My Year in Golf: From tears to laughter, 2017 had all the feels

Beth Ann Nichols/Golfweek

My Year in Golf: From tears to laughter, 2017 had all the feels

LPGA Tour

My Year in Golf: From tears to laughter, 2017 had all the feels

Golf shots can be memorable. But they usually aren’t what comes to mind when I think back on 2017. I think about the goosebumps people felt standing around the 18th in the California desert as fans chanted “Lexi! Lexi!” I think about the face of Victor Garcia as he wiped away tears in the Grill Room at Augusta National as his son, Sergio, clinched his first major.

Lexi Thompson interacts with fans at the ANA Inspiration.

I think about the voice of Mack Champ, who kept saying “He did what?” as I told him that grandson Cameron was two strokes off the lead at the U.S. Open. Mack was hooked up to a dialysis machine back home in California when Cameron finished play in Erin, Wis., and was taping the coverage. Mack cried tears of joy on the other end of the phone, and I quietly wiped some of my own behind a pair of sunglasses on the back steps of the media tent.

More than 50 years ago, Mack couldn’t buy a hamburger at a whites-only counter in College Station, Texas, nor play golf at the course where he caddied. Now his grandson, a star for Texas A&M, was making a statement on golf’s biggest stage.

More chills.

The most heartbreakingly courageous story of 2017 belonged to former LPGA player Chela Quintana, who risked her life by protesting at home in Caracas, Venezuela, dodging gas bombs and bullets. Quintana’s reports of children eating out of garbage cans and babies dying because of a lack of basic necessities in the oil-rich nation were gut-wrenching.

Chela Quintana risked her life protesting in Venezuela.

She was brave to speak out and take to the streets to fight for future generations.

“If they kill me, I fought for them,” she said during one of our Whatsapp conversations. “I fought for the young people.”

Andrew Rusk knows what it means to fight. He’s been fighting the mitochondrial disease that sucks away his energy for as long as he can remember. In February, I flew to Indianapolis to meet with 16-year-old Rusk and his family to learn more about the Team Impact program that had partnered Rusk with a local college golf team.

Rusk was a bright light at his first University of Indianapolis men’s golf practice. When he sank the final putt in a team drill, the kid who needed friends was suddenly surrounded by a group of college guys who were both impressed and thrilled. I caught the moment on video and can’t get enough of it. The teenager whose health won’t allow him to attend a brick-and-mortar school felt part of a real team.

Rusk went to bed that night clutching an old MacGregor putter Indy coach Brent Nicoson had given him at practice. That was a good day.

The LPGA season ended in Naples, Fla., with a shocking 2-foot miss from Lexi Thompson. And while that misfire dominated the highlight reels from Sunday, an interview that took place behind the 18th grandstand away from TV cameras with a handful of print reporters sticks out in my mind.

Lydia Ko, who had just completed her first winless season on the LPGA since 2012, answered questions about her pedestrian season as pleasantly as she would had she dominated. And after she had finished explaining why she felt 2017 really wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be, she did something that caught this reporter off-guard.

She thanked us.

It’s one thing when a player on top of the world thanks the press at the end of a season. It’s quite another when a player in the midst of a drought does it. I walked away smiling, thinking this is a young woman of strong character.

Indeed, 2017 was packed with feeling. I won’t forget the face of Danielle Kang’s mother beside the 18th green at Olympia Fields as she folded her hands together in prayer. Or when Lorena Ochoa rushed over to hug her children after she hit her opening tee shot at an exhibition in Mexico City.

Lorena Ochoa returned to the golfing scene, if for a brief moment, in 2017.

And when I needed a good laugh, rookie Angel Yin never disappointed. There’s a reason she has “lol” in her twitter handle. In fact, it was in the media trailer at LPGA Q-School, where only a year earlier I had snapped a photo of Yin in the parking lot using two cell phones after earning her card, that I enjoyed my last laugh of 2017.

Yin had taken part in a “Cart Cruisin’” video with the LPGA’s Amy Rogers and several of us had gathered around someone’s computer to see what Yin had to say. As Rogers drove by a concession stand at CME, Yin was reminded of a funny story from her time at the Solheim Cup.

“They were talkin’ about concessions and how there was an issue,” she recalled. “I was like concessions – what’s wrong with the Solheim food?”

Angel Yin brought the laughs in 2017.

Guessing I’ll be repeating that story more often than any shot Yin hit this season. Though that time she outdrove Michelle Wie by 30 yards in Mexico was something to behold.

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