Most of my feelings about 2008 can be summed up in this Golfdom year-end story. Because while there were all of those dreadful stories that only a blogger could love (Tilghman/Golfweek noose debacle, the Bivens/LPGA English policy debacle, Stevie/Phil is a prick debacle), 2008 reminded golfers what an amazing, splendid, chill-inducing, awe-inspiring sport this can be when the world's best are allowed to display their skill.

As I note in the Golfdom story, the spectacle at Torrey Pines was surely made historic and unforgettable by Tiger's physical condition combined with Rocco's incredible effort. And you had the added emotions of contesting an Open at a course so pivotal in Tiger's upbringing, in a first and second round pairing with Phil Mickelson, the list goes on and on.

But like a great film with a strong cast, amazing effects and the best crew money can by, it all can only go so far on a thin story. In the case of Torrey Pines, this was not a strong story of a golf course. But the USGA setup took that barebones story and drenched every living bit of life out of a fairly bland 18 holes to provide Tiger, Rocco and many other contenders an incredible stage to perform on.

While few writers seized on this side of the Torrey Pines equation or its obvious freeing of Paul Azinger to aggressively set up Valhalla in a player-friendly manner that led to epic displays of skill under pressure from boths squads, it's still wonderful to see how the U.S. Open was the sole focus of most year-in-review stories. It was a special week for those of us who were lucky enough to be there and for everyone who huddled by a television to watch a truly unforgettable moment in sport.

I know I've missed a few, but here's a paritial list of the year end summaries:

GolfChannel.com's staff is counting down the best of 2008.

John Hopkins in The Times.

John Huggan's Huggy's.

Jeff Babineau in Golfweek.

Gary Van Sickle at golf.com.

Larry Dorman of the New York Times.

And finally, Doug Ferguson shares his favorite anecdotes.

Happy New Year! 

Huggy's New Year's Resolutions

Well, they are not his, but instead, what he hopes golf's greats are resolving for 2008. These caught my eye:

THE ROYAL & ANCIENT GOLF CLUB: "Knowing that it will make little or no difference to 99.999% of the planet's golfers, we will no longer be cowed by the threat of legal action from ball manufacturing companies and this year we will knock 50 yards off the distance the leading professionals can hit their drives. Overnight, classic courses across the globe will become, well, classic courses again."

WALLY UIHLEIN (boss of Titleist): "I am finally going to own up to the fact that, despite all the marketing hype we spew out each year, hardly any golfers swing the club fast enough to gain significant yardage from the ball we make now. So I am going to do the right thing for the game that allows me to earn enormous sums of money. I will publicly announce that a rollback of the golf ball is absolutely fine with me. Besides, my guess is that Titleist will still make the best ball and so rake in the biggest profits."

ST ANDREWS LINKS TRUST: "We will delay the opening of our new humpy-bumpy and brutally exposed Castle course until it is re-designed to the point where average players have a reasonable chance of breaking 100 on an averagely breezy day."

AUGUSTA NATIONAL GOLF CLUB: "Any and all trees planted over the last five years or so will be cut down. All of the rough – sorry, 'first-cut' – grown over the same period will be eliminated. Then we can have our golf course back, the one which Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie modelled on the Old Course at St Andrews rather than a generic American country club."

ANY R&A MEMBER (one is all it would take): "If only to drag golf's most high-profile club into the 20th century – never mind the 21st – I will propose a woman for membership. The positive effect on the game's still-stuffy image would be immeasurable. She'd have to wear a tie in the clubhouse though. And promise to vote Tory. Hey, we can't get rid of every stereotype immediately."

THE UNITED STATES GOLF ASSOCIATION: "In June, just to confirm that the world will not, in fact, shift off its axis or come to a premature end, we will resist the urge to cover Torrey Pines in pointless and tedious long grass. Hell, we might even enjoy a US Open that does not include the mindless hack-out, the hit-or-miss gouge and the sheer, stultifying boredom of watching the world's best and most versatile chippers reaching automatically for their 60-degree wedges, unable to take advantage of whatever talents and touch they possess.


"The network improved somewhat, but its progress was a little disappointing."

Credit Gary Van Sickle for revisiting his 2007 predictions, though his Golf Channel critique was more interesting (to me anyway):

The network improved somewhat, but its progress was a little disappointing. Critiquing the on-air personnel choices would be subjective, so I won't do it, but the Golf Channel proved no better than the other networks when it repeatedly signed off for the day even though play wasn't finished. Its post-round coverage at majors was spotty. It delivered one good hour, but unfortunately was on the air for three. Quality, not quantity, should be a goal in '08. The lack of audience was such a sore spot that the network only released the numbers that included the viewers who watched the nightly replays, too. Score a point.
Well there's good news. WinZone (remember that!) says there's a 95% chance this will be a winner:
A Doppler radar system made by the Denmark-based software developer Interactive Sports Games will begin to be used to convey club movement, ball trajectory, and other statistics to viewers, according to the company. The Golf Channel's first use of the TrackMan system will be at the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii on January 3, according to reports.


"For revealing he is a Rolling Stones fan..."

John Hopkins in The Times offers his year end awards. (The Hoppy's...hmmm...sounds familiar.) Loved this eye-roller:

George O'Grady, executive director of the European Tour, who last November announced the most significant response to the world dominance of golf by the PGA Tour in the US. This is the $10m Dubai World Championship, the biggest purse in golf. Starting in Dubai in December 2009 it will be the culmination of what is currently known as the Order of Merit but from 2009 will be renamed the Race to Dubai. For revealing he is a Rolling Stones fan, Tim Finchem, Commissioner of the PGA Tour in the US, is a close runner-up to O'Grady.

He revealed that about three tours and a previous century ago, never too early for some!

