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Monday Morning Rap: The 'Golfie' Awards Recap An Absolutely Insane Year In Golf

Andy Lyons. Getty Images.

Welcome to a very special edition of the Monday Morning Rap, where we're reviving The Golfies. I'm not sure when simply adding "ies" to the end of a word became official naming protocol for an award show (blog post), but here we are. There's still one more DP World Tour event before the golf world essentially shuts down for the holidays, but we're going to pull the trigger a  bit early and assume that no theatrics at the Mauritius Open will produce the sheer drama needed for Golfie consideration. 

Before we dive in, a few words on the most recent edition of The Match, which featured the top four finishers in the PGA Tour's Player Impact Program playing under the lights on a December Saturday. By now, we know what to expect from these exhibitions; they're going to be heavy on the trash talk, heavy on the gambling angle and refreshingly casual. How entertaining they are depends almost entirely on the inter-group dynamics, and these were on point. Tiger, Rory, JT and Spieth have grown quite close over the years—when you reach Featured Group level of stardom, you're almost always paired with the same guys every week, and these guys have played tons of competitive golf together over the past decade. But they're also tight off the course, with Tiger/Rory/JT all holding corner-booth-table status in the Jupiter Mafia and all four playing leading roles in engineering the recent restructuring of the PGA Tour. None of the banter felt forced, and we're lucky to witness a far less serious version of Tiger Woods play a round as One of The Boys in a way he never did earlier in his career, when his sole focus was crushing the soul of every other golfer. 

One aspect of this Match that I found particularly compelling was the live instructional content. Multiple times throughout the evening, one of the four players would explain in a technical sense the shot he intended to hit and how he planned to do it. That kind of stuff provides unique insight into these men's genius. More of this going forward, please. 

As far as Woods' game goes, we saw more or less what we expected to, with one notable exception. When the broadcast showed Woods' first driving-range tee shot reaching 180-plus mph ball speed, I assumed the monitors were juiced—which would make sense, given the setting. But if his were juiced, so were the others, as the soon-to-be 47 year old was within 5-7 mph of JT and Spieth throughout the evening. It seems what Woods told us in the Bahams holds true: that he can hit any golf shot, and that he can even shoot well under par, but that he simply has not figure out the whole walking thing. Which, of course, is rather salient given his repeated refusal to even consider taking a golf cart in competition. 

In summary…well, I sort of already published my overarching takeaway from Saturday on Twitter. This is one of the more conundrums of Modern Journalism/Take-Having: do you fire your goods off on Elon's playground in real-time, or do you make the people until their Monday bathroom break at the office? We're fans of immediacy here, so I sent that gold into the ether on Saturday evening. But for those not addicted to their phones, here's the thesis: I rather enjoyed watching the fellas play some golf under the lights on an otherwise quiet sports night in December, and I'll always prefer having golf on my television to not having golf on my television. It's really not that deep. 

Elsewhere in golf, Sahith Theegala and Tom Hoge won the QBE Shootout in the last year before it becomes a mixed event. There were two women in the field this past week in Naples, Lexi Thompson and Nelly Korda, and they more than held their own. Peep how impressed Max Homa and Kevin Kisner were with Nelly's ball striking.

And now…drumroll please…your 2022 Golfies. We're going to list the nominees in italics, with the winner bolded. 

Player of the Year

Andrew Redington. Getty Images.

—Rory McIlroy
—Scottie Scheffler
—Cameron Smith

Scottie and Cam dominated the first two-thirds of the year, but McIlroy elbowed his way into contention with a phenomenal close to the campaign in which he claimed the FedEx Cup, the DP World Tour year-end title and wrestled back the world No. 1 ranking. It's not to say that McIlroy's finishing flourish feels hollow, but players of McIlroy's caliber have their careers defined by major championships, and his inability to win one hamstrings his candidacy in this group. Scheffler reigned supreme, especially in the spring, when his dominant Masters victory marked his fourth win in six starts, all over stronger-than-average fields. But he was never going to keep up that pace for the whole year, and Smith kept on picking off huge events at the year wore on. It began at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he caught stared down then-No. 1 Jon Rahm and set a PGA Tour scoring record in the process. Next came a hibachi-hot weekend to steal the rain-soaked Players Championship. Then, a final-round 64 to win the 150th Open at St. Andrews, a most controversial career decision to join LIV Golf, a victory in his second start on the rival circuit and one more W for good measure back home in Australia to cap 2022. 

