We will all remember 2020 but not for the happiest of reasons. Martin Vousden looks back on a year like no other and dishes out his annual awards
About Bloody Time Award: European and PGA Tours
Both announced beefed up policies to deal with the ever-present menace of slow play. An immediate raft of fines and penalties were handed out to the laggards – just joking.
About Time Two Award: The USGA and R&A
Golf’s governing bodies produced the first part of their long-anticipated investigation into the distance we hit the ball (and by ‘we’ I mean Tour pros). They concluded that the ball is going farther, many great courses are in danger of becoming obsolete and in response they will jointly do… not very much. But rest assured, it is uppermost in their minds.
Steady on There Award: Kessler Korain
Patrick Reed’s caddie punched or pushed an Australian heckler who got a tad too obnoxious at the Presidents Cup, in the wake of Reed being branded a cheat. Although this actually happened at the end of 2019 it was too late to be included in last year’s round-up, but has to be mentioned as it’s one of the few properly documented instances of the shit hitting the fan.
Do I care? Award: Patrick Reed
Despite all the rumours and accusations about breaking the rules (not cheating, you understand), he continued to play superb golf. It’s almost as if he enjoys having the rest of the world against him.
Big Mouth Award: Paul Azinger
Zinger is a lifetime recipient as he only opens his mouth to change feet. This time he annoyed virtually every European player and fan by suggesting that Tommy Fleetwood needed to win in America for his talent to be properly recognised. The following week Tyrell Hatton won at Bay Hill so, according to Azinger’s logic, he’s a better golfer than our Tommy.
Expensive Post of the Year: Scott Piercy
The 41-year-old golfer attracted widespread condemnation after his Instagram feed posted a meme about gay politician Pete Buttigieg’s withdrawal from the race to become Democratic challenger for the Presidency. It showed a crude cartoon with the message: ‘Peter pulls out early from behind.’ Major sponsors Titleist, Footjoy and J Lindberg immediately withdrew sponsorship from Piercy, despite his hurried apology. Tweet in haste, repent in leisure.
Catastrophe of the Year: Coronavirus
We were all obliged to become familiar with terms such as ‘pandemic’, ‘social isolating’, ‘stockpiling’ and ‘Bloody hell, it’s Armageddon.’ Golf and just about every other sporting and social event around the world was cancelled while we held our breath and watched the death toll mount. Overnight, our devotional obsession with trivialities, such as hitting a small ball into a hole, was thrown into stark relief.
Daft Question of the Year
We all probably went a bit crazy during the Covid-19 pandemic but pride of place goes to the GolfTV viewer (who will remain anonymous) who, in a Q&A with Tiger Woods, asked: ‘What gum do you chew in competition?’
Barrel-Bottom Scraping of the Year
In fairness, the covid-19 pandemic caused we golf writers to not always cover ourselves in glory, in our desperation for things to write. Pride of place goes to Golf which, in one of its daily newsletters, had an article about ‘the best 4 ways to clean your golf clubs.’
Bragging Rights of the Year: Joel Dahmen
In May, after shooting two-under par over the first seven holes, Joel Dahmen, a utility player with the Chicago Cubs baseball franchise and keen amateur golfer, then made 10 threes and a two to play the last 11 holes in 12-under. His front nine, at the par 72 Mesa Country Club was a respectable 32 but then he went batshit crazy, recording 26 on the inward half, for a total of 58. I have an effigy of him into which regularly stick pins.
Welcome Back Award: Ross McGowan
Sergio Garcia won for the first time since his 2017 Masters triumph; Martin Laird tasted victory after a seven-year drought; and Stewart Cink lifted silverware again for the first time since he won The Open in 2009. But pride of place to Ross McGowan, who also won after an 11-year hiatus, in his case between his first and second victories. He did it in style at the Italian Open, birdieing two of the last three holes.
WTF? of the Year: Harris English
At the Northern Trust, the first of the FedEx Playoff events, Harris shot 64, 66, 66 and 69 to finish at 19-under par. He was eleven strokes – count ‘em, eleven strokes behind winner Dustin Johnson, who finished at minus-30 (67, 60, 64, 63).
Missed Opportunity of the Year: Dustin Johnson
In the second round of that Northern Trust, Johnson was 11-under par through 11 holes. A birdie on any of the last seven holes would have seen him shoot under 60. He couldn’t manage it. Big girl’s blouse.
Finale of the Year: The Masters
Dustin Johnson demonstrated why he was the pre-tournament favourite, in imperious style, and we also had the joy of seeing the top-three ranked golfers in the world, atop the leaderboard in a major, for the first time ever, as the Masters took up its unusual November calendar slot.
