QUICK TAKE: The Best of 2016

Now that golf has paused for the holidays, allow me a moment to reflect on a few memories from 2016. Among my favorites:

Performance of the year: What Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson did at Royal Troon will be recalled decades down the line.

It was majestic. It was mesmerizing. It was as close to magic as golf gets.

Because it was Stenson, who has been so good for so long without winning a major, and because it was Mickelson, reminding us of why we’ve seen no one like him since Arnold Palmer, it was spellbinding.

Moment of the year: There was nothing better than the eighth hole of the Rory McIlroy-Patrick Reed singles match at the Ryder Cup.

Reed and Rory were first off and they were brilliant, at least through the first eight holes, trading birdies and bravado. It was exquisite theater and by the time they reached the par-3 eighth, Hazeltine felt as though it was trembling.

Reed had made three straight birdies starting at the fifth and McIlroy had matched his birdies at Nos. 6 and 7 to stay even.

When McIlroy poured in a 60-footer for a deuce at No. 8 and cupped his ear toward the massive gallery, it was stagecraft Springsteen would envy.

As Reed settled over his 25-footer from the left fringe, I turned to the person standing beside me and said, “You know he’s going to make it.”

The person nodded and an instant later, I heard the loudest roar I’ve ever heard on a golf course. Brilliant.

Shot of the year: Perhaps there were better swings than the one Dustin Johnson put on his 6-iron on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open at Oakmont but none felt more righteous than that one.

After all Johnson had been through – not just on Sunday with the USGA’s bungled rules enforcement but given his tortured major championship history – when he stuffed his approach shot into Oakmont’s 18th green and erased any doubt about his victory, it felt redemptive.

Since it’s that time of the year, here’s a Christmas wish that everything goes just right for the USGA at Erin Hills next summer.

Best event of the year: It has to be the Ryder Cup.

It’s big and rowdy and it has a way of delivering a kind of emotional charge that nothing else in golf can match.

The Masters had a somber finish after Jordan Spieth made a mess of the 12th hole, the U.S. Open’s final round was played under an unnecessary cloud of uncertainty, the Open Championship produced one of the great duels ever and the PGA Championship produced a deserving champion.

But the Ryder Cup felt joyous and not just because the American side finally won. Even in defeat, the European side seemed to sense what the moment meant.

Memory of the year: When the memorial service for Arnold Palmer ended at Saint Vincent College on Oct. 4, the invited guests walked outside the cathedral and watched as Palmer’s jet made a final low pass over Latrobe, Pa., as a piper played “Amazing Grace.”

As the jet passed in front of the church, the pilot turned it straight up into the brilliant blue sky, the jet finally disappearing from view.
The sadness was palpable but so was the enduring joy Palmer had provided all of us for so many years.


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