Even though my focus in golf centers around the college game, it still began with thoughts of Tiger Woods and if he could climb back to the top. Of course, as the year developed we quickly found out he was headed the other direction and it was back to college golf.
Listed below are my memories from 2011, which range from the unthinkable (again) at the NCAA Men’s Championship to the greatest dessert I have ever eaten. All of these things are likely to repeat themselves in 2012.
• Managing the Golfweek Rankings – junior, college and pros – on a weekly basis allows me to field the many questions that arise when something appears to be out of place to the golf fan’s eye.
This year was especially odd when it came to the rankings in men’s professional golf. In the absence of brilliance or near perfection, you have to look at consistency. And this past year, that often meant a player could be the best without winning much at all, and especially without winning a major. I have no problem with that concept, but many want a winner. They want a player who wins at least one major, dominates in lesser-field events and is almost always in contention no matter where or when they play. They want a Tiger Woods, and there just wasn’t a Tiger Woods this year – not even close. No player won more than twice on the PGA Tour. The average winner in PGA Tour events this year ranked No. 107.4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and was No. 119.9 in the Official World Rankings. Only seven times did a top-10 player in the OWR win an event (eight times using the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings).
For now, accept the fact that Luke Donald and Steve Stricker are the world’s best because of their consistent good play.
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Augusta State’s triumph
• When Augusta State won the NCAA Championship at The Honors Course in 2010, it certainly was an upset. It wasn’t that the Jaguars were not good enough, they simply were Augusta State, a tiny NCAA Division II school that only competes at the Division I level in golf. And knocking off the premier program in college golf – Oklahoma State – was a real-life David vs. Goliath story.
But defeating top-ranked Oklahoma State on its home course at this past year’s NCAA Championship was even more unimaginable.
Match play now has been a part of three NCAA finals, and anyone who knows anything about golf knows that format is almost sure to produce anything but the expected. And to win back-to-back titles, regardless of how good you may be, is unthinkable.
To witness the thousands of Oklahoma State fans – or the Sea of Orange – become silent and file out of Karsten Creek after a semifinal loss to Augusta State is something I will never forget.
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NCAA Women’s Championship
• I was very critical of the NCAA Women’s Championship hosted by Texas A&M this past year. I thought that I may have been a bit unfair to the women’s game by calling it boring and saying that nothing truly exciting happened for much of the event, but after the e-mails and calls I received following the championship, I realized I was not alone.
After letting it all sink in for a few months, maybe we all have been a little unfair. The year before, Purdue used a great finish to top USC at the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C., the best venue I had ever attended for a women’s final. That alone is a hard task to follow.
I now feel that with all of the changes on the men’s side, it has made the women’s side of things seem boring. Actually, complacent may be a better word. However, the women may have it exactly right with a 24-team, 72-hole championship that crowns an individual winner and a team winner based on stroke play. Maybe vanilla is what we need, even though rainbow sherbet is colorful and tasty.
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Patrick Cantlay’s summer
• In my more than 10 years covering college golf, I have seen some great college players have some very memorable showings in professional fields. Never have I seen a summer like the one UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay had.
Cantlay, college golf’s unanimous player of the year as a freshman, came off a runner-up finish at the NCAA Championship and started the summer as low amateur at the U.S. Open. He followed that with a second-round 60 at the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship. He would go on to place in the top 24 in four PGA Tour starts. He made another cut at the Frys.com Open in the fall, giving him five made cuts in five starts.
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Some good eats
• I could not possibly end the year without telling you about some of the great food I had while on the road this past year.
I will start with the dessert, because it is the best dessert I have ever encountered. For the second consecutive year, I made the trip to Vail, Colo., where Golfweek hosted the Golfweek Women’s Conference Challenge at Red Sky Golf Club. I made a visit or two — or three — to Montauk Seafood Grill, where they serve what’s called Sand Pie, or as I call it, heaven in your mouth. Whipped chocolate chip ice cream on a graham cracker crust with warm chocolate and caramel sauce — all I can say is wow! Members of the Oregon and Tulsa teams agreed with my critique.
If you like steak, I have decided that the Ribeye served at the Western Refining All-America Classic was the best steak I have ever eaten. It was prepared and grilled by members of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Posse at a dinner during one of the tournament’s many outstanding activities.