Vousden on 2021

It has been a funny old year…

Player of the Year: Jin Young Ko
At the CME Group Tour Championship, the last event of the LPGA Tour season she shot a bogey-free final-round 63. In three of the four rounds she hit all 18 greens in regulation, and made 63 during the week. She earned $1.5 million, the biggest payout in LPGA history and became Rolex Player of the Year, beating Nelly Korda. Oh, okay, Collin Morikawa did okay, too.

Depressing News of the Year: Race to Dubai
The official European Tour money list was won by Collin Morikawa, who played in just 10 qualifying events. Okay, one of them was The Open and the huge prize money for that skewed things a little. But the runner-up was Billy Horschel, who played 11 events, while third place went to Jon Rahm, who played nine. Americans now win our money list in their spare time.

Most Popular Player of the Year: Brooks Koepka
He doesn’t like Bryson DeChambeau, which is fine, but encouraging his fans to catcall and jeer the man is not. In advance of the Ryder Cup he suggested he wasn’t much interested, and during it he berated officials with foul language for (quite rightly) not allowing him a penalty drop. Arrogant, bumptious, lacking grace and offensive.

Most Popular Player of the Year Runner-Up: Patrick Reed
The year had hardly begun when, in the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open, Reed’s ball fell into deep rough from three or four feet and he concluded it was embedded, before lifting it and calling over a rules official. A breech of etiquette but not against the rules, yet it still raised questions, again, about his sportsmanship and ethics.

Welcome Decision of the Year: The R&A and USGA
In a sleight of hand so cunning as to be worthy of an accolade of its own, the game’s governing bodies avoided a bifurcation of the rules – under which pros and amateurs would play to different regulations – in order to rein in the longest hitters on tour. They simply said, for pro events we’ll apply a local rule, specifying the types of ball and clubs that can be used. Genius. Of course, it’s yet to happen.

Quote of the Year: Brooks Koepka
When asked how long he had been under the surgeon’s knife undergoing knee surgery, Brooks said: ‘Not sure, I was asleep.’

Quote of the Year Runner-up: Rory McIlroy
After missing out in a seven-man playoff for the Olympic bronze medal: ‘I’ve never tried so hard to finish third.’

Cliché of the Year: TV sports commentators
Impossible to single out any one of them because all had exactly the same script. When talking about Bryson DeChambeau they insist on telling us, repeatedly, that in addition to driving the ball out of sight, he is an excellent iron player with a great short game. Thanks, but we’ve been watching him too. We know.

Inappropriate Comparison of the Year: Journalists
When Tiger Woods crashed his SUV in February, some golf writers saw parallels between his motor accident and that experienced by Ben Hogan. This was fanciful at best. Hogan was blameless for his crash, while Tiger was just driving too fast. In addition, Ben was approaching his greatest years, while Tiger’s are behind him.

Glacial Player of the Year: Too Many to Count
From Bryson DeChambeau wanting to know the temperature, wind direction and speed and barometric pressure before he hits a shot, to all the other regulars – and ladies, this certainly includes you, too. In fairness to Bryson, he has managed to improve, a little.

Disappointment of the Year: Lee Westwood
Coming into the season’s first major, Lee was in tremendous form, having recorded runner-up finishes in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship. Would he finally break his majors duck, at the age of 48, in the Masters he so loves? No, he missed the cut.

Unwanted Accolade of the Year: Cameron Tringale
On April 2 Cameron Tringale finished tied third in the Valspar Championship, earning $407,100. In the process he became the player to win the most in career earnings – $13,743,938 – without recording a win.

Farewell of the Year: European Tour
Yes, it’s not really going anywhere but it will take a while to get used to calling it the DP World Tour.

Comeback of the Year: Jordan Spieth
Between February 2nd and April 8th he played in eight events and was only outside the top-10 once. This included victory in the Valero Texas Open and two tied 3rd places, one of which was at The Masters. He also, of course, finished runner-up in The Open. Welcome back.

