Writer: Lucas Garza
After a season filled with drama, I have taken time to congratulate and recognize players, caddies, and courses on their outstanding (and some not so outstanding) performances throughout the season.
Player of the Year: Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas proved himself to be a superstar this season. He won five times, shot 59 in Hawaii, shot the lowest U.S. Open round in relation to par, won his first major, and took home the FedEx Cup (along with a $10 million bonus). Before this season, he was just known as Jordan Spieth’s best friend, but now Justin can stand on his own. Swinging out of his shoes on nearly every shot, Justin was able to connect all the pieces of his game in order to play well. When playing his best, his approach shots were close and the mid-range putts were falling, and nobody seemed to be able to catch him.
Rookie of the Year: Xander Schauffele
With wins at the Greenbrier Classic and the TOUR Championship, Schauffele is my rookie of the year. He became known to many by contending early at the U.S. Open, and finishing in the top 5. For a guy that doesn’t stand out in any particular part of his game, collecting well over $5 million in his first season is not too shabby.
Comeback Player of the Year: Patrick Cantlay
After having to recover from multiple back surgeries and the tragic death of his caddy, Patrick Cantlay was allowed 10 starts this season on a medical exemption. The former top-ranked amateur made the most of his second start by securing his PGA TOUR card with a 2nd place finish at the Valspar Championship. Cantlay finished in the top 3 at the RBC Heritage the next month, and posted two more top 10 finishes in the season. Cantlay seems to be physically and emotionally healed and plans to play a full schedule next season.
Disappointing Player of the Year: Rory McIlroy
Although he was sidelined and bothered by a nagging rib injury all season, Rory still led the TOUR in Average Driving Distance. We were able to see a glimpse of a 2014 Rory in late July and early August with his drives that never seemed to land and his famous strut down the fairways, but his putter never cooperated. He was toying with different putters all season, and was never able to feel comfortable on the greens. Rory failed to make the TOUR Championship and did not have top 3 finish all season.
Best Course (Non-Major): Riviera Country Club
The 18th hole at Riviera is my favorite hole on TOUR, and always makes for a demanding finish for the leaders. Dustin Johnson had a drama-free victory at the Genesis Open this year, but the 18th hole did make for some great finishes at the U.S. Amateur. Putts were made and chips were holed out in order to win and extend matches. The rest of the course forces some tough decisions to be made, such as the drivable par-4 10th hole.
Best Course (Majors): Erin Hills
Par is just an easier way to keep track of the score. There is no rule that the U.S. Open has to have a winning score in a certain range in relation to par. Whoever hits the ball the fewest times wins the golf tournament. Brooks Koepka drove the ball with power, putted effectively, and found strategic ways to play the awkwardly distanced holes well. There were no complaints from the players about the conditions of the course, and the high fescue that lined the fairways turned out to be not as penalizing as Kevin Na thought it would be.
Worst Course: TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas
It just doesn’t look good. When I watched the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship on TV this year, the course looked like a slightly longer version of an everyday municipal course. It was almost difficult to watch, and the players didn’t seem to be enjoying it, either. After 35 years of holding the tournament at TPC Four Seasons, the AT&T Byron Nelson will be heading to the other side of Dallas, to Trinity Forest Golf Club. Trinity Forest is a new course designed by Ben Crenshaw and has made a promise to be the TOUR’s most intriguing course.
Best Tournament to Watch: The Northern Trust (Honorable Mentions: The Open, The Travelers Championship)
The FedEx Cup Playoffs’ first event featured two of the best golfers battling it out down the stretch. Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth did not play lights out, but they did make putts and hit shots when they needed to. They would eventually go into a playoff that was won by Johnson, but it is rare to get to watch two heavyweights go at it like these two did.
Worst Tournament to Watch: Quicken Loans National
For an invitation status tournament, the Quicken Loans National has been failing to produce a solid field. The tournament only plays at Congressional Country Club every other year, and plays a random course in the D.C. area during its off year. This year, Rickie Fowler shot an early 65, which was hardly seen on TV, but it was not enough to win. Kyle Stanley would prevail in a less than great field, which is what an invitational tournament should bring. Now, the tournament is without a headline sponsor and will need some revamping to make it a great stop on TOUR again.
Best Caddy: Michael Greller
Jordan Spieth’s tee shot on the 1st hole in the final round of The Open Championship got caught in some high grass on the left side of the fairway instead of kicking back into the fairway as every other player’s ball had. Greller responded to Jordan’s whining by telling him to “Get over it.” When Spieth had to hit a shot from the driving range on hole 13, Greller had to calm Spieth down, give him a round number, and act as an alignment aid for Jordan. On the 15th, Spieth drained a long distance eagle putt and told Michael to “Go get that.” The rest is history, as Jordan Spieth won his third major and his first Open Championship.
