The Majors: A Year in Review

2016 was a refreshing year of firsts in the majors for a few reasons including the PGA Championship being played in late July as opposed to its usual mid-August date, the Golf Channel assuming coverage of The Open (which was amazing btw), but the most obvious reason being the four men who broke through and won their first major.

Let’s begin with Augusta.

Jordan Spieth arrived at The Masters as a 7/1 betting favorite along with Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. Despite having the same odds as two of the other top three players in the world, it was no secret that Spieth was the clear favorite going into the week. His play aligned perfectly with these expectations for the first 63 holes.

His first round was flawless on a tough day at Augusta National, resulting in a blemish-free 66. He stood up to the test over the next two rounds. He carried a three-shot lead into the final round. After a ho-hum, even par opening five holes, the 22 year-old reeled off four birdies in a row, and all but wrapped the tournament up as he walked to the 10th tee with a five shot lead.

The back-nine got off to a rocky start as bogeyed number 10, and proceeded to begin Amen Corner with another bogey. Meanwhile, Danny Willett was mounting a storybook back-nine charge at the season’s first major. I don’t even wanna remind anybody of the carnage following the 11th hole for Spieth. He stood on the 12th tee with a 9-iron in hand, staring at the far-right hole location that would make anybody with decent eyesight wonder if the hole was even cut on the green. After an uncommitted swing that soaked his ball and a drop, JS proceeded to dump his third shot in the drink. Quadruple-bogey. You know how they say The Masters doesn’t start until the back-nine on Sunday? Jordan Spieth watched a five shot lead evolve into a three shot deficit in about an hour. In one of the most impressive displays of mental strength I have ever seen, he bounced back with birdies on 13 and 15, Augusta’s famed reachable par fives coming down the stretch. After a tee shot on the par-3 16th that came to rest about nine feet from the hole and caused Verne Lundquist to yell out “YES!” it was looking like a 22 year-old was going to do the unthinkable and capture his third major in the most dramatic of fashion.

To the disappointment of many, the putt didn’t fall, he bogeyed the next, and about an hour later, he was helping Danny Willett into a green jacket that would have been his had he been able to replay the the 12th hole.

As a ride or die Jordan Spieth fan, I was sorely disappointed and didn’t talk to my family or friends until the conclusion of the RBC Heritage the next week.

But, at the end of the day, The Masters provided nail-biting drama and a very worthy champion in Danny Willett. I mean, a bogey free 67 in the final round at Augusta? You could make a captivating low-budget film about that.

The U.S. Open made its return to Oakmont, which is a personal favorite of mine. I love courses that are so brutal they make you go as far as to set up a craigslist account so you can sell your clubs.

Considering that Oakmont played about 9,500 yards, it was hard not to love DJ and Rory’s chances going into the week.

DJ played a majestic round of 67 on Thursday, giving him a share of the lead. Rory would miss the cut, but i’m not going to go into detail for the sake of myself. DJ backed up his 67 with rounds of 71 and 69.

Shane Lowry, who is impossible not to love, shot 65 on Saturday which gave him a four shot lead over Dustin. Lowry couldn’t get anything on Sunday, along with just about everybody else in the field due to how difficult the course was set up, especially on the greens. It was pretty cool of the USGA to let Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock choose the hole locations though.

Despite Sunday struggles, Lowry was still in the hunt on the back-nine. In one of the most ridiculous rules fiascos I have ever seen, Dustin Johnson was informed on the 12th tee that he may or may not have incurred a penalty on the 5th hole when his ball moved on the green, despite the fact that the rules official with his group assured him he did nothing wrong.

Horrible. Laughable. Downright stupid.

On the final nine holes of a major, we had players not knowing where they stood. Of all people, this had to happen to DJ. The guy has had more major heartbreaks than anyone.

Thankfully, he handled it like a sir and made some crucial pars coming in before pumping a 324-yard fade off the 18th tee and stuffing his 6-iron approach shot from 190 yards to four feet and making birdie to win.

Here’s the kicker: the USGA gave him the one-stroke penalty. Luckily, he won the tournament and the USGA’s hypocrisy and stupidity wasn’t the story of week; Dustin Johnson finally breaking through was.

Moving on, The Open took place at Royal Troon as the Golf Channel & NBC teamed up to cover it. There was over 50 hours of coverage, not to mention the fact that there was a great amount of protracer.

Heading into the week, my thoughts on Royal Troon were ‘meh.’ I don’t have anything against Troon, that’s just kinda how I feel about any Open venue that isn’t St. Andrews, Turnberry, or Carnoustie.

I ended up absolutely loving it. It was hard not love it after watching massacres take place on the Postage Stamp and Railway holes.

After Phil shot 62.5 in the first round, I really thought he was gonna win the tournament by six. I mean, the dude went 63–69–70–65 in a major. That’s incredible. He made six birdies and no bogeys in the final round while playing in the final pairing. That’s unbelievable. He lost by three. That’s impossible.

The display of golf between Stenson and Mickelson on Sunday is something I will never forget. It was just a clinic. Stenson shot 63 in the final round of an Open Championship with two three-putt bogies. That can’t happen unless you were built in an underground lab in Sweden.

When he walked in the 50-footer for birdie on 14, the hair stood up on the back of my neck.

It was so satisfying to watch a guy like Henrik Stenson capture his first major at the age of 40. He’s intimidating, intense, hilarious, and I’m not positive that he’s ever missed the dead center of the club face. If I had to hedge my bets, I would say he wins at least one more major before his career is over.

Stenson impressed, Phil impressed, Gorse the Horse impressed, and Troon certainly impressed. I can’t wait for the open to make its return there. What. An. Open.

Last but certainly not least, Glory’s Last Shot at Baltusrol was awesome.

The staff at Baltusrol did an all-star job of making the course even playable for a 36-hole Sunday. The PGA made an awesome decision in electing to play preferred lies for the final round. It provided for a fair, exciting finale to a solid season of major championships.

With the exception of Jason Day making seven birdies in an eight hole stretch on Friday, there weren’t a hole lot of fireworks the first three rounds so I’ll fast forward to the last nine holes of the tournament. After nine pars to start, with Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, and Brendan Grace (three of the best ball strikers in all of golf) nipping at his heels, Jimmy Walker hit one of the shots of the tournament when he holed his greenside bunker shot on the tenth hole. Following that up with a 40-footer for birdie on the very next hole showed viewers what he’s made of. Jason Day made an eleven-footer for par on the back nine and gave Jimmy Walker a tiger-esque staredown. That was pretty boss. Walker responded to that with a few solid pars until 17. Ready to address his 10-footer for birdie on 17, Walker was forced to back off when he heard the roars induced by Jason Day’s two-iron from 254 yards coming to rest inside twelve feet on 18. Jimmy Walker don’t care though. He still knocked his putt in,and needed par to win after Day made his eagle putt and let out a roar. I love everything about how Jimmy Walker played the 72nd hole. He laced an iron down the fairway about 240 yards. He could have made stress free par if he just two 9-irons from there. But nah. That’s not how this game works. Abandon rationale and logic whenever you get the chance in golf. Jimmy kept us all on the edge of our seat as he flared his 3-wood second shot about 25 yards right of the hole. He made an easy par, and took home the season’s final major. Man, if the last 30 minutes of that tournament wasn’t intoxicating.

2016’s majors did not disappoint one bit. In three of them, I probably would have preferred to see the guy in second-place win, but four first-time major champions? The only thing that beats that is seeing their families run onto the green with tears in their eyes. Always a nice reminder of why we love this sport. Only 248 days until The Masters.

-Nate

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