In a wholly precedented move to break with 2020’s habits, Christmas week – one of the two in the calendar year where there is no elite golf to wet our whistles – once again means T2G’s Player of the Year title.
This has been a harder task than usual because of the strange circumstances in which golf has been played during a disrupted and chaotic year. For all that we credit the tours for getting elite tournaments played during a pandemic, it’s not been remotely the same.
The simple pleasures of covering the sport have been sorely missed by this writer. They include regular lungfulls of sea air, relentless banter in the scoring area, the mad but exciting hour in which the day’s story is written, and the 14-hour days on Thursday and Friday of the Open Championship, often conducted with gnawing regret at the previous night’s excesses.
I’m not joking, it’s the best time in the job.
It’ll be hard to remember 2020 with any great affection. Still, enough golf was played that we must straighten the backbone and pick someone.
The senior statesman who got due reward
Lee Westwood, citing a slight asthma condition, didn’t want to tour the pandemic-stricken world anyway. But his presence at home helped the European Tour much more than might be appreciated.
He hosted the first post-lockdown event. He made himself available as a spokesperson at every “bubble” event he played, with unfailing good humour and eloquence. And he also played pretty well.
In the end, karma as much as anything saw him tiptoe in to take the Race to Dubai title off Patrick Reed’s nose. He was named the European Tour’s player of the year on Monday and will probably win the Association of Golf Writers award as well.
The girl from nowhere
Covid-19 made for a lot of strange fields and unexpected opportunities, some of which were grabbed. But none quite as spectacularly as Sophia Popov.
Granted a spot in the Women’s British Open at Royal Troon by virtue of a modest finish in an LPGA event she got into as an afterthought, the young German played a tough course in tougher conditions with brilliance and elan for a fairytale victory.
We waited for three days for the inevitable faltering, and it never came. Popov’s was the single best tournament performance in golf in 2020, and in a truncated year that means she must also contest the player of the year title.
The man who moved the needle
No contest for the most mentioned golfer in 2020. And he won a major championship into the bargain, so it wasn’t all guff and bluster.
Bryson DeChambeau is an attention junkie, for sure. He cultivates – thrives – on this image as the man who defies orthodoxy, who is not content with winning, but wants to change the sport.
This has created renown outside the insular golf world like few players of recent times. Justin Thomas or Collin Morikawa could walk down most high streets and no-one would know who they are.
Rory might get a few nods of recognition. No-one but Tiger has got a chance of being recognised like Bryson does.
But player of the year? Morikawa won a major and a tour title in 2020 as well, and finished 6th to Bryson’s 22nd in the FedEx Cup standings. He was actually better than Bryson, although of course the US Open counts for the 2021 season, somehow.
It may be that DeChambeau goes on to make 2021 his own. Augusta last month suggests it won’t be as straightforward as many think.
They also served…
I like my friend and blogger Alasdair Tait’s idea to give his player of the year honours to Justin Rose for his gesture in financing and organising a post-lockdown tour for Ladies European Tour players.
I’d like it better if he showed the same consideration for the plight of Saudi Arabian women by refusing to play in their European Tour event.
The Danes are coming…Rasmus Hojgaard gets our young player of the year, with two wins at 19. Emily Pedersen won three in a row on the LET and contended just about every week. Sungjae Im may be the best male player yet from Asia, but…
The winner is obvious
He ended the year as World No 1, Masters champion, and in the words of his friend Brooks Koepka, put together a run of six months which was “maybe the best we’ve seen in a long time”.
Dustin Johnson won the FedEx title, after winning two play-off events, but we already knew he was a consistent tour winner and master accumulator of points and pennies.
At Augusta, DJ just about lapped the field, winning at Bryson-par – DeChambeau was 18 shots behind – for his second major. He even contracted the virus and recovered, without even a hiccup to his form.
Nothing left but more majors
That done, there’s nothing left for Johnson to do but collect more of the major titles his talent unquestionably deserves.
I fancy DJ at Sandwich next year – he was close in miserable weather in 2011 – and obviously at Augusta again.
Whatever happens in 2021, he’s a consensus player of the year for 2020 by any measurement.