It has been an exceptional year for golf. Tiger Woods, the greatest player of the modern era, won a major and amid tumultuous scenes, the Open triumphantly returned to Northern Ireland after an absence of more than six decades.
A raft of new rules were introduced, including freshened terminology. Important moves to maintain the sport’s appeal are happening and Europe recaptured the Solheim Cup in sensational style at Gleneagles.
Here are 10 things we learned in 2019.
Fearsome but fragile Tiger
Woods was imperious in winning the Masters for the fifth time and claiming his 15th major title – his first for 11 years. It was a victory to suggest Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors may be within reach. But we were also reminded of Woods’ physical frailty. He needed more knee surgery before recovering to win in Japan and tie Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour victories.
Then came glorious playing captaincy at the Presidents Cup where he was largely magnificent. But he missed Saturday’s play because of fitness concerns. Since the US win, Fred Couples revealed Woods told his assistants: “Guys, my body is not going to let me go. I’m not going to play this afternoon.”
In 2020 expect Woods to play sparingly, but when he does to be dangerous.
second in the world rankings. He was the PGA Tour’s player of the year, winning prestigious Players and Tour Championship titles. But in the majors he struggled.
He had a chance going into the final round at the US Open but quickly faltered. At the Masters and PGA, the Ulsterman was not a factor. Most damagingly an eight on the first hole at Royal Portrush led to a missed cut at his first Open in his native Northern Ireland.
It was the biggest tournament of McIlroy’s life and the moment got to him. “If I was any other golfer who did what I did this year, then I don’t think there would be that tinge of disappointment,” he told the BBC. But his exceptional talent means he is judged differently.
The Solheim Cup still sparkles
There have been dark days for women’s golf in Europe, so Solheim Cup victory for its team, brilliantly led by Scotland’s Catriona Matthew on home soil, was most welcome.
Even more was the manner of the win, with Suzann Pettersen holing the final putt at the last seconds after Bronte Law had won a vital point on the 17th at Gleneagles. Europe needed to win both matches and they did amid magical scenes.
Pettersen, a wildcard who had barely played for two years, promptly retired and Matthew has been rightly reappointed for the 2021 trophy defence. They need to play more quickly, though.
New hope Europe’s women can properly capitalise
The new strategic alliance between the Ladies European Tour (LET) and the LPGA is long overdue. At last there is a chance for women’s pro golf in Europe to make the most of their Solheim Cup win.
Linking up with their prospering rivals in the United States makes so much sense. It should open up new sponsorship and media deals providing much firmer foundations than the old LET regime could ever muster.
Evolution not revolution is the way forward
It is a safe bet the bosses at the men’s European and PGA Tour took note of the alliance forged in the women’s game. They also know of outsider plans for a world golf tour along the lines of Formula 1 with $20m (£15.5m) prize funds. The established order would take some toppling, particularly a PGA Tour bolstered by extended TV deals with NBC and CBS said to be worth $700m.
Nevertheless, to repel challenges to their position as the preeminent circuits, the PGA and European Tours may decide they are better together. It would not be a massive surprise if another strategic alliance evolves next year.