Year in Review: Our Writers Select the Winners and Losers From 2014
Our writers see a lot of golf. They share their favorite moments from the 2014 season and select the winners and losers from the past year. See the course-centered year in review where our panel ranks their favorite (and least favorite) courses played in 2014 here.
Winner of the Year
Shane O’Donoghue, contributor, Golf.com, (@ShaneODonoghue): The LPGA. We gave over our October show, "Living Golf" on CNN, to the women's game and based ourselves at the Evian Championship the previous month. It was one of the best run tournaments I've ever seen, just oozing style. The players were super-accommodating and the help that we received from the LPGA was just terrific. They really appreciated the coverage and went out of their way to help us. Mike Whan, their CEO, was especially good as an interview because he was very open. His vision for the Tour was compelling, and given the attractiveness of the players right now and their engagement with fans and sponsors, the future is very bright.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Michelle Wie has been around forever, it seems. That's the hazard of being a teen phenom. She's barely in her prime, in her mid-20s, and while some observers had written her off as a disappointment, she's way too young for that. Which she proved by winning the U.S. Women's Open. Even if she doesn't win another, which hardly seems likely, Wie got her major and lived up to all that hype. Good for her, good for us.
Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): No need to overthink this one, golf fans: on and off the course, 2014 will be remembered as the year of Rory McIlory. He took his game to a level last seen by Tiger in his prime, and Rory’s quest to win Augusta for a third straight major is going to be the biggest story in golf…until April 12.
David DeNunzio, senior editor, Golf Magazine, (@daviddenunzio): I interviewed Stacy Lewis this year and got an immediate sense that someone special was in the room. She’s the girl next door with flawless fundamentals and an eye for what the women’s game needs to survive. I’m sure she enjoys winning, but Lewis knows the golf is bigger than even the No. 1-ranked player in the world. Her goal? Do everything in her power to make it even bigger.
Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com (@EamonLynch): Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director. The message he sent with the setup for the Opens at Pinehurst No. 2 was about more than just sustainability, it went to the very heart of what constitutes interesting and imaginative golf: firm and fast conditions. The lineup of venues in the next few years—Chambers Bay, Oakmont, Erin Hills and Shinnecock Hills—offers Davis a window to drive that message home. His only bogey of the year was announcing the Open is going back to Torrey Pines in 2021.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Michelle Wie’s win at the U.S. Women’s Open was pretty cool, given the injuries and other struggles she’d gone through, seeming lost in her game and burdened by her fame. It looked for a minute like she might blow it with that double-bogey on 16, but then that clutch birdie on the next hole and a Champagne bath on 18, prompting an online chatter-fest about wet T-shirts. And to top it all off, she twerked.
Alan Bastable, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@Alan_Bastable): The European Ryder Cup team. Has any other team morphed from perennial underdog to dynasty in such a short span? Nicolas Colsaerts summed it up with a three-word tweet: "European domination... simple." Phil Mickelson also deserves a nod in this category for his press conference theatrics at Gleneagles. The delicious awkwardness of his Sunday evening coup d’etat might have been my favorite moment of the year. A shout-out also goes to Lucy Li, who twice broke 80 at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst. Unimpressed? She was 11.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Rory. He was authoring another completely forgettable year until he made a rather abrupt change in his personal life that seemed to wake him up. Then he couldn't stop winning. Two majors in one year isn't a bad way to get unstuck.
Coleman McDowell, Assistant Editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group, (@ColemanMcDowell): No contest, the golf fan won 2014. Rory McIlroy staked his claim as "the man" and is capable of making an international impact unlike anyone else on Tour. Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth proved they have what it takes to contend for majors on Sunday. Patrick Reed won two events and morphed into the ideal Ryder Cup heel with the game to back it up. The best part: Rickie is the old man of this quartet at 26 years old. Additionally, Tiger appears to be fully healthy, Phil has slimmed into shape and monster talents like Sergio and Bubba are making the most of the skills in their mid-30s. Golf is set for the next decade, and you get to sit back and enjoy it.