Shot of the Year: Dustin Johnson (The Northern Trust 1st playoff hole, Hole 18, Tee Shot) (Honorable Mention: Jordan Spieth (Travelers Championship 1st playoff hole, Hole 18, bunker shot))
Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth went into a playoff at The Northern Trust. Dustin Johnson launched a missile on an aggressive line that made his approach shot 88 yards closer than Jordan’s. Dustin made birdie, and Jordan made par. The drive still leaves me in awe.
Surprise Player of the Year: Adam Hadwin (Honorable Mention: Charley Hoffman)
Adam Hadwin made a name for himself by shooting 59 in the 3rd round of the Career Builder Challenge. Also, he made 16 straight cuts, and in that span, won the Valspar Championship, finished 2nd at the Career Builder Challenge, and finished 6th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. These early top finishes kept him near the top of the FedEx Cup standings all season. He was also able to string together six birdies in a row at the U.S. open. The next step for him is to seriously contend for a major championship.
Player that makes you say “Good to see that he is playing well again” when he shows up on TV: Keegan Bradley (Honorable Mention: Kyle Stanley)
Ever since the 2012 Ryder Cup, Keegan Bradley has never been the same. He won the 2011 PGA Championship in his first major start and the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone, but has never won since. Since May, he was able to make 12 of 13 cuts, and posted five top 10 finished throughout the season. He had no problem finding fairways and hitting greens, but struggled to find the bottom of the cup compared to his competitor from inside of 25 ft. Keegan should be able to continue his good form, and will hopefully contend in big tournaments once again.
Player that you are almost sure you could beat: Bubba Watson (Honorable Mention: Carl Pettersson)
Bubba was in early contention Thursday morning at The Open Championship, but started whine about the performance of the ball in the windy conditions. His neon green Volvik golf ball just was not biting on the links style greens in a 20 mph wind like he wanted. I know I could beat anybody who uses colored golf balls. He is also becoming notorious for his early walk after missed putts with his hand going into his pockets to get his ball mark. I saw Bubba make two putts outside of 10 feet all season. I just don’t think he is very good.
Best Player Without a Major: Rickie Fowler (Honorable Mentions: Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama)
Rickie was the most consistent contender this year in the majors, with two top five finishes and no finishes outside the top 25. Although he is mostly known for his style and camaraderie, he made a name for himself this season with the putter. He ranked 2nd in Strokes Gained Putting, One Putt Percentage, Putts from 10’-15’, and putts from 20’-25’. His only win of the season came at the Honda Classic, but he posted 10 top 10 finishes this season. Rickie has to learn from his close calls if he wants to win a major next season.
Most likely to win first major next season: Hideki Matsuyama (Honorable Mention: Louis Oosthuizen)
Matsuyama’s worst finish at a major this season was T-14 at The Open. He always seemed to be in contention, or just waiting around for a back door finish attempt. His putting improved from the beginning of the season, as he didn’t seem to miss as many short birdie opportunities. His straight and consistent ball flight can travel to almost any course. He will be contending in majors for years to come and will probably win one very soon. Matsuyama won the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Story of the Year: Sergio Garcia
He moved to Austin, won the Masters, and got married. Sergio truly had the time of his life. His focus on golf was clearly no longer the top priority, and his game suffered after winning the Masters. His honeymoon period after winning the Masters has lasted longer than it should, but we give him a break for carrying the title of best player without a major for the majority of his career. Next season, he is going to have to start contending in tournaments again before his game starts to become questioned.
Most Underrated Player: Marc Leishman (Honorable Mention: Daniel Berger)
Winning this season’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, the first since Mr. Palmer’s passing, seemed to boost Leishman’s popularity on TOUR. After the tournament, players spoke highly of him and how he shared many qualities with Arnold Palmer himself. Leishman then ran away with the BMW Championship for his third victory on TOUR. For all of his career, his play has been overshadowed by the games of fellow Australians, Jason Day and Adam Scott, even though Leishman has had four top 10 finishes in majors over the past five years. Hopefully, Marc Leishman will be more appreciated by everyone after his successful season.
Most Overrated Player: Alex Noren
Technically, Alex Noren is not a PGA TOUR member (European Tour), but he is so overrated, he had to win this award. Most casual golf fans don’t even know who this guy is, and that’s the point. After a few wins on the European circuit, he made it up to 8th in the Official World Golf Rankings in the spring, and stayed in the top 10 for the majority of the summer. Everytime he would play in America, the commentators would talk about how underrated he is, but he never played well in a major in the states. His best American major finish this year was T-67 at the PGA Championship.
Justin Thomas silenced the talk of a “big three.” We shouldn’t arguing about who the best player is while these guys are displaying their talents. Next season, we should just appreciate the depth of the PGA TOUR, and enjoy the clinics that the players can put on when they’re on fire.