Golf is a mental game. It requires clear thinking and smart decision-making — and by that we don’t mean picking the right club. We mean tricky choices with lasting implications. Some genius moves were made in 2018. Here are the brains of the operation.
A Major Reshuffle
Widely regarded as the runt of the major championship litter, the PGA Championship has long been relegated to the dog days of August, when TV ratings tumble and the sweltering heat takes many venues out of play. By deciding to move it to May (effective 2019), between the Masters and the U.S. Open, the PGA of America has front-ended its main event, priming it for maximum attention while bringing historic courses back into the potential mix. No matter who nabs the Wanamaker, it’s a win-win. With the PGA bumped up, the “fifth major” — the Players Championship — will move to March, where it’ll become a worthy palate-teaser for the season’s feast.
Admit it: You never understood the old FedEx Cup scoring system anyway. No one did. As of ’19, things will be simpler, with the points leader spotted a head start at the season-ending Tour Championship and the rest of the field positioned according to their place in the standings. The guy who wins at East Lake wins the FedEx Cup. No more byzantine mathematics. And, in the spirit of rapid service, it’ll be delivered to you quicker. To avoid a concussion with the NFL, golf’s playoffs will be reduced to three events and conclude a full month earlier in 2019.
The Flat stickler
You never forget your first love. Except that Tiger Woods did in the midst of his comeback season, abandoning his faithful Scotty Cameron putter for a pair of mallets that betrayed his trust. At the BMW Championship, Woods went back to dancing with the partner that won him 13 of his 14 majors. The Tour Championship was soon his. TaylorMade got clever with its sticks as well, signing Woods to a high-profile equipment deal when his comeback was a question mark, not an exclamation point. None of this would have mattered had Woods not thrown a Hail Mary in 2017, submitting to fusion surgery, a last chance to shore up a battered vertebra he’d tried to have repaired three times before. Tiger knew he’d lose flexibility, but he took a calculated risk. And, well, look who’s back.
Some might refer to the marketing of Tiger and Phil’s emerging friendship as manufactured. But no one can dispute that their press conference smack-talk and practice-round sessions have paid off nicely, in the form of a $9 million match in Vegas on Nov. 23. “We’ll play for whatever makes him uncomfortable,” Woods said of the head-to-head. They won’t be the only ones with wagers on the action, which will feature in-match prop bets — a savvy move that seizes on the country’s legalized-gambling buzz.
It was one giant step for PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua to accept a post as president of NBC Sports, but also one very savvy leap for the network, which owns Golf Channel and now has a seasoned insider in its midst to hammer out TV contracts and other mutually beneficial deals.
Two Lefty Feats
He’s no Michael Jackson, but the sight of Phil Mickelson dancing in a Mizzen & Main dress shirt was something of a thriller — a marketing move that proved to be a runaway viral success and lent Lefty a little bit of hip. It wasn’t his only stab at rebranding. “I got this Twitter thing down,” he declared with his first social media post on August 22. A few dozen tweets and 242,000 followers later, who’d disagree? (Except, maybe, the doubters, who waited what seemed like forever for Phil to finally apologize for his legacy-smudging antics on the unlucky 13th green at Shinnecock.)
The Rest Was History
After injuring his wrist in May at the Players, Brooks Koepka could have been shortsighted and rushed back into action at the Masters. Instead, he took the long view, skipping Augusta to give himself time to mend. Two major titles later, we’d say he healed up nicely.
By definition, almost everything wise guy Bryson DeChambeau does is a genius move. He’s not the Mechanic; more like the Mechanical Engineer. Though we can’t pretend to understand all the science behind his swing, we also can’t argue with the results (three wins in the 2017-18 season). And in the age of Robo-pros, DeChambeau has opted for a different sort of sameness—as in, his idiosyncratic choice to cut all his clubs to the same length. Gotta tip your Kangol to him.
Return to Gender
Sure, those guys are good. But you know what? So are those gals. In a move we’d probably classify as better late than never, the governing bodies gave the senior women an event they deserve: the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. Amazing. But ladies’ day at Augusta? The idea once seemed about as likely as playing the Masters on the moon. But not only have the good ol’ boys admitted women members, they’ve announced the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship, starting in 2019. What’s next? Condi for club president?
Statutes of Liberty
Until recently, the rules of golf were like the Ten Commandments: handed down from on high and composed in Aramaic, or some other language very few of us could grasp. But lo, the governing bodies looked down upon the good golfers of the world and resolved, in good faith, to simplify the guidelines. The freshly revised rules are trimmed down, common-sensical and easy-to-digest. Hallelujah. Even more rules common sense prevailed in 2018. The USGA and R&A disallowed TV viewers from calling in rules violations (sorry, this isn’t American Idol) and the USGA reduced the U.S. Open playoff format from an 18-hole marathon to a two-hole aggregate sprint. Thank you very much.
Eddie Pepperell Tweets Nothings
Whether he’s trolling Patrick Reed, taking aim at himself, or musing on the nature of success and failure, no professional golfer — check that, no professional athlete — reaches such heights of comedy or such depths of profundity in 240 characters or less.
Bubba Watson Switches Golf Balls
Those pink Volviks sure were pretty. Less so Bubba’s play. So at the close of 2017, when his endorsement deal with the company ended, Watson swapped his Volvik for the Titleist Pro V1 and went on to a resurgent season, punctuated by three wins.
There will always be sandbaggers, and vanity-caps, and handicaps that travel better or worse than others. But with plans in the works for a universal handicap system, one that applies to every golfer on the globe, there will be far fewer of all those unwanted things.
Rickie Fowler Opts for a Stand Bag
The best player to never win a major is also the best player to bail on his bulky, caddy-busting staff bag, having swapped it out for a regular stand bag — you know, because it’s hecka cool.
Look! Up in the sky! It’s not the ball you just popped up. It’s a beverage-cart drone, delivering the beer you so badly need.
Brandel Chamblee Lets His Clubs Do the Talking
The commentator often charged with being a player-hater reminded everyone he’s actually a player by qualifying for the British Senior Open.
KPMG Pays Stacy Lewis during Maternity Leave
Lewis didn’t ask, but KPMG offered, in a first-of-its-kind move that we hope will set a precedent in the women’s game.
Emphasizing F.U.N. at the Safeway Open
Wanna really grow the game? Try “festivilizing” a golf tournament. That’s the term organizers use at an event whose priorities are ordered this way: food, wine, music and golf.