The Good, the Bad and the Weirdo (and everyone in between): Golf, 2020
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Alright. I'm back. Enough is enough. I'm back on the ole typewriter, so let's talk about some golf now.
Yep! After all this time, with all the sports that have been going on, and after not having written an article for an extended period of time, I make my big return with a golf article. But this is exactly why I'm writing this article: I need you to care about golf, and there are so many reasons why the sport is at peak performance right now.
Golf is like any TV show. It's got its season-long plot, and, of course, it has its phenomenal set of characters that move the plot along. For the purposes of this academic article, we will be sticking with this concept: Golf is a TV show.
Right now, you're jumping into this show three-fourths of the way through it. My family started watching Lost without me this summer, so I know how you feel. You're lost and confused and there are too many people at too many different parts of the island for you to comfortably dive right into it. That's okay, we're gonna do this anyway.
The season is pretty straightforward. There are tournaments once a week, and players accumulate points throughout the season depending on where they finish in these tournaments. Normally, this show ends each season with the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but due to COVID-19, the plot line is a bit skewed. The FedEx Cup already happened, we had a late U.S. Open and PGA Championship, no British Open, and now, we will have a crazy finale at Augusta. The Masters Tournament and all of its charm will be held in November this year.
You've seen it. You've heard it. The camera panning around the iconic setting that is Augusta National with Ray Charles singing or Tom Rinaldi speaking and majestic piano in the background (by the way, if that doesn't get your blood pumping, I don't know what will). The Masters Tournament is back but with a couple changes. Instead of the iconic purple azaleas and white dogwoods of spring, we will be seeing an orange-red-and-brown-leaves-on-the-ground, makes-you-want-to-go-on-a-hayride version of Augusta National. It will still be the same, pristine, heaven-on-earth, Augusta. It will just look a little different.
And this year, Tiger Woods is coming back to Georgia defending his green suit jacket… which happens to be a perfect segue into our character list.
Tiger Woods is essentially the protagonist here. He's made some poor decisions down the road, and you were disappointed by it, but he's climbed back. After winning 80 times on Tour and dominating the sport in the early 2000s, he is in a new chapter in his life now. Woods is a father now. He wants to spend time with his son Charlie, and he wants his son to remember watching his father win. He's also more of "the veteran" on Tour now. Previously a fierce Doberman dog, who cared only about winning, Woods is now kind of a mentor to younger players, as he is seemingly showing more amicability with his competitors on and off of the golf course. That does NOT mean he can't still play, though.
Tiger Woods, whether you like him or not, is undeniably back. He's had some ups and downs this season. He won his 82nd tournament at the ZOZO Championship back in October of last year, he placed a top-10 at the Farmers Insurance Open, and played great in the President's Cup in December, as well. However, he did not do very well in the majors this year. Nevertheless, this guy owns the Masters Tournament.
He knows this place like a second home. He's played Augusta enough, and he's won at Augusta enough (five times) that he knows he can win at this place. He doesn't have to hit the ball 350 yards like he used to, he just needs to play his game, and he knows he can win.
With that being said, the whole plot line here is leading up to Tiger Woods breaking (or not) the old fabled Jack Nicklaus's major championship record of 18. It's like the first seven seasons of Game of Thrones when everyone says, "Winter is Coming." We all know it's coming, and we all know the war with the dead people is coming -- it's just a matter of when it's going to happen and who's going to die/win. Tiger is at 15 and has only so many years left, so each major championship is precious.
The New Kid
Collin Morikawa, 23, is the new kid on the block. The University of California, Berkeley grad burst onto the scene in 2019, as soon as he turned pro. The young American made the cut in all of his first 22 starts (only three short of Tiger's 25 initial made cuts), and already has three wins on Tour. At a certain point, he had more wins (two) than missed cuts (one) on his resume. (A little off topic, but to put this stat into context, Tiger Woods won 43 times before missing his second cut…).
One of his three wins is already a major championship, as he won this year's first major, the PGA Championship in spectacular fashion. With the most fantastic, buttery-smooth fade, on the 294-yard, par-4 16th hole, he stuck his drive within seven feet, proceeded to hit the eagle putt, and go on to win the championship.
This kid seems as nice as it gets, as competitive as it gets, and as talented as it gets. It'll be good to see this young man continue to grow, and possibly become one of the greats? He's got the numbers for it so far. If you have as much dedication to golf as you do to Grey's Anatomy, you might be able to find out where Morikawa will be after 16 seasons.
Okay. I could write a book on this guy. Bryson DeChambeau is the story weirdo. This dude wears a beret/drive cap, he talks about science way more than any athlete should and is possibly (definitely) on steroids. DeChambeau came onto the scene as a kind of average, run-of-the-mill PGA golfer. He had a strange obsession with science, but as far as his golf game went, he was average.
