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Two weeks later, the R&A and USGA issued a new decision on the Rules of Golf that limits the use of video evidence if it cannot be noticed by the naked eye. Officials also could eliminate penalties if they felt players made a reasonable judgment in taking a drop or replacing their golf balls on the putting green. By the end of the year, the ruling bodies offered two local rules that the major tours embraced. One was to effectively eliminate TV viewers calling in what they think might be penalties. The other was to eliminate the additional two-shot penalty for failing to include a penalty on the scorecard when the player was unaware of the penalty. The local rule was effective for 2018, and the governing bodies said it would be removed from the modernized Rules of Golf for 2019.

The rules mess at the ANA overshadowed another strong year on the LPGA Tour that showed depth, balance and a battle for No. 1 in the world. Much like McIlroy and Day in men’s golf, women’s golf saw the unexpected fall of Lydia Ko. She went through a myriad of changes, switching her coach, her clubs and her caddie. What also changed was her habit of winning, and the woman who reached No. 1 in the world at age 17 ended the year at No. 9. There was no shortage of players trying to replace her. For the second straight year, five women won the five majors — Ryu at the ANA, sensational South Korean rookie Sung Hyun Park at the U.S. Women’s Open, Danielle Kang at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, In-Kyung Kim at the Ricoh Women’s British Open and Anna Nordqvist at the Evian Championship.

The balance of depth was not just at the majors. After years of dominance by at least one player — Ko, Inbee Park — no one won more than In-Kyung Kim’s three titles on the LPGA Tour. That much was reflected in the Rolex Rankings. Ko finally gave up the No. 1 spot after 85 consecutive weeks on June 12 to Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand, who kept the position for all of two weeks. She was replaced by Ryu, who held it for 19 weeks. Then it was Sung Hyun Park’s turn, and her stay at the top only lasted one week. Shanshan Feng of China won two straight tournaments and that put her at No. 1 for the rest of the year. That’s five No. 1 players in one year coming from four countries. And that’s just the world ranking. Going into the final tournament of the year, up for grabs was the points-based LPGA Player of the Year, the money title and the Vare Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average. Thompson wound up winning the CME Race to the Globe and its $1 million bonus, but she left so much behind when she missed a two-foot par putt on the final hole for the victory that would have given her LPGA Player of the Year and the No. 1 ranking. Instead, Jutanugarn finished with two birdies for the victory. Thompson won the Vare Trophy, Park won the money title, while Park and Ryu each tied for Player of the Year. It was the first time the award was shared since it began in 1966.

Juli Inkster again led the Americans to victory in the Solheim Cup, raising old questions about how to get the best in women’s golf involved. It was like that nearly two decades ago with the arrival of Se Ri Pak of South Korea and the emergence of Karrie Webb of Australia. Only now it’s more pronounced. The Ladies European Tour had only 16 tournaments on its schedule, down from 21 the previous year. The best players are coming to the LPGA Tour, as they are from other countries. Nordqvist, the two-time major champion from Sweden, was the only European to win on the LPGA. Nordqvist, Thompson and Cristie Kerr were the only players from the top 10 in the Rolex Rankings eligible for the biennial competition between the U.S. and Europe. The rest were from Asia. In its place is the UL International Crown, round-robin matches for the top eight teams in the world that is held in even-numbered years. Then again, the Americans won that last year. The result in the Presidents Cup would have raised similar questions. The Americans won for the seventh straight time, and they increased their record against the International team (from all countries outside Europe) to 10-1-1 since it began in 1994.

This one was particularly ugly, set amid the beautiful backdrop of the Manhattan skyline at Liberty National. Coming off a rare Ryder Cup victory the year before, the young core of the U.S. team — Dustin Johnson, Spieth, Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed — blended with newcomers and mainstays like Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar. The victory was so pronounced that it took some clutch play by Anirban Lahiri to avoid the matches being decided before the 12 singles were even played. This was more a case of the Americans — all 12 of them — being on top of their games. Even so, it left the International side wondering what it has to do next, and it made the American team favorites — on paper, anyway — going into the 2018 Ryder Cup.

Asian markets continued to flourish at a steady rate, and China received a small boost at the end of the year when the PGA Tour resurrected its PGA Tour China Series. That’s the tour that produced Haotong Li, who shot 63 in the final round at Royal Birkdale to finish third and who ended the year at No. 57 in the World Ranking. It also produced Zechong Dou — known as Marty Dou on the Tour — who joined Xinjun Zhang as full PGA Tour members. Yusaku Miyazato won four times on the Japan Golf Tour, and that was just enough to finish the year in the top 50 and earn a spot in the Masters.

