Golf took a hit in 2010. There is no other way to say it.
The game, which finally became cool sometime in the mid-1990s thanks to the likes of Michael Jordan, Greg Norman, Kevin Costner, Tiger Woods and assorted rock-stars-turned-golf-junkies, officially became uncool.
You can blame the economy. You can blame Tiger’s fall from grace. You can blame the game’s inherent issues—it takes too long to play, it costs too much and it’s too difficult.
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus summed it up for a lot of people in March when he admitted to Golfweek, “I don’t watch golf on TV. It’s like watching paint dry.” Thanks for the ringing endorsement, G-Bear.
Even “Dilbert,” known for having his finger on the pulse of the workaday nation, piled on. In one strip, Wally, the official office slacker, declared: “I’m no longer content to be useless at work. I decided to take up golf so I can be useless on weekends, too.” In another strip, a pointy-haired employee offered this explanation for not paying attention to a superior’s query: “I was brain-golfing.”
An appearance as the milieu for an episode of “CSI” that included cameos by pro golfers Rocco Mediate, Duffy Waldorf and Natalie Gulbis didn’t help. In fact, it was probably just another nail in the coffin, proof that golf was as passÃ© as “CSI,” a former No. 1-rated show that has lost its edge. (The culprit, by the way, wasn’t one of the golf pros. It was the murder victim himself, killed when he threw a tantrum, broke his club and the jagged edge of the shaft sliced open an artery.)
Golf also had the Kongzilla of all distractions, the Tiger scandal that fueled gossip headlines and late-night talk show punchlines. It was such a bad year in golf that the game’s most-watched moment was Tiger’s mea culpa speech in February.
Even journeyman golfer Jay Williamson told The New York Times after Tiger’s speech, “I kept waiting for him to say, Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”
Thanks to Tiger, golf became a sport to make fun of (along with the almost-too-easy target of sex addiction), and “South Park” went all in. Cartman and friends played the new Tiger Woods Xbox 360 game, in which Tiger loses an endorsement after each mis-hit shot, and harpooned an array of celebs that included David Letterman, Charlie Sheen, Bill Clinton and David Duchovny.
It took six full months for us to get any distance from Tiger and the scandal, and even then he was never far away. His divorce was finalized and his hostess ex-girlfriend, Rachel Uchitel, turned up on TV’s “Celebrity Rehab.” Even while doing promotional appearances for the show, however, she wouldn’t dish on Woods or admit that her relationship with him was relevant. The confidentiality agreement she reportedly signed before canceling a scheduled press conference with heavy-hitter lawyer Gloria Allred may have been money well spent by Tiger’s camp.
It was the first time since he turned pro that Tiger didn’t win a tournament somewhere in the world. Perhaps fittingly, he had a chance to do so in the Chevron World Challenge, an event he hosts, but U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell did to Tiger what Tiger routinely used to do to everyone else: he holed two long putts to snatch away the victory.
Golf won’t be any less Tiger-centric in 2011 as we’ll now be forced to watch as Tiger officially morphs into a comeback story. If you don’t think that’s going to happen, you don’t understand the media.
It was a messy year from start to finish. The most memorable moments seemed to be screw-ups, not victories. Dustin Johnson’s bonehead bunker moment at the PGA Championship sadly overshadowed Martin Kaymer’s breakthrough win. I have to believe Johnson just blanked out and somehow didn’t notice he was in a bunker, although when I played Whistling Straits the next day, I didn’t see how anyone could make that mistake.
At the Ryder Cup, someone told me, “If only Stewart Cink had missed that putt at Turnberry and made those two short putts at the end of his singles match, everyone would be a lot happier.” In that case, Tom Watson would’ve won the ’09 British Open, and the U.S. would’ve retained the Ryder Cup. While Hunter Mahan was the American whose lost point gave Europe the Cup, Cink’s pair of missed five-footers might have been more important.
You probably don’t remember any shots played in the final U.S. Open round by McDowell, other than his two putts for par on the 18th green. But you probably remember in vivid detail Johnson’s final-round meltdown with a three-shot lead—the left-handed chip and subsequent fluffed shot that led to the triple bogey on the second hole and his final-round 82.
