions Rich made the cut, which is more than can be said for Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Bryson DeChambeau, Tiger Woods…

Luckiest Break of the Year: Wes Short Jr
When Wes came to the Shaw Charity Classic on the Champions Tour in September, he was five long years away from his only previous win. Playing the par five 18th, in a three-way tie for the lead, he was in a relatively unusual position. Undaunted he elected to go for the green with his 3-wood, and watched, presumably in dismay, as his ball headed for the water hazard just short. It plunged straight in, hit an underwater rock and bounced onto the green, where he two-putted for victory.

Saddest Sight of the Year: Julia Engstroem
In the final event of the Ladies European Tour season, the Magical Kenya Ladies Open, 18-year-old Swede Engstroem went into the last round with a seven-stroke lead. She shot a two-over par 74 to finish third and was fighting back tears nearly all the way round.

Triple Whammy of the Year: Esther Henseleit
In that same Kenya Ladies Open, the German fired a best-of-the-week 64, eight-under par, to storm through the field. In the process she won the tournament, Rookie of the Year honours and the LET Order of Merit. But what does it say about the depth of talent in European Women’s golf when 20-year-old rookie can finish the season atop the heap?

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