2017 Report Card: Golf’s Top Newsmakers

Okay, be honest. How many golf fans even know that the 2018 PGA Tour golf season already started – on October 5, 2017!

Like, what, maybe one percent?

The wrap-around season, which starts just two weeks after the Tour Championship, is an eight-event fall stretch that is officially part of the 2018 schedule, yet plays parallel to the 2017 season finishes of the European Tour, the LPGA Tour, and even its own Champions Tour.

The winners of these eight fall tournaments receive 2018 FedExCup points but no 2018 Ryder Cup points. The lone WGC event also offers 2017 Race To Dubai points. Is your head spinning yet? Wait, it gets better.

The winners also get a spot in next month’s Tournament of Champions at Kapalua which used to be reserved for the champions of the previous season, but now brings together the early winners of the current season and the winners of the previous season excluding those who won in the wrap-around portion. And we haven’t even mentioned the PGA Tour’s Challenge schedule, headlined by Tiger’s event in the Bahamas which doesn’t award FedExCup points but does hand out Official World Golf Ranking points. You get the gist… Unlike other major professional sports, the PGA Tour has no clearly defined offseason, which is a problem on so many levels, but one we’ll tackle another time.

Today, we reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly from the highlight reel of 2017. Despite, the glaring fact that sports editors at daily newspapers don’t give damn about covering pro golf, the sport had many glorious moments in 2017, as well as some undesirable reality-checks worthy of mention.

Here’s my report card on the top newsmakers of the 2017 golf season!


YOUTH BRIGADE

GRADE: A

Definitively, 2017 will be known as the year when the game’s young guns became its top guns, with four of the five top-ranked golfers in the world aged 25 and under. This youth brigade is headlined by 24-year old American superstars Jordan Spieth (No. 2) and Justin Thomas (No. 3), alongside 23-year old phenom Jon Rahm (No. 4) of Spain, and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (No. 5), the elder statesman at 25. In 2017, the four young stars combined for 13 wins and earnings of around $40 million.


SERGIO GARCIA

GRADE: A

The longtime fan favorite finally broke through this past spring in Augusta to win his first major. The victory highlighted a three-win season for the Spaniard, which led to his first European Tour Player of the Year award.


LPGA RULES TEAM

GRADE: F

Lexi Thompson was leading the ANA Inspiration, a major on the women’s tour, by two strokes with just six to play. But after receiving a call-in tip from a TV viewer, the LPGA penalized the American star FOUR STROKES (for an infraction that occurred the previous day). The young Floridian would make up the shots down the stretch, but eventually ran out of gas, and lost on the first playoff hole to So-yeon Ryu. The fallout from the controversy forced the USGA and R&A to immediately update their rules, limiting the use of video evidence. Then at the conclusion of the year, the governing bodies agreed to ban call-in tips, altogether.


JUSTIN ROSE

GRADE: B+

The classy Englishman started his season with a tough loss to Garcia at the Masters, but finished it with ten straight top 10s, including three wins, to wrap up what was arguably his best season at the age of 37.


JON RAHM

GRADE: A-

The former all-world amateur from Arizona State started his rookie year with a world ranking of around 125. But following a season that included three worldwide wins (one on the PGA Tour, and two more on the Euro Tour), the young Spaniard ended it with a ranking of No. 4. The dominant performance earned him the Euro Tour’s top rookie award. Not surprisingly, he was ineligible for the PGA Tour’s ROY due to some convoluted rules.


JUSTIN THOMAS

GRADE: A

Five wins including one major (PGA), Player of the Year, and the FedEx Cup Champion. He shot 59 in the first round at The Sony Open, and a tournament record 63 in the third round of the U.S. Open. He’s now ranked No. 3 in the world, and just 24. Will he be able to handle the fame, fortune and slew of off-course distractions that have toppled many athletes before him?


JORDAN SPIETH

GRADE: B+

Three wins including schizoid final round (37-32-69) to win the British Open in July, playing the final four holes in 5-under par. The “Golden Child” also holed a bunker shot on the first-playoff hole to win The Travelers in June, which became the most viral video of the year. Still has a game that relies 80 percent on his all-world putting skills.


JAY MONAHAN

GRADE: C

The Massachusetts native joined the tax-exempt PGA Tour in 2004, and 12 years later became just its fifth Commissioner, which reportedly comes with a hefty paycheck of about $40,000 PER WEEK, plus expenses and unlimited use of a corporate jet. (Not bad for the head of an operation that pretends to give away all its money to charity.) Only three known on-the-record interviews in his first year confirms that he will continue the legacy of Tim Finchem and provide little in the way of transparency.


CHARLES SCHWAB CUP

GRADE: F

They call it a “season-long” race to prove the best of the best on the senior circuit. Except the guy who won (Kevin Sutherland) hadn’t won a tournament all “season long.” Meanwhile the guy who took home seven titles (Bernhard Langer), including three majors, and the first two legs of the so-called “playoffs,” scrambled to finish second. Just embarrassing!


DUSTIN JOHNSON

GRADE: B+

An early win at Riviera saw him overtake a struggling Jason Day as World No. 1. His next two starts also resulted in wins, but a freak injury on the eve of the Masters ended what could have been an historic season. He went winless the rest of the regular season, including all four majors. A FedExCup playoff win gave him four titles on the year, finishing behind only Thomas (5) in Tour wins.


RICKIE FOWLER

GRADE: B

Another outstanding season for the now 28 year old superstar. He won the Honda early in the year and closed it out with a win in the Bahamas at Tiger’s all-star event. Once again racked up all kinds of top 5s and top 10s, but still no major.