Loser of the Year
Ritter: The PGA’s Tour’s absurd policy of not disclosing player fines and suspensions has never seemed more archaic. Dustin Johnson’s leave of absence, which was reported by Golf.com to be a six-month suspension for a third positive drug test, and Patrick Reed’s incendiary gay slur in Shanghai, reinforced how ridiculous it is to leave us in the dark regarding conduct-related punishments. Fans deserve better. All other American pro sports leagues make disciplinary actions public. The PGA Tour is nearing a tipping point. Will it proactively change its policy to keep up, or will it wait for a scandal so explosive it has no choice but to bend to the public’s wishes to avoid losing trust (and cash)? That ticking sound isn’t a clock – it’s a time bomb.
Sens: It wasn’t so much unbecoming as pathetic. When the PGA of America, reeling from yet another U.S. loss at the Ryder Cup, announced the formation of a “task force” to address the shortcomings of the American team, it made you want to gather up the organization’s brass and give them a collective hug. Or, better yet, sit back and poke fun at them.
McDowell: Tom Watson entered 2014 with much to gain as the trend-bucking pick at Team USA's Ryder Cup captain who could reverse the U.S.'s fortune in the competition, but he emerged from Gleneagles having his every comment, pairing and benching scrutinized at every turn. It got so bad that he had to pen an open-letter taking responsibility for the loss after Phil Mickelson's comments during the final press conference of the event brought more scrutiny to his captaincy. The good news for Watson? He gets a chance to remove the bad taste anyone has in their mouth as he makes the walk down the 18th at the Old Course in what will be the final British Open for one of the most legendary links players the United States has ever generated.
Lynch: Tim Finchem. For all of the many things he has gotten right in his 20 years atop the Tour, Finchem’s legacy will be one of secrecy, paranoia and obfuscation when it comes to any matter the Tour deems counter to its public image. The refusal to make known any disciplinary proceedings, no matter how minor or major the offense, continues to make the Tour look ridiculous among the large sports leagues.
DeNunzio: Whoever was responsible for muting Johnny Miller’s voice from future U.S. Open telecasts. Yes, Miller is polarizing, but like it was with your father, you come out a better and more informed person when you just shut your trap and listen to what he has to say. The day Keith Jackson stopped calling college football games was a sad one for me. I expect a similar emptiness come this June.
Van Sickle: The PGA of America botched the finish of its PGA Championship. A major championship finished in the dark in rushed fashion and golf protocol was violated, possibly affecting the outcome, when Rory McIlroy was waved up off the last tee—and again to the green—before contenders Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler were out of the way. Then came the Ryder Cup, where team unity was blown to oblivion when Mickelson broke ranks and threw captain Tom Watson under the bus. PGA head Ted Bishop, responsible for both decisions, later got canned for calling Ian Poulter an uncomplimentary name while defending a friend of his, Nick Faldo. It was two black eyes and a bloody nose for the PGA.
Bastable: Zhang Xinjun, the leading money winner on PGA Tour China in 2014. You might have missed it, but the China Golf Association quietly suspended Zhang for six months for signing incorrect scorecards. Yes, scorecards plural—first at the Lanhai Open in Shanghai in June and again at the Cadillac Championship in Beijing in September. That’s a scarlet letter Zhang won’t ever shake.
Morfit: This one is a toss-up between Tiger and Phil, two of the biggest winners the game has ever seen, who won zero tournaments combined. Tiger was less of a golfer this year than he was a reality show, and Phil's agonizing loss at the PGA Championship, in the dark, was somehow even more agonizing than if he'd never been in contention. He looked so aggrieved, like Rory had stolen his lunch money. And the Ryder Cup was just a total train wreck for everyone but especially for Phil, who was the de facto leader of the team but somehow got benched for all of Saturday.
O’Donoghue: Billy Horschel. Won two Fed Ex playoff tournaments, won the Fed Ex Cup and won $11 million, but lost out in a text battle to Webb Simpson for a Ryder Cup berth.
Highlight of the Year
Lynch: A July afternoon with Brad Faxon at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rhode Island. We started with a putting lesson, a hugely enjoyable round at a terrific old Donald Ross course, scathing trash talk along the way and a short game lesson to finish. And as soon as I left he scorched me on Twitter with this.
