In a vacuum, 2017 was a great year for golf. There was the arrival of new young stars, continued high-quality play from established ones, and even the return of some missed veterans.
But we may go on to remember the year as something more, such as a catalyst for a new great era of golf, especially if the top golfers of 2017 continue to shine in 2018 and beyond.
Sung Hyun Park
Although the year in women’s golf was marred by one particular controversy that led to some long overdue rule changes, that shouldn’t distract from the amazing year LPGA Rookie of the Year Sung Hyun Park had. After being a top 10 regular in 2015 and 2016, Park registered her first LPGA Tour win at the U.S. Women’s Open, besting fellow South Korean Choi Hye-jin by two strokes.
The following month, Park finished -13 to claim the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open. Her eleven top tens and second-place overall finish in scoring rank earned her not only ROY honors, but Player of the Year too, becoming the first since 1978 to win both awards in the same season.
Twenty-three year old Jon Rahm put his newly minted PGA Tour card to quick use in 2017. The former world no. 1 amateur won his first PGA Tour title after draining a 60-foot eagle putt at the Farmers Insurance Open in January. Less than a month later he plowed through the competition at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, surging from five down to finish runner-up and just a stroke behind champion Dustin Johnson.
The Spaniard’s hot form continued throughout the year as he went on to record eight top-5 finishes in 21 PGA Tour starts, while also winning two European Tour events. After being ranked 137th in January, Rahm finished 2017 ranked No.4 in the world and began 2018 with the sixth best odds (14:1 according to golf betting providers online) to become this season’s Tour money list winner.
Another former ace amateur that rocketed up the rankings in 2017 was 24-year old Xander Schauffele. After finishing 15th on the Web.com tour money list for 2016, the Cali-native earned his Tour card and soon became the talk of the weekend at the 2017 U.S. Open, where he shot a bogey-free 66 in the first round. It was the first time any golfer had accomplished the feat in their Open debut.
Schauffele went on to finish tied for fifth, his first Tour Top 25 finish. Not long after, he gained his first Tour win and after going -6 over the final six rounds at the BMW Championship, earned his spot in the Tour Championship. There, he basically secured PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors, besting Justin Thomas on the final hole to become the first ever rookie to win the event.
After failing to win a tournament since the previous May, Jordan Spieth set out to have a year that was much more 2015 than 2016. In February he won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, becoming just the second player to win nine PGA Tour events before their 24th birthday. That pace did not sustain however and his performances at The Masters, the Players Championship, and the U.S. Open could be called mild disappointments.
However, Spieth regained his way at the Open Championship, giving us perhaps the most memorable moment of the year. After losing a three-shot lead at the beginning of the final round, his drive on 13 was so wild that he had to take a drop from the driving range. Miraculously, Spieth recovered to bogey then went birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie-par to best Matt Kuchar by three and become the second player in history to win three majors before turning 24. No further Tour victories followed, but Spieth finished the season as the Tour scoring average leader and also helped the U.S. once again retain the Presidents Cup.
It was however another 24-year old finishing as PGA Tour Player of the Year and atop the money list. Justin Thomas began the 2016-17 season winning his second and third tour events overall, but really forced the golf world to take notice by what he did at the Sony Open in Hawaii. After shooting eagles on the first and last holes of the day, Thomas finished the round with a 59, making him the youngest player to ever shoot sub-60.
Thomas continued his record-setting ways at the U.S. Open, setting a tournament record by finishing nine under par and tying the single-round record with a 63 during the third round. Although he finished +3 and ninth there, less than two months later he finished atop the leaderboard at the PGA Championship for his first major victory. Thomas then closed out the season by winning his fifth title on the year, the Dell Technologies Championship, becoming just the fourth player under 25 to win five events (including a major) in a season. Also the season’s FedEx Cup Champion, Thomas’ rise adds to the infusion of young blood in the sport that will make 2018 a can’t-miss season.