You definitely don’t remember the Open runner-up. Ernie Els? Nope. Phil Mickelson? Not quite. Tiger? He was famously fourth. Golf’s forgotten second place finisher was Gregory Havret, a Frenchman few Americans had heard of before he lost the Open by a single stroke. Now go forth to sports bars with this bit of trivia, people, and multiply.
Johnson found inventive ways to lose two major championships, but he was not alone in the department of rumbling, stumbling and bumbling.
Ian Poulter committed the Fumble of the Year, losing the Dubai World Championship during a playoff with Robert Karlsson after his ball slipped from his hand and hit his marker, causing it to flip and change position, a one-shot penalty.
Brian Davis lost the Heritage at Harbour Town during a playoff with Jim Furyk when he played out of the hazard left of the 18th green and nicked a reed during his backswing. He won the Last Honest Man of the Year award for calling a two-shot penalty on himself. An English teacher in Arlington, Texas, had her students write essays about what they would’ve done in a similar situation and took her class to meet Davis before the third round of the PGA Tour stop at nearby Colonial Country Club a month later. “They handed me their journals and gave me a gift as well,” Davis told a Dallas writer after the meeting. “A nice bunch of kids.”
After an abnormally lengthy delay during the Safeway Championship—not all that unusual on the LPGA, where slow play remains an issue—veteran Juli Inkster put a weight on a club and took some practice swings. A viewer called in the infraction, and Inkster was subsequently disqualified. The good news? Hey, the LPGA had a viewer.
China was home to the Scofflaw Event of the Year, the Mission Hills Star Trophy, a loosely run exhibition. Ryuji Imada drew a 26-stroke penalty for accidentally abusing the lift, clean and place rules. Local rules allowed players to drop within a scorecard’s length, but Imada thought it was a clublength. At the same event, Nick Faldo proved he should’ve stayed in the TV booth when he forgot it was stroke-play and picked up his ball on the eighth green. He was disqualified. Even Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie was handed a two-shot penalty because his caddie moved an advertising sign that was in the way, which wasn’t allowed under tourney rules. Too bad because Monty finished two shots back. The winner was retiree Lorena Ochoa, and the exhibition was winner-take-all, so Ochoa went home with the whole $1.28 million purse.
Rafael Cabrera-Bello was the Tin Cup Player of the Year when he failed to finish the South African Open’s second round. Why? He ran out of golf balls, having lost all 11 in his bag before completing the round.
Golf’s rules weren’t the only things that sometimes seemed as if they’d been imported from Bizarro-World. So were some of the scores. Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby shot 59s less than a month apart. Carl Pettersson missed a putt for 59 in the Canadian Open. Ryo Ishikawa birdied nine of the first 11 holes in a tournament in Japan and shot a 12-under 58. But none of those were the Bizarro Round of the Year. That honor went to Trevor Murphy, 25, a former North Carolina-Charlotte star who shot 56 on his own ball during the pro-am of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational at Ohio State. The course was par 70, 5,800 yards, but does it really matter? Murphy had 12 birdies and an eagle. A 56 is a 56.
The Nine-Hole Bizarro Round of the Year belonged to Jamie Kureluk. He shot 61 at a course in Calgary during the RBC Insurance Alberta Open. He played the back nine in 11 under par, posting a 25 with seven birdies and two eagles. Yes, that’s not a typo—25! His comment: “Ridiculous.”
Perhaps that should be golf’s epitaph for 2010. Tiger Woods is now on Twitter. Louis Oosthuizen, son of a South African dairy farmer, won the British Open by seven shots. Lee Westwood snagged the No. 1 world ranking without winning a major. Women’s golf watched its No. 1 player retired for the second straight year. Jonathan Byrd won a playoff in the dark with a hole-in-one. Officials of the shrinking Nationwide Tour, following the lead of officials of the shrinking LPGA Tour, played the “less is more” card. Robert Garrigus, not knowing he needed only a double bogey on the 72nd hole to win the St. Jude Classic, scrambled to make triple and then lost in a playoff. The American Ryder Cup team bought all-new raingear on the first afternoon of play in Wales because their team raingear was leaky.
Hurry up and get here, 2011. We’re ready for an upgrade.