Gave @eamonlynch a putting lesson before the round today at Wannamoisett. He had one 4 putt and 5 3 putts and said after "that was better"— Brad Faxon (@BradFaxon) July 24, 2014
Set up before lesson. Btw this is a putter pic.twitter.com/mDCZ8SaXwl— Brad Faxon (@BradFaxon) July 24, 2014
Set up after. What looks better? pic.twitter.com/U0XbAVOweC— Brad Faxon (@BradFaxon) July 24, 2014
I still think Brad hits everything thin, so this might be his best shot of the year.
DeNunzio: Taking an 11-hour flight from LAX to Belfast to talk to Rory McIlroy about his game for the October issue cover story. We staged the interview (all of 60 minutes) in the reading room of the Culoden Hotel in his hometown of Holywood. Rory was candid and engaged. He opened up about his technique, and how he felt everything was finally feeling like 2011-12 all over again. And no more than five days later, he’s running away with the British Open. I almost felt like taking some of the credit.
Sens: I took my 10-year-old daughter to the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in Tahoe this summer, and I watched her walk around collecting autographs from famous people she’d never heard of. Her lack of jadedness was sweet, as was the kindness the otherwise jaded celebrities showed her. But the real highlight was when she came back from the range, showed me a fresh signature in her tournament program and said, ‘Papa, this one is from a man named Charles Barkley. I think he was pretty good at basketball, but he didn’t look very good at golf.’”
Bastable: [Cue tinkly piano music.] Taking my three boys (7, 5 and 2) to the Barclays. None of them has yet shown much interest in the game, so I was pleasantly surprised when they pressed up against the ropes at Ridgewood (N.J.) Country Club to sneak a glimpse of Rory, Sergio and the rest. Soon enough, something else caught their attention: the $8 ice-cream cones.
O’Donoghue: Doing exclusive interviews for CNN with the Big Three (Palmer, Player and Nicklaus). Precious time that made me realize, again, what a great job I have. They are all very different men, yet all are very compelling figures.
Ritter: Covering the British Open is great. Slipping into Scotland a few days early to play the Old Course is the greatest. This year under clear skies my foursome, which included fellow Golf.com’ers Coleman McDowell and Eamon Lynch, went unconscious for nine holes and made the turn at a combined 1-over. My magic carpet ride didn’t crash until the treacherous par-5 14th, and a shot at my first sub-80 round went with it. Still, there’s no better golf walk on earth. To play my best round of the year there was a bonus.
Morfit: Rory's victory at the British Open, especially the two eagles on 16 and 18 Saturday, was breathtaking, and I was inside the ropes watching his majestic second shots into each hole. You haven't truly seen what differentiates the best from the rest until you watch a guy like Tiger or Rory hit long irons that paint the sky and drop straight down onto the green near the pin.
McDowell: My highlight goes hand-in-hand with my favorite course played, as I broke 80 at the Old Course. After managing to avoid a slice into the Old Course Hotel and finding the fairway on the famed 17th hole, I missed the green and saw my birdie putt slither past the Road Hole pot bunker. But I dropped the comebacker for par and only needed a double-bogey to break 80. I pushed it to the limit with a three-putt bogey on the 18th hole in front of a pseudo-gallery of onlookers standing in front of the R&A headquarters, but the feeling of relief mixed with adrenaline when I pulled the ball out of the cup at the final hole of the most historic course in the world was something I'll always remember.
Van Sickle: I wasn’t playing particularly well and was regretting my decision to play in a qualifier for the U.S. Senior Amateur, especially when I arrived at Chartiers CC and learned that it was a field of about 30 players for one spot. Whatever. I played, anyway, and some recent putting changes led to me suddenly making five ten-footers I don’t normally make. Next thing you know, I shot 71 and finished first by two strokes. That enabled me to pay for a flight to California and play in my second Senior Am, this time at ritzy Newport CC. I also got to pay for a room at the ritzy Newport Marriott. I wrote a few stories about what it was like for Golf.com but in a nutshell, I made it to match play, barely, then lost a close opening-round match to two-time U.S. Mid-Am champ Tim Jackson. It was fun pretending to be a player for a week.
