Who won 2019? Ranking the people, places and things that owned the golf world this year
Anyone else want 2019 to go on forever? It was a jam-packed, ridiculous year in the golf world, beginning with sweeping rules changes and ending with the greatest Presidents Cup of all time. Those rules? They didn’t quit. But was anything more massive than the GOAT adding a 15th major? Absolutely not. Well, probably not. Actually … maybe? We’re about to find out.
In an ode to Rembert Browne and his epic year-end brackets, we’ve created the golf version of Who Won 2019? to break down what, exactly, dominated golf culture. From muscle-bound major-killers to fist-pumping, red-shirted major champions to the game’s most famous body of water and most important book, there were plenty of eligible nominees.
Check out the bracket below to see how things broke down, but know these fundamental truths:
1. Seeding is based on HOW much these things were in the news. We have decided who mattered, and then decided how much they mattered. How many articles did GOLF.com staffers write about Matt Kuchar? Forty! That’s why he’s a 2-seed.
2. Surviving and advancing comes down to our subjective feeling about the actual impact/legacy of what happened. Will it be remembered? Did it happen all year or was it just a month-long topic? How many times did this thing captivate the golf world?
One last thing to set the mood: Imagine being a governing body … and losing to SAND?!?!
1. Tiger Woods vs. 8. Jeongeun Lee6
This doesn’t reflect particularly well on any of our sophistications, but Jeongeun Lee6 burst onto the scene as a curiosity — who had heard of a number in a last name?! To Lee6’s credit, 2019 was the year she established herself as a top player. The U.S. Women’s Open was where she really planted her flag, holding steady in a brutal final round to win her first major going away.
Unfortunately, she runs into a first-round buzzsaw, the incumbent top seed, who will remain a perennial No. 1 seed for as long as he wants to — and then some. This is Tiger Woods, folks! For the man in red, 2019 was chock-full of memorable moments. Atop his c.v. was winning the Masters. When you’re the most famous golfer in history, that gets you through the first round every time.
4. Augusta National Women’s Am vs. 5. Hank Haney
One of these was a massive success for golf and a huge step in the right direction for the women’s game. The other was an unapologetic reminder of the retrograde attitudes still held by some of the game’s most influential voices. To refresh your memory, Hank Haney made a series of dismissive, racially-charged remarks about the women’s pro game including an assertion that he “couldn’t name, like, six players on the LPGA Tour.” He followed with a non-apology tour, and was unsurprisingly praised by his most loyal listeners.
Instead of giving Haney’s decisions any more shine, let’s just remember how fun it was to watch the women of the Augusta National Women’s Am take on the most famous course in the game. Hybrids and woods into the par-5s. Six-irons into the famous 12th. The perfect table-setter for a week at Augusta.
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3. Pace of Play vs. 6. Jena Sims
Don’t get us wrong, we’re big Jena Sims fans — and she had plenty of moments in the spotlight this year with boyfriend Brooks Koepka contending at every major championship.
— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) May 19, 2019
But there was no out-spicing Pace of Play. Heck, Jena has a tough time just competing with Koepka’s commentary on the topic. A few select quotes from BK:
“You enforce some [rules] but you don’t enforce the others.”
“I take 15 seconds and go, and I’ve done all right. So I don’t understand why they’re taking a minute and a half.”
“You have 40 seconds to hit a shot. That’s in the rule book, too. … So figure it out and penalize somebody.”
“[Slow players are] breaking the rules but no one ever has the balls to actually penalize them,”
Walking off 12 green, Koepka stares at an official and points to his non-existent watch.
— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) July 21, 2019
Sims goes down in the first round, defeated from within her own relationship!
WINNER: Pace of Play
2. Matt Kuchar vs. 7. Gary Woodland
This is a test of cynicism versus optimism, of whether you see the glass (or wallet) half-empty or half-full. Consider the joy that Gary Woodland brought us when he stared down the game’s best players in a champion’s effort at Pebble Beach. Recall the chip from on the green at the 71st hole.
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And of course the most feel-good moment of all, his friendship with Amy Bockerstette. Seriously, even in an oversaturated world, even though you’ve already seen it, give this clip another watch and you’ll feel better than you did 10 minutes ago. Maybe even better than you did on your birthday. It’s that good.
