Heading into this week’s Wyndham Championship, which marks the last tournament of the “regular season” on the PGA Tour, I thought it was worth a quick look at a few of the things that have made this season such a great (and not so great) one, from my perspective, in a purely, totally subjective way.
I’ve very much enjoyed watching a few of the young rising stars of the game either take or secure their place amongst the game’s elite this year.
Brooks Koepka, with his win last week at the PGA Championship, has finally earned a spot in that group, in my opinion.
Koepeka has been lurking just behind the front-runners for a few years now, flashing brilliance on occasion but never really seeming to get a secure hold on his game from week to week.
He won his first PGA tournament in 2015 at the always-raucous Waste Management Open in Phoenix, but it wasn’t until the US Open last year that he really started to blossom, winning that prestigious tournament by four strokes. He defended that title this year, becoming the first to do so since Curtis Strange did it in 1988 and 1989. When he added the PGA Championship last week, I officially placed him in the top-tier of golfers world-wide – a place I’ve been hoping he’d get to for about four years now.
Now we just have to wait and see if he can stay there.
Justin Thomas, meanwhile, broke onto the PGA Tour in 2015 and immediately collected seven top-10s, including forth-place finishes at the Quicken Loans National and Sanderson Farms Championship before earning his first tour win in Kuala Lumpur after shooting a course record 61, which contributed to his 26-under winning score at the CIMB Classic. He would defend that title the following year and follow that performance by being only the seventh player in PGA Tour history to shoot a 59 in a tournament round, going on to win the Sony Open, as well.
He ended the year as the FedEx Cup Champion after becoming just the fourth golfer to win five times in a single season – including a major championship – before turning 25.
Some would say that secured his spot amongst the game’s current elite, but I would say that’s when he got there.
This year, however, he secured that spot by recording another three wins (so far), including the WGC Bridgestone and the Honda Classic, making 17 of 19 cuts throughout the year, finishing in the Top-25 in all but one of those tournaments and earning another $8-million or so for his efforts.
Last year could’ve been a fluke, right?
My favourite golfer of the last decade or so, Grahame McDowell, needs a fifth place finish or better this week in order to make the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Now, I’m not going to try to claim that McDowell ever made it into the worldwide top-tier of golfers, even after his spectacular win at the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach, but this year has been particularly hard to watch. While he’s still been relatively accurate off the tee (finding the fairway over 65 per cent of the time) his distance is severely lacking these days, leaving him long shots into greens, which is probably why he’s only 161st on tour in Greens in Regulation percentage and 170th in birdie average.
I guess I should take solace in the fact that he’s still managed to earn more than a half-million dollars this season.
It’s also been tough to watch the continuing storyline of Canada’s Graham DeLaet.
Everyone in Canada who pays attention to the PGA Tour was cheering for DeLaet to become Canada’s next big thing in golf. He was a rising star, and we all cheered for him even more knowing that he was in pain the whole time. He’d had back surgery in 2011, but things were clearly never really 100 per cent back there.
But this year, when he opened the season with a T-5 at the the Safeway Open in Napa, we had hope again. He fell off the following week at the CIMB in Kuala Lumpur, missing the cut.
No big deal, thought we, his fans.
But when he withdrew at the CJ Cup the following week because he was fed up with fighting through the pain, announcing he would undertake a program of stem-cell injections and other “new age” treatments, we all knew things had gotten bad.
Then, just a few weeks ago, DeLaet announced he would be out at least six months longer than he’d thought, telling his fans via Twitter that he would be undergoing a second surgery on his back – the same kind he underwent in 2011, although on a different disc this time.
It’s been a rough go for DeLaet, but we still hold out hope that he’ll come through this whole thing healthy.
And even if he never becomes the “next big thing” in Canadian golf, I just want to see him not in pain at this point.
By all accounts, he’s one of the nicest guys around, and I wish him all the best in whatever he ends up doing.