The major golf season came to a close this past Sunday with another first-time champion and enough drama hopefully to keep fans sated until the April azaleas bloom. With the full panoply of major competition put away – and with no LIV Golf news hitting us in the head with a ball-peen hammer – there’s no better moment to look back at the biggest takeaways from golf’s most significant events.
Inaugural Chevron Championship
The first year of Chevron’s title sponsorship turned out to be the last time the old Dinah Shore Classic kicked off the major season. Starting in 2023, the LPGA major moves to Carlton Woods in suburban Houston. But the event left the California desert with a bang, crowning a first-time LPGA Tour winner in Jennifer Kupcho, who would win twice more before August. Jessica Korda also made a fantastic Sunday run but ran out of holes before she could catch Kupcho. It was a great swansong for a part of the world where nostalgia is currency.
On the downside, fan engagement wasn’t stellar, which is one of the reasons why the event is moving. Grandstands beside and behind the 18th green, which became smaller over the years, were rarely full, and galleries in the middle of the golf course had less than a major-championship vibe. All week, the best players in the game dodged Mission Hills members as they drove their carts to play the other golf courses on-site. And on Sunday, fans actually booed Chevron’s head of marketing for moving the event out of a town that had failed to support it for more than a decade.
On the heels of another extraordinary Augusta National Women’s Invitational and Drive, Chip, and Putt Finals, the small-field event in Georgia crowned a new major winner and ushered in a new world No. 1. In so doing, the course, with its standard complement of new trees that look as if they’ve been on-site for 50 years, proved, once again, that a good putter is a match for any man. Look at recent past champions and one thing is certain: unique ball-striking and great putting beat beautiful golf swings and a shaky flatstick every day.
We finally found a time of year to play in Tulsa. For those who remember previous majors held at Southern Hills (the 2001 U.S. Open and the 2007 PGA Championship, for example), summer in that part of Oklahoma is like playing golf on the face of the sun.
May weather was perfect. Plus, PGA of America officials got one of their favorite past champions, Justin Thomas, as an improbable repeater. The golf world also got its first good look at Cameron Young. Every part of that young man impressed.
U.S. Women’s Open
In his post-championship remarks, USGA CEO Mike Whan told a story of one of his first pro-ams as LPGA commissioner. He ended up being paired with Minjee Lee, about whom he knew almost nothing. Before the round was over, Whan called his team and said, “Please get out here and take some pictures. I’m playing with a future world No. 1.”
Lee didn’t produce as quickly as expected, especially with a textbook golf swing and ball-striking numbers that had a number of experts saying, “Wait a minute; is that right?” But once she cracked the major egg at Evian last year, she was off. Lee won the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles in a trot, firing a record 13-under par on a course where no one saw those kinds of numbers coming.
This year she already had won once on the LPGA Tour, at the Cognizant Founders Cup, before heading to North Carolina, and she would finish second and fourth in two more majors before the end of the year, making Lee the runaway favorite for Player of the Year. It seemed fitting that at a venue where Annika Sörenstam and Cristie Kerr won opens, the next great superstar put on a show.
Matt Fitzpatrick goes down as the winner, but the real victor of the 2022 U.S. Open was The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, which shed the controversy from the 1999 Ryder Cup and embraced its legacy as one of the all-time great major-championship venues. Unlike other classic courses visited by the USGA – Shinnecock and Merion come quickly to mind – there were no controversies at TCC; no questionable hole locations, no silly greens, no over-served-and-out-of-hand fans, and no one even uttering the word “unfair.” The only things that made fans wince were the number of commercials on American television (something Whan went to Twitter to promise to address) and Will Zalatoris’ putting stroke from inside 6 feet. Other than that, this was a home run in every respect.
KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
No one recognized Congressional Country Club, which hosted its first major since a complete redesign of the Blue Course a couple of years ago. Even caddies who had been on the grounds for sundry PGA Tour events over the years said that if you took away the iconic clubhouse, they would have had no idea what course they were on.
Some of the changes were questionable. There were eight holes where players could not see the bottom of the flagstick when hitting their approach shots, and one par-5 (the ninth) where players on Friday hit driver, 3-wood, 5-wood to a green that was not designed to receive those kinds of shots.
Once again, though, the PGA of America got a good winner from a dramatic finish. In Gee Chun built a big lead, lost it, and then regained it when Lexi Thompson started missing short putts on Sunday’s back nine. By the time Chun accepted the trophy and gave a tearful thanks, all questions about the venue had vanished.
Not a single major champion in recent history has won without making at least one putt from 7 to 20 feet over the course of the weekend.
That record still holds. Rory McIlroy had one of the best ball-striking weeks of his career, hitting almost every green on the Old Course in the final two rounds of the 150th Open at St. Andrews. He made nothing and lost to Cameron Smith.
There’s a lesson there for everyone, regardless of skill level.
Amundi Evian Championship
When Brooke Henderson won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2016 as a precocious teenager, expectations shot through the roof. And though she arrived in Evian-les-Bains this year with 11 LPGA Tour victories at age 24 – the most in history by a Canadian man or woman – there was a sense of something missing. Henderson had yet to break through with a second major, questions percolated about her putting, and she had never spent a single day as the No. 1 player in the world.
Two of those got put to bed in dramatic fashion at the Evian Resort Course. Henderson rammed home a 10-foot birdie putt on the final green to win her second major by a shot. In doing so, she ended the cold-putter talk, at least for a while.
AIG Women’s Open
Because golfers never want a good thing to end, the major season went on and on and on, well into sundown in a part of the world where that comes late in the summer. Chun, looking for her second major of the season, and Ashleigh Buhai, looking for her first professional win in 14 years on tour, played four extra holes at Muirfield before Buhai hit the bunker shot of her life on the 18th to secure a par and a major victory.
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers got everything they’d hoped for when they agreed to host a women’s major for the first time in two centuries – memorable drama, a cadre of appreciative players heaping accolades on the course and another South African winner to go with Gary Player and Ernie Els.
As historic moments go, this one will be remembered for quite a while.
This collection of majors had a little bit of everything. It will be a long wait with a lot of LIV news between now and April. We should savor the memories no matter what misery comes.
Top: Matt Fitzpatrick Photo: Warren Little, Getty Images
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