2010 in review: Another magical golf season

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods during the BMW Championship.

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9:10:08 PM ET. 09/01/2014




PosNameTodayThruScore
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Well, here we are, finally, at the end of the long, winding road after yet another magical golf season. Why was this one magical? Because they all are, frankly, and this one was no exception, with some brilliant intrigue sprinkled in among the seasonlong soap opera otherwise known as “When, If Ever, Will Tiger Contend Again?” (No long-term worries there. The Great One will be fine.)

As for me, as the years creep on and the hair grays, it gets more challenging by the day just to remember the route from the office to home each night. That said, mixed into the yearly travels this season were some memories I will not, and cannot, soon forget.

Here’s one: Team Mickelson winning the Masters, with smiling Amy Mickelson there to share in Phil’s triumph, and his caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, so eloquently capturing in words what it all meant as he stood tearfully in stocking feet behind Augusta National’s storied 18th green. It was a feel-good story that touched absolutely everyone. It just felt right watching that guy slip on a green jacket.

I’ll never forget catching up with Dustin Johnson in the parking lot after his Sunday 82 at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. I figured the kid would be completely shattered, seeing a national Open slip away on a golf course upon which he has been Paul Bunyan. “How long will this round stick with you?” he was asked. He shrugged. No big deal. When he said he’d be over it by the time he got onto his plane in an hour, you actually believed the kid.

Any Open Championship at St. Andrews is special, as the Golfweek gang is blessed to be able to spend it with the fine, hospitable folks at the Dunvegan Hotal, just a solid wedge away from the 18th green at the Old Course. The pints are cold and, as always, we visit the graves of Old and Young Tom Morris down the street. It’s difficult to spend a week in that town without feeling golf inside the very fibers of your soul. Making it more special this summer was taking my oldest boy, Keith, along for five pre-tournament rounds across Scotland (my all-time favorite, Royal Dornoch, included), the highlight seeing him light up ear to ear after shooting 84 on the brutal, windswept links at Kingsbarns.

An aside: If you love this game, you must get to St. Andrews to experience the Open. Stick it on the bucket list.

The final memory of 2010 I won’t soon shake: the Ryder Cup in Wales. Autumn rain in Wales? Who knew? The original fans at Woodstock have little on the spectators who trudged through the muddy slop outside the gallery ropes for four days at Celtic Manor (yes, there was a bonus Monday), but, hey, Mother Nature can be a rude lass. And those who were there and muddled through got their reward on Day 4 with some spectacular golf and a Ryder Cup that finally, thankfully, lived up to its hype with the matches narrowed to the final two players on the golf course, Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan. Only one was able to take a bow, yet they both deserved to take one. Win or lose, having the weight of that little 17-inch trophy on one’s shoulders has to feel like hoisting a bus.

Those were a few highlights. A former newspaper sports editor of mine used to start his weekly columns like this: In the smorgasbord of sports, some tasty crumbs through the cracks. He’s right, and golf offers more fulfilling crumbs than one can fit into a Bubba Watson bucket hat. Consider these 2010 nuggets and parting thoughts as we get ready to jump onboard a new season at Kapalua in less than a week:

• When a guy finishes 188th in driving accuracy (52.6 percent) and 155th in greens in regulation (65.13 percent), it’s usually time for his manager to set aside $5,000 and start booking reservations at Q-School. Instead, the player who posted those numbers won a green jacket and earned $3.8 million this season, finishing sixth in Tour earnings. Anyone else have any doubts about Phil Mickelson having Houdini-like abilities?

• By the way, if you had Mickelson, McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer on your Pick Four major ticket in 2010, nice going. Oh, and tell Nostradamus he’s been replaced.

• Everyone says the impact was minimal, but maybe new grooves in ’10 at least made guys a little more cognizant of hitting fairways. Just a few years ago, Stephen Ames was the only man in the top 10 in year-end Tour earnings to have placed in the top 80 in driving accuracy (he was 80th). This season, six of the top 11 money winners resided in the top 50.