Add in qualifying for his first-ever national team and it was quite the year for Woodland.
Unfortunately for all involved, Matt Kuchar was a content freight train in 2019. Since he spent the beginning of the year playing some of the best golf of his life, Kuchar got tossed in the spotlight — with mixed results. There was the Case of the Stiffed Caddie (which actually happened in 2018 but played out in 2019), the Alleged Double Pitch Mark and the Matt, Sergio and the Case of the Missing Putt. Sprinkle in a small dose of backstopping and Kuchar — generally perceived to be a friendly, low-key guy — found himself a week-in, week-out lightning rod.
In doing so, he sparked enduring conversations about the Rules and etiquette, about how we treat other people and about apologizing and moving forward. That’s not to say Kuchar handled everything perfectly (we can agree that he did not) but he stirred the national conversation even though the other guy won the national championship. He moves on, for better or worse.
1. Jordan Spieth v. 8. Suzann Pettersen
Spieth, with his three major victories at such a young age, ascended to rare space in the blogosphere. Spieth speaks about his struggles? Blog it. Spieth speaks about someone else’s struggles? Blog it. Spieth gets upset at a rake? Blog it now! Thus, we cared a lot about Young Jordo and his Sisyphean struggles this year.
He berated Michael Greller more than we can remember seeing, dropped out of the top 40 in the world and finished the year with an emotional week in the Bahamas, which he followed off with a 16th-place finish out of 18. It all added up to being … kinda sad.
With Pettersen, everything ended happy! In the face of doubters who didn’t want her on the European Solheim Cup team, Pettersen balled out — finishing the week 2-1 — and she made the shot of the year. That’s right, Tiger. This was the shot of the year. Pettersen topples Spieth in our first big upset.
?? SOLHEIM CUP MAGIC ??
— Ladies European Tour (@LETgolf) December 1, 2019
4. Brandel Chamblee v. 5. Golf on Ireland
Yes, Golf on Ireland, meaning the island, west of continental Europe. Its inhabitants Ireland the country and Northern Ireland the country boast some of the best golf in the world, and together they had a great summer.
Good ol’ boy Shane Lowry shined at Portrush from start to finish and Big ol’ boy Jon Rahm took the Irish Open at the gem that is Lahinch. The Open returned to its original spot as the last major championship of the golf season, and the gorgeous seaside links course was wholly refreshing after a summer of parkland destinations.
The next week, it was back to reality when (to the dismay of our good friend Kyle Porter) the Tour traveled to Memphis. There’s no doubt the Open will return to Portrush in the future, and the sooner the better. But is it enough to beat our one-named analyst extraordinaire? Don’t think so.
Our Clown King is bigger than any other golf-media personality. This is no shot at you, Nantz. He’s the only Brandel in golf, and he lit up Brooks Koepka all year long, never backing down, even when Koepka dunked on him — first with some 3rd-grade MS Paint skills and then with a resounding PGA Championship win.
— Brooks Koepka (@BKoepka) May 4, 2019
Again, even when Bob Koepka was coming for Brandel’s head on Twitter, the Golf Channel host refused to back down. This was an important reminder that, like him or not, Chamblee sticks to his guns. And now that you mention it, this bracket shapes up nicely for a Koepka-Chamblee final. Get your popcorn ready.
6. FedEx v. 3. Sergio Garcia
One started fast, one closed well, but who mattered more to 2019? The corporation keeping professional golf well-funded, FedEx, injected more money into the game than it ever has before. Thanks to a gargantuan PGA Tour sponsorship, the FedEx Cup handed out $70 million at the end of the Tour season. Seventy. Million. Dollars.
It was a reminder that some Tour players really are playing for their livelihood … while others are playing for the chance to build another multimillion dollar house. Do not underestimate the power of FedEx, y’all. Every week, they’ve got broadcasters paying homage to their season-long race. Players shouting ’em out in post-round pressers. Of course, 99% of the golf populace couldn’t tell you how exactly the race is won, but no matter: FedEx is so important that the Tour rearranged how its Tour Championship was played (controversial move) just to make the sponsorship more valuable and easier to understand. Big money, people.
