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Golf Doctor

Looking back on the big golf stories of 2021 and ahead to what is in store in 2022

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There were lots of big golf stories in the past year of 2021, and here are some of the biggest in snippet form. By far the one that stunned the golfing world was the single-car crash on a winding road at 80 mph in Los Angeles that nearly cost Tiger Woods his life. He returned to his home in Florida after three weeks in the hospital.

Next is Jon Rahm. Just two weeks after being forced to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village (Dublin, Ohio) due to a positive Covid-19 test, having surged to a 6-shot lead after day two, Rahm won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in stunning fashion with a birdie-birdie finish. He’s No. 1 in the world – the best golfer on the planet!

The biggest shocker of the year was the improbable victory by 50-year-old Phil (“The Thrill”) Mickelson, winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. That was Phil’s sixth major, and basically his version of Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters and Woods’ 2019 Masters masterpiece.

And what about Captain Steve Stricker’s American team‘s Ryder Cup win in September, trouncing the Europeans

19- 9! As one sportswriter noted, “Not only did the U.S. win by 10 points, it battered the Euros with its youngest and most inexperienced team ever.” The Ryder Cup may stay on homeland soil for some time to come.

Now, back to Tiger Woods, an athlete and an icon who continues to amaze and astound. Just 10 months after he almost lost his right leg in that horrendous car crash in L.A., he and his 12 year-old son Charlie played together in the PNC Championship in Orlando. Tiger cannot yet walk a full 18 holes but his golf game showed promise. Tiger and Charlie shot 57 for their final “hit-and-giggle” scramble round, with talented Charlie displaying a “chip-off-the-ole-block” form. They finished second to John Daly and John II. I’m predicting that Tiger will indeed play a few tournaments this year, certainly including the Open Championship at St. Andrews.

To my mind the most incredible golf score of 2021 was the 57 (14 under par) turned in by Macy Pate, a high-school sophomore in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to win the individual title in the Central Piedmont 4-A Conference Championships. Think about it – 57!

As we go forward in 2022, the first PGA tournament of the new year, the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in Maui, was won by Cameron Smith with a record 72 hole score of 34 under par. Jon Rahm finished second at 33 under. Smith picked up a cool $1,476,000; Rahm a mere $810,000. No wonder talented players fight hard to get on tour; and no wonder rival tour challengers are sprouting up around the world. Actually, the 2021-2022 “wraparound” PGA Tour season began last September with the Fortinet Championship in Napa, California, won by Max Homa, who won $1,260,000. The current PGA Tour season ends with the FedEx Cup Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta on August 22-28, in time for football season.

        While we’re talking professional golf and big bucks, it was just recently announced by the USGA that the total purse for the U.S. Women’s Open presented by ProMedica will increase by almost 100 percent to $10 million, with the winner earning $1.8 million. John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s chief championships officer, said that the increase to $10 million was the culmination of a four-year journey to “empower” the U.S. Women’s Open. He probably meant that it would raise the entire status of women’s golf. This move is a prime example of the vision and strength that Mike Whan brought to the USGA when he was named commissioner in mid-2021 (see my Bulletin column 3/26/21). Also, looking forward into 2022, the PGA Tour will implement a new “local” rule (not yet a USGA mandate) to limit driver length to 46 inches (from 48), which Mickelson calls “pathetic.” More to come later, tour use of greens books are a thing of the past.

Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at docblanchard71@gmail.com.