Reviewing 2021 in Men's Golf
AS WE approach the end of 2021, what better time to reflect on what has been a memorable golfing year?
It has been a memorable season on both sides of the Atlantic, with Hideki Matsuyama winning The Masters, Phil Mickelson doing it for the old boys by becoming the oldest ever major winner when he took the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, Jon Rahm establishing himself as world No1 with a sparkling success at the US Open and Collin Morikawa winning The Open at Royal St George’s before finishing in sensational style by seeing off Europe’s finest to take the DP World Tour Championship and become the first American to claim the Race to Dubai.
We saw a young and vibrant American team, packed with twenty somethings, thrash Europe in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. It was a painful three days for Padraig Harrington and his European team as we saw what was surely the end of an era. The European team contained four players on the wrong side of 40 - Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia. For Westwood and Poulter the Ryder Cup is probably over.
The merchants of doom have predicted that we are now in for a spell of American domination, and when you take a look at the team that won in Wisconsin it would be all too easy to ask where the next European victory is going to come from. Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger surely have many more contests ahead of them. And for Dustin Johnson it is all about whether he can keep himself motivated.
But don’t despair. Europe will be able to call upon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry and the incredible Viktor Hovland as the spine of their team. And Matt Fitzpatrick is too good a golfer to endure a third Ryder Cup without scoring a single point. The Hojgaard twins, Rasmus and Nicolai, Sam Horsfield, Guido Migliozzi, to name but four, represent the future for European golf.
The Ryder Cup might well turn out to have been a watershed for Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irishman found himself dropped for a session for the first time in his career and then went out and defeated Schauffele 3&2 in the singles. Afterwards he gave a tearful interview in which he apologised for not contributing more. Earlier in the year, McIlroy had turned to renowned swing coach Pete Cowen and promptly won the Wells Fargo Championship. It turned out to be a false dawn.
After the Ryder Cup he went home and took the time to reflect. He returned to action at the CJ Cup and promptly won, beating a world-class field. McIlroy announced that he had decided the time had come to trust his swing and stop trying to do it by numbers. He is arguably the most naturally gifted golfer on the planet and has worked with Michael Bannon for most of his life. McIlroy thanked Cowen for his efforts but added that he was going to return to Bannon. He then turned up in Dubai and would probably have won the DP World Tour Championship had it not been for an outrageous piece of ill fortune at the par-four 14th during the final round. After hitting a huge drive, he had only 55 yards left and struck what looked like a wonderful pitch, but it hit the flag and rebounded into a bunker. It cost him a bogey and he lost focus and dropped two more shots. But he finally looks like the player we all know him to be. It will be fascinating to follow his progress in 2022.
We saw the emergence of a young South African called Garrick Higgo. He won twice on the European Tour and then headed across the Atlantic and won there too. Make no mistake - the left-handed South African is a major champion in waiting. And keep you eye on Wilco Nienebar, a 21-year-old South African who hits the ball even further than DeChambeau.
And in America, Sam Burns won twice. Burns appears to have it all. He hits the ball a long way (don’t they all?), is a terrific iron player, has a great short game and a wonderful temperament.
After three years in the wilderness, Jordan Spieth returned to the winners’ circle and seemed to contend every time he teed it up. We have all missed seeing him countering away with caddie Michael Greller as they plot their way to the top of the leaderboard. And Spieth’s return to form will convince Rickie Fowler that his downturn need not be terminal. Like so many before him, Fowler decided to change a swing that had served him so well. And his game fell off a cliff. He has tumbled out of the top 50 in the world rankings, which means no guaranteed place in any of the majors. He has now decided to rip it all up and go back to what served him so well for so long and there have been some signs that he is slowly coming back to his best.
Tiger Woods has resurfaced once again as he continues his recovery from a horrific car crash that nearly cost him his life. It seems that we still cannot get enough of the 15-time major champion, who hosted the Hero World Challenge and later entered the PNC Championship alongside his son, Charlie.
Thankfully, we saw crowds returning to tournaments around the world as we get back to some sort of normality. Many top Tour pros admitted to struggling while competing without galleries at the height of the pandemic.
But perhaps the most remarkable achievement of all belonged to Bernhard Langer. At the age of 64, the extraordinary German became the oldest winner on the Champions Tour and capped it all off by winning the Charles Schwab Cup for a SIXTH time. He then promptly went under the surgeon’s knife in order to sort out a troublesome knee injury and prepare to do it all again next year. The man really is something else.
Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography
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