Hypocrisy of the Year: Augusta National
Lee Elder, aged 86, was invited to become an honorary starter at the Masters, despite his age, and the fact that he needed oxygen and could only sit at the side of the tee. No apology was made for the fact that he, and many other black golfers, were denied entry to the year’s first major for years, if not decades. Augusta, as usual, tried to present a hugely-overdue but patronising gesture, as an illustration of its liberal credentials.

Threat of the Year: Premier League of Golf Saudi Golf League
When the PGA and European Tours reacted swiftly to the idea of the first breakaway circuit, it looked as if the deal was as dead as a similar venture in football, the European Super League. But those Saudi money-men refuse to go away and LIV Golf Investments, headed by Greg Norman, shows their determination to get a foothold, and more, in golf.

Saddest Sight of the Year: Phil Mickelson
He continued trying to play the full tour, despite becoming eligible for the Champions Tour in 2020, and as early as May this year his world ranking had slumped to 115 and didn’t show many signs of climbing back up. You’re well over 50, Phil, and even you can’t escape time. Have some fun with the round bellies.

Surprise of the Year: Phil Mickelson
Over a brutally tough Kiawah Island layout in the US PGA Championship, a slimmer, fitter, happier Phil trounced the field. Driving the ball longer and straighter than ever before he outplayed every other competitor, many of whom weren’t even half his age, and vaulted to number 33 in the world. Whoever said the old codger was past it?

Man of the Year: Richard Bland
The only contender. After 478 European Tour events, and at the age of 48, Bland finally won, at the Betfred British Masters. He has been on tour since 1998, and had to go back to the Challenge Tour or Qualifying School numerous times just to keep his playing card. Persistence does pay off, and nice guys sometimes win.

Wowee of the Year: Bryson DeChambeau
At the par five 5th hole at Whistling Straits in the Ryder Cup, Bryson drove the ball 417-yards over a lake, leaving 72-yards to the flag, on the dogleg hole. His partner, Xander Shauffele, took the conventional route, driving it 305-yards, which left him 274-yards to the flag. Unreal.

Retrograde Step of the Year: Too Many to Count
Pro golfers, like amateurs the world over, used to shout ‘Fore!’ if their ball looked like going anywhere near another person. It is a habit that is, disgracefully, no longer mandatory in the pro ranks – it’s as if they expect someone else to shout on their behalf.

Disappointment of the Year: Jon Rahm
Disappointment on two counts. First, holding a six-stroke lead after three rounds of the Memorial Tournament, Jon was forced to withdraw, having tested positive for covid-19. Second, he said he would then take ‘all of the necessary precautions to be safe and healthy.’ What he didn’t mention, in a country that had seen almost 600,000 people die in the pandemic, was that he had not been vaccinated, despite having had opportunities to get the jab.

Hero of The Year: Jon Rahm
The lion of Europe’s losing Ryder Cup team, second in the FedEx Cup standings, won the US Open and had 15 top-10 finishes in America, en route to being crowned world number one. Off the course his judgement was questionable, on it he was peerless.

Major of the Year: US PGA
Phil Mickelson at Kiawah Island. ‘Nuff said.

Major of the Year Runner-up: US Open
Step forward Jon Rahm, who threw off the misery of covid to land his first major, in emphatic and dramatic style, holing outlandish left-to-right, hard-breaking putts on the last two holes. But what made the tournament so exciting was that several of the biggest names in golf – Rahm, DeChambeau, Koepka, Oosthuizen, McIlroy, Morikawa and Shauffele – were all in the mix at different times on the last day. Rarely is a majors leaderboard so packed with quality.

Pub Quiz Question of the Year: This poser
What do Jason Day, Keegan Bradley, Lucas Glover, Luke Donald, Brandt Snedeker and Rickie Fowler have in common? They didn’t qualify for the US Open so watched it at home on TV – just like you.

