As many golf seasons have come to an end, there’s a lot to reflect on, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, there’s a lot to be thankful for as a golf fan from the past year. Gather ’round for a few of them:
Be thankful that some notable players ended some noteworthy winless droughts. Stewart Cink, then 47, started the 2021 season by winning for the first time since the 2009 Open and Harris English rang in the New Year by ending a seven-year winless drought in Hawaii, before both going on to win a second time.
However, even with Rory McIlroy back in the winner’s circle for the first time in 18 months after winning the Wells Fargo Championship and Tony Finau breaking a 1,975-day winless hiatus at The Northern Trust, perhaps the comeback of all comebacks was Jordan Spieth winning the Valero Texas Open, 1,351 days since his last victory at the 2017 Open Championship.
Next up on the comeback list … Tiger Woods?
Return of the G.O.A.T.
Speaking of comebacks, be thankful that the USGA created the U.S. Senior Women’s Open in 2018, allowing Annika Sorenstam to show the world this year that though she hadn’t played a major in 13 years, nor competitively until this year, she hadn’t missed a beat.
The 51-year-old Swede won by eight strokes, tying the event’s best-ever score, 276, set by Laura Davies at the inaugural championship. But what separated this win from her 72 others was that her 10- and 11-year-old children saw their mother win for the first time, bringing her son to tears.
With the win, Sorenstam earned a spot in next year’s U.S Women’s Open at Pine Needles, where she won the event in 1996. Will she accept the invitation and try to become the oldest player – male or female – to win a major?
First time for everything
Be thankful that in the calendar year of 2021, there were 10 first-time PGA Tour winners (Max Homa, Joel Dahmen, Sam Burns, K.H. Lee, Garrick Higgo, Cam Davis, Seamus Power, Erik Van Rooyen, Abraham Ancer and Talor Gooch).
Homa and Burns, who’s second in the current FedExCup standings behind Gooch after the Tour’s fall slate, were able to add another trophy on the shelf before the year ended and look to be forces in the sport moving forward.
Plus, Hideki Matsuyama and world No. 1 Jon Rahm notched their first majors, while Patrick Cantlay won his first FedExCup title and Collin Morikawa won The Open – the first player to win two different majors in his first appearance at them – and became the first-ever American to capture the Race to Dubai.
In the women’s game, four of the five major winners were first-timers. Rookie of the Year Patty Tavatanakit won the ANA Inspiration, the first rookie to win a major since Juli Inkster in 1984. Next, Yuka Saso, 20, prevailed in a playoff at the U.S. Women’s Open, followed by Nelly Korda winning the KPMG Women’s PGA. Minjee Lee then won her first major at the Evian Championship by tying the largest come-from-behind victory (seven shots) in LPGA major history.
U.S. and Europe win a cup
If you’re an American, be thankful for this year’s Ryder Cup team that showed 1998-Yankees dominance by collecting 19 points at Whistling Straits, the most by either side since 1979, when the event became U.S. vs. Europe, rather than just Great Britain.
But the most exciting part – or frightening for Europe’s sake – about the American’s triumph is the indication that it may be the brink of a dynasty. The average age of Team USA, which had six first-timers, was 29, their youngest squad since the event’s inaugural edition in 1927. Their elder statesman, Dustin Johnson, who went undefeated at Whistling Straits, will only be 39 in Rome.
And if you’re reading this across the Atlantic, you can be thankful for Europe’s Solheim Cup win.
One last time?
Be thankful when history is being made in front of your eyes. No one thought 50-year-old Phil Mickelson would come into the year’s strongest major field and exit as the oldest player to ever win a major.
But after Lefty out-dueled Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen at Kiawah Island, fans flooded the 18th fairway for what felt like golf’s first monumental moment since returning from COVID-19.
After those four days, Mickelson looked his age again, posting one top-20 on Tour (though he did shine on the PGA Tour Champions). But his triumph at Kiawah will forever be near the forefront of his illustrious career and an iconic moment in the game’s history.