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Opinion: What we learned from 2021 - Australian Golf Digest Opinion: What we learned from 2021 - Australian Golf Digest

A compelling yet complex year in golf leaves us wondering what lies around the corner.

NEVER before have Australia’s state borders felt so rigid and never before has the ability to play golf across our various cities felt so much like pot luck. Unusually for our sport, Melburnians lost out most of all – quite possibly because Victorian premier Daniel Andrews is an avid golfer himself. Showing favouritism, even leniency, towards his chosen sport would have been political dynamite.

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Melbourne golfers being allowed to return to play in late September but golf clubs not being permitted to open their toilet facilities was bureaucratic lunacy. Talk about giving someone a new pair of shoes then cutting off their feet.

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The Australian PGA Championship’s pandemic-forced move to January appears temporary yet will provide a fascinating window into the start of the year perhaps being a more viable time for tournaments here, thus fuelling that long debate.

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The birth of the Australian WPGA Championship is a fantastic step but one that should have happened eons ago. Karrie Webb’s name adorning that trophy is the definition of fitting and adds immediate prestige and credibility

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If they eventuate, golf’s proposed rebel circuits could be the professional game’s cancer… or its cure.

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The PGA Tour whipping up a $US40 million prize pool for its top players based on their ability to ‘move the needle’ is golf’s equivalent of offering a cash bonus for landing on the Free Parking square in Monopoly. You have no clue where the idea came from but there’s no chance the recipients are complaining.

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Patrick Reed plays by Patrick Reed’s rules – in life and in golf.

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Bryson DeChambeau is either a genius or a fool. And sometimes both.

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Tyrrell Hatton’s antics might be funny, but if he carried on that way at most Australian golf clubs, he’d be told to pull his head in.

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Matt Jones is the posterboy for pace of play.

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The ball still goes too far (except the ones I hit).

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No men’s Majors were played between August 2019 and July 2020 yet seven were held between August 2020 and July 2021. And the golfer who won the first of those seven Majors, Collin Morikawa, bookended this strange chapter in golf by also winning the last. As is said in modern vernacular, that was ‘peak 2021’.

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Morikawa proved at The Open – just as he did at the 2020 PGA Championship – that mediocre putters can still have hot weeks on the greens. And how a hot week on the greens is worth exponentially more than a slew of 350-yard drives.

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Morikawa truly did save his best for last at Royal St George’s, delivering one of the most poignant acceptance speeches in recent memory. Like his golf game, he showed
poise and maturity beyond his years.

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Count me among those who thought Hideki Matsuyama would never win the Masters, let alone any Major. That feeling was not out of disrespect for his game, but rather a nod to the extraordinary pressure placed upon him by an insatiable Japanese media and adoring legion of golf lovers in Japan. However, his green jacket proved, once again, that in golf you never discount anything.

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Matsuyama’s caddie, Shota Hayafuji, gave us golf’s most reverential moment of the year – and perhaps ever – with his 18th-green bow to Augusta National.

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It was always going to happen. A golfer older than 50 was destined to win a Major. In truth, it’d been coming since Greg Norman nearly won The Open 13 years earlier. I spoke to Norman exactly a week before Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship and the Shark said, presciently: “Somebody will win a Major in their 50s, I am convinced of that. Technology and certain golf courses will allow a 50-something-year-old to win a Major. It’s just a testament to the evolution of golf, the evolution of the golf swing and the body.”

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Jon Rahm winning the US Open at Torrey Pines just a fortnight after being rubbed out of the Memorial Tournament – where he held a six-stroke lead with 18 holes remaining but tested positive to COVID and was forced to withdraw and isolate – was Golf Karma at play.

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Which was the best men’s Major of the year? All four were compelling, but considering the plot it unearthed, the volatility of the venue and the historic achievement, let’s give the nod to Mickelson at Kiawah Island.

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 getty images: Stuart Franklin, Michael Reaves

In women’s golf, the Majors delivered joy for Australia with Minjee Lee’s Major moment at the Evian Championship, but also revealed genuine stardom in Patty Tavatanakit, Yuka Saso and the sublime-swinging Nelly Korda. Meanwhile, Anna Nordqvist sneaking in to capture the Women’s Open helped prove the female game is not the sole domain of the emerging 20-somethings.

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That Jin Young Ko – the best golfer of 2021 – didn’t win a Major only serves to emphasise the importance we place on the game’s most prestigious events.

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Lydia Ko’s rejuvenation simply had to happen. Her comeback could be counted on.

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Ditto Jordan Spieth. Both players were simply too good to disappear completely.

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Lexi Thompson, on the other hand, looks like a tortured golfer. The good news is: she’s still young enough to rewrite the script.

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The Ryder Cup risks losing its lustre if every time the result sees the home team winning in a landslide.

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Rory McIlroy’s Ryder Cup tears and heartfelt words delivered with genuine openness and raw emotion were a reminder of why he is a superstar human being as well as a superstar golfer.

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Golf’s second crack at the Olympics after returning to the fold yielded a pair of highly entertaining tournaments. Many onlookers lamented the unoriginal 72-hole strokeplay events – and they’re justified in querying the format – but what’s more puzzling is why golf isn’t doing more to accommodate the Games into the existing schedules. As veteran golf writer Lewine Mair put it: “When you consider how hard the R&A and the USGA fought to get golf back into the Games, it seems madness that they, the professional tours, are not doing more to arrange their schedules with the Olympics in mind.”

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The wackiest call of the year was the R&A’s decision to use a countback to separate tied golfers ahead of the matchplay phase of the British Amateur rather than staging a playoff for the final spots. In an instant, one of the most important championships in the world looked like a Saturday Stableford comp.

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This column deliberately made no mention of Tiger Woods until this point, mainly because the sport has reached a time when we need to start thinking about golf after Tiger.

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The Tweet(s) of the year belong to PGA of Australia professional Dan Morrison, who shared two gems we can all relate to. First: “The same golfers that complain about the condition of the course are the ones who drive their motorised buggies on the grass after heavy rains, when it’s buggies to pathways only.” And: “In my experience the standard club golfer ‘they hit up on us’ complaint means the ball got to within 15 to 20 metres of the complainant. Exactly 3.4% of the time did the ball reach.”

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The quote of the year belongs to Benjamin Hammond Haggerty, better known as American rapper Macklemore. The fervent golf enthusiast told the media at Pebble Beach in February: “I love that feeling of hitting a great shot. I love hitting a green in regulation, piping a drive. I love even just the ups and downs, the humility that the game brings, the swing of emotion, the mental fortitude that it takes, the patience, the spiritual practice of accepting whatever you just did and letting it go, the exercise, the camaraderie. I truly love everything about the sport.” As do we.