Matchplay Result of the Year: Laird Shepherd
In the final of the British Amateur – victory in which brings invites to the Masters, US Open et al, after 17 holes Shepherd was eight down to Monty Scowsill. He was still four down with four to play but won the lot, taking the match to extra holes. Not surprisingly, as his opponent must have been in shock, Shepherd triumphed at the second extra hole.

Over-reaction of the Year: Luke Smith
During a qualifying event for the Korn Ferry Tour, Smith’s two playing partners suggested that he and his father, who was caddying, might want to help look for lost golf balls and tend the flagstick occasionally. Smith the Younger waited until his opponent reached the next tee, sucker-punched him on the side of the head and then held him down until he said ‘Uncle.’ You would see more maturity in a kindergarten.

Virgin of the Year: Collin Morikawa
As the only player ever to win two different majors on his debut, the extraordinarily talented young American earned his own slice of golfing history. The problem is, the man is so robotically efficient and emotionless that it’s like watching an accountant read a balance sheet. But he is the future of golf.

Good but no Coconut Award: Louis Oosthuizen
The remarkably consistent South African led the US Open until Jon Rahm scuppered him over the final two holes. And he led the Open Championship for the best part of three days until the relentless Morikawa overhauled him coming down the stretch. Finishes like that are good for the bank balance but corrosive to the psyche and soul.

Team Competition of the Year: Solheim Cup
The Ryder Cup had everything except drama because America was in absolute control from the get-go. The women’s equivalent, however, had excitement to spare and after a thrilling fightback in the singles, America eventually succumbed 13-15 to hand Europe that rarest of golf beasts – an away win.

Siblings of the Year: The Korda Sisters
Jessica tasted victory but Nelly won three times, including her first major, and in the process climbed to number one in the world. She then took gold at the Olympic Games. Their brother, Sebastian, reached the fourth round of the men’s singles at Wimbledon. You can’t hide good genes.

Damp Squib of the Year: The Olympic Games
So many world-class golfers (mostly men) declined to take part that the golf competition was pretty meaningless even before the opening ceremony. The top-14 players in the Rolex World Rankings for women made the trip to Tokyo. By comparison, 15 players opted out of the men’s competition. Gentlemen: time to grow a pair.
Nevertheless, congratulations to Xander Shauffele – wear that gold medal with pride.

Ludicrous Regulations of the Year: Kasumigaseki Country Club
Venue for the Olympic Games, it boasts a written dress code that runs to 519 words, and starts: ‘Dressing to reflect the club’s values and heritage means taking care not only with colours, patterns, and designs but also in the way you wear your outfit…’ Nonsense like this has been damaging the reputation of golf for far too long.

Open Mouth, Insert Foot Award: Bryson DeChambeau
After the first round of the Open Championship, Bryson said that his Cobra driver ‘sucks.’ Immediately, and thankfully, Ben Schomin, tour operations manager for Cobra, responded that the golfer was behaving like an eight-year-old. Sometimes he’s not even that mature. To his credit, Bryson agreed and apologised.

Dumb Comment of the Year: Bryson DeChambeau (honourable mention to Jon Rahm)
When asked about not getting vaccinated, and having to withdraw from the Olympics when he caught covid-19, Bryson said: ‘I don’t need it. I’m healthy. I’m a young individual that will continue to be healthy and continue to work on my health.’ Many young people have been seriously ill as a result of initial infection and of long covid. Having a vaccination doesn’t necessarily deprive someone else if you live in a country with plentiful vaccine supplies. And if you’re not badly affected, you could infect someone considerably more vulnerable. Intelligent people can sometimes say incredibly stupid things.

Thrashing of the Year: Ryder Cup
America 19, Europe 9. Further comment would be superfluous.

Optimistic Message of the Year: Tiger Woods
Yes, the end of year PNC Championship is a fun event but to see Tiger Woods and his son Charlie finish second, at 25-under par, far sooner than any of us imagined we’d see Tiger playing again, was a delight.

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