Let's take a second to talk about his physics infatuation. Instead of writing out in sentences and trying to piece it all together, I'll just give it to you in bullet points:
All of his clubs are the same length
He used to putt side-saddle like a croquet mallet
He has physics formulas stamped on his wedges
Apparently, he rewrote his high school physics textbook
He's gained 50 pounds since joining the Tour
He sometimes signs his name backward (not even science-related but… alright)
A quote from GolfDigest on this: "He spent hours perfecting his handwriting left-handed. 'If I wanted to learn Arabic or Russian, I could. Or tie my shoes in a new way, I could. Why? Dedication,' he told our Jaime Diaz in 2016" (https://www.golfdigest.com/story/the-11-most-unusual-things-about-bryson-dechambeau)
I'll talk about that quote for a second. I had trouble placing DeChambeau on my fake golf characters list, as I was considering putting him on as my Bad Guy. I am not a fan of his, and I'll tell you that upfront. Everything he does seems so performative, fake, and deliberate. It's all about his image. Bryson will be the first one to tell you about how dedicated and hard-working, and different Bryson is… especially if there are some cameras around. His humility seems like an act. After the U.S. Open win, he talked to his parents on some large FaceTime call, and it was just so dramatic and over the top.
DeChambeau also wants the whole world to know how revolutionary he is because of how much weight he has put on and how far he is hitting the ball. He won this year's U.S. Open at Winged Foot and was praised so highly for his technique and bizarre approach to the game which involves just hitting the ball farther, but here's a little secret: He averaged about 325 yard/drive which was 8 yards shorter than Dustin Johnson (the leader in driving distance that week). So yes, he is crushing the ball, but it's hardly revolutionary. Other people are literally hitting the ball farther than him. Announcers were talking about him as if he is the golf equivalent to Steph Curry who has helped revolutionize the game of basketball with the three-ball. There aren't going to be 12-year-old kids aspiring to be like Bryson DeChambeau, eating 10 eggs a day and studying "Vector Putting" (whatever the hell that is).
Additionally, he's had a couple outbursts during tournaments this year. He has yelled at a cameraman for videoing him for too long. He's argued with several rules officials over out of bounds issues and red ants (yes, red ants). And finally, he's tomahawked a wedge into the ground at Riviera. So yeah, he's a bit of a nutjob.
Although a crazy person, he has been playing some exceptional golf. DeChambeau is up to number five in the World Golf Rankings, and has a couple wins (including one major) and several top-10s all in the past year.
The Bad Guy
Patrick Reed has definitely had his fair share of hate. This Masters Champion and 8-time winner on Tour is my story's Bad Guy, although this wasn't always the case with him. Reed used to be our Captain America! We loved him! We all remember that epic 2016 Ryder Cup battle versus Rory McIlroy. Rory hit his long-bomby birdie putt and told the entire Minnesota crowd to kiss his rear end, and then Patrick Reed followed that up with a big birdie putt and a weird finger waggle at Rory. We kinda liked that Patrick Reed! He was our Ryder Cup hero guy! Patrick Reed is like Gru from Despicable Me if Gru's plotline was reversed… If Gru started his career with saving the world by returning the moon, and then just continued to live his life as a supervillain. Long gone are Patrick Reed's Captain America days now. Bullet point time!!
Fellow PGA Tour member, Kevin Kisner, told an interviewer that nobody on their old college team liked him
Was accused of cheating in college
Obnoxiously told a cameraman to move because he "jangled his change in his pocket" and wouldn't hit the ball until he was completely gone
Apparently cheated at the Hero World Challenge last year by scooping out sand in his backswing on a shot
His caddy shoved, and cursed at a fan (and possibly spilled the fan's beer) in Australia
Reinforced the "Ugly Americans" persona
Made a huge scene at the 2018 Ryder Cup by claiming the Jordan Speith didn't want to play with him
Also criticized team captain Jim Furyk for benching him twice that week saying, "For somebody as successful in the Ryder Cup as I am, I don’t think it’s smart to sit me twice" (https://www.golfdigest.com/story/patrick-reed-rips-into-jordan-spieth-jim-furyk-in-nyt-interview-i-was-looking-at-jordan-like-i-was-about-to-light-the-room-up-like-phil-in-14).
Openly doesn't care about what people think about him, which is fine.
I'm going to put this out there and say that I personally have a greater distaste towards DeChambeau. However, I think when looking at the golf show as a whole, I think people consider Patrick Reed as the bad guy. He's one of those guys who people see at the top of the leaderboard, and think, "Anybody but him. Please."
He was tearing it up at the U.S. Open the first two days, and kinda fizzled out, but overall, he's had a pretty good 2020 season with a win in Mexico, a T2 in Hawaii (in epic fashion), and a T6 at the Farmers Insurance Open.
The Cool Guy
Brooks Koepka is undeniably the cool guy on Tour. This guy is ripped, good looking, spends half his life on his boat in Florida, would rather be playing baseball, and all he does is win major championships. In his own way, he is protector of the everyday municipal golf course golfers.