But money ain’t everything, and it sure wasn’t enough to overshadow Sergio Garcia’s actions in 2019. First came a tantrum in Saudi Arabia. Serg was not pleased with his play nor with the conditions of the course, so he dragged his spikes over a series of greens and beat the heck out of a bunker with his wedge. This would be notable anywhere, but especially so at an event where he was being paid handsomely just to show up! Read that sentence once more. It’s just as wild the second time. (Reminder, we waited more than 36 hours for this video to surface, one of the longest non-Bryson waits of the season.)
Sergio Garcia’s meltdown in a Royal Greens bunker a day prior to his disqualification for vandalism work on five greens. Story by @SkySportsGolf fills in details. Translations welcomed! https://t.co/UoGmPtTOz4 pic.twitter.com/dQMDN7y2PC
— Geoff Shackelford (@GeoffShac) February 4, 2019
Let’s strip away the context. Anytime a 39-year-old professional has to publicly state “[What I did] will never happen again,” out of sheer embarrassment, they’ve done a bad thing. Somehow, that wasn’t all from Sergio in 2019. The other #SergioSaturday came in Austin, Texas. More on that later. He’s moving on.
7. Grandstanding/Backstopping v. 2. Rules of Golf
The irony of this matchup is not lost on us. The phenomenon of grandstanding — players launching difficult shots into the spectator seating area around a green in order to take free relief from a nice, soft drop zone — is against the Rules. Backstopping — leaving your ball near a hole where it might help another player by use of collision — is against the Rules. And in this bracket both are literally against the Rules.
But the Rules were a tour de force. Their changes led off the calendar year, when Rickie Fowler mimicked taking a dump in the fairway during a drop in Mexico. Fowler’s action spoke for the greater collection of players. They did not approve of the new drop rule, weren’t crazy about the flagstick staying in the hole, etc. It’s already starting to feel like ancient history, but things were rocky for a minute there — changing the traditions of golf is never easy. The Rules did that, and it’s a big reason the Rules roll right through this showdown.
WINNER: The Rules
1. Brooks Koepka v. 8. Walk-in Putts
As the calendar year wound down, we were fiending for some Koepka content — we’d gotten dependent on a weekly fix. Brooks was everywhere this year, from our leaderboards to our Instagram feeds to our slow-play debates. We’ll get to his opinions, which were [six fire emojis] all year long, but let’s start with his golf. Top four in all four majors, a feat only matched by Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth. Big time company.
Walking in putts is hardly some new thing, but 2019 felt like a banner year for chasing down the hole.
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The move actually made Tiger Woods smile on the golf course, which is no small feat. Then Kevin Na and Sei Young Kim won tournaments doing it. But what Woods did at the Presidents Cup may have replaced the walk-in putt for good. This might now be the Era of the Remove-the-Hat Putt, which is far more entertaining. Just ask Abe Ancer. Koepka advances easily.
4. Jon Rahm v. 5. Eddie Pepperell
Ah, a classic 4-5 matchup where the 4-seed just doesn’t stand a chance. What a year it was for Jon Rahm victories! He claimed the Irish Open, the Spanish Open and the Race to Dubai, fending off Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood in the process. That’s elite stuff. But was anything about Rahm’s 2019 truly memorable? Not in the way Eddie Pepperell was.
Eddie P. was born to us of the Content Gods. His greatest act was a magician-like move at the Players, where he snapped a club and tossed it into a water hazard without a single camera recording it. This was one of the most underrated golfing feats of the year, and we didn’t hear about it until Pepperell BLOGGED about it. That commitment to the content game — and the way he’s stayed so authentic — easily pushes him past Rahm. As a bonus, don’t forget that wasn’t the only club Pepp snapped this year…
6. Jin-Young Ko v. 3. Shane Lowry
The most painful part of this bracket is saying goodbye to two worthy candidates, both of whom you love. Shane Lowry’s win at the British Open in Northern Ireland was one of the best major wins of the decade. It led to one of the greatest celebrations golf has ever seen. Lowry somehow took what Rory McIlroy couldn’t do and largely filled that void. He also got ill with his caddie (in a good way) for more than just the following week, and for anyone from small towns (like the two authors of this post), his homecoming was everything you wanted it to be. There were jerseys, songs, drinks and grandmothers turning into celebrities. But somehow, Jin-Young Ko is more important right now.
