So, 2017 was a turbulent year in the world of sports, but we all weathered it quite well. Now that we have a minute between New Year’s champagne and golf on Hawaii, let’s take a look back at the best, worst and zaniest of the year, and not just in golf.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR – JUSTIN THOMAS
PGA Championship + FedEx Cup + Five Tour wins + Prez Cup hero = landslide victory for the kid with the wide smile and the phlegmatic demeanor. Oh, and he also shot a 59 at the Sony Open. He’s long by the way, losing by a hair to Dustin Johnson in the long driving contest at Liberty National, 319-315, at the Presidents Cup. He’ll win at least two majors and captain a Ryder Cup team down the road. With some pundits on the lookout for him to reach the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, he’s a strong keep for your fantasy squad, too.
BEST TIME CAPSULE MOMENT – SPIETH AT BIRKDALE
There are two Open Championship Rota courses that almost always see Hall of Famers win: One is Muirfield and the other is Birkdale. Spieth was leaking oil all day on championship Sunday, fighting his swing and flailing away like a Westerosi knight on “Game of Thrones”. Then he saved bogey from a Hebridean beach, which lit the fuse on a 5-under-in-four-holes explosion, and he ended the day peeling out of the car park with the Claret Jug in the passenger seat. That was as timeless as they come. Go, kid!
BEST CHAMPIONSHIP MOMENT – SERGIO AT THE MASTERS
Not Shakespeare, nor Marlowe, nor Cecil B. DeMille could have given us the tale of heartache and redemption that was Sergio Garcia’s career. Finally, at the Masters no less, we get the redemption we all hoped for. Like Spieth, Sergio was battling a two-way miss going into the back nine. He flushed a big lead, and was headed for another epic major disappointment when, for once, the Golf Gods nodded his way. His clutch putts coming down the stretch against Justin Rose will have a whole generation of kids pretending to be Sergio on the practice green. “This is for the Green Jacket!”
BEST MODERN COURSE VISITED – BAYONNE GOLF CLUB
Bayonne is one of the great rounds of golf anywhere. Towering over Manhattan harbor, Eric Bergstol secured a landfill with state-of-the-art technology, then capped 135 acres with 7 million cubic yards of sand. Drawing mostly from Irish links, Bayonne is wonderfully original due to its unparalleled natural setting and Bergstol’s brilliantly climaxing the round by the seaside. It’s one of the places you’ll remember playing fr the rest of your life.
And it blows Liberty National away, that’s for sure.
Most people say Donald Trump should try to emulate Ronald Reagan more frequently, and that’s true. But I also think he ought to emulate Eric Bergstol more frequently too. Rather than buying great golf courses, build them yourself. Eric sells to the Donald, that’s how good his work is.
BEST CLASSIC COURSE VISITED – MEADOW CLUB
It was a bumper crop of old classics this year, as we visited Old Town Club (winner of multiple awards since the Coore and Crenshaw renovation), Winged Foot (always a joy) and Forsgate (the best deal in golf?!), but this year’s award goes to a club little-known to the general public, but highly-regarded by the cognoscenti: Alister Mackenzie and Robert Hunter’s Meadow Club. Carved into a bowl on the top of a mountain in Northern California, it’s Mackenzie and Hunter’s first collaboration in North America and a club which we’ll be writing more about shortly. It’s one of those Shangri-Las of golf — a club so good it was worth the Herculean effort to get there.
BEST RESTORATION – MORAINE
Remember that name, you’re going to bee hearing it all year long. Like at Philly Cricket (Wissahicken), architect Keith Foster again cements his reputation as a specialist in both historical restoration and creativity. This Alex Fundlay design outside Dayton, Ohio, hosted the 1945 PGA Championship where Byron Nelson won his fifth and final major championship.
HONORABLE MENTION: Best walk through history – Canterbury Golf Club. The clubhouse is a museum, a shrine to the professional game’s illustrious history. At every turn and at each alcove and corner there is another timeless photo recalling some of the game’s remarkable history. If it’s possible, people may still underrate Ohio for its quality of golf courses, at least on the private side.
BEST NEW PUBLIC COURSE COURSE – SAND VALLEY
The latest greatest Mike Kaiser destination resort is this 36-hole (for now) facility with courses by Coore and Crenshaw (the eponymous Sand Valley) and the David McKay Kidd-designed Mammoth Dunes.
“Its [Sand Valley’s] width made the course playable for practically anyone, but the on-form golfer can quickly figure out the more precise and rewarding plays all over the course,” said GNN’s Ryan Ballengee. “The greens are big, but they’re quick and have several different influences that almost make them feel like their own unique greens within a green. No hole felt the same, and there were some awesome call-outs to architectural influences from C&C’s own career and the greats before them.”
Mammoth Dunes is even more exciting and outlandish. The green complexes in particular are gargantuan, featuring so many humps and hollows, you may have to play away from the hole on your first putt to get a chance to hole your second…if you can.
BOOK OF THE YEAR – “THE SECRET RACE”
“The Secret Race” by Daniel Coyle and Tyler Hamilton may be set in the world of cycling, but its greatest contribution is its letter-perfect expose of how blood doping and testosterone boosts give an unfair advantage to athletes. It details how widespread the use is in many sports, top to bottom, and lays out the incredible lengths athletes will go to in order to avoid detection (or even arrest!). Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton and their teammates had a random dude on a motorcycle follow their tour. His cover was to provide them hamburgers in white paper bags, but if you looked between the patty and the bottom bun – voila! – there were plastic packets of EPO. The time one guy accidentally re-infused dog blood by mistake should be a warning to people about how they are playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with their bodies too, and all sports should be sounding the alarm, because you can’t tell just by looking at them any more that they’re cheating.
That’s why everyone should stand up and applaud blood testing in golf.
SADDEST CLOSING – ENGINEERS CLUB
This Herbert Strong design that hosted a PGA Championship and a US Open deserved a better fate, especially after a successful Tripp Davis restoration. The Famous “2 or 20 hole” was a piece of golf history. The dinky little par-3 barely measured 125 yards, but the sliver of a green sat on a cliff edge. And if you hit it in the gunch, you’d find the Blair Witch before you’d find your golf ball. On the same day Bobby Jones made an 11 and Gene Sarazen made a 10.
PGA TEACHER OF THE YEAR – BERNIE HERCEG OF LINKS AT HIAWATHA LANDING
The greatest instructors in the game aren’t the guys out on the Tour teaching the pros, but the work-a-day head professionals and teachers that minister the swings of the rank and file golfer like a priest with a penitent. Binghamton, New York’s Bernie Herceg, of Links at Hiawatha Landing routinely shaves at least five shots off the handicaps of his students, and then goes out and coaches the University of Binghamton’s Bearcats to 10 wildly successful seasons thus far. He’s compiled an outstanding tournament record of 685-403-7 (.629) at the helm. During his guidance, the Bearcats have won 16 tournaments, including four Cornell Invitational team crowns.
No matter your political persuasion, everybody is this Bernie’s bro.