There was an expectation in some circles that 2023 would see golf settle into its new normal. A rival upstart to challenge the PGA Tour was no longer a threat but a reality, LIV Golf disrupting the game’s ecosystem on the course and in the courtroom. To counter, Ponte Vedra Beach launched a “designated events” defense, throwing its millions at LIV’s billions. Thankfully, the enemies looked more like frenemies when they shared the stage at the Masters (almost won by a LIV golfer) and the PGA Championship (actually won by a LIV golfer).

And then June 6 happened, Jay Monahan and Yasir Al-Rumayyan sharing the screen on CNBC as if the two men were former college roommates reunited rather than bitter rivals. Suddenly, up was down, down was out and the new normal was papered over by something called a “framework agreement.”

Roughly three weeks remain in 2023, and there feels like so much more in store. But before the final chapter is written, it’s worth remembering what transpired in the previous pages. Once more, we do so by counting down the top 25 Newsmakers of the year, returning to the individuals, teams, tournaments and topics that define the last 12 months. Our list is a hopeful reminder that the year wasn’t all gossip and Congressional hearings. There were moments of levity (the emergence of Michael Block) and moments of inspiration (the emergence Rose Zhang and Lilia Vu) and moments of golfiness (the return of the Ryder Cup). All have their own compelling stories.

No. 25: Books 536923178


They were the two most anticipated books among golfers in 2023, and neither was going to be particularly flattering to the professional game. In August, convicted inside trader Billy Walters published Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk about his notorious path as a legendary high-stakes gambler. The anticipatory buzz in golf was palpable because of Walters’ close relationship with Phil Mickelson, and in that regard, he did not disappoint. Walters wrote about their friendship, partnership in offshore gambling and ultimately their bitter falling out over the conviction that got Walters (above) a prison sentence.

There were sizable bombshells, the first being that Walters said Mickelson asked him to place a $400,000 wager on the U.S. team to win the 2012 Ryder Cup in which he was playing. (Walters wrote that he was shocked and declined to make the bet, and Mickelson denied after the book was published that he made the wager.) Secondly, Walters alleged that Mickelson wagered more than $1 billion over three decades and suffered more than $100 million in gambling losses. Whoa. “Phil liked to gamble as much as anyone I’ve ever met,” Walters wrote. “Frankly, given Phil’s annual income and net worth at the time, I had no problems with his betting. And still don’t. He’s a big-time gambler, and big-time gamblers make big bets. It’s his money to spend how he wants.”

Two months after the Walters book, Alan Shipnuck published his second compelling golf book in 17 months, with Liv and Let Die following his 2022 unauthorized biography of Mickelson. Shipnuck detailed the rise of LIV and the shock waves it sent through the professional game—again, with a muckraking factor that was off the charts. Mickelson again is a featured character as he seemingly exacts his revenge on the PGA Tour by scheming to make LIV come to life.

In a review, Golf Digest’s Shane Ryan concluded, “Shipnuck tells a good tale, but it’s not a particularly uplifting one, and you can see why he leaves the ugly conclusion for the end. We might have been blinded by the dramatic twists and turns along the way, but this saga was written in stone from the very beginning. And even though Shipnuck’s book was published before the resolution, the lack of closure doesn’t matter: We already know the ending.”

Or do we? That’s the kind of year it’s been. —Tod Leonard

No. 24: Bernhard Langer 1509817043

Patrick McDermott

It appeared inevitable that Bernhard Langer, remaining supremely fit and incomparably driven to excel well into his 60s, would pass Hale Irwin’s record of 45 PGA Tour Champions titles in 2023. He could simply pick off a few 54-hole events, just as he did in February at the Chubb Classic, where he won for the fifth time to tie Irwin’s mark. A 72-hole senior major was supposed to be too big of an ask. When he arrived at the U.S. Senior Open in July at punishing SentryWorld, the German wonder, a month shy of 66, downplayed his chances. “They’re going to hit driver/9-iron [into the greens]. I’m hitting driver/3-iron, which makes it hard to compete when you do that 72 times,” Langer said. “I know I have to play at my highest level to have any hope to win.” When 72 holes were completed, Langer had beaten senior golf’s most dominant player, Steve Stricker, by two strokes in Stricker’s home state of Wisconsin. It wasn’t just a record-breaking performance, but also one that defined who the two-time Masters champion is as a competitor. If he never wins again, the victory stands as one of the great cappers to a career. —Dave Shedloski