JASON DAY

GRADE: D

The Aussie started the season with a goal of being No. 1 for the full calendar year. But by February he was bumped from the top spot, by July he was outside the top 5, and in October he was knocked from the top 10. He’s now ranked No. 12 and hasn’t won in 19 months.


LYDIA KO

GRADE: D

Like Day, the New Zealander started the year ranked No. 1 and then proceeded to fall off the map. By the time the Tour Championship rolled around Ko wasn’t really even in the conversation. The 20-year old garnered her biggest headlines when she fired her caddie after just nine events, which, in retrospect, turned out to be the best stretch (five top-10 finishes) of an otherwise forgettable season.


MIKE DAVIS

GRADE: D

How did someone who’s been called “self-absorbed” and “arrogant” (hello Chambers Bay!) ever rise to such power in the USGA? Whoops, I take that back. It’s the USGA. Do something constructive like remove the ban on anchoring putters.


MIKE WHAN

GRADE: B+

LPGA Tour Commissioner lets his actions speak louder than his words, but not without a few major rules controversies to embarrass players and tournament officials. The 2018 LPGA schedule shows steady growth with 34 events in 14 countries for a record $68 million in prize money adding Tour stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Shanghai.


LEXI THOMPSON

GRADE: B

Topsy-turvy year for the 23-year old LPGA superstar who showed signs of stress from a one-of-a-kind emotionally and physically challenging 12 months. Yet played well last week, teamed up with Tony Finau at the Shark Shootout in Naples. Who knows what 2018 will bring?


BERNHARD LANGER

GRADE: A+

Posted 16 top 10s in 22 events with seven wins and three majors – at age 60! Yet, the most attention he seemed to garner was the recycled debate about his putting grip. Proved in 2017 that his career is the longest and most successful ever.


CALLAWAY GOLF

GRADE: B+

The Carlsbad-based company brought to market the Epic Driver, one of the most ground-breaking golf clubs ever produced. Absolutely the happiest, proudest, confident and improved golfers that I met in 2017 all bought and proudly displayed an Epic Driver. Go figure?


FEDERAL EXPRESS

GRADE: A-

Can anyone imagine what the PGA Tour would look like if the multi-national courier delivery services company headquartered in Memphis with gross revenue north of $60 billion did not annually pony up about $40 million for ten years? I mean, some of those titanium-carrying millionaire pros might have to fly coach once-in-a-while. The mega contract was renewed last spring. Money talks! Better to invest in golf than NASCAR!


TOPGOLF

GRADE: B+

The company is inspiring people of all ages and skill levels – even non-golfers – to come together for playful competition. Topgolf has successfully blended technology and entertainment. Every venue features dozens of high-tech, climate controlled hitting bays, food, adult beverages and helpful staff. In December they opened their 39th location in Huntsville, AL and claim to serve over 13 million guests annually.


DELL TECHNOLOGIES CHAMPIONSHIP

GRADE: D

The tournament once known as the Deutsche Bank Championship, played annually over Labor Day weekend at TPC Boston, is doomed. The second leg of the FedExCup playoffs is plagued by poor attendance and other marketing conflicts like football season and fatigued players. A final-round duel between superstars Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth covered up some deep problems.


TRAVELERS CHAMPIONSHIP

GRADE: B+

Andy Bessette and Nathan Grube have worked tirelessly to make The Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands a model Tour stop. Players and fans gush at the fun and excitement of visiting the Hartford, CT area for one week in June. Didn’t exactly hurt that Spieth holed out from a bunker in a playoff to win, capturing everyone’s shot of the year!


GOLF CHANNEL

GRADE: D

When you’re the only 24/7 golf channel on the dial you own the market. But the station has no marquee names and its stable of talking heads are mainly vanilla syrup – a.k.a. bland suckups. The lone exception of course is one-time Tour winner Brandel Chamblee, whose know-it-all schtick has turned into almost a self-parody.


PRESIDENTS CUP

GRADE: F

What a sham! In 1994 the PGA Tour decided to operate a fundraiser because they saw the $50 million profit to the PGA of America running the Ryder Cup. They throw the US flag over a phony trophy and keep all the revenue, while boasting about charity donations of $50k per player. Very capitalistic, but pure BS! Pull the plug asap.


TIGER WOODS

GRADE: A

Sorry, Jack, but Tiger is the GOAT! Who would have bet that Woods would be temporarily leading a professional golf tournament in 2017? Not me. Now, it’s not a question of if he can win, it’s only a matter of when?


Tom Gorman

Tom Gorman is a Boston-based golf writer, and a longtime member of the Golf Writer's Association of America. Comments can be sent to teetalk@aol.com.

5 comments

  • Don’t hold back. Couldn’t agree more re: the wrap around season. I hate it. So confusing. But is all about greed with the pga tour. Take Justin Rose for instance. He won the China wgc event which gave him credit for a 2018 pga tour win and ((ups)) points yet was also credited with a 2017 European Tour W and Race to Dubai points. Both tours should run concurrently and go from Jan – Sep and break for 3 months. The fall can be a mix of legit challenge events (Hero) and silly season stuff (Skins). One critique. How does Tiger Woods gets an A for four rounds of golf?

    Re: Chamblee…

  • Great review sprinkled with insightful commentary some of which will result in rule changes. Can you say 4 strokes due to a viewers call? I pray they do not institute video review. The report card was spot on. Good job. I look forward to your future reviews and commentary.

  • Tom. Awesome wrap-up of 2017 season. I rarely read stuff like this. But thoroughly enjoyed it. Loved your opinions and I learned a lot at the same time Way to go

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