Ko has one of the greatest swings on the planet — of the genus Oosthuizenus — and she won more majors than any other golfer this year. Sorry, Steve Stricker, real majors. Ko won the ANA Inspiration, the Evian Championship, nearly won the Women’s British Open and took down two other LPGA events, too. It was a Koepka-ian performance, but with even more dominance in the normal Tour events. Her year will be remembered a long time, probably because it was her launching point. At just 24, more majors are on the way.
7. Charlie Woods v. 2. The Youths
Again, the irony in this matchup is not lost on us, but Charlie Woods has some growing to do before being considered one of The Youths. That’s the group of insanely talented young guns on the PGA Tour: Matthew Wolff, Collin Morikawa, Joaquin Niemann and Viktor Hovland. This group will almost all surely be at Augusta next year, and you can probably expect them to be mainstays there (even champions) for the next 30 years. Wolff, Morikawa and Niemann all notched their first wins while Hovland was the low amateur basically everywhere. He then set a PGA Tour record and forced the USGA to change a rule. That’s relevance.
BUT CHARLIE WOODS MOVES ON. Dash Day has been replaced as the cutest kid in golf.
Watching this on repeat. The noise level from the gallery, the hug with the kids, Tiger’s roar and genuine joy. Better than we could have imagined. pic.twitter.com/2oe3jILYKS
— Nathan Murphy (@nathanmurf) April 14, 2019
Tiger Woods’ only son was part of the most iconic walk the game has ever seen. That’s right — EVER seen. Listen to Faldo and Nantz gush over the scene. They’ve seen that walk made dozens of times, but this one means more: We will watch little Charlie in his little red and black outfit, with his Frank the headcover hat on backwards, strutting with his father on golf broadcasts for the rest of time. Charlie Woods has some serious staying power.
WINNER: Charlie Woods
1. Rory McIlroy vs. 8. Brendon Todd
Brendan Todd’s three-week stretch of win-win-almost win was an incredible run and a testament to the mental strength of a man who had seen the lowest depths of the swing yips. But this bracket knows NO recency bias. We’re talking about Bermuda, Mayakoba and Sea Island. We’ll call him the Vacationland Champion, and rightfully so, but before September, when was the last time you even thought about Todd? The idea that he’d take down POY, swagger-all-the-way-back Rory McIlroy should not even merit a discussion. Happy trails to Mr. Todd — we’ll always have Port Royal.
4. @PhilMickelson vs. 5. Hosung Choi
Oh boy, does the reign of Hosung Choi feel like a long time ago. We’ve aged many moons since those three PGA Tour starts at Pebble Beach, the John Deere Classic and the Barracuda Championship.
Ho Sung Choi for birdie …
Give him a break. pic.twitter.com/rZU6B3DTml
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 9, 2019
Hosung and his joyous golf swing captured the hearts and imaginations of golfers everywhere who wield imperfect moves and wear their hearts on their sleeves — though it should be noted that he did win a Japan Golf Tour event in November and jumped to a career-best 162 in the world.
But Mickelson won that same tournament where Choi MC’d. And for the sake of this bracket, that really doesn’t matter much. What mattered is @PhilMickelson, the social media maven, who during Pebble week made some personal history … and wouldn’t share it anywhere else but on his social feeds. Much more of that to come.
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3. USGA vs. 6. Sand
Okay, first of all imagine being the world’s foremost governing golf body and having to face a challenge from something that fills your bunkers. But sand is the clear winner here, and we’re happy to explain why.
Think of the madness that sand was involved in. We began the year with Sergio Garcia losing his mind in a bunker at a controversial event in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia, an area of the world known for its sand more than its grass. We finished out the year with Patrick Reed doing something suspicious in a waste area, removing sand in a decidedly untoward manner with the back of his wedge and ultimately setting off a sequence of events that ended with his caddie shoving a fan at the Presidents Cup. It was sand, ironically, that held the year together.
— GOLF.com (@GOLF_com) December 6, 2019
This loss is actually a slight win for the USGA. Their biggest moment in the spotlight came in their setup of Pebble Beach, which turned out to be a smashing success in the eyes of the players. Even Phil Mickelson — hardly a BFF of the USGA — praised the way the tournament unfolded. Sometimes competence means you fly under the radar. It can be a good thing.