• One year after the PGA Tour produced 91 millionaires, only 90 players made it past the seven-figure mark in official earnings in 2010. Ah, yes, even the PGA Tour is not recession-proof . . .

• As a parting gesture, I thought it would have been cool had David Fay left a bow tie to each of the 700,000 or so USGA members. He’s a class act, and golf will miss him. Golf also is going to miss the incredible kindness of Lorena Ochoa.

• The 2010 High Efficiency Award goes to the Gritty Little Bulldog himself, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin, who made eight PGA Tour starts and averaged nearly $105,000 each time he teed it up. A fellow California native named Tiger Woods (12 starts, $1,294,765) may have clipped the 51-year-old Pavin by an average of 39.1 yards off the tee, but only $2,998 an outing. Chump change.

• Don’t want to sound like an old fogey, but I think the original John Wayne “True Grit” defeats the new Jeff Bridges version, 3 and 1. And while we’re on it, Rooster Cogburn would be a great name for a young Tour pro from Amarillo, Texas, don’t you think?

• Ben Hogan, I’m not, but I’m a fairly decent player, carrying a single-digit handicap. When I walk across the back of a PGA Tour practice tee, however, watching the Dustin Johnsons and Rickie Fowlers pure every shot and knock the ball out of sight, or seeing Steve Stricker roll in a series of 25-footers, I know I play a completely different game than these guys. That said, there’s always been at least one Tour pro through the years whom I’ll watch hit a few shots, and when I walk on past, I invariably say to myself, ‘I know I can do THAT.’ The swing I can relate to belongs to a former substitute schoolteacher named Paul Goydos. You may know the name. He shot 59 last summer at the John Deere.

So much for that dream ...

• One more stat to contemplate as you pack away the Christmas ornaments: Of the top 10 in earnings, only three players (Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey) finished INSIDE the top 50 in driving distance, whereas only two (Casey, Hunter Mahan) finished OUTSIDE the top 50 in putting. On the count of 3, let’s all recite the “Drive For Show” saying in unison ...

• Don’t know about you, but I could do with fewer rules controversies in 2011. Seemed as if there were practically as many championships settled inside the 18th-hole scoring trailer than upon the 18th green. Hey, I’m all for the rules that govern the game, love that it sets our game apart, realize the need ... yada, yada, yada. But I wouldn’t mind seeing a day when The Rules of Golf become a little easier to follow and digest than Sigmund Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams.”

• Jonathan Byrd might have hit The Shot of The Year in 2010, making an autumn ace in a three-man playoff at the Justin Timberlake in Las Vegas. Not only was it a Fall Series event, but it was late, much too dark and nobody really saw it. Not even Byrd. So I’ll award the Best Shot The Whole World Witnessed to Mickelson for pulling off that incredible 6-iron from 209 yards atop the pine straw at Augusta National’s 13th hole on Sunday afternoon. Gutsy. A silver goes to Miguel Angel Jimenez for knocking a wedge onto the green at St. Andrews’ famed Road Hole – caroming it off the Road Hole’s stone wall as he faced away from the green. Any mechanic I know would have charged four hours’ labor for that effort. Magnifico!!! Cigars for everyone!!!

• There’s a song I simply can’t get out of my head this season, and it’s not “Jingle Bell Rock.” First tee, Celtic Manor, Friday morning of the Ryder Cup in Wales, and crazed, spirited Euros surrounding the tee are crooning “There’s Only Two Molinaris ...”

• Anthony Kim made only 10 cuts in 2010 and earned $2,574,921; Chris DiMarco made twice as many cuts, but banked $2,165,722 less than Kim. Hmmmmmmmm. Must be the new math.

• Rod Pampling made 26 starts this season and earned only $299,264, finishing 180th in earnings. It’s trying times like these that can make a man wish he were married to a psychiatrist. What’s that? Oh, he is.

I’m officially out of range balls. Here’s to all the magical possibilities of a new season that awaits us. Happy New Year to all. And pass the champagne.

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