First off, Koepka is probably the biggest proponent of faster pace golf. He has said, "I take 15 seconds and go, and I've done all right" (https://www.northjersey.com/story/sports/golf/2019/08/07/brooks-koepka-slow-play-i-take-15-seconds-and-ive-done-all-right/1941590001/). He has also openly mentioned that if he's playing with a super slow player, Koepka will actually start playing slower himself just so the group will get out of position and an official will have to put them on the clock. We love that for him and for golf in general. Fight on, soldier.
Secondly, as mentioned, Koepka only wins majors. Here's his theory: Majors are the easiest tournaments to win.
“There’s 156 [players] in the field, so you figure at least 80 of them I’m just going to beat."
“You figure about half of them won’t play well from there, so you’re down to about maybe 35. And then from 35, some of them just – pressure is going to get to them. It only leaves you with a few more, and you’ve just got to beat those guys" (https://www.golf-monthly.co.uk/tour/uspga-championship/uspga-championship-news/brooks-koepka-on-why-majors-are-easiest-to-win-179571).
That's just him out there. He's level-headed, he will not allow any other players to get a read on him, and he just owns the "cool guy" persona. Koepka, in an interview with GQ discussed, in-depth, the stuffy golf atmosphere, and how it needs to change. He said, "Golf has always had this persona of the triple-pleated khaki pants the button-up shirt, very country club atmosphere, where it doesn't always have to be that way" (https://www.gq.com/story/brooks-koepka-profile-2020). In the same article, author Daniel Riley described him as a "populist golf hero."
Koepka doesn't want to have to tuck his shirt in and take his hat off when he's inside of a clubhouse. He doesn't seem to practice that much. He's got so much style… he shows up to the Tour Championships wearing Off-White golf shoes with a plastic zip tie. He makes fun of DeChambeau. He just wants to have a good time.
By the way… the Koepka-DeChambeau beef… I'm all here for it. It gives off the "cool jock" versus the "dorky nerd" kinda rivalry. To an outsider, it may seem like Koepka is a bit of a jerk, but the dorky nerd does mouth off quite a bit. In January this year, DeChambeau went in on Brooks' "physique" saying that Brooks doesn't have abs. "I got some abs," said DeChambeau. Koepka, a four-time major winner, responded by taking a picture of his major trophies and tweeted, "I am 2 short of a 6 pack!"
This all started with Koepka criticizing DeChambeau's slow pace of play of the golf course, and we haven't looked back. As for his play, Koepka has been nursing a bad knee, so he hasn't been playing like his old self, but he does have a good win in the books for this season. Look toward the top of the leaderboard during Masters week if you want to see his name.
Calling some of these people "supporting actors" feels a little insulting, so trust me, I do realize how important these men are to the sport of golf. We have Dustin Johnson as the even-keeled, steady-handed, consistent character. Always seems to be around and on some sort of sedative.
Rory McIlroy is the group's great honorary European, who is one of the faces of the sport. Another winner.
Justin Thomas - he's becoming one of the fun guys on Tour. It feels as if he's the glue that keeps this whole thing together. It appears as if he is friends with everyone and everyone is friends with him. Also could be one of the greats as time continues.
John Rahm - the Wildcard. If you've seen It's Always Sunny, you know that Charlie is the wildcard. John Rahm is Charlie. This guy is really good, but he can snap at any moment. He might throw out a slew of Spanish curse words, snap a club, punch his caddie, or throw the flagstick into a pond (the latter two have never happened, but one can use their imagination). He might also drain 30-foot putts for the win. Wildcard-esque.
Matthew Wolff, Victor Hovland both team up with Collin Morikawa to create the Young Guys. These guys are fun to watch, Matthew Wolff has the ugliest swing of all time, and they are both great guys. Lots of wins to come for both of them.
Tony Finau - Ever watch 27 Dresses? Always, always, always a bridesmaid. Tony Finau? Always, always, always comes in second.
Matthew Fitzpatrick - Not many people know who he is, but he went to Northwestern and he's English, so this guy gets an Emmy.
Finally, I would be remiss to write a golf article and not talk about good ole Phil Mickelson. The very outspoken, bomb-hitting, calf-carving, lefty-swinging Phil Mickelson. If we're being honest, over the many years of playing together, Phil would be the easiest candidate for Best Supporting Actor (with Tiger being the Best Actor, period). Mickelson is one of the greatest of all time, and one of the most personable characters, as well. It's hard not to like Phil.
So, that's golf. Next time you're sitting on the couch next to your dad who has fallen asleep after church on a Sunday and golf is on, give it a second. Don't pick up the remote and change the channel. We (yes, I'm including myself in the world of golf) have the same thing going on in any other TV show. We've got the plot, and, man, we've got the group of characters. If you get to know them, and I implore you do so, it might be some fun to watch.