In the end, Scottie's week-to-week consistency gives him the edge. I'm a big believer in Data Golf's algorithm for ranking golfers, as it incorporates all their play (including LIV events), while you could argue the OWGR overvalues good weeks and undervalues bad ones. Smith ranks 12th in Data Golf's rankings due to some really average weeks, whereas Scottie's held strong at No. 3. This sorta boils down to a philosophical question as to what a Player of the Year award should be based on. For me, it should answer the question who was the best golfer throughout the year? That was Scottie, by a hair. 

Breakthrough Player of the Year

Ross Kinnaird. Getty Images.

Ryan Fox
—Tom Hoge
—Adrian Meronk
—Seamus Power
—Sepp Straka

The average American golf fan might never have heard of him, but Fox enjoyed a stellar season across the pond. The 35-year-old New Zealander won twice on the DP World Tour and posted six other top-four finishes to finish second in the DP World Tour's season-long points race, trailing only McIlroy. He's doing something that's happening less and less in this youth-dominated age: finding his best form well into his 30's, and he's now risen inside the top 30 of the world rankings. He was genuinely unlucky to not be selected to the International side at the Presidents Cup, but an upcoming Masters invite should help ease some of that pain. 

Rookie of the Year

Sam Greenwood. Getty Images.

—Tom Kim
—Sahith Theegala
—Cameron Young

A two-horse race for the vast majority of the year. Young was always the clear favorite after his stellar start to 2022, which included a solo second against a stacked field at the Genesis Invitational and a T3/T2/T3 trio at the RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship and PGA Championship. Young never quite got over the finish line and is still chasing that first victory—he decided to switch caddies, away from his longtime best friend in favor of a seasoned pro, in part because he said he's frustrated he hasn't been able to close the deal, which shows you this guy's not messing around—but his consistency and top-tier finishes in big events earned him the official ROTY award from the PGA Tour. Theegala captured hearts at the WM Phoenix Open and never relinquished them throughout the year, emerging as a fan favorite and posting four top-five finishes along the way. Kim made this a tough one with his catapult to stardom in the fall, winning the Wyndham Championship, providing pure electricity at the Presidents Cup and then becoming the only guy not named Tiger Woods to win two PGA Tour events before turning 21 years old. In the end, Young's yearlong presence earns a 1 up victory on Kim. 

Round of the Year

—Matt Fitzpatrick hits 17 greens in regulation to win the U.S. Open
—Tom Kim shoots 27 on the front nine to win the Wyndham Championship
—Jon Rahm shoots eight under over his last nine holes to nearly steal the BMW PGA Championship
—Cameron Smith makes 10 birdies to win the Players Championship
—Cameron Smith shoots 64 to leapfrog Rory McIlroy and win the claret jug at St Andrews
—Tiger Woods opens the Masters with a one-under 71 after layoff and amid difficult conditions

This one wasn't particularly difficult. Considering his opponent (perhaps the most popular golfer on Earth and a wild fan favorite that week) and the setting (the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews, the Home of Golf), Smith's closing 64 will go down as one of the best rounds in major championship history. Smith played his first nine in two-under but trailed by three to McIlroy, who appeared to be on time for his date with destiny. But Rory's putter never heated up, and Cam's caught fire. He birdied the first five holes of his back nine to wrestle control of the tournament, and his up-and-down par at the Road Hole was the stuff of dreams. One final birdie at the finisher proved the difference, as he needed every shot of his eight-under round to edge Cameron Young by a single shot. The greatness of that round was somewhat obscured by all the McIlroy heartbreak—the entire press room couldn't contain themselves with excitement about a potential Rory drought-ending win, with things reaching a fever pitch when a handful of writers non-ironically visited Old Tom Morris' grave on Sunday morning for reasons I still can't fully understand—and all the speculation regarding Smith's impending move to LIV, which did indeed become a reality. But if we remove that context and focus solely on the golf, one round stood above the rest. 

Shot of the Year

—Matt Fitzpatrick from the bunker on 18 at Brookline
—Hideki Matsuyama's 3-wood from 276 yards to two feet to win the Sony Open
—Scottie Scheffler's chip-in birdie on No. 3 at the Masters on Sunday
—Cameron Smith's approach into 17 on Sunday at the Players Championship
—Cameron Smith's putt over the Road Hole bunker on Sunday of the Open Championship
—Justin Thomas drives Southern Hills' 17th green on the second hole of the PGA Championship playoff

Feast your eyes. 