Lowlight of the Year
DeNunzio: Ryder Cup. Yawn. Until our team learns to actually give a crap—or at least as much a crap as the Europeans seem to give—I’m watching something else. Plus, is national pride a viable motivating factor for millionaire athletes? Whatever the answer, something better click fast. This is starting to feel a lot like the Davis Cup. Did you hear? Switzerland won it this year. That’s right—big deal.
Morfit: For as great as they played, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer put sleeper holds on the Masters and U.S. Opens, respectively. Both tournaments were a foregone conclusion, which for me was a problem. Watson and Kaymer's first major victories were far more interesting.
O’Donoghue: No Dustin Johnson or Tiger Woods at the Ryder Cup. Bizarre years for both.
Bastable: Me pulling a Zhang Xinjun. Yes, shamefully I, too, signed an incorrect scorecard, at an office tournament at North Shore Country Club in Glen Head, N.Y. The gaffe cost my partner (who carried us most of the day) and I a runner-up finish and led to merciless razzing over lunch. “Hey, De Vincenzo, could you pass the salt?”
Ritter: When it comes to griping about tournament logistics, golf writers can be scratch-level complainers. But at the Ryder Cup, bus rides from the press hotel to Gleneagles were cramped, 90+-minute fiascoes that made even the most tranquil journalists moan. I don’t want to pile on…and yet I can’t think of anything else for this space that rivals those shuttles.
Van Sickle: The Ryder Cup press conference that turned into a Phil Mickelson gripe session was awkward and embarrassing. Even worse, the smug British press lapped up every syllable and gloated for days about how the team disunity is why the U.S. will never win the Ryder Cup again. Hard to argue.
Sens: Watched a friend, a 70-year-old lifelong golfer who had never made a hole-in-one, hit a sweet shot on a short-par three 15th at Spyglass. Ball rolled directly toward the cup and would have dropped, except that the group ahead hadn’t replaced the flagstick properly, so it was tilted in the hole and kept the ball out. My buddy crumpled in despair as his Titleist sat there on the edge, rejected, a millimeter from dropping. But no ace. I know. First-world problems, right?
McDowell: On Sunday morning at the Ryder Cup, I made the decision to watch some of the early matches in the media center instead of out on the course, planning to jump out later when a good match emerged. In doing so, I missed seeing Patrick Reed take on all of Europe on the front nine during his singles match with Henrik Stenson. All of his crowd-shushing and hand waving riled up the fans and created an intense atmosphere on a Sunday where drama was hard to find at the end of the day. By the time I made it out to Reed, his antics had been slightly toned down. I learned my lesson, and I'll be on the first tee with Reed on Sunday at Hazeltine in 2016.
Lynch: The Ryder Cup, because life is too short to spend time in Glasgow.
What You Saw That People Should Hear About
Lynch: On a scorching hot Friday at the U.S. Open I was talking to some folks between the range and the putting green. A father was nearby with his disabled son, who was wheelchair-bound with limited motor skills, but clearly an avid golf fan. Graeme McDowell sent his caddie over with a pass into a nearby tent that was air-conditioned. Later he wandered over and talked to the pair for a while. Then, with no cameras or commotion, he wheeled the kid to the edge of the putting green, placed his putter in the kid’s hand, and helped him stroke a few putts. It was a nice show of class.
DeNunzio: I played Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 U.S. Open, on a postcard-perfect fall day a few months back. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but let’s just say this awesomely wacky northwestern links has what it takes to produce one of the most memorable U.S. Opens of all time. If I were you, I’d brush up on knowing everything there is to absorb about this course’s history, layout and the way it’s being tweaked for the Open. It’s going to be a helluva ride.
McDowell: After his painful runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, I watched Phil Mickelson come out from the scorer's area and go straight to his family waiting for him under the adjacent pavilion away from a scrum surrounding David Feherty interviewing Rickie Fowler. One of Mickelson's daughters silently put her head into his chest and didn't say anything, while Phil and Amy huddled together in a group hug. She finally asked if he was ok, and he remained silent for a beat then responded, "I'm ok." They whispered a few more sentences, then she tried to cheer him up by saying "66 is really good!" in reference to his final-round score. Phil was so emotionally spent and visibly frustrated with how the final hole played out at Valhalla that he couldn't respond and shook his head in disbelief. The only thing that made him crack a semblance of a smile was his daughter's arms around him like he was the winner, not the first loser. Seeing Mickelson in a moment where he could actually let his guard down and be a normal human wasn't caught on camera, but it should have been.
