It’s a matter of no consequence which Dan Jenkins football-novel character spouted the following philosophy: “What could’ve happened did. Scoreboard done said so.”
That line nicely wraps up Golf Year 2014, in equal parts a year to remember and a year to forget. There was plenty of good, bad and ugly to go around and no, that’s not a reference to John Daly.
Before we pack up 2014 and put it away in storage, let’s take a look back and hand out awards to those who deserved them. After all, scoreboard done said so.
Nearly Man of the Year: Let’s hear it for Rickie Fowler, whose major championship finishes were, in order, fifth, second, second and third. Strong stuff. We were that close to The Year of Orange. His 77th-place showing at The Players is merely further proof that it’s not a major and never will be. Sorry, commissioner.
Best Performance We’ve Already Forgotten: Amateur astro-photographer Jimmy Walker became a star hisownself with three wins before the middle of February — one in the fall wraparound schedule, one in Hawaii and one at Pebble Beach. Three wins in one season but the last was 10 months ago. Up next: Walker’s encore.
Least Relevant Superstar: Back problems and ensuing disc surgery felled Tiger Woods, who finished only three tournaments and recorded finishes of 25th 69th and 80th. The 25th at Doral might have been the worst of the three, funny enough, since he was on the verge of contention after an impressive third-round 66 but then blew up to an ugly 80. Is there any other kind of 80?
Biggest Hawaiian Sucker-Punch: Tiger Woods isn’t known for hilarious quips, but he comes up with the occasional funny line. When an NBC interviewer asked about his 2015 schedule and whether he might play in Hawaii, Woods answered with a laugh, “It won’t be the Tournament of Champions.” No, it won’t.
Major of the Year: Not a big year for drama in the men’s majors. Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open by a touchdown, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy won majors while playing the final nine with a cushion. The PGA was tainted by a finish in the dark. So how watching Michelle Wie and her tabletop putting stance struggle in to land her a U.S. Open at Pinehurst? Craziest last-hole performance goes to Mo Martin, who won the Women’s British Open with an eagle on the 72nd hole, her first eagle of 2014.
Ploy of the Year: Knowing that Tiger Woods probably wasn’t going to play in the PGA Championship, mild-mannered Steve Stricker summoned his inner cheesehead and pulled his courtesy car into the prime Valhalla parking spot reserved for former PGA champ Woods. In other words, it was the closest anyone has come to mistaking Stricker for Tiger.
World’s Finest Backup: Since Rory McIlroy eliminated any Player of the Year controversy with two major victories and a World Golf Championship, let’s debate who’s No. 2. While Germany’s Martin Kaymer impressively snagged a Players and a U.S. Open, he didn’t back up those victories the way Bubba Watson validated his Masters and Northern Trust Open wins with four other top-3 finishes. Also, Bubba cried more. And better.
Oracle of the Year: Said Rory McIlroy, who noted that he won majors in 2011 and 2012 but not last year when he had a dismal season: “I’ll try to make up for that with two this year.” Good call, Rory. Any particular Wall Street stocks you like for next year?
Biggest Era That Didn’t Happen: The LPGA finally got the star turn it had been waiting for, Michelle Wie winning the Women’s U.S. Open. But an injured wrist wiped out her momentum and kept her from having a potential Tiger-esque year. Still maybe the most popular win of the year, though. And there’s a chance that in the long run, it could prove nearly as significant as McIlroy’s double-dip.
Best Facelift: Pinehurst No. 2.
Best Fake British Open With Trees: Pinehurst No. 2.
Longest Two Weeks of Our Lives: Men’s and Women’s Opens at Pinehurst No. 2 in back-to-back weeks. Some golf fans may still be in line trying to get a table at the Southern Pines Outback Steakhouse. TGFCS — Thank Gooodness For Curb Service.
Most Stunning Finish: Matt Jones drains a silly 40-footer on the Shell Houston Open’s final hole to force a playoff, then impossibly holes out from a bunker to beat Matt Kuchar on the first extra hole. C’mon, man, that’s a video-game finish.