2. Bryson DeChambeau vs. 7. Rae’s Creek
Bryson DeChambeau grew this year, in size and stature and legend. But you know whose legend grew even more? Rae’s Creek’s. UPSET! It’s hard to find any one person, place or thing more responsible for Tiger Woods’ Masters win than the body of water lurking in front of the 12th green. Sure, we wrote a ton about Bryson, because of things he said, because of things people said about him, because of things he said in response to things people said about him. He’s now planted on the podium of polarity, and stands a great chance to win next year’s bracket. The good news is he won’t have to skip a gym session to accept his trophy for winning 2019, because Rae’s Creek trickles onward!
WINNER: Rae’s Creek
1. Tiger Woods vs. 4. Augusta National Women’s Am
At the beginning of 2012, Augusta National still didn’t have a single female member. In April 2019, Maria Fassi stepped onto the 1st tee of that same course and told her playing partner, “Let’s put on a show,” and proceeded to do just that.
When Fassi birdied No. 14, she took a one-stroke lead — but playing partner Jennifer Kupcho closed like a mousetrap, adding three birdies on her way home to win by four. Even in golf it’s hard to find that sweet spot between celebrating the game and engaging in fierce competition; this was that and then some.
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Plenty of people have found over the years that in a sudden death playoff, it’s just not fair going up against Tiger Woods. Not in 2019. The man saved the United States from Presidents Cup disaster! The No. 1 seed marches on.
2. Matt Kuchar vs. 3. Pace of Play
Among the many rules — of both golf and taste — that Matt Kuchar brushed up against in 2019, pace of play wasn’t among them. Good thing. Pace of play defined the seasons of two of the game’s biggest names: Brooks Koepka built his identity on shredding slow players, while Bryson DeChambeau barely avoided having to wear a scarlet-lettered “PoP” sweater over his Puma polos. Koepka said DeChambeau’s pace was embarrassing. DeChambeau then told Koepka to say it to his face. Koepka then said it to his face.
Was standing on the putting green with Koepka's caddie earlier when an irritated Bryson DeChambeau walked up & told him to tell his boss to make any comment about slow play "to my face". Brooks arrived soon after, got the message & ambled over for a chat with the scientist.
— Eamon Lynch (@eamonlynch) August 11, 2019
In the natural order of seemingly unsolvable golf issues, a PGA Tour task force was created. The problem lives on, and strong, to 2020 and beyond. For that reason, Pace of Play moves on, too.
WINNER: Pace of play
8. Suzann Pettersen v. 4. Brandel Chamblee
With no disrespect to one of the most badass golf moves of all-time, let’s just create a log for what Chamblee said in 2019.
In March, he called a Jon Rahm decision the “most baffling” in Players Championship history. In April, he had to be convinced of Brooks Koepka’s toughness. In May, he said Koepka wasn’t in the same class as Tiger, DJ and Rory. He then compared Koepka to Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali. In July, he called out Rory McIlroy for choking. In October, he accused Koepka of being disrespectful and in December called out Patrick Reed for cheating. Again, no disrespect to Pettersen — she lifted the Solheim Cup to new heights — but if there is one opinion in golf we all are starving for, it’s Chamblee’s. Please, dear God, never take him off the air.
3. Sergio Garcia v. 2. Rules of Golf
It sounds weird to say, but Garcia has not won on the PGA Tour since his Masters victory in April 2017. He has quietly struggled in America, while winning four times on the European Tour to maintain a respectable world ranking. And just when Sergio seemed to be catching some footing with his game in America, at the WGC-Match Play, oh, he faced the Rules real hard.
Recall Garcia’s quick-rake of a short putt during a quarterfinals match with fellow content king Matt Kuchar. Garcia missed the putt before Kuchar could concede it to him, eventually handing Kuchar the hole (and one Garcia couldn’t afford to give up).
Here’s what went down with Sergio… pic.twitter.com/vn0cYDyGFM
— GOLF.com (@GOLF_com) March 30, 2019
You could say the Rules dominated Garcia here. In fact, Garcia was looking to bypass the Rules by asking Kuchar to cede him a hole and even things up. Do not pass Go! Do not collect $200. Just deliver us the most awkward video of the year. ¡Vamos, la Reglas!
