From best year to worst year to next year in golf


Just like that, the golf season is over. Four majors and the FedEx Cup in the rearview before the calendar flips to September — this new calendar might take a bit of getting used to.

So we look back on the year that was and what comes next.

Rory McIlroy or Brooks Koepka — who is the player of the year?

Bob Harig: Brooks, and it really shouldn’t be an argument. Winning a major outweighs all when you have the same number of victories, and both have three this season. Throw in the fact that Brooks finished ahead of Rory in each of the four majors and it appears an easy call, despite a strong season from McIlroy.

Michael Collins: Brooks Koepka. As much as I love what Rory did at the Tour Championship, it can’t take away from what Koepka accomplished for the year. I will say I am seriously rooting for a few more head-to-head showdowns.

Mark Schlabach: Rory won the day at East Lake on Sunday, but Brooks was so much more consistent over the course of the season. He finished tied for fourth or better at each of the four majors, including a second straight PGA Championship title. He nearly became the first player to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles, and he also was in contention on Sunday at Augusta. The Open Championship was the only major in which it didn’t feel like Koepka had a chance to win, and he finished tied for fourth.

Ian O’Connor: I think it still has to be Brooks. Koepka won a major, nearly won two or three, and finished inside the top five in all four. Rory didn’t win a major, missed the cut at Royal Portrush, and didn’t have a top-5 in any. That’s what this sport is all about, the four big ones. A $15 million check doesn’t change that.

Nick Pietruszkiewicz: As much as we want to live in a recency bias kind of world after watching McIlroy mostly dominate on the final day at East Lake, Koepka’s body of work — see what I did there? — makes it clear he’s the choice.

2. Which player on Tour had the most disappointing year?

Harig: Jordan Spieth. Jason Day is a close second, but for the second straight season, Spieth didn’t win and struggled mightily for much of it. The weekend woes continued, and although he showed improvement toward the end of the year, he was never really able to get to the back nine of a Sunday with a chance. It’s odd to think he has gone more than two years without winning. And he’s likely not going to be part of the U.S. Presidents Cup team.

Collins: Jason Day. I’m worried about Day in a way I’m not worried about Jordan Spieth. My worry with Day is not just on the golf course, but off. Not in a bad way, just in a way that juggling fatherhood and being the best golfer in the world can wreck a golf game. I think the caddie switch to Steve Williams was a mistake. I don’t think he can bring his old caddie(s) back, so I’m worried that this year was not an aberration.

Schlabach: I don’t want to dump on Spieth, but I agree with Bob. He didn’t win for a second straight season and he still seemed lost off the tee at the end of the regular season. He had only four top-10s in 23 events and didn’t even make it to East Lake. He finished tied for third at the PGA Championship, but it never felt like he was really in contention.

O’Connor: Funny, but if Tiger Woods didn’t win the Masters, he’d be a candidate given the fact that he closed 2018 like a freight train. And every year that passes without Rickie Fowler winning a major makes him a candidate, too. But I’d go with Jordan Spieth, too. Went winless — again. Missed the Tour Championship — again. The sport will be better off when Spieth returns to relevance.

Pietruszkiewicz: There are a lot of big-name choices here: Fowler, Spieth, Day. But Spieth stands out — and not in a good way. The results speak for themselves. But more concerning is how the body language is speaking. The frustration level is high, and it shows on the golf course more than ever before. Fixing a swing is hard. Living up to unreal expectations you’ve set for yourself is hard. Doing all that while putting intense pressure on yourself is nearly impossible.

3. Which player is headed toward a huge 2020? Which player is headed toward a letdown?

Harig: Xander Schauffele keeps impressing. Although he came up short on Sunday, he has now won a Tour Championship and finished second in the FedEx Cup. He moved into the top 10 in the world, too. As for a letdown, seems crazy to say, but if Brooks Koepka is judged by majors, it’s hard to see him continuing the run he is on. It’s amazing what he has accomplished in the biggest tournaments, winning four of them overall and being in the top four in all this year. He could still have a great 2020 without the same success in the majors.

Collins: Tony Finau. Sit back and get ready for Tony “Phenom,” as he was called back in the day. Expect Finau to be in contention at the Masters and the PGA Championship next year. A two-win or three-win season should be the perfect expectation for a guy who not only will win, but will win convincingly. As for a letdown, it’s Tiger Woods. Sorry, everyone. I know it stinks and I hate writing it, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, if Tiger doesn’t win a tournament next year — because we know the expectations on him — it’ll be the biggest letdown of the year, even though it shouldn’t be.