Biggest Karmic Mongolian Reversal: Two weeks after Houston, Matt Kuchar impossibly holes out from a bunker on the last hole to win the Heritage Classic at Harbour Town. Remind us again, whatever happened to Matt Jones?
Best Blitzkrieg: Who birdies the last seven holes to win a tournament? Kevin Streelman at Hartford’s Travelers Championship, that’s who, for a closing 64 to deny Aaron Baddeley, Sergio Garcia and K.J. Choi. Try that sometime, Matt Jones.
Beehavior of the Year: Ignore the pun and hand this award to Pablo Larrazabal, who ran for his life and jumped into a pond to escape a swarm of hornets that attacked him during the Malaysian Open. Debbie Downer Reminder: Long after humans no longer walk this earth, the insects will still be here.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jarrod Lyle missed two and a half years battling leukemia for a second time, then returned to the PGA Tour in October and finished 31st at the Frys.com Open. Even more impressive, he was passed over for a sponsor’s exemption and had to earn that Frys.com the hard way, via Monday qualifying.
Grinches of the Year: The Frys.com execs who didn’t give Jarrod Lyle a sponsor’s exemption. So much for the PGA Tour’s old charity slogan, “Anything’s possible.”
Overlooked Comeback Player of the Year: Nobody tells J.B. Holmes that golf isn’t brain surgery. Holmes capped his recovery from brain surgery in 2011 (and a broken ankle from roller-blading in 2013) by capturing the Wells Fargo Championship. It wasn’t easy, by the way. Holmes had to roll in a dicey three-foot bogey putt for the win.
Comeback Player of the Year, Honorable Mention: Thanks to selective memory, you forgot how Rory McIlroy kicked away the Honda Classic. He led the tournament wire-to-wire but managed to overcome a 63-66 start with a closing 74, then lose in a four-man playoff when only one member of the foursome — Russell Henley — birdied a reachable par 5. In Augusta, McIlroy was paired with a club member as a marker — and got smoked when the member shot a 2-under 70. When you bounce back to win the last two majors of the year, none of that matters. Not even that famous ex-girlfriend, whatshername.
Nicest Work If You Can Get It: Billy Horschel’s back-to-back wins at the BMW and Tour Championships clinched the FedEx Cup title. His total winnings for those two weeks — $12,880,000. Or about what Bill Gates gets every month for his interest-earning checking account.
Hijacker of the Year: Do you actually remember any of the Sunday singles matches from the Ryder Cup? No, the only thing you remember about the Ryder Cup was Phil Mickelson blowing up the post-loss press conference and poking an even bigger hole (if that’s possible) in Tom Watson’s captaincy with his critical comments.
Worst Losing Streak: The PGA of America. The PGA Championship finishes in the dark due to late TV starting times and golf etiquette goes awry when leader Rory McIlroy is allowed to hit to the final green before previous group putts out, a point-of-order blunder for which PGA of America czar Ted Bishop later apologizes.
The Tom Watson Ryder Cup captaincy, a Bishop production, sinks like a rock in Scotland, capped by a press conference mutiny. A task force is formed to determine why America sucks at golf and Bishop gets humiliatingly canned with a month left in his term for responding to Ian Poulter’s remarks with a gender-specific slur. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…
Best Night Game: The inexcusable PGA Championship finish at Valhalla.
Worst Reason to Get Fired: The aforementioned Bishop got sacked for his comments in response to Ian Poulter because Bishop was defending Nick Faldo’s honor. Er, sorry — Sir Nick Faldo, Europe’s worst Ryder Cup captain since Mark James.
Golfer Most Likely to be Eaten by a Blood-Sucking Alien: The only golfer going into space in the near future is Andy Sullivan, who won a ride in space for making a hole-in-one at the KLM Open. The prize, valued at $95,000, was put up by XCOR Space Expeditions. Will Sullivan have to channel his inner Ellen Ripley/Sigourney Weaver for the trip? One other thing to remember while you’re in space, Sullivan: If you think you’re alone, you’re not.
Best Texas Chainsaw Massacre Imitation: The only nominee and winner is Greg Norman, who was trying to trim hedges while slicing off his left hand — or was it vice versa? Luckily, the Shark can make jokes about the incident since he was able to recover and play golf in the fall’s OHL Classic pro-am in Mayakoba, Mexico. “It’s like riding a bike,” Norman said. He probably meant playing golf, not trimming brush with a chainsaw.
