Dusek reflects on the rise of Rory, '14 Ryder Cup

Dusek reflects on the rise of Rory, '14 Ryder Cup

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Dusek reflects on the rise of Rory, '14 Ryder Cup

Editor’s note: For our entire “My Year in Golf” series, click here.

Some golf seasons, such as 2010, have remained etched in my mind because of heroic winners (Phil Mickelson winning at Augusta), magnificent venues (Louis Oosthuizen winning at St. Andrews) and jaw-dropping theater (Martin Kaymer winning in a playoff at Whistling Straits). Others, such as 2003, feel like a letdown. Without the assistance of Google, can you name 2003’s major-championship winners? It was a season that felt strange as it played out and that has become a series of trivia questions ever since.

This year felt like a season when two meaningful stakes got nailed in the ground, marking critical points in golf’s future. In a decade, we will look back at 2014 as the start of some new eras.

The Rise of Rory

Fans and pundits alike will remember the wins at Royal Liverpool and Valhalla because they gave Rory McIlroy his third and fourth majors, respectively, guaranteed him Player of the Year awards, and solidified him as the No. 1 player in the world.

For me, the key event for McIlroy took place on May 25. That Sunday at Wentworth, he closed with a pair of birdies for a 66 to edge Shane Lowry by a stroke to win the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship.

McIlroy had broken off his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki the week before, answered all the awkward questions and dealt with bad PR head-on. He said he planned to cocoon himself in his golf. The instantaneous win and his subsequent summer of amazing play must have made his competitors hope that he and the Danish tennis star might patch things up.

The 5-and-4 thrashing of Rickie Fowler in singles at the Ryder Cup was the perfect end to a dominant year, but another nugget from my notebook made me realize just how formidable McIlroy has become in the eyes of other elite players. Adam Scott switched drivers this summer because he said he can’t spot the man from Northern Ireland 20 yards off the tee.

Let that sink in for a moment. Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion and one of the best drivers of the golf ball in the game, admitted he couldn’t keep up with McIlroy. It’s the sort of thing guys in the ’60s and ’70s said about Jack Nicklaus.

The Fallout from Gleneagles

Two years ago, on a chilly day in Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, I watched Tom Watson talk to Matt Lauer on the “Today” show about how thrilled he was to have been named the 2014 Ryder Cup captain. Captain Tom, the winner of five Open Championships, was going to Scotland to bring the cup back to the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Standing between Watson and Lauer that December day was PGA of America president Ted Bishop.

The United States got shellacked at the Ryder Cup, again, and regardless of who said what, Watson’s captaincy was a disaster. It went so poorly that we now have a task force in place that is evaluating the entire Ryder Cup structure for the American team.

Picking Watson was an out-of-the-box, home-run swing by Bishop that whiffed. Instead of rallying the players and inspiring them, Mickelson, Keegan Bradley and others felt alienated and removed from the decision-making process. Watson’s image was damaged, Bishop was fired after Tweeting insensitive messages, and the whole thing melted down in flames of embarrassment.

The only good thing America learned from the 2014 Ryder Cup is that 21-year-old Jordan Spieth and 24-year-old Patrick Reed are the kind of guys you’d want by your side if you had to walk down a dark alley in Detroit. It’s safe to say that things are going to be different, from an organizational standpoint, for Team USA in 2016.

Looking Ahead

As they always do, the year that is ending leaves us with questions to be answered in the season ahead. I have holiday wrapping to do, but consider these as you sip your eggnog:

• Will Tiger Woods remain healthy and can he contend again in majors with Chris Como as his swing coach?

• Can Rory McIlroy complete the career Grand Slam by winning at Augusta in April?

• What will Fox Sports’ first U.S. Open telecast look like?

• After finishing in the top 5 in each major last year, can Rickie Fowler break through and win one?

• Will anyone in the United States watch the 2015 Presidents Cup in South Korea?

By the way, in case it’s bothering you, the winners of 2003’s majors were Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel.

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