Schlabach: We seem to be waiting for Xander Schauffele to win a major, and I think it’s going to happen sometime next year. Schauffele showed again this past weekend that he’s one of the best players in the world. He tied for second at the Masters and tied for third at the U.S. Open. He’ll knock the majors door down in 2020. As far as letdowns, I hope we didn’t witness the beginning of the end for Phil Mickelson, but I’m afraid that might indeed be the case. He seemed completely lost at the end of the season and didn’t have any answers.

O’Connor: Patrick Cantlay, at 27, is ready to take off and start doing at the pro level a little (or a lot) of what he did as a dominant amateur. On the flip side, a letdown is hard to call. I will say this: Bryson DeChambeau could suffer as he tries to speed up his game. Golf is hard enough when you’re playing it at your preferred pace, and not worrying about others shaming you into a faster gear.

Pietruszkiewicz: Justin Thomas. He was headed for a huge year in 2019, until the wrist injury threw a wrench into his season. He has all the talent and confidence in the world and he knows how to win. He’ll win a major next year, and it wouldn’t shock me if he wins two. For letdown: Is it fair to say Spieth here, too? He thinks he’s close. Which means if he doesn’t improve and end that drought, it’s going to be a letdown for him. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just hard to see it at the moment.

4. About Tiger … what should we expect going forward?

Harig: It’s likely to be a lot more of what we saw in 2019: sporadic good play but mostly indifferent golf simply because he is not able to play or practice the amount necessary to be competitive. What he did in 2018 — playing 18 times, seemingly without incident — seems all the more remarkable now. Same with the Masters victory. It will be interesting to see how Woods looks later this year. Is he healthy and sharp when he plays in Japan in October? That is an important sign going forward, because if he is not fit there after two months away, that does not bode well.

Collins: As long as the schedule remains the way it is, Tiger’s best chance to win a major will be at Augusta … BUT I believe a healthy Tiger can win anywhere the temperature stays over 75 degrees for all four days. I just want to see Tiger play 10-12 events per year because that means we’ll have him around for a few years.

Schlabach: I think we’ll see Tiger in contention at Augusta in 2020 because he’ll have time to get his body and game in shape, and that place always seems to bring out something special from him. Beyond that weekend in April, I can’t see Tiger doing much of anything because his body isn’t going to allow it.

O’Connor: Much the same of what we got this year. His body will only allow him an occasional chance to win, and when it does, he’ll have to pounce. Muscle memory will make him a threat at Augusta for years to come, and after that he’ll need to be a great opportunist. I think Tiger will tie Sam Snead‘s record of 82 wins in 2020, somewhere, somehow, and that’s about it.

Pietruszkiewicz: It’s hard to disagree with the above. Tiger will be in the top 5, maybe even win the Masters again. Then … it’s a mystery. That’s probably the best way to predict the future with him — you can’t. He’s such a wild card, looking great, then looking old. Sometimes in the same week. It’s hard to limit expectations, especially when he shows glimmers of the glory days. But it’s time to temper the high hopes and thoughts of 18 majors.

5. Who will be the breakout star in 2020?

Harig: Jon Rahm. The Spaniard has been on the brink of some really good things, and his record at a young age is already impressive. He’s dealing with some setbacks that still see him highly competitive. It’s just a matter of time.

Collins: Matthew Wolff. This guy missed one cut in his first eight starts on the PGA Tour. And he won an event. Yes, I love that wild swing. Know why? Because he repeats it like Jim Furyk repeats his crazy swing. And if Wolff can be as consistent over a full season as he was in eight events … hello, new PGA star!

Schlabach: Viktor Hovland. Wolff and Colin Morikawa didn’t waste time in winning on the PGA Tour, but I think Hovland is going to be the best rookie in 2020. He was the low amateur at both the Masters (tied for 32nd) and U.S. Open (tied for 12th) and also finished fourth at the Wyndham Championship. He might not even wait for 2020 to pick up his first Tour win.

O’Connor: See Cantlay, Patrick, above. But if we’re talking about younger guys, what the hell, I’ll go with Scottie Scheffler, who led the Korn Ferry Tour in birdies. And this pick has nothing to do with the fact that I played a lot of pickup basketball with his dad (Scott) and uncle (Pete), fellow graduates of St. Cecilia High in Englewood, New Jersey.

Pietruszkiewicz: This is like me always picking Rickie Fowler to win a major and being wrong. My dark horse or sleeper or breakout star always seems to be Matthew Fitzpatrick. So I am not going against that just yet. He nearly won the Scandinavian Invite this past week opposite the FedEx Cup finale. He’s only 25. He’s going to be a factor on a big stage and he’s going to win a major. It feels like next year is the year for it.

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