WINNER: The Rules
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It was nice to run into Matt Kuchar at Austin Golf Club today. A lot has been said about Saturday and most has been misconstrued. We’re all good here. Nothing but respect for each other and it’s time to move on. . . Ha estado bien encontrarme a Matt en el Club de Golf de Austin. Mucho se ha escrito y hablado sobre lo que ocurrió el sábado y la mayoría de ello ha sido malinterpretado. Hay mucho respeto mutuo y el tema está zanjado.
1. Brooks Koepka v. 5. Eddie Pepperell
These two dudes carried us throughout the Summer of Content. Eddie Pepperell went all Ashton Kutcher on Matt Wallace, drawing up an incredible media day prank — in which Wallace nearly lost his cool multiple times. Koepka posed for some epic photos with his girlfriend Jena Sims, each saying simply, “We’re hotter than you, and we know it.” Pepperell punched back with a scene straight out of Tin Cup, literally RUNNING OUT OF GOLF BALLS at the Euro Tour event in Turkey. And Koepka? He posed some more, this time bucking in a bunker. Frolicking in the fairway. All of it naked for ESPN’s Body Issue. It’s the single greatest flex anyone in golf made in 2019. And for that, he struts his tiny tush on to the Elite 8.
May we all bow down for the one true king. pic.twitter.com/q3FnNzQnHE
— Sean Zak (@Sean_Zak) August 22, 2019
6. Jin-Young Ko v. 7. Charlie Woods
And now for the matchup no one saw coming! Seriously, no one could dream up a duel between the No. 1 female golfer on the planet and Tiger Woods’ second-born. But here we are. Each of these strong candidates did a great Tiger Woods impression this summer.
After his Masters moment, the next time we came across Charlie was when he mimicked his father (in a cutesy way, mind you) at the U.S. Open during a Rafa Nadal match. In addition to the obvious beauty of the moment, we can’t help but think of Charlie fist-pumping all over junior golf matches in the future, encouraged by his father. “Step on their necks.”
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Ko did her best Tiger impression, too, with an incredible midsummer par-or-better streak. Once thought untouchable, Tiger Woods’ 110-hole streak from the 2000 golf season wasn’t just matched by Ko. She beat the GOAT. Ko finished her streak with 114 straight holes of par-or-better in late August. That’s more than six straight rounds without dropping a shot. It’s absolutely incredible. So incredible that her impression of Tiger was greater than young Charlie’s.
1. Rory McIlroy vs. 4. @PhilMickelson
These days, Rory McIlroy is the embodiment of self-control. He’s a WHOOP-wearing, self-help-book-reading, social-media-avoiding, 30-year-old workout fiend who just keeps finishing in the top 10 of golf tournaments. In the quest for a balanced life, we should all aspire to Live Like Rory.
But for most of us, @PhilMickelson is just more realistic. He may not keep his attention on one thing for very long, but when he’s on something he’s all the way on it. Fasting. Ugly shirts. A sardonic sense of humor. He’s inaccurate off the tee, may have a social media addiction, starts projects he can’t finish, drinks a lot of coffee, and so on. He’s committed to being Full Phil.
In the last year, Mickelson has gained over 1 million Twitter followers. We are in the Content Age, and Lefty has become golf’s Prince of Posting. Look, Rory … we don’t make the rules and we’re not saying that we’re happy about this result, but Mickelson’s moving on. (Note: We actually do make the rules.)
6. Sand vs. 7. Rae’s Creek
Now this is a matchup — a literal battle of the elements! Water versus Earth. Hazard versus hazard. On a golf course, sand and water represent dramatically different things: The former is a challenge to be escaped from, while the latter represents a more finite doom. One of the most compelling moments in this year’s Sand Chronicles came when Rory McIlroy mistakenly moved some sand in a bunker, thinking he was picking up a pebble. What followed was one of golf’s great existential questions ever asked by a player. “I was going to argue, at the end of the day isn’t it all just rock,” McIlroy asked.
Rory McIlroy thought he was removing a loose impediment from a bunker, but then realized it was just sand.
