PGA Tour: Biggest Surprises of the 2011 Season
Every year since I started following golf closely, there have been four or five events that took place that genuinely shocked me.
Rocco Mediate's success at the 2008 U.S. Open, Mickelson's meltdown at Winged Foot in 2006, and Graeme McDowell coming from relative obscurity to win the U.S. Open are the first few that spring to my mind over the past several years.
This year on the whole, however, has been by far the most shocking season I have witnessed in my 10 years studying golf history.
Darren Clarke's Victory at Royal St. George
Before Royal St. George, Clarke had had a nice career: 20 victories worldwide is nothing to sneeze at. He was ranked in the top 10 of the World Golf Rankings for almost a year between 2000-2002, and he has won two World Golf Championships.
But if you had told me in 2006, a period marked by the tragic death of his wife Heather, that he would have rebounded to such heights, I would have thought you were drunk.
McIlroy's Masters Meltdown
This one is hard for me to write about, as it conjures up bad memories of my competitive days in high-school golf.
That Sunday is one of the most disappointing days for me in recent memory. I was on the edge of my seat as I rooted for Tiger to succeed and for Rory to fail. And for nine holes, I was okay with that.
Then Rory hit the back nine and started to unravel.
I had never before and will never again root against Tiger, but when Rory started to fall apart I couldn't help but cheer for him. I was thinking please don't let this tournament soil this kid's career. Please don't let this be what we remember him for.
Thankfully, a couple months later, I got what I wished for.
Tiger Failing to Win a PGA Tour Event
If you had told me after the Ryder Cup last year that Tiger would have went through his 2012 PGA Tour schedule and failed to win a tournament, once again I would have thought you were drunk.
Now I know that he was injured, and he was still working out the kinks in his new swing, and building a new estate, and a billion other things (okay, the estate bit is just me ragging a little bit).
But Tiger has always balanced injury and chaos, and has always been able to compete at a high level on the course after personal or familial tragedies off the course (e.g., the death of his father).
Outside of the Master's, I really never once this year felt that Tiger had a shot at winning, which surprised me greatly. I really and truly felt as I watched Tiger at Congressional in 2010 that this was going to be a good year for him.
Shows what I know.
Keegan Bradley Lifting the Wannamaker Trophy
I would like to start by saying I almost titled this slide "Jason Dufner Losing the PGA Championship."
I don't think these types of victories are good for golf. Yes, they make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but this victory hurt golf.
How can I say that?
When you have some relatively obscure player come into the picture and win a major, sometimes it is a good thing. But sometimes it isn't.
Martin Kaymer was relatively obscure in the States when he won the PGA, but we all were able to take notice that this guy's game was special.
When Keegen Bradley won the PGA, all I could think was that this is his first minute of his 15 minutes of fame.
Golf needs a Tiger or Nicklaus that wins two or three majors a season. It makes it more interesting. It makes it more special when another player wins a major. You think to yourself, "Dang. This kid held off Tiger. He is going to be good"
When Keegen won, I thought to myself, "This year is maybe the only year that these type of victories are going to happen. Soon Tiger will return to form, and McIlroy and Kaymer will be at the top of their games. There won't be any room for this to happen after this year."
Let's face it. Golf is deep right now. Possibly as deep as it has ever been. There are 10 or 15 players who, when they reach their full potential, are going to be outstanding competitors and champions: Manassero, McIlroy, Ishikawa, Cauley, Fowler, Kaymer and Dustin Johnson, to name a few.
These guys are going to be the face of golf over the next 15 years. Bradley, sadly, just does not fit into that picture.