Bernie on Tour’s Highlights & Awards for a whirlwind 2021

Bernie McGuire
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Bernie on Tour’s Highlights & Awards for a whirlwind 2021

Richard Bland (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

TEAM OF THE YEAR AWARD

The winning European Solheim Cup team.

It’s the first time I’ve watched all three days of a Solheim Cup and the manner in which captain Catriona Matthew and her team not only brilliantly went about gagging their rivals but also silencing the 99.99% American crowd in suburban Toledo, Ohio was truly amazing. Great to see nearly half of the Association of Golf Writers members vote for the team in selecting a winner of the prestigious Golf Writers’ Trophy.

MALE GOLFER OF THE YEAR AWARD At the age of just 24, Collin Morikawa has won two majors, a WGC title, and became the first American-born to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai title.

Of course, you could argue had Tiger Woods chosen to join the European Tour, and he was quizzed many times why he had chosen not to because he would have been crowned European No. 1 a dozen times. And the manner Morikawa has gone about his golf and the way he’s conducted himself off the course in dealing with the media and his fans is a huge credit to his upbringing.

FEMALE GOLFER OF THE YEAR

Four wins in 2021, including a first major championship title, the women’s Gold Medal winner at the Japan Olympics, and reaching the pinnacle at No. 1 in the world. Nelly Korda, aged just 23, clearly let her clubs do the talking this past year.

PLAY-OFF OF THE YEAR AWARD

Patrick Cantlay out-duelling Bryson DeChambeau over six extra sudden-death holes to win the BMW Championship in Baltimore. For those of us on this side of ‘The Pond’, you just couldn’t go to bed.

SHOT OF THE YEAR AWARD

Such an award would go to someone who’s pulled off an ace or some miraculous saving par or in Bubba Watson’s case, last Sunday at the QBE Shootout when his errant tee shot ‘bounced’ off the forearm of a Buffalo Bills supporter standing behind the ropes, and also seemingly safe in being well right of the green, only for Bubba’s ball to find the green and just missing the hole.

No, not this year! In the lead-up to the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Bryson DeChambeau was being teased whether or not he would seek to drive the green at the all-water carry, boomerang-shape like 531-yard, par-5 sixth hole.

He came up short twice in practice and despite plenty of spectators egging him on over the first two rounds, it was not until day three, and with a favourable wind at this back, that DeChambeau pulled out the big stick and took his stance facing the expanse of this Bay Hill lake staring in front of him.

The golf world was glued to DeChambeau’s ball that easily cleared the water and though it found the right rough, the drive was officially measured at an ungodly 370-yards.

No surprise, the golfer, known affectionately as the ‘Mad Scientist’ again led the field in ‘strokes gained’ on route to an eighth PGA Tour triumph.

WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE AWARD

Thirty-three years ago in 1988, a then 33-year-old Curtis Strange became the first PGA Tour player to earn $1m in a single season. Fast forward to 2021 and the top-122 on the PGA Tour 2020/21 money list each earned more than $1m in prize money.

Matt Kuchar was the player to end the year at 122nd pocketing the sum of $1,348,917 from his 25 appearances and in a season ‘Kuch’ earned a best of third in the WGC – Dell Technologies Match-Play. He had just one other top-10 but also missed the cut in 12 events which is half of the 25 tournaments the now 43-year-old contested.

It means that just three players – Brice Garnett (123rd), Scott Stallings (124th), and Chesson Hadley (125th) – were the only players who held onto the 2022 Tour card without becoming millionaires on the 2021 Tour. And with the 2022/23 PGA Tour prize purse up by $60m this season to a ridiculous $427m, I would bet the ‘millionaire’ makers in this new season go down beyond 125th place on the money list.

EMOTIONAL MOMENT OF THE YEAR AWARD

The sight of an emotional SKY’s Tim Barter, and also his long-time coach, interviewing an equally emotional Richard Bland brought tears to everyone’s eyes as ‘Blandy’ ended a 478 European Tour event winless round to capture a first Tour title at the Betfred British Masters.

Special mention here to Hideki Matsuyama’s caddy bowing to the Augusta National course in removing the Master’s flag from the 18th hole flagstick following the Japan golfer’s historic maiden major triumph.

PRIVILEGED TO BE PRESENT AWARD

I had been very privileged to be seated among a small gathering in the famed New Picture House theatre in St. Andrews to view the first public screening of the movie ‘Seve’.

What an emotional occasion.  Here also in the theatre was Seve’s former wife, Carmen, and their two children Javier and Carmen, some five months on from the 10th anniversary of Seve’s passing. The movie was remarkable with so much unseen footage and something else I had never seen before, as here was the sight of Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer welling up in speaking of Seve. I’d never, ever seen Faldo crying and it led to a turning of a ‘waterworks’ switch for all seated in the theatre.

Javier, with his sister acting as a caddy, were out in the first group of the Dunhill Links Championship with R&A CEO Martin Slumbers as the amateur player, and what a wonderful tribute from Martin following their round:

“I never tire of my enjoyment in playing the Old Course but to be partnered with Javier Ballesteros was extra special,” said Slumbers.

“It was kind of spooky as at times it looked like it was his father playing out there today. Javier’s a good player, a really good player and while he had some wayward shots, he played unbelievably good pitch shots as we saw there at the last. And with his sister Carmen on the bag, it was a really special day all around.”

GREAT REACTION JUST PARTICIPATING IN A MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIP AWARD

A 50-year-old Phil Mickelson capturing a sixth major was historic and so was Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama winning at Augusta.

However, it had been six years since Germany’s Marcel Siem last contested a major championship, and to see this pony-tailed golfer warming in walking the 149th Open Championship fairways in rural Kent endeared himself not only to everyone on hand at Royal St. George’s but to millions viewing at home. Take a bow, Marcel.

COMEBACK OF THE YEAR AWARD

Jordan Spieth was ranked 97th in the world after missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open before halting the slide with eight top-10s in his next 11 starts, with the Texan’s run including an appropriate victory in the Valero Texas Open.

Spieth then moved back inside the top-20 with his second place at the 149th Open with his return to form making it easy for Steve Stricker to hand him a Whistling Straits captain’s pick.

CAT FIGHT OF THE YEAR AWARD

They were akin to a couple of schoolboys in the manner they conducted themselves but here were two supposedly mature adults – Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau – winners at the highest level in golf.

Their very-public spat was really trivial stuff seemingly ignited at the 2019 Dubai Desert Classic when Koepka calls out DeChambeau saying it’s ‘embarrassing’ he takes so long to play a shot. There was a series of ‘gnarly’ tweets back-and-forward before their ‘cat fight’ ignited for all the world to see as Koepka was being interviewed during the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. DeChambeau strode past but his noisy spikes clearly pissed off Koepka, who rolled his eyes in disgust.

In the depths of the Covid-19 lockdown, the public couldn’t get enough of it.

And we thought it was all done and dusted with the scenes at Whistling Straits of the pair embracing each other following the USA’s domination over