Caddie of the Year: Sophia Popov
Well, not quite but three weeks before squeaking into the AIG Women’s British Open at the last minute, Sophia was carrying the bag for her friend Anne van Dam. Coming into the first women’s major of the season at Troon in August, the German Popov had won $108,000 US in 33 events. By winning not only her first major but her first tournament, she pocketed $675,000 and yet the money, while important, means nowhere near as much as the title.
Dunderheaded Pedants of the Year: LPGA and USGA
Immediately after winning the first women’s major of the season, Popov was told she couldn’t compete in the second major, The ANA Inspiration, three weeks later. Or the US Women’s Open in December. She wasn’t a member of the LPGA tour when she won at Royal Troon, so that was that. Exceptions can be made to any rule if the will is there; in this case it clearly wasn’t.
Finish of the Year: Jon Rahm
The second FedEx Playoff event, the BMW Championship, was played over an extremely tough Olympia Fields course. So when Jon Rahm got into the clubhouse at four-under par after a superb 66 he looked home and hosed. Except Dustin Johnson made an almost impossible 43-foot putt on the 18th to force a playoff. Jon then went even better, nailing his own birdie effort of 66-feet to snatch the title. Never before have the players ranked one and two in the world gone head-to-head with quite such drama.
Brain fade of the Year: Jon Rahm
In the third round of that same BMW Championship Rahm walked onto the fifth green and picked up his ball to be cleaned. Unfortunately, before doing so he forgot to put a marker behind it. Without the one-stroke penalty he accrued, he wouldn’t have needed a playoff.
Unlikeliest Major Winner of the Year: Bryson DeChambeau
The beefed-up, musclebound behemoth is always a contender in routine tour events, considering that he hits the ball into the next time zone and usually hits a wedge into par fives. But the US Open, with jungle rough and lightning fast greens is supposed to be the template for solid, unexciting but efficient golf – find the fairway, find the middle of the green and don’t three-putt have always been the USGA’s mantra for success. One more certainty has disappeared from our lives.
Portent of the Year: PGA and European Tours
When they announced a ‘strategic alliance’ that was definitely not a takeover – no sirree – the world’s two biggest tours surely killed the idea of Premier League Golf (PLG) stone dead. Despite major financial backing from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, plans for PLG, which would effectively have been a world tour, started to unravel when Rory McIlroy said he wasn’t interested. Such a venture could only succeed if the biggest names got involved, and when Rory’s view was quickly endorsed by Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm, the proposal was sunk (but for a while there the leaders of the two big tours were wearing brown trousers).
Meltdown of the Year: Danny Lee
In the second round of the US Open, Lee faced a four-foot putt for birdie on the 18th hole. Six shots later he had to write a quadruple bogey eight onto his card. He tried on the first two putts but then, as the Scots say, ‘Lost the heed’ and batted the ball to and fro in obvious fury and frustration. He later apologised but didn’t need to; we’ve all been there.
Shot of the Year: Collin Morikawa
In only his 28th appearance on the PGA Tour, where he had already won twice, and in only his second major, Collin Morikawa walked away with the US PGA Championship. He sealed the deal on the par four 16th by driving the green to seven feet and holing out for an eagle two. He shot 65-64 at the weekend to join Nicklaus, Woods and McIlroy as youngest winners of what is usually the forgotten major.
Absentee of the Year: The Open Championship
When the R&A decided to pull the plug it was the right decision but nevertheless the calendar looked decidedly odd without golf’s oldest major. Roll on 2021.
Player of the Year: Bryson DeChambeau
Dustin Johnson has undoubtedly achieved new heights of consistency but once DeChambeau came back from lockdown looking like the Incredible Hulk, he was virtually the only story in golf for the remainder of the season. But why is he so difficult to love?
Losses of the Year:
Quirky, innovative but also respectful of golf’s history, one of the game’s pre-eminent course architects died in January. He has gone but what a legacy he left behind.
Mickey, meanwhile, was forced to retire early because of problems with her feet but won 82 times so who knows what she would have achieved if she had stayed healthy. Ben Hogan, no less, described her as having the best swing he ever saw.
The man who famously missed a tiddler to win the 1970 Open Championship at St Andrews, and in the process belied the old adage that no-one remembers who comes second, was nevertheless a superb golfer and a lovely man.
A fine golfer who won 21 tournaments, three in succession, and competed in eight Ryder Cups, he was nevertheless best-known as the voice of BBC television’s golf coverage, a job he started in 1961. Chatty, irreverent and often very funny, his voice was the soundtrack to some of the greatest golfing moments of the last 60 years.