Morfit: The back-to-back men's and women's U.S. Opens at Pinehurst was a great idea that should be repeated as often as possible. I enjoyed watching Lexi Thompson crush it on the range, and it was fun watching the LPGA stars like Michelle Wie and Sandra Gal check out the action on the final day of the men's tournament--spectators, just this once, like the rest of us. Also, I interviewed Eri Crum, the best speed golfer in the world, who lives in my hometown. He shot 74 at Bandon--in 45 minutes. Who says there's a slow play problem?
Ritter: As Rory McIlroy made his final putt on a cool, gray afternoon at Hoylake, the massive steel grandstands that horseshoed the 18th green were stuffed bottom-to-top. After sharing a couple of hugs with his caddie and mother, McIlroy disappeared to sign his scorecard and, I’m assuming, to collect himself. Meanwhile, I stood on the turf behind the green and shot the breeze with a few writers while waiting to see my first Open trophy presentation. Ten minutes passed. Then 20. Eventually McIlroy re-appeared, along with co-runners-up Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia, and the ceremony commenced. Here’s what I’ll remember: Not a single fan left their seat while waiting for McIlroy to re-appear for nothing more than a short speech and to lift the claret jug. At Augusta, the green jacket ceremony is typically witnessed by a lean crowd, while most bolt to beat traffic. At the PGA Championship, it was too damn dark to see much of anything, and most folks had already split. But at the British, fans remained stapled to their seats until the entire show was over. Yes, the Brits love Rory McIlroy. But that day I learned how much they also love the game.
O’Donoghue: In the company of my good friend, Pat Finn, who runs the Golfing Union of Ireland, Paul McGinley joined us for lunch at Augusta National one day and blew us both away with how he was planning to win the Ryder Cup. The level of detail with regard to the set up of the course was mightily impressive and how it could be manipulated to best suit the European players. It was also hugely revealing how he well he knew the team; particularly his hard core members, and how to manage them. Guys like Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell need as much information as possible and like to be informed of pretty much everything. They can also handle a lot of info, unlike others, who need to be given one or two things to think about, sort of "point and click". McGinley also had all of the player stats for the Johnnie Walker event on the Ryder Cup course for the last 10 years. He knew exactly where different guys shone on different holes, so his pairings especially, became quite scientific. Needless to say, we kept it to ourselves, but the victory wasn't surprising. Paul McGinley was a supremely good leader of men.
Bastable: In April, I brought my camera, a Nikon D3200, to a Masters practice round and tried my hand at tournament photography. How hard could it be—hey, Rory over here! I figured I’d come home with a trove of epic pictures to triumphantly share with family and friends. I didn’t, though I did catch Nasty Nick giving his caddie an earful. Turns out, being in the right place at the right time to catch the right player in the right moment in the right light is … well, let’s just say there’s no Instagram filter for that.
Van Sickle: Nothing in golf touches the atmosphere at a Ryder Cup in Europe. I got off an hour-long shuttle-bus ride to Gleneagles at around 6:30 a.m., before sunrise. As I began a lengthy walk to the media center, I could hear strange noises in the distance. It was singing, it turns out. The stands around the first tee were already full, people were waiting in line for a seat. And since these fans are used to singing songs at football (soccer) games, some ringleaders had the grandstands rocking with singing and apparently, they’d already been at it for some time. It was sort of like tailgating at a game after you’re already inside the stadium. You have to admire the European enthusiasm. The people were having fun. It’s why the Ryder Cup is special.
Sens: It went viral so you may have seen it already, but that video of a tiny toddler missing a tap-in putt and then throwing an epic tantrum was more than just another reminder of humanity’s need for Internet over-sharing. Like so many things that kids do, it also got at a fundamental truth: this is what failure on the golf course feels like. Immature, maybe, but honest. And, in the end, no less grownup than some of the on-course antics I’ve seen from any number of alleged adults over the years.