Welcome to the 2018 edition of The Grainys, my highly subjective awards for the best and worst of the golf year just past. To be honest, it was a rather dull year, but that didn’t stop The Grainys crew from finding some memorable achievements.
Now on the tee, the envelopes, please….
Grainys – and kudos – to Pete Bevacqua, former CEO of the PGA of America, who in one of his last major acts moved the association’s premier event – the PGA Championship – to a more agronomically and climatically favorable time of the year. By shifting the PGA from August to May, we should be done with the soft, receptive sites of Oklahoma, Kentucky, Missouri and New Jersey in August, and every other state not north of Manitoba. Good timing, too, with the first May PGA next year’s event at New York’s Bethpage Black. May the force be with it!
Best Supporting Actor
To Phil Mickelson and his Saturday shenanigans, which took some of the heat off the USGA and its third round U.S. Open course set-up of Shinnecock Hills. We may have to give Phil the rare “double Grainy,” one for this blatant disrespect for our national championship, his fellow competitors and the game with his nok-hockeying, and a second for his unforgettable, unmistakable and yet unsurprising explanation of how he thought he was taking advantage of the Rules. Six months later, and we’re still scratching our heads.
“Dumb and Dumber” was dumb enough. “Dumb and Dumber 2” even worse. Now we have D&D3, better known as the dumbing down done by the USGA on the Rules of Golf. Think you were confused before? The gray areas are vague that friends are sure to become enemies, golf pros will be hiding behind their counters and Rules experts may move up their retirement plans. Though give the Rules a chance, and maybe Lloyd, Harry and Sea Bass will finally get it . .
Lifetime Un-Achievement Award
He made a broadcasting career of neither listening to nor learning agronomic facts, thought all forms of grass grew toward the setting sun, and even gave these august awards their name with his incessant rambling about down grain, vertical grain, cross grain and double grain. Finally, we get no grain as Johnny Miller hangs up his microphone after 29 years in the NBC/Golf Channel booth. We’ll miss you Johnny … well, about as much as we miss every putt due to the grain. Be careful as you walk toward the setting sun.
Best Supporting Supporters
To PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere), the flagship military program of PGA REACH, for introducing golf to veterans with disabilities as a way of enhancing their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being. The program reached more than 2,000 vets in 2018. In fact, here’s a well-earned salute to all golf programs that work with veterans.
We’re giving a second award in this category to new chairman Fred Ridley and the membership of Augusta National for opening up their club to an elite, new women’s event, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Meant to inspire young women to play golf and compete at the highest level, it’s another example of this very private club doing more than most to support and help grow the game.
Best Return of a Much-Missed Star
Tiger Woods at the TOUR Championship. His return was good for golf, good for ratings and I’m sure East Lake director of agronomy Ralph Kepple didn’t even mind the thousands of spectators tramping on the final fairway. And don’t forget Tiger’s most emotional and honest acting when he got choked up on the final green. We did, too!
Best Visual Effects
To Alejandro Reyes, golf courses and estate manager of Le Golf National, host venue for this year’s Ryder Cup. He had the course looking beautiful as well as dramatic. I probably should give Reyes the Best Special Effects Award, as well, because his course made the U.S. team disappear like Claude Rains from the competition after the first day. With an assist to the Euros, who know how to write a script.
Worst Leading ActressMother Nature. She staged a horror festival this year with hurricanes, copious amounts of rain, early snow, wildfires, oppressive heat and everything short of a plague of locusts. But for all she threw at superintendents everywhere, you guys made the best of the worst conditions and kept your courses open and playable. Unfortunately, we’re likely to see many, many sequels of her bitchy behavior in the years to come, so be prepared.
Outstanding Achievement – Senior Division
Hats off to the USGA and Chicago Golf Club for staging a memorable inaugural Senior Women’s Open, and a huge shout-out to that Grande Dame of our grass-covered stages, Laura Davies, now the first-ever winner of both the U.S. Women’s and Senior Women’s Opens. Given the quality of the women eligible to play in this event, it should be a winner for a long, long time.
Not sure who is to blame here so we’re pointing a finger at everyone who helped ensure the U.S. team lost the Ryder Cup. Between the FedEx Cup and the PGA Tour’s disregard for any events but their own, the players never had a chance. After a month of high-stress golf, topped off with the big-money TOUR Championship, the players walked off the last green at East Lake and onto a plane that took them to Paris that very night to a course most of them had never seen. Yes, the Europeans bond better as a team and seem to take more pride in how they play in this biennial event. But someone needs to look at the pre-Cup scheduling and work in some downtime. And let’s not let the U.S. players off the hook, either: How many of them bothered to see the course before Ryder Cup week started?
Best (or is it Bets?) New Technology
Get ready for sports betting coming to golf. It’s inevitable, which is sure to lead to questions of players betting on themselves (we’re looking at you, Phil). Will the game’s integrity be besmirched? Will the USGA step up and protect the sanctity of the game? Or will the “G” in USGA soon stand for “gambling?” If state governments are seeing potential gold mines in sports betting, can golf’s governing bodies be far behind?
Worst Attempt To Remake A Classic
We used to love the Thanksgiving weekend Skins Games. We gave none of that love to “The Match.” Pay to watch Phil and Tiger? I don’t think so. The highlight was the technical snafu that allowed thousands to watch for free. Even with the hype, pregame specials and side bets, this was one “match” that didn’t ignite. I agree with Lee Trevino: play these matches with your own cash!
Year in, year out, Chris Dalhamer, superintendent at Pebble Beach Golf Links, prepares one of the planet’s busiest courses for the worst and best players in the world at the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the Champions Tour Pure Challenge and this past summer, the U.S. Amateur. Dalhamer leads his troops, grinds it out and puts a great product on the table without fanfare, self-promotion or pointing to past achievements. Don’t believe me? Watch next summer when Pebble Beach hosts the 2019 U.S. Open Championship.
Best Small Role Eliminated Entirely
There were times we weren’t sure what role Holly Sonders was playing on Fox Sports’ golf broadcasts. Now we know: She was the magician’s assistant. You know, the pretty girl that is made to disappear. We won’t see Holly interviewing players or working the magic touchscreen any more, but we can’t let her go without asking her to present the final Grainy. Here she comes, about to announce the 2018 Worst Direction Award. And the loser is….
This one was a runaway. Again. After guaranteeing there would be no repeat of the 2004 debacle at Shinnecock Hills, maestro Mike Davis and his USGA cast of characters bumbled, fumbled and stumbled their way through a U.S. Open so filled with miscues that they issued a mea culpa on live TV Saturday afternoon. And they couldn’t even get that right, with the apology about as sincere as an Elizabeth Taylor wedding vow.
To avoid this award in the future? How about involving the host course superintendent a bit more …