ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – For every calendar season in a sport there are always moments both good and bad that make that year standout. Confining my evaluation to the calendar year 2015 in golf, it is time in this final visit to list my own personal estimations.
It was the year when:
• Tiger Woods returned to the Tour with much anticipation. Left the Tour with much examination. Returned to the Tour with much speculation. Struggled on the Tour with much consternation. Left the Tour with injury and much aggravation. In other words, it was the new annual model for Tiger Woods.
• Youth was served on all levels and both genders. Twenty-something is the new profile for winners in the game of golf (unless you are on the LPGA Tour when the teenagers are equally successful).
• The race for Metropolitan Women’s Player of the Year became an actual race without having to just stamp the name Ellen Port on the trophy yet again. Port is still the queen, but there are now young pretenders to the throne.
• Skip Berkemeyer reminded us all that as many young talents come along and deny him wins in some of the area’s big events, they do so climbing over his consistent presence near the top. Skip may not win as often as he would like, but, like Port, he is the name you look for first is the final results.
• Lydia Ko shot 63 in the final round at Evian to check off the only empty box on her resume by winning an LPGA major. Still under twenty years of age and ranked No. 1 in the world, the Kiwi by way of Korea is the next big thing in women’s golf who will either amaze or disappoint.
• Rickie Fowler answered his critics and delivered trophy winning performances at The Players and at Deutsche Bank Championships. Fowler’s final holes on Sunday at Sawgrass easily rank as the most compelling two hours of golf seen during the year.
• the LPGA’s Solheim Cup became as interesting as the men’s counterpart, the Ryder Cup. Suzanne Petersen was the victim of her her own poor judgment, but the final five group of American players were the best in team play since the men at Brookline in 1999.
• Jason Day learned how to finish a tournament and swung open the door to his enormous package of skills. I will argue his July through September run was in part a streak, more than a pattern, but he now can be seen as a threat to deliver every time he shows up. Hopefully the injuries and illnesses that have also been a part of his young career are past him going forward.
• Golf courses in the St. Louis area enjoyed the best growing conditions for the golfing months and despite some rainy days in June, it was difficult to find a course that wasn’t showing its best from the first tee to the final green.
• LPGA’s Lexi Thompson revealed a lot on the cover of Golf Digest and even more on the courses throughout the year. Not turning 21 until February of 2016, Thompson had a win (her fifth) and a total of ten top 10’s in 2015. A Ko/Thompson rivalry would mean to women’s professional golf what Spieth/McIlroy would mean to the PGA Tour.
• People wondered whether Rory McIlroy could win his third straight major and complete the career slam at the Masters and instead saw him be a non-factor in the three majors in which he competed. Before McIlroy kicked away his summer of golf with an ankle injury playing soccer with friends, he had sparkled at the match play and struggled at Chambers Bay. 2016 will be an important year for the young Irishman to rebound in the Grand Slam events.
• The story lines in the four men’s majors for the year displayed high drama from day one at Augusta to day four at Whistling Straits. Every year of majors has some special moments but 2015 riveted the attention of golf fans for every single round. Twelve days of excellence like we have rarely seen before.
• First and foremost, it was the year of Jordan Spieth. A win at Valspar hinted at something about to happen. A record equaling performance and his first major at the Masters shouted his arrival on the big stage. A second straight major win at Chambers Bay put him, at 21, in the conversation with the greatest accomplishments of all time. A one stroke miss at the playoff at St. Andrews and the Open said as much as the wins about his ability to elevate in the fashion of Woods and Nicklaus. A decidedly fatigued chase of Jason Day on Sunday at Whistling Straits echoed what we had seen in Scotland three weeks earlier. Two missed cuts in the FedEx series showed the vulnerability his game came experience when he is off on the greens. The destruction of Henrik Stenson’s will on the final day in Atlanta identified that Spieth is not only, now 22, the player most to be watched in the coming year, but also to be rooted for.
As good as Spieth is on the course, at this moment he is that good off the course. The picture of Spieth sealing the deal on a $22 million dollar a year at East Lakt and being embraced by his developmentally challenged sister Ellie on the green trumps all the baby embraces from earlier in the year.
Spieth is unique as a player in his success. I told the Post Dispatch’s Dan O’Neill that in my memory you have to go back to Billy Casper, who passed away this year, to find a player who could dominate a field with his talent on the greens. This is the era of bombing from the tee, and the “anti-bomber” makes the argument that all skills are still relevant in the game.
• This golf correspondent had his own Grand Slam covering all four men’s majors. Augusta never disappoints. Seattle was controversial. St. Andrews is beyond history and Whistling Straits changed my appreciation.
Throw in golf during the week in Scotland and golf every day the following week in Ireland and 2015 was for me The Year That Was.
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