Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This Christmas edition, we break down the top stories of 2022 and Augusta National’s recent decision on LIV players’ eligibility for the Masters.
1. Before we look ahead to 2023 in Tour Confidential next week, let’s recap some of the most memorable headlines of the past 12 months. While the stories of the year were obviously LIV’s inaugural season and Tiger’s return, what other major storyline did everyone seem to overlook?
Ryan Barath, Senior Equipment Editor (@rdsbarath): Scottie Scheffler had one of the hottest runs of any player on the planet this year but because it coincided with LIV Golf, players leaving the PGA Tour, and a demeanor that shies away from the spotlight, it went almost forgotten by the fall.
Josh Sens, Senior Writer (@joshsens): You can’t really disentangle this one from LIV, but to me, the biggest story was professional golf being forced to reckon with itself. There’s clearly a disconnect between what the sport says it wants to be (global, diverse, forever growing) and what it actually is. The question is whether golf at the elite level can close that gap by creating a product that will continue to draw in a new generation of fans while satisfying extremely well-compensated professional golfers who somehow seem to think they’re underpaid.
Jack Hirsh, Assistant Editor (@JR_HIRSHey): I think Rory McIlroy’s statistical brilliance went somewhat overshadowed by his outspokenness while rising back to World No. 1. Even before McIlroy took down Scheffler for the FedEx Cup, McIlroy was No. 1 on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Total and scoring average. Data Golf actually pegged McIlroy as the best player in the world in June, after he won the RBC Canadian Open. The duel with Scheffler in East Lake was a matchup of the winningest player of 2022 and the statistical best. In a year most will probably remember McIlroy (partly) taking the mantle as the face of the PGA Tour through his statements to the media, his play on the course was just as memorable, if not more. Honorable mention is how Jon Rahm didn’t have a bad season.
2. What was your favorite major of 2022 (men’s or women’s), and why?
Barath: On the men’s side, the US Open is my top choice thanks in part to the host course The Country Club, along with the nail-biting finish it provided. Matt Fitzpatrick hit the shot of the year on the 18th hole and there’s not much more you could ask from major championship golf.
For the women, it was the Chevron Championship thanks to Jenifer Kupcho – the inaugural Agusta National Womens Amateur winner, winning the event and taking the final leap into Poppie’s Pond during the same week as the ANWA. It was a fitting time to win her first Major.
Sens: The Open Championship could have used more wind and the Masters could have used more drama, but on balance, this was a great major year thanks to the venues. I’m with Ryan in giving the U.S. Open top billing, given the quality of the course and the tautness of the competition. But the PGA Championship was a close second for me, on another terrific course, with some heroic shot-making by Justin Thomas down the stretch and the underdog-hero-tragedy element of Mito Pereira coming oh so close. It had all the ingredients for great drama.
Hirsh: I third Barath’s choice with the U.S. Open at Brookline. Perfect example of the USGA bringing back a classic U.S. Open host back into the rotation and providing an excellent venue. Not to mention it was one most of the public hadn’t seen, at least for a while. The leaderboard had every character you wanted: A couple of the best players in the world (McIlory, Rahm, Scheffler, Morikawa), a hometown hero (Keegan Bradley), the upstart looking for his first title (Will Zalatoris) and the guy who won the U.S. Amateur at the same venue (Fitzpatrick).
3. Who, or what, in the golf world won 2022?
Barath: One word — Speed. Whether it was the much talked about extra swing speed gain from US Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick, or the speed of the golf news cycle that made it feel like you were trying to drink from a fire hose. It felt like the fastest-moving golf season I have ever experienced as a fan, and as someone that covers the game for a living. As someone that lives in a four seasons climate, I just hope winter feels like it flies by equally fast.
Sens: Lydia Ko. She didn’t win the biggest tournaments but she won Rolex Player of the Year and the Vare Trophy for low-scoring average. She did this after pulling her game out of a death spiral of the kind that most players never recover from. And she did it with the class and kindness and joy that she has always shown, in good times or bad. It’s corny to say, but a win for Ko is a win for anyone who appreciates the best aspects of sports in general and golf in particular. There is no easier player to root for in the game.
Hirsh: Change. The PGA Tour has a rival now. The game has defined its villains and heroes more clearly than ever. The PGA Tour is making radical changes to its schedule and structure which were long overdue. Legendary broadcasters are hanging up their microphones. Purse sizes are blowing up out the wazoo. Is all this change good for the game? Check back in 2023 I guess.
4. Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced any player — regardless of which tour they play on — will be invited to the 2023 Masters as long as they qualify, a big win for LIV players. Surprised by Augusta’s decision, and how much will it influence golf’s other three organizations that run major championships?
Barath: From the standpoint of holding course, this is not a shock decision from Augusta National. Now considering the other major golf organizations that host championships are all in it for their own business reasons in the same way Augusta is (although in a more public way) I expect much of the same from everyone else.
Sens: Not a surprising decision. This never looked like a battle Augusta was going to take on. The safer–and more sensible–approach is to stick with its traditions and wait and see how things shake out. I’d expect the same from the other organizations. They’ll stick with their customary criteria. As we all know, those criteria might wind up keeping some LIV players on the sidelines based on the Official World Golf Ranking, which those organizations have a say in. That’s the elephant in the room, of course, and it can only be ignored for so long.
Hirsh: Sure it’s a win for LIV players, but in the same way going to the bank without getting robbed is. It was never realistic Augusta National was going to disinvite already qualified players. I see this actually more of a win for the PGA Tour. Augusta is essentially saying it’s not their fight, but by not creating a new pathway for LIV golfers to qualify, it’s standing by the Tour. Now that could change, as you see in the next question…
5. The statement also added that “any modifications or changes to invitation criteria for future Tournaments will be announced in April.” Does this mean more changes might be on the horizon, or simply an obligatory statement stamped to the end of a press release?
Sens: There will be more to come on this. See above on the OWGR.
Barath: It would not surprise me to see Augusta National completely ignore LIV Golf and its roster of players as a whole moving forward, but on the flip side — I could also see them devise their own internal ranking system to fill the field and offer some sort of top LIV exemption. It really is a complete wildcard at this point and I’m as curious as everyone else to see how this pans out in the future. Their power in the world of golf lies in their ability to remain a completely separate entity and I don’t think have any intention of giving that up any time soon.
Hirsh: This isn’t obligatory at all. It could end up meaning nothing, but if Augusta announces any sort of pathways for LIV golfers to earn Masters invites, it would obviously be a massive win for the Saudi-backed league. But it also may end up meaning nothing.