Most Outstanding Mozart Replica: Young guns don’t get any younger than Lucy Li, the 11-year-old who played in the U.S. Women’s Open and became the event’s youngest-ever competitor.
Best Correct Creation of Irony, Unlike Alanis Morissette: You might have missed it in the fall when two-time former major champion John Daly signed an endorsement deal with Rock Bottom Golf.
Best Pigtails and Braces: Lucy Li. Everything is cuter at 11.
Most Chagrined Golfer of the Year: Catherine O’Donnell at the U.S. Women’s Open because, she said, 11-year-old Lucy Li “hit it by me twice.”
Smartest Game Plan: Lucy Li, again, asked what she was going to do after her round: “Eat more ice cream.” Wonder why Jack Nicklaus never thought of that?
The Year of the Encore: What happened in 2014’s majors that has occurred only three times in the last 34 years? The answer is, all four men’s majors were won by players who had previously won a major. Rory, who won two, already had a PGA and a U.S. Open. Kaymer won a PGA at Whistling Straits and Bubba Watson already scored a Masters. That last happened in 2000 and before that, in 1980. So 2014 was actually more special than you imagined.
Mind-Blowing Stat of the Year: Waste Management signed a 10-year deal to extend its sponsorship of the Phoenix Open through 2025. Just how many beer cans and hangovers later is that, exactly? (Notice how I stayed classy and did’t use “vomit cleanup” instead? You’re welcome.)
Tournament of the Year: In an actual real award instead of my other fake ones, the Waste Management Phoenix Open was named the PGA Tour Tournament of the Year in voting by other PGA tournament directors at a meeting in November. The WMPO, as insiders and headline-writers know it, was also voted “Most Engaged Community” and “Best Sales Year Over Year.” I think those last two awards were supposed to be “Most Broken Engagements” (see the infamous Bird’s Nest party area where players and caddies remove their rings before entering) and “Best Sales Beer Over Beer.” Or maybe I’m just being cynical again.
The Fastest Days in Golf: For a sport in which slow play is a perpetual problem with no solution, isn’t it odd that golf has the fastest off-season of any sport? So what did you do during those glorious 10 days off after the end of the 2014 season and the start of the 2015 PGA Tour season in October? Me, I wrote a novel, worked on building a space ship in my backyard and wrote two Supreme Court decisions. You know, nothing special.
Witchcraft of the Year: All Rory McIlroy did in the Memorial Tournament’s opening round was fire 63 en route to what would surely be an easy victory. The next morning, ex-girlfriend and tennis star Caroline Wozniacki changed her Twitter avatar to a photo of her dressed as a witch and stirring a cauldron. Rory shot 78 that day. Coincidence or bewitchery? Ask Samantha and Darren Stephens.
Best Player Who Didn’t Win Anything on His Own Continent That Counted: For a mere 21-year-old, Jordan Spieth had a very good year. A chance to win the Masters and a few other events, but no wins. He was one of the few bright spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup squad. After the season, he won the Australian Masters with a closing 63 and romped to victory in the unofficial outing that Tiger hosted at Isleworth. Two wins, two impressive displays of golf. This could be the start of something big.
One For The Thumb Award: Not only did John Daly win a tournament anywhere in the world for the first time in a decade, he also announced that he is officially engaged to his latest longtime girlfriend, Anna Cladakis. For Daly, this will be wife No. 5 but ahh, what the hell, just give him a four.
The Pointless Cup: While the 2015 PGA Tour is on winter vacation, note that Bubba Watson is the leading money-winner. For all the money in the world, name any of the current top three players on the FedEx Cup points list. What’s that? Yes, I accept your surrender. There’s no way you coughed up Robert Streb (No. 1), Sang Moon Bae or Ben Martin. Don’t worry, LGL — Lotta Golf Left.
Best Year-End Awards Column That Ends on This Page: Oh, I wasn’t expecting this! I don’t have anything prepared! Well, I’d like to thank the academy and all the little people who made this possible…