As we put a bow on 2019, it’s the perfect time to reflect. And when it comes to the game of golf, the year was unlike any we’ve seen in quite some time.
The last twelve months gave us a return to glory, a budding superstar rivalry, a dominant force in women’s golf and one of the feel-good sports stories of the year. Just like the game itself, 2019 produced a little bit of everything.
Here are the top 10 moments in golf for 2019.
Tiger Woods Wins the Masters
It was golf’s shining moment of 2019 and may have been the most impressive feat of Tiger Woods’s historic career. Entering the year, Tiger owned 14 major championships, but it was No. 15 that captured the full attention of the entire sports world.
Tiger secured the first major title of his career at Augusta National back in 1997, and over the course of 22 years, Woods won the Masters title three more times. But 14 years had passed since he last slipped on the green jacket, and after a personal scandal and multiple back surgeries, the thought of Tiger ever winning again at Augusta was far-fetched. Until 2019.
Woods lurked near the top of the leaderboard all week long, and when Francesco Molinari stumbled at the famed 11th hole and again at the 15th, Tiger pounced, grabbing the lead while never looking back.
The image captured by SI photographer Kohijo Kinno on the 18th green was one of triumph in its greatest form, and an image that did not require a headline or text on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
This was the new Tiger Woods. A man that had been humbled by injury, scandal and self-doubt, but a man the much of the sports world never stopped rooting for. A man who showed he should never be doubted or counted out, because when that happens, Woods does what he has during his entire career—he proves us all wrong.
Shane Lowry Makes History
The 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush was supposed to be tailor-made for Northern Ireland’s native son Rory McIlroy, but instead golf’s final major of the year was won by Irishman.
Shane Lowry’s win was convincingly heroic. It’s difficult enough to win the Open Championship four hours from where you grew up, but to hold onto a lead when Mother Nature was doing everything in her power to try and snatch it away from you is a feat only the burly, red-bearded Lowry could handle.
Amazingly, Lowry battled the brutal course conditions and padded his lead while the rest of the field crumbled on Sunday.
The victory was one of unification as Lowry became the first Irishman to win the Open on the Emerald Isle. Northern or not, all of Ireland celebrated their countryman’s triumph. "Everyone knows we're all one country when it comes to golf," said Lowry, embracing the magnitude of what he had accomplished.
Gary Woodland and Amy Bockerstette
The feel-good story of the year goes to U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland. His victory at Pebble Beach to earn his major title was a testament of grit, perseverance and some fantastic ball striking, but what transpired after the Open is why golf fans will always regard Woodland as a champion.
Woodland had first met Amy Bockerstette, a Special Olympic golfer with down syndrome, at the Waste Management Open in Arizona. That was where Amy played a hole with Woodland and impressed the tour pro with her game—and her attitude. Faced with a difficult shot out of a bunker, Amy told Woodland, “I’ve got this.”
And she did, making par on the famed 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale.
Woodland and Bockerstette struck up a friendship, and later in the year, with Gary holding on to the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open, Amy tweeted at Woodland: “You’ve got this.”
It turned out to be the extra confidence boost Woodland would need as he captured his first major. To show his thanks after the win, Gary surprised Amy by bringing the U.S. Open Trophy to the set of The Today Show and embracing her with a huge hug.
Cameron Champ's Victory in Napa
When Cameron Champ’s grandfather, Mack Champ, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Cameron considered sitting out of The Safeway Open, his hometown PGA Tour event. But eventually, he decided to play, knowing that’s what the man known as “Pop” would want.
The 24-year-old spent the week visiting his grandfather in hospice care and on Sunday, Champ found himself holing the lead down the stretch in Napa. Champ closed with a final round 69 to seal his second career tour victory and celebrated by hugging his dad, who then put his grandfather on the phone to share in the moment.
“Even if I never win another tournament again or I win however many, this will definitely be the greatest moment of my golfing career,” said Champ. Less than a month later, Mack Champ passed away at the age of 78.
Jin Young Ko Dominates LPGA
Imagine going to work for 114 consecutive days, without making a mistake. We’re talking a stretch of almost four months, nearly perfect. Unimaginable right? Unless your LPGA superstar Jin Young Ko.