I was standing just left of the bunker, and when I first caught a glimpse of the ball, I thought there was no chance he'd be able to get it to the green. It's not just that he had to pick it clean and get it up quickly to avoid that lip; it's that the ball also had to cut a good 10 yards to finish where it did. Fitzpatrick simply had to pull off that shot if he wanted to win the United States Open, and he did, sending this 9-iron to 18 feet for his 17th green in regulation of the day. When Will Zalatoris' birdie effort refused to break, Fitzpatrick joined Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open at the same golf course. Making that shot even more impressive: Fitzpatrick struggled out of fairway bunkers all year. But we he had to summon a good one, he summoned a great one—and provided an all-time U.S. Open moment. Second place here goes to Smith's putt at the Road Hole, a play simultaneously ballsy and mature, for he knew his only real chance to make par was to roll his rock dangerously close to the Road Hole bunker and accept the eight-footer coming his way. Which, of course, he buried. 

The "This Can't Really Be Happening" Finish of the Year

—Max Homa chips in, then Danny Willett three-putts from four feet at the Fortinet Championship
—Dustin Johnson holes eagles putt to win three-man playoff at LIV Boston
—Tom Kim goes absolutely ape shit after making putt to beat Schauffele/Cantlay at Presidents Cup
—Mito Pereira goes full T-Rex arms, double bogeys 18 to lose PGA Championship
—Scottie Scheffler four-putts the final green at Augusta, briefly looks like he forgot how to play golf

I was tempted to give this one to Homa's win in Napa, for that truly felt the most surreal in the moment and I didn't want to give every award to a major championship. But rewatching the video now, it's still hard to believe Mito Pereira hit the tee shot he did on 18. Perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising, given the way he was playing that day: the Chilean began the day with a three-shot lead but never had control of his ball on Sunday. Still, despite sitting three-over for the day, Pereira held a one-shot lead on the 18th tee and needed just a par to secure his first major championship victory. There were acres of space down the left hand side of that difficult par 4, but Pereira made about as nervous a move as possible and block-sliced one into the water down the right side. Shell-shocked, he then proceeded to drop in the fairway, badly pull his third shot left of the green and failed to get up-and-down for a bogey that still would've gotten him in a playoff. This final collapse probably didn't feel as stark in the moment because it did feel like Pereira was bleeding all day, but looking back on it a few months later it's still hard to believe. 

Quote of the Year

Warren Little. Getty Images.

—“I haven't played a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, but I can't imagine there's a whole hell of a lot of difference. —Talor Gooch
—"It's my 21st PGA Tour win and one more than someone else." —Rory McIlroy
—"They're scary motherfuckers to get involved with." —Phil Mickelson
—"Surely you jest." —Greg Norman
—"I can hit any shot you want. I just can't walk." —Tiger Woods

A runaway winner here. It's not that Mickelson's comments to Alan Shipnuck, which he later claimed were intended to be off the record, illuminated something about Lefty that we didn't know, He'd already long been rumored to be deeply involved with the Saudi-funded league long before these quotes dropped. And anyone who's followed Mickelson's career knows that he's not some sort of out-to-lunch dumby; he knows the Saudi government's record on human rights and its international reputation. It's that he said the quiet part out loud—that he's willing to get into business with those types of people for the right price, whether that's a dollar figure or, as he originally stated, "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape the PGA Tour." Whether that was actually his goal became irrelevant, for there was no way back to Ponte Vedra for Phil after he admitted to Shipnuck in that interview that he actually helped build LIV Golf. In another reminder of the almighty power of the pen, Shipnuck's article sent Phil into a multi-month hiatus to deal with personal issues and, as an aside, finally prompted him to acknowledge a gambling problem. It's crazy to think what the golf world might look like if Mickelson had never said those six words. 

