It’s that week of the year when there is no golf anywhere to speak of, so a columnist’s eye turns to fond reminisence of a season wandering the fairways to the sweet sound of birdsong and the “ping” as titanium alloy strikes durable thermoplastic.
And the frustrated expletives that usually follow that strike quickly jerk us out of any romantic reverie to deliberate on T2G’s 10th annual Bungs.
2016 is already being regarded as the Worst Year Ever thanks to the untimely expiration of several significant cultural totems and the evidence that the world’s body politic has lost its collective marbles.
On the plus side, we had the best Open Championship in history. I know it doesn’t make up for losing Ali, Bowie, Prince and Zsa Zsa Gabor, or alleviate anxiety caused by Brexit, Trump, Putin and ISIS, but it’s all I’ve got.
Player of the Year: No standout to compare with Spieth in 2015 or McIlroy in 2014, with four first-time major winners. It seems right to give it to the man who found creative ways to lose championships until Oakmont in June; Dustin Johnson then played the best golf for the rest of the year, at least until Rory came out of his funk at the FedEx Cup.
Tournament of the Year: I’m still pushing to have it called the Duel in the Dreich. It’s certainly better than Duel of the Sons, a cringeworthy, contrived title which seems to have got traction recently. Anyway, the man-to-man battle over 36 holes between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson for the Claret Jug at Royal Troon wins by the proverbial murder mile.
Round of the Year: It was Stenson’s final round 63, obviously, which was maybe the best single round in major championship history. But we should also focus on the other great duel of the year – Mickelson and Garcia’s incredible halved singles in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. It was superior to the hyped Reed-McIlroy contest that actually fizzled out after eight holes. Sergio’s figures would have had him beating Reed 3 and 2.
Shot of the Year: As Danny Willett mounts the 16th tee on Sunday at Augusta, news comes through that Jordan Spieth has folded at the 12th and the Yorkshireman’s now the leader of the Masters with three to play. Gulp? No, 8-iron to eight feet and hole the putt for a two-shot lead. Piece of cake.
Depression of the Year: Far too many that mattered outside golf to count. Some would say Arnold Palmer’s passing, but I respectfully disagree. An admirable man, a fabulous life and he lived it to the full in his 87 years. What is there to be depressed about?
Non-event of the Year: It had to be important because it was the only round of golf I saw tweeted hole-by-hole all year. But seriously, Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero “World” Challenge meant nothing, other than him completing four rounds without a recurrence of his back trouble. He plays in an event that actually counts sometime next month.
Reassurance of the Year: A few weeks after the USGA had a 300-yard par 3 at the US Open, we reached Troon and there was the Postage Stamp, the greatest short hole in golf. It played to less than 100 yards when they moved the tee up on the last two days. And it caused the players fits.
Trophy of the Year: As usual a packed field for T2G’s annual celebration of the game’s most tasteless baubles. The LPGA Championship’s new “ball-bearings in a peapod” got attention, and for lack of imagination the Nashville Open (on the web.com tour) has a plain acoustic guitar with a plaque riveted on it.
We thought about an annual contender, Tiger’s Hero World Challenge trophy, which looks like something the Franklin Mint would reject. But in the end the winner is a newcomer in the Safeway Open on the PGA Tour, which gave Brendan Steele a wooden barrel for his trophy cabinet.
Stat of the Year: No contest here. Henrik and Phil lapped the field – at least twice – at Troon. Third place was JB Holmes on -6, 11 shots behind Phil in second 13 behind Henrik on -20.
Shank of the Year: Jordan Spieth’s second trip into Rae’s Creek on Sunday at the Masters; a complete and utter duff by the player poised at the time to become clearly the best in the world. No-one’s immune to pressure, it seems.
Comeback of the Year: Tiger…come back in 12 months. This year it was Phil, and his astonishing performance at the Open. Competitive until 50 and beyond? “That’s the plan” he says cheerfully.
The Torch (aka the next big thing): Russell Knox finished 7th in the PGA Tour moneylist – the old way of figuring things pre-FedEx Cup. He is most definitely for real.
The Dropped Torch (aka the last big thing that actually wasn’t): No real outstanding candidate for the Bung that no-one wants. Jordan Spieth’s “fall”, for what it’s worth, amounted to eight top 10s and three wins in 2016, and a plummet to fifth in the world rankings.