He alerted a rules official and was given a two-shot penalty.
He was three back of the lead at the time of the penalty. pic.twitter.com/Ayp8zWw9Ei
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 9, 2019
Rae’s Creek has no such grey area; you’re either in or you’re out. While Francesco Molinari, Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau were each decidedly in, Tiger Woods was safely and definitively out. That has made all the difference. Rae’s Creek bubbles on.
WINNER: Rae’s Creek
1. Tiger Woods vs. 3. Pace of Play
This is a tougher matchup than it would first appear. Woods was asked about pace of play in August and he gave a telling response: “We’ve been fighting that for, God, ever since I grew up watching the game, guys were complaining about slow play,” he said. Is it possible that slow play is a force even stronger than Woods himself? That this is golf’s equivalent of Father Time, which everybody fights but no one beats? Woods’ toughest, vaguest opponent yet?
Not so fast. This is Eldrick Tont we’re talking about. He just hosted a tournament of his own in the Bahamas, where players were averaging sub-four-hour rounds (though it helps when you’ve only got 18 guys in the field). Woods himself remains swift to play (though deliberate on the greens). Plus, there’s the flip side to Woods’ own comments: If slow play has always been lurking in golf’s consciousness, it may never truly win or lose. Woods won the Masters, and he won the Zozo and he won the Presidents Cup as a player and as a captain. In a win for exhilaration over frustration, Tiger’s moving on over Pace of Play.
The only player on either side to do so. pic.twitter.com/Hy0kumQ1BJ
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 16, 2019
4. Brandel Chamblee v. 2. Rules of Golf
Let us take you back to Hawaii, nearly a full year ago. Señor Brandel predicted that, in due time, every player would be keeping the flagstick in. Now, this is exactly the kind of take for which we stand for our Clown King. Pick a side and ride it out. BUT, sometimes it’s better to be right and boring than aggressively wrong. And while Brandel was phenomenal on TV most of the year, his first take of the year was about the Rules and it … didn’t come true. Bryson putts with the pin in. Some others do, too — most recently Haotong Li at the Presidents Cup — but it is not ubiquitous on Tour.
The Rules nearly severed ties between Justin Thomas and a governing body! Reactions to the Rules inspired the USGA to create a new position on its staff, filled brilliantly by Jason Gore. Have we heard any legitimate gripes with the governing body since? No! Nothing rallied against criticism in 2019 quite like the Rules did.
WINNER: The Rules
1. Brooks Koepka v. 6. Jin Young Ko
Ironically, this debate played out on the pages of the year-end issue of GOLF Magazine, alongside Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Who was the true player of the year in 2019? While Ko’s two-major season is probably the only other season that Koepka would trade for his, Koepka was a bigger star via the microphone. Koepka really enjoyed the mic.
He used it to recall Rory McIlroy’s majorless 2015-2019. To promise he watches Golf Channel for everyone but Brandel Chamblee. To remind Bryson he’d crush him in a fight. Even to remind the rest of his peers that he doesn’t practice between events. Brooks became the best trash-talker on Tour in the non-Tiger, non-Phil division. He even made Tiger wonder if BK was ever going to text him back.
Koepka talked so much s— in 2019, it was almost too much. He’s set himself up for some public hand-wringing in 2020, but we won’t let that bother us now. We simply could not keep him from the final four.
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4. @PhilMickelson vs. 7. Rae’s Creek
Despite things getting funky here with two plucky underdogs advancing to the Elite 8, this is really a heavyweight matchup. @PhilMickelson treasures Augusta National and treasures his three green jackets. He shared how his backyard putting greens were jacked up to a preposterous 16 on the Stimpmeter just to prepare for the event.
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Phil even shared perhaps the greatest video of the year when he slandered Matt Kuchar’s generosity and made his first promise to hit bombs all over Augusta National. But remember why he had to “hit bombs” in the first place. After shooting a 67 in the first round, Mickelson faltered on the weekend, and on Sunday was already nearing the clubhouse by the time the tournament’s leaders got to Amen Corner. He wasn’t even eligible to have his dreams ruined by our favorite hazard. For that reason, the watery grave advances. A true Cinderella. Some things are bigger than content, even when that content is an electric Phireside with Phil.