Social media post of the year

—Some beautiful person posts video of Bryson DeChambeau getting dominated by a rope
—Shane Lowry subsequently makes fun of Bryson's response to said video
—Charley Hoffman 
claims "no protection" is the reason players are considering leaving the PGA Tour
—Trevor Immelman 
responds to Greg Norman's good-luck message with "LOL"
—Alan Shipnuck 
posts hilarious picture with Greg Norman in background
—The entire internet 
tracks Tiger Woods' private jet as it heads toward Augusta, Ga.
—Tiger 
hits Phil with a "whoops" after beating him in the Player Impact Program

If you were wondering whether it's still funny, the answer is fuck yes. 

I think it's the "what the fuck, guys!" that does it for me. Like, he simply can't believe that the people around him didn't physically prevent him from walking straight into a gallery rope. He then proceeds to collapse like he was shot, sassily grab the towel from his caddy while yelling FUCK! and just make one giant scene. This moment transcended golf, with Josh Allen showing how it's done after a Monday Night Football victory. 

Bryson tried to make light of the situation by posting an oddly adrenaline-addled video with some of his long-drive buddies, but it seemed to only make it worse. That is, according to both Shane Lowry and Justin Thomas. 

A top-notch showing by all the nominees in this category this year, and we thank them for the never-ending entertainment. 

Most Dramatic LIV Defection of the Year

We use the word "defection" lightly, for as I've said throughout this existential crisis, I do not begrudge any player for getting his money. I might disagree with their reasoning, but every person's decision-making process is colored by their own feelings, experiences and motivations that the rest of us can't possibly understand. This award is merely intended to highlight some of the more surprising decisions throughout the year, whether that's because of who the player is or how they spoke about LIV in the past. 

—Brooks Koepka accuses media of putting black cloud over U.S. Open, says he doesn't want to get in business with the Saudis, claims he hasn't thought about it at all, then immediately signs LIV deal
—Joaquin Niemann says he has no idea where his LIV rumors come from, right before joining LIV
—Pat Perez goes from 100% backing Tiger and trashing Phil to the LIV Golf's biggest fan
—Cameron Smith scolds reporter for asking about LIV after Open win, then joins LIV
—Henrik Stenson calls Ryder Cup captaincy a "dream come true," proceeds to forfeit it to join LIV

You almost have to applaud Stenson for the sheer gumption required to make his move. Despite what he might claim, he knew damn well that signing with LIV would force the powers that be to strip him of his Ryder Cup captaincy, which is basically a reward for a live well lived in golf. A more cynical view of proceedings would suggest that Stenson might've even used his captain status as leverage for a fatter contract, as he wouldn't get the same deal if his signing wasn't such a symbolic FU to the establishment. He then won his very first LIV event at the LIV-iest event of all, the gathering at Trump's Bedminster property that felt just as much like a political rally as a golf tournament. Stenson's move did not sit well with the rest of the Ryder Cup Europe establishment, but you have to think he feels pretty good about his decision given the money now in his possession. 

Rules Dispute of the Year

—Sergio Garcia tells official he "can't wait to leave this tour" after receiving penalty
—Mark Hubbard goes full YOLO, brings second driver into play as 15th club during competition
—Hideki Matsuyama brings out the white-out on his 3-wood, is promptly disqualified
—Cameron Smith gets two-shot penalty at FedEx Cup playoff event amid heavy LIV rumors

I just want to know how no one told Hideki that hey, channeling your inner coloring book and adding a chalky substance to a fairway wood at the Memorial could potentially cause some issues. The gearheads even snapped a picture of this club early in the week, so it wasn't like Hideki was trying to pull a fast one. It's also apparently legal to use a sharpie on your club; it's only illegal if the substance added to the club can be felt beyond the texture of the club. Which makes sense—white-out is far thicker than sharpie ink, and it's entirely possible that the ball would bounce off the stuff (look at how small the circle he drew is; there's not much room for a bal to escape untouched) and react unnaturally. This was another tough category to choose from, for Garcia's petulance and Hubbard's DGAFness produced strong candidates. 

This was a decidedly batshit year in golf—the constant LIV drama, Tiger's sort-of comeback, Scheffler's run, Smith's victories, Rory and Norman's pettiness, my move to Barstool and so much more. 

That was a joke, by the way, including myself in that list. But I'm thrilled to be here and fired up to trudge through what promises to be an equally nuts 2023 with you all. With that, we tie a bow on the Monday Morning Rap for this year. It's been hugely fulfilling to have this space to go deep on inside-golf stuff, and it's been fun to see the pieces resonating with all (some?) of you. Let's keep it rolling. 

-Dan