Now, how does Finchem get an award when he's the mastermind of this excellent award:

Most overrated event of the year

Any world golf championship event.

"The game's cowardly administrators have let us down. They have dropped the ball."

John Huggan offers his Christmas wish list, with wishful thinking for the governing bodies, Rory Sabbatini, George O'Grady, Monty and many others...
To the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the United States Golf Association: A backbone

Over the past 15 years or so, golf at the very highest level has sadly become a less interesting spectacle. The world's leading players are, almost without exception, hitting the same shots time after tedious time. Gone are the likes of Lee Trevino and Seve Ballesteros, men who could conjure up subtle fades and draws rather than simply aim straight at distant flags.

Then there are the courses the biggest events are played on most weeks. Stretched almost beyond imagination, covered in more and more unimaginative rough and with pin positions cut ever closer to the edge of putting surfaces, the tracks played by the leading professionals encourage a crash-bang-wallop style of play that has all but lost almost every semblance of subtlety.

The root cause, of course, is the golf ball. It goes too far and it flies too straight, facts the R&A and the USGA are well aware of, but are loath to do anything about in case those big-bad manufacturers like Titleist and Callaway and their big-bad lawyers take them to court. The game's cowardly administrators have let us down. They have dropped the ball.

"Ah, the power of the guaranteed cheque."

I know you can't wait to find out who The Huggy goes to for Scottish Player Of The Year Other Than Monty, so here are John Huggan's year-end awards. My favorites:


Golf’s only deep-sea diver and dedicated self-abuser, Woody Austin, cried off from the Open Championship claiming he was ‘too tired’ to make the long trip. He felt it was just too far to come over and play badly. The wee soul. Funny that Woody managed to get himself to Wentworth for the World Match Play Championship a couple of months later. Ah, the power of the guaranteed cheque.


In stark contrast to the obnoxious winner that was American captain Buddy Marucci, Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup skipper, Colin Dalgleish, handled his side’s narrow one-point defeat with great dignity. The Helensburgh man, in fact, did a superb job at Royal County Down, both with the organisational aspects of his role and the more public duties. No one could have squeezed more out of his young men in what was an ultimately heart-breaking loss. His re-appointment for the matches at Merion in 2009 was surely the easiest decision of the year.


It has always been easy to make fun of Phil Mickelson and his sometimes-gushy all-American way of expressing himself. ‘Mom’ is Phil’s favourite relative and ‘apple pie’ is certainly his favourite dessert. But no other professional golfer takes his public responsibilities more seriously, especially when it comes to signing autographs. In stark contrast to many other luminaries who stalk off with nary a backward glance after signing their scorecards, Mickelson stands there, pen in hand, and writes his name until there is no one left, man, woman or child. He has a word for all as he goes along, too. And he does this after every round, almost without exception. His is a great example, one more of his colleagues would do well to emulate.


Elling's Year In Review

Steve Elling inexplicably kicks off the year-in-review onslaught before the Ames-Johnson-Wetterich-Couples Skins Game is even played. Imagine that? 

Here are both parts on a single page. My favorites:

It's the money, stupid

So, if the season is too long and top players need their offseason rest, which precipitated the creation of a FedEx Cup structure that ends in September, what's Mickelson doing playing in two events in Asia this month? If Els is leading the European Tour money list with one week left in the season, why is he playing in Asia instead of trying to fend off Justin Rose at the Euro Tour season finale in Spain? Chinese cha-ching, that's why. Draw your own conclusions about any apparent hypocrisy.

Oh the "H" word. You go!

Worst-course award, 2007 version

This is a crowded field with several deserving contestants, but the winner has to be the new host track for the Bob Hope event, the Classic Club. It was classic only if you happened to be born a camel, a roadrunner or a horned toad.

Built so far out in the desert along Interstate 10 that trees actually grow sideways from the prevailing and persistent winds, the final round was all but unwatchable as scoring skied and six players failed to crack 80. The experience was so awful, the lone top-10 player in the field, Mickelson, gave strong signals that he might not return in 2008. After he got through picking sand out of his eyes, anyway.

Once a popular event featuring the late comedian and his high-powered celebrity friends, the event has deteriorated into the weakest link on the early schedule. The sands of time on this fading event might have run out.

But they have George Lopez.

Speaking of Bob Hope ...

Or established entertainers like Glen Campbell, Sammy Davis Jr., Danny Thomas, Jackie Gleason, Andy Williams or Bing Crosby, for that matter. They all hosted tour events over the years and were huge stars of their era.

Saving one of its most head-scratching decisions for last, the tour this week elected to prop up former boy-band singer Justin Timberlake as the host of the largely overlooked Las Vegas event beginning in 2008. The sparsely attended Vegas event is in dire need of sizzle, but what key demographic in golf is he supposed to be attracting here, 13-year-old girls? To wit, here's a sample of the lyrics from his tune Rock Your Body:
I'll have whatever you have; come on, just give it up girl,
See, I've been watching you, I like the way you move,
So go ahead girl, just do that ass-shaking thing you do."
Ah, remember the painful throes of puberty? For another example of Timberlake's recent pop stylings, do an Internet search for the Saturday Night Live tune he recorded called D--- in a Box, which was so racy, NBC refused to air the uncensored version. Funny, yes. Classy, hardly.

With Timberlake as a front man, I'll never again poke fun at former M*A*S*H star Jamie Farr, even if it is ironic that the dude most famous for wearing a dress now hosts an LPGA event. Actually, it could have been worse. They might have picked their favorite purveyor of mindless Muzak, jazz musician Kenny G, who proved while serenading Players Championship winner Mickelson in May that it is indeed possible for a mediocre sax player to both suck and blow at the same time.