With so much golf around the globe, perhaps a day is coming when the sport has a global tour. Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem talked about such a day in 2010, although he couldn’t yet envision a structure for it. Golf is not any closer, although one development in 2017 might have a ripple effect. The PGA of America announced that its PGA Championship would move to May starting in 2019 at Bethpage Black in New York. The catalyst behind the move was golf ’s return to the Olympics in 2016 and how crammed that made the schedule in the middle of the season. The move to May means the PGA Championship is likely to lose venues such as Hazeltine and Whistling Straits. But it gives golf a steady flow of big events — The Players Championship in March, followed by the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and The Open Championship. The European Tour quickly announced that its flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, would move from late to May to September. The move also allows the PGA Tour to end its FedExCup season on Labor Day instead of lingering until the end of September, when the American sporting appetite shifts to football. The move was not unprecedented for the PGA Championship, which dates to 1916 and has been held in every month of the calendar except for January, March and April.

Any type of a global tour is years off and not a certainty, but the fact it is being discussed showed how big the game is getting, certainly spurred on by the sport’s return to the Olympics. Then again, that’s the very nature of golf. It’s always changing, and this year the greatest change was the undeniable influx of youth. There also is room for the old, of course. One only had to look at the PGA Tour Champions to marvel at the ageless Bernhard Langer, whose 60th birthday did little to slow him down. The two-time Masters champion from Germany won seven times on the 50-and-older circuit, including three of the majors (Regions Traditions, Senior PGA Championship and The Senior Open Championship). About the only thing Langer failed to win was the Charles Schwab Cup. The Champions Tour decided to mirror the FedExCup by giving five players a chance to win at the final event, and the lucky winner this year was Kevin Sutherland. He won the Schwab Cup Championship, and along with it the Schwab Cup itself. It was Sutherland’s first victory on the Champions Tour, and it led to outcry over a system gone awry. Sutherland didn’t take any of it personally. “The funny thing is that if Bernhard had won the Schwab Cup, nobody probably would have noticed,” he said.

The year ended with a familiar story and a familiar face. Tiger Woods was largely missing this year after a rough start to his latest comeback — a missed cut at Torrey Pines, a 77 in the Dubai Desert Classic before withdrawing with back spasms, and having another surgery a few months later. The only time he was in the news was his arrest in Florida for driving under the influence, which turned out to be a bad mix of prescription medication. Woods went to a clinic to manage his pain medicine. He was at the Presidents Cup as an assistant captain. He posted a video of himself swinging the club. And just like that, he was back in the game. He returned to his Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas — just like last year — and caused the biggest cheer of the week when his name went to the top of the leaderboard midway through the second round. It didn’t stay there for long, but the week brought out a different look from his previous comebacks. This time, he had fusions surgery on his lower back, and he was walking tall and swinging hard. At times, he was outdriving Justin Thomas and Henrik Stenson. He tied for ninth against an 18-man field. But he was back — again — and before long had already made plans to play twice in California in the new year.

But can he beat them the way he once seemed to beat anyone in his way? Will today’s youth ever appreciate the Tiger Woods that the previous generation had to face? “I’ve played with Tiger when he was playing the best he’s ever played, and it was a real treat — although it wasn’t a treat to be humiliated by his dominance,” Stewart Cink said. “I’ve also played with some of these guys. They’re special players. I would love for the game to give us Tiger getting back to where he was so we could see what he would do against Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. The golf world would get a real kick out it. There’s a lot of confidence out there and rightfully so.”Golf is ever changing and never changing. Think back to the wise words of John Jacobs who so famously said, “The sole purpose of the golf swing is to create a correct impact. How that is done is of no consequence as long as the method employed allows you to repeat it.” Jacobs was among those whom golf lost in 2017. They talk about coaching trees in football. Jacobs, who played in the 1955 Ryder Cup and twice served as captain for the Great Britain and Ireland team, influenced the likes of Butch Harmon, Hank Haney, David Leadbetter, Jim McLean and Jim Hardy. Haney began his career under Jacobs and called him “the greatest teacher in the history of the game.” He died in England at age 91.

The head of his class in handling the worst golf can offer was Roberto de Vicenzo of Argentina, who died in Buenos Aires at 94. A year after he became South America’s first major champion in the 1967 Open Championship at Hoylake, de Vicenzo was headed for a playoff at the 1968 Masters until he realized he had signed for a four on the 17th hole when he actually made a three. He had to accept the total score of 66 instead of 65, and Bob Goalby won by a shot. “What a stupid I am,” de Vicenzo said.

Golf also lost William “Hootie” Johnson, 86, whose progressive thinking as a South Carolina banker was all but forgotten for his stubborn stance on the all-male membership during his years as chairman of Augusta National; Simon Hobday, 76, the fun-loving South African who won the 1994 U.S. Senior Open; two-time Ryder Cup player Tommy Horton, 76, of England; and Frank “Sandy” Tatum, 96, the former USGA president known for dif- ficult U.S. Open setups and his famous quote after the “Massacre at Winged Foot” in the 1974 U.S. Open, “We’re not trying to embarrass the world’s best players, we’re trying to identify them.”


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