WINNER: Rae’s Creek
1. Tiger Woods v. 2. Rules of Golf
Is this what we’ve been waiting for? Tiger vs. the rulebook? It feels … suggestive. Have no fear, though: Tiger didn’t tango with the Rules much this year, so it’s a fair fight. Who dominated 2019?
Please jog your memories to May, in which Woods got his doors blown off by Koepka at the PGA. Or June, in which Woods admitted his back doesn’t handle cold well. Or July, in which he missed a third-straight cut in the majors. Or August, where he actually had to WD from an event with an injury? My goodness does that feel like an alternate universe, but that’s what life is like in golf. If Woods triumphs anywhere, his transgressions or struggles from everywhere are forgotten. BUT NOT BY THIS BRACKET! In order to be the best, you have to beat the best, and the best thing at keeping our attention all year long was the Rules!
While Woods was struggling this summer, we had Darren Clarke receive a two-stroke penalty due to … a bird feeder? Or how about the bathroom break that DQ’d one player from a U.S. Open sectional qualifier? A seagull moved Phil Mickelson’s ball at Pebble Beach! Lee Westwood was praised simply for following the Rules! Look at that bracket again. This was the only way Tiger Woods was going to lose. It happened, and we’re okay with it. The Rules take the stage one more time.
WINNER: The Rules
1. Brooks Koepka v. 7. Rae’s Creek
Before we get to the obvious, let us remember that Koepka starred in two This is SportsCenter commercials this summer. One was good and the other was not. He finished the calendar year as World No. 1, just like he started it. He made us worry that the Presidents Cup might not be safe after all, and he posed, MULTIPLE TIMES, in his girlfriend’s thongs. Multiple times.
Jena Sims wants to know who wore it better on her Instagram page. pic.twitter.com/zSsWM6PEg2
— Evan Jankens (@KINGoftheKC) January 22, 2019
What can a creek do with a thong besides dispose of it? How did this little creek get here? How can it be the most powerful hazard in the game? Some things just find a way. Rae’s Creek was The Little Creek that Could in 2019, and prior to taking down the greatest Italian golfer of all-time, it took down our boy BK, leaving him with a double bogey when par was all he needed. If it weren’t for Rae’s Creek, Koepka’s eagle on the 13th hole might have been the biggest result of the tournament. We could be talking about Tiger, Koepka, Rory, etc. all differently if that little creek doesn’t gobble up Koepka’s ball. But it did, so the creek keeps flowing, right on to the championship. For a guy who put up some pretty questionable looks in 2019, you know this is the only one he wants back.
WINNER: Rae’s Creek
2. Rules of Golf v. 7. Rae’s Creek
This is a matchup of two enduring pillars of the game — and of two of our greatest fears: a wicked water hazard and the governing bible by which strokes get added to your score. While Rae’s Creek stole the show for one fateful April day, the Rules dominated week-in, week-out.
Simply put, nothing had more staying power in 2019 because nothing else in the game truly draws a reaction from golfers. Rickie Fowler showed us at the Waste Management Phoenix Open just how brutal the Rules can be, and three days later we were still talking about it, grilling Jordan Spieth for his thoughts on a tournament he didn’t play in. When the Rules made news, it always felt like we were talking about something larger.
When Patrick Reed’s U.S. Presidents Cup teammates were defending him days after the Hero World Challenge, they were really making a statement about the Rules. When Christina Kim was incensed enough to tweet MORE THAN 100 TIMES, defending herself simply for calling out a rules infraction, she was standing up for the Rules.
And please let us recall Zach Johnson, who hit what was, for three seconds, the craziest televised shot in Masters history.
We’re not sure you can recover from that as a two-time major-winner and past Masters champion. For another second after ZJ hit the ball, he thought he was in trouble. But our Rules Follower of the Year, Matt Kuchar, was thankfully on hand, and according to the Rules, it didn’t happen! Wiped from the record (and now only available on YouTube).
What could Rae’s Creek do but simply look on and watch the Rules stunt on its precious property? The creek is powerful, but it is less powerful without the Rules by its side. There is no other option here. A truly valiant effort by the hazard, but the Rules of Golf dominated 2019. And they might just dominate 2020 as well.
2019 CHAMPION: The Rules