That’s basically what Ko, the No. 1-ranked female player in the world, did during the 2019 season. The 24-year old South Korean, reeled off 114 consecutive holes without a bogey, breaking Tiger Woods’ all-time record.
2019 was a year of domination for Ko who won two major titles (ANA Inspiration, Evian Championship) and recorded the second-best scoring average in LPGA history.
Perfection is often unattainable in golf, but Jin Young Ko came as close to it as we’ve seen, maybe ever.
Augusta National Women’s Amateur
When Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley announced that the Golf Club would be hosting a Women’s Amateur tournament the week prior to the Masters, the news was met with some skepticism. This was a club, founded in 1932, that hadn’t allowed female members until 2012 and had traditionally evolved at its own pace.
But after seeing some of the best female amateurs in the world tee it up in 2019, at one of most historic courses on earth, the idea would have to be considered a resounding success.
21-year old Wake Forest senior Jennifer Kupcho made history, winning the first competitive female event ever to be played at Augusta National. The top ranked Amateur fired a scorching 5 under par 67 to win by four strokes over Maria Fassi.
“I really think we’re going to start something great in women’s golf,” Kupcho said, feeling the magnitude of what she and the other female competitors had accomplished. “It’s been an experience of a lifetime.”
Phil Mickelson on Twitter
Young athletes have typically dominated the world of golf social media, but in 2019, when it comes to the PGA Tour, the King of Twitter was Phil Mickelson. Lefty launched his Twitter handle in late 2018 and his first full year on the social media site was nothing short of genius.
From his Phireside chats with fellow tour pros, his parents and even Larry David, to the workout videos showcasing his massive calves, Phil has perfected the art of dry humor. Mickelson may be turning 50 this coming June, but he’s in the prime of his social media career.
Tiger Woods Leads U.S. to Presidents Cup Victory
2019 introduced us to Tiger Woods, The Captain. And just like Tiger the player, we learned he’s pretty good at leading a team too. Surrounded by players he called “my guys,” Woods captained his first international team event, guiding the U.S. to a 2-point victory at the Presidents Cup in Melbourne, Australia.
Woods struggled to find the perfect pairings through the first three days of competition but put together a powerful lineup for singles competition that set the Americans up for their Sunday comeback.
Woods most impressive decisions involved Tiger the player. Pairing himself with Justin Thomas over the first two days generated two wins, while deciding to sit out both sessions on Saturday seemed to give Tiger the rest and recovery he needed to come out strong in singles play. And placing himself in the leadoff spot set the tone for a Sunday comeback.
Koepka vs. McIlroy
Was 2019 the year we finally got the rivalry that golf has been longing for? Well that depends on who you ask.
World No. 1 Brooks Koepka raised some eyebrows this fall when he was asked about his rivalry with Rory McIlroy. While Koepka meanwhile added his fourth major title to his resumé in 2019 with a win at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, McIlroy had recently been named PGA Tour player the year after winning the Players Championship and Tour Championship.
So is a rivalry brewing for 2020? Not according to Brooks. "I've been out here for what, five years,” Koepka said “Rory hasn't won a major since I've been on the PGA Tour. I don’t view it as a rivalry.”
McIlroy later responded to Brooks’ comments: “What Brooks said wasn’t wrong. He’s been the best player in the world the last couple of years, four majors. I don’t think he had to remind me that I hadn’t won one [major] in a while.”
Ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, the two players combined for six wins and 27 top 10 finishes in the calendar year. With the competition for superiority on the PGA Tour combined with their individual success, it’s the definition of a rivalry and it’s exactly what the game of golf needs right now.
Jeff Maggert Holes Out to Win Schwab Cup Championship
Unlike baseball, not many players in golf get the chance at a walk-off win. Jeff Maggert got that unique opportunity at the final event of the year on the PGA Tour Champions.
Maggert was locked in a playoff with Retief Goosen at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix when he executed one of the shots of the year. Faced with 123-yard approach shot to the 17th hole at Phoenix Country Club, Maggert holed out to win the tournament.
The eagle also help Scott McCarron win the season long Charles Schwab Cup title and the $1 million dollars that comes with it. McCarron may have been the season’s champ, but it was Maggert who stole the show and walked off with one of the most memorable shots of 2019.