The four majors of 2016 managed to give us a little bit of everything by the time Jimmy Walker holed out on the 18th green at Baltusrol to win the USPGA Championship.
The Masters produced an amazing finish, courtesy of Jordan Spieth and Danny Willett. The US Open was marked by some great golf from Dustin Johnson, all wrapped up in a rules controversy. The Open Championship battle between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson is surely destined for iconic status. And Jimmy’s victory was the fifth in succession by a first-time major champion.
Today, more than at any other time in the game, there are more guys who think they can win at the highest level. When I was growing up, it was all about Tiger and Phil and Vijay. They seemed to win most of the majors and anything else was a surprise. Not any longer though. And when other players see guys like Danny and Jimmy winning they think they can do the same. So the number of potential champions is rising all the time.
It used to be that we kind of scratched our way through junior golf. Then we learned how to play after we turned professional. But these days, youngsters know how to play long before that. The equipment is part of that. It builds confidence where the old stuff never did. The coaching and technology available today is way better. We all know exactly what the club is doing at every stage of the swing and we all have a better understanding of how to fix stuff.
Anyway, everywhere we looked there was something special going on at the 2016 majors.
I guess the Masters will be remembered mostly for the quadruple-bogey seven Jordan made at the short 12th in the final round. But that would be unfair, both to him and the eventual winner. Until that hole, Jordan was putting on a Tiger-like performance where he was clearly performing some way short of his best yet had a four-shot lead with nine-holes to play. For me, that is a measure of how much he wanted to win. Somehow he was able to transcend who he was playing. His desire was incredible. There must have been 20 guys playing better, but he was still leading after 63-holes. If he had hit that 12th green he would have won. He just couldn’t hang on long enough.
Credit is also due to Danny. Look at how he played when his chance came along. As the pressure grew, his level went up rather than down over the last six holes. He didn’t just fall over the line. He won going away. That is the mark of a proper golfer, which came as no surprise to anyone who had been paying attention. Danny had contended well into the Open at St. Andrews last year. If you do that there, you are a real golfer. And he arrived at Augusta ranked No.12 in the world. He was and is completely legit.
We’ve already talked here about what went on at Oakmont in the lead-up to Dustin’s win. Suffice to say, after all that went on, the best man won that day.
Then there is the Open at Troon. Like Turnberry’s 1977 “Duel in the Sun,” this year’s championship will be remembered forever. Two guys at the top of their games going at it head-to-head; it was amazing stuff. Their scoring was absurd really, the standard of play … off the charts. Especially on a back-nine that – along with Carnoustie – might be the hardest in the game. All I can say is that, while stroke play is great, match play is much better. And the final day was golf played as well as I have ever seen.
As for the USPGA, it struck me as a fairly typical championship. All the usual suspects apart from Dustin and Rory McIlroy – who both missed the cut – were hanging around.
I was actually drawn with Jimmy Walker in Canada the week before Baltusrol. He played so badly, even if he ended up with a half-decent score. He barely hit a fairway and was missing greens with 7-irons. He looked like a guy who was really struggling. But clearly he found something, which gives hope to us all.