Golf in 2020: Everything to appreciate as the sport navigated a bizarre year amid COVID-19 pandemic

It’s the holiday season, which means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but in 2020 it can primarily serve as a time for gratitude and thankfulness. There is plenty to mourn but there is also plenty to celebrate, and while it might be harder to do the latter after a year like this year, it also might be more important.

In our little slice of the sports world — the celebration of golf — it might seem trivial to celebrate much of anything at the end of 2020, and maybe it is. But I also remember those bizarre three months between when the 2020 Players Championship was canceled and when the PGA Tour restarted at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country club in June. A lot was up in the air for those 90 days, and I’m simply glad for the sport I cover to have made it to the end of this most bizarre year of our lifetimes.

In light of that, here are 20 things I’m grateful for in the world golf as another year — my eighth covering the sport, and the strangest of them all — winds down.

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1. Dustin Johnson

I don’t have a lot to add other than I very much enjoy watching Dustin Johnson hit golf shots and win golf tournaments.

2. The women’s game

It’s not that I ignored it before, but so much of my time is spent covering the PGA Tour that it sometimes feels like there’s little left to give elsewhere. That’s why having the U.S. Women’s Open in December was such a revelation — it had no other competition in the sport. Watching the women’s game, as I told my daughter on Sunday, is often more fun than watching the men because it feels like they’re playing the sport more like it was intended to be played and not just trying to bludgeon the golf ball into oblivion.

3. All that Bryson content

I don’t know that it’s intentional, but Bryson DeChambeau seems incapable of not providing only the best, most elite content for those of us who have to cover this stuff every single day. From the ant fight to the romp at Winged Foot, I’m eternally grateful.

4. Meritocracy

At the beginning of the year, Sami Valimaki was ranked No. 396 in the world and Jordan Spieth was ranked No. 44. Now the former is ranked ahead of the latter. That sort of swap may happen in other sports, too, but it’s not as harshly visible and may take several more years to come to fruition.

5. Villains! 

It was a fascinating year for villains. Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka have all, at one moment or another, been in that space, and the rub of heroes against the perception of villainous counterparts makes for some really intriguing golf.

6. Jordan Spieth’s war

It’s gone to some dark places, and just two top 10s in 2020 is among them. It will be a nice backdrop for his eventual return to No. 1, though. And yes, Spieth Island is being eroded by a rising tide every day. At some point, I will be the only one left.

7. The PGL

I don’t know if or when the Premier Golf League will ever get off the ground, but I do know that competition — or even the threat of competition — will push every other league to be stronger and better than they already are. No matter what you think about the PGL, that’s a good thing.

8. Small ballparks

As much talk as there has been about distance in pro golf, we got some really fun, good events at small tracks like Colonial and Harbour Town. While I’m not positive that’s the general test you’re trying to administer every week as the top league in the world, it is fun to bring out different skillsets based on the venue.

9. Exhibition matches

Are they sometimes silly? Is watching Charles Barkley play golf for three hours aesthetically advisable? Probably not. But nearly every match we’ve seen thus far has been incredibly entertaining and fun because of the participants. There’s a formula to keep hitting on there as they get freshened up into the future, and I’m excited to cover them.

10. Pros like us

Rory McIlroy’s game felt relatable two times this year. Here they are.

11. The 48-inch shaft

The revolution is coming, if it’s not already here. Keith Mitchell said recently on the “No Laying Up” podcast that everyone would play a 48-inch shaft in their driver in a few years, and Phil Mickelson has been saying it for a while, too. This, combined with a thousand other things, will hopefully lead those in charge of golf to finally exercise some restraint in how far the ball goes and preserve the classic venues where golf is played.

12. YouTube

You know what we don’t talk about enough? The fact that you can pop on YouTube and pull up pretty much any swing from any golfer in history to admire, compare, study and enjoy. Here’s one of the best ever.

13. Old (and new) lions

We discussed this a bit during the PNC Championship over the weekend, but one of a million reasons golf is great is because it has no age bias. Sure, there’s a sweet spot for a player’s prime, but Sergio Garcia (age 40) and Collin Morikawa (age 23) both won in 2020. For Sergio, it was his 10th straight year with a worldwide win, and for Morikawa it felt like an introduction of himself to the world. Both will likely be at the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, and I’m genuinely excited to see what next year has in store for both them (and others in their categories).

14. The Open

The week of the Open Championship is always one I look forward to all year, and with its absence in 2020 I now appreciate that more than ever. Toss that and the Olympics into 2021, and the next nine months (with a Ryder Cup!) are going to be an absolute ride.

15. Data Golf

The work from the good folks over at Data Golf has made me smarter and more informed about what’s going on in the golf world, but it has also made me enjoy the sport even more.

16. Justin Ray

All of that applies to J-Ray as well. He’s well known in our smaller golf media world, but he should have about 10x the following he already has. Here was my favorite stat he pulled in 2020.

17. Jon Rahm’s facial expressions

They’re great. Remember how he reacted after the Memorial Tournament when Amanda Balionis told him he had been assessed a penalty and his late chip-in to seal the tournament was actually for bogey instead of birdie? He is just the best.

18. The PNC

Listen, I’m sure Charlie Woods will be talked about well into the future in both healthy and unhealthy ways, but the weekend he and Tiger shared at the PNC Championship to close out 2020 was really cool for them to experience (and for us to get to watch).

19. Golf Twitter

I’m not ingrained in any other sport’s Twitter world, but it’s hard to imagine a funnier, more enjoyable group to try and keep up with. Also: My wife does not want to hear my Pat Reed jokes.

20. Kapalua (and Abu Dhabi)

The start of any new year in golf is always a thrill, and January — which is just a few weeks away! — represents a fresh start to what will hopefully be a more continuous (and less fractured 2021).

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