No. 23: Ludvig Aberg 1802478073

Alex Slitz

Ridiculous. That might be the only way to describe the body of work Ludvig Aberg has accumulated in just six months as a professional golfer. Most notably, an impressive—and winning—Ryder Cup debut for Europe (going 2-2) was bookended by victories on both the DP World Tour (Omega European Masters) and the PGA Tour (RSM Classic). In those feats alone, the 24-year-old Swede by way of Texas Tech (where he graduated in June and earned immediate PGA Tour status through his top ranking in the PGA Tour University program) has accomplished more than many do in careers decades-longer. It is, by any measure, already a phenomenal record of achievement at the highest level. In his 13 starts on the PGA Tour, Aberg ranked second in strokes gained/off the tee and 10th in strokes gained/tee to green, showing plenty of talent and few nerves in making the transition to the pro game. A host of enticing items surely remain on Aberg’s to-do list. Not least will be a major championship victory. Remarkably, the former World No. 1 amateur has yet to play in any of golf’s four most important events. That changes in April at Augusta National, and his No. 32 spot in World Ranking will get him into the other three. Judged solely on his play so far, it will come as something short of a shock if Aberg does not at least contend in the Masters and if not the other legs of the men’s Grand Slam. Of course, only the inexorable passing of time will reveal with certainty just how good Aberg really is. But oh my goodness the early signs are that we may have the next superstar on our hands. —John Huggan

No. 22: Phil Mickelson 1555510784

Charlie Crowhurst/R&A

At 53, Phil Mickelson remains an attraction, even if he plies his trade predominantly on the LIV Golf League, which after two years still struggles to gain traction with golf fans. It’s certainly not for his golf—or, more accurately, his golf in 54-hole events. Let’s be honest: LIV is populated by little more than a dozen world-class, in-their-prime talents (although that appears to be changing), and yet Mickelson finished 39th in the points standings with just one top-10 finish (10th at Bedminster). In contrast to that, the six-time major winner submitted an inspired performance in the Masters, finishing tied for second thanks to a closing seven-under 65. When the left-hander does make news these days, it’s off the course, whether its railing against the PGA Tour on social media or for alleged past sins coming to light, specifically the allegation by noted gambler Billy Walters in a tell-all autobiography that Mickelson sought to bet on the 2012 Ryder Cup. Mickelson denied, via X/Twitter, betting on the Ryder Cup—without addressing whether or not he looked into it. Phil always has been outspoken. Just ask Tom Watson. Bet that doesn’t change, which means he’ll remain a compelling figure in the game. —Dave Shedloski

No. 21: “Full Swing”

The moment rumors began to swirl that Netflix was bringing its massively successful template from the Formula 1 documentary “Drive to Survive” to the world of professional golf, anticipation began to build. When “Full Swing” finally hit the streaming platform in mid-February with its eight-episode first season, that anticipation gave way to intense discourse (including our own episode-by-episode podcast review): Was it fair? Was it accurate? Was it good? Those debates will rage on—personally, I thought the show was occasionally great, occasionally disappointing, with the Joel Dahmen episode standing out as the one truly superlative piece of TV—but there’s no argument about the show’s success: they killed it. Not only did it reach No. 2 in the U.S. and U.K. in the Netflix rankings (and top 10 worldwide), but there was clear evidence that it translated into increased viewership for the PGA Tour. Within a couple weeks, the streaming giant greenlit a second season, and in a year of unprecedented strife in the professional game, it’s no exaggeration to call “Full Swing” the best piece of news golf could possibly get. When it seems like circumstances are aligning to alienate the average fan in a self-defeating process, a popular documentary provides the best kind of antidote. Whether you’re Jay Monahan or Keith Pelley or Yasir Al-Rumayyan, you have to hope it continues for years. —Shane Ryan

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