Year In Retrospect
Year In Retrospect: Much to celebrate and much to talk about
Contributor: Doug Ferguson
Relative unknowns became household names in a matter of months. Good players suddenly were looked upon as great ones in a matter of weeks. And when the Saudi Arabian riches of LIV Golf were involved, a “no” became a “yes” in a matter of days.
For a sport reputed to move slowly, the fractured world of golf in 2022 seemed to change by the minute.
Scottie Scheffler was but one example. He qualified for the 2020 Masters in his rookie season on the PGA Tour without having won, a rare feat. The next year, he was the only American on a dominant Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits who had not won a tournament. So, the talent was there, just not the trophies. Scheffler was winless in 65 tries on the PGA Tour when he arrived at the WM Phoenix Open in February. Six tournaments later, he walked off the 18th green at Augusta National with his fourth victory, which included a Masters green jacket, a World Golf Championship and the number one world ranking. “I don’t feel like number one in the world. I feel like the same guy I was four months ago, and I hope that doesn’t change,” Scheffler said.
Scheffler wasn’t the only rising star, just the biggest. There was a fresh face from South Korea known by his given name, Joohyung Kim, a 20-year-old who had won the Singapore International in his first tournament of 2022. He was given a sponsor’s exemption to the Genesis Scottish Open, and he was tied for the lead until a bogey on the final hole. That was only the start. Four weeks later, despite a quadruple-bogey eight on the opening hole of the Wyndham Championship, Kim won his first PGA Tour event. And then he was simply known as “Tom Kim”, a nickname he had as a boy because of his fascination with the cartoon character Thomas the Tank Engine. In just three months, Kim went from contending against a strong field to winning his first PGA Tour event and then shining on the stage at the Presidents Cup with a two-iron into seven feet and a winning putt that prompted him to slam his cap to the turf in a wild celebration. All aboard!
And then there was Cameron Young, who was 490th in the world when he won his first Korn Ferry Tour event. One year later, he was on the verge of winning the PGA Championship until a late double bogey derailed his chances. He missed a playoff by one shot at Southern Hills. Two months later, he shot 31 on the back nine at St Andrews only to finish one shot behind Cameron Smith in The 150th Open. By the end of the year, the 25-year-old Young was the easy choice as PGA Tour Rookie of the Year on the strength of five runner-up finishes. He started the year 134th in the world ranking. He ended the year at number 16.
Change was just as swift outside the ropes.
Rory McIlroy was holding court below the clubhouse at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles in February. Most of the buzz that week at the Genesis Invitational was caused by rumours about Greg Norman’s bid to start a rival league funded by the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund. But then Phil Mickelson served up damaging remarks that insulted all sides — Norman’s project, the Saudis who were paying for it and the PGA Tour for how they operated. That led top players from Dustin Johnson to Bryson DeChambeau to state their allegiance to established tours. McIlroy referred to Mickelson’s comments as “naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant”, and he said LIV Golf was “dead in the water”. He said Norman would have to play for LIV Golf to fill the field. “I mean, seriously, who else is going to do
it?” Turns out he was dead wrong. Just over three months later, Norman had signed up 42 players — Johnson’s was the biggest name — and LIV Golf was up and running.
During a corporate function the week of the US Open in June, Brooks Koepka huddled with a group of top players and encouraged them to stand together against this new Saudi- funded league. A week later, Koepka became the latest to join. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan had scheduled a press conference at the Travelers Championship the week after the US Open to announce a new alliance between the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour. Monahan was 10 minutes into his press conference when LIV Golf announced the Koepka deal.
Throw out the threat of LIV Golf, and 2022 had more than enough to offer.
Tiger Woods added to his legend despite playing only three times. He made a stunning return to the Masters just over a year after he shattered bones in his right leg from a horrific car crash in Los Angeles. He has never missed the cut as a pro at Augusta National, and even limping around the hilly terrain didn’t change that. Just to see him in his Sunday red shirt hobbling up the hill on the 18th felt like a victory. Far more poignant was Woods crossing the Swilcan Bridge at St Andrews for what likely will be the final time. It was Friday, not Sunday, but no less special as thousands upon thousands filled every inch of space behind the ropes, behind a fence, in balconies and rooftops to witness the moment. Four different players in their 20s won the men’s major championships, the first time that has ever happened. McIlroy had his most consistent year, minus a major championship. His year was made even more remarkable by willingly speaking out against the rival league, all while joining Henrik Stenson as the only players to win the FedEx Cup and the DP World Tour Points race in the same season. The LPGA Tour saw the resurgence of Lydia Ko and the arrival of another teenager, Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand, who was among four players who reached number one in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings in 2022. Neither won a major, though women’s golf has shown to be deeper and more balanced in talent each year. This was the third consecutive year no one won multiple majors in women’s golf, and the last 16 majors dating to 2019 have been won by 15 players. Jennifer Kupcho, perhaps best known for winning the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, captured her first major at the Chevron Championship in its final staging at Mission Hills in California. The other first-time major champion was Ashleigh Buhai in the AIG Women’s Open, the first South African in 43 years to claim a woman’s major. The biggest turnaround in golf might have been Steven Alker. He was the quintessential journeyman, playing 556 times on six tours that received world ranking points. He qualified for only three seasons on the PGA Tour, two in Europe. His biggest year financially was $261,901 on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2014. He never was higher than 191st in the world. And in his first full year on the PGA Tour Champions, the New Zealander won four times, made over $3.5 million and
captured the Charles Schwab Cup.
But there was no escaping the biggest rivalry in golf — the Establishment against LIV Golf,played out in sound bites and press releases and, sadly, in court rooms. The celebration of The 150th Open at St Andrews was still fresh when 10 players with LIV Golf filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour alleging monopolist behaviour. The PGA Tour filed a countersuit. Smith still had the words “champion golfer of the year” ringing in his ears when he was asked in his press conference at St Andrews about rumours he was going to defect to the new league. “I just won the British Open, and you’re asking about that. I think that’s pretty… not that good,” he replied. When the PGA Tour season ended, Smith was with LIV Golf.
One popular refrain for the year was “Saudi fatigue”. Everyone was tired of it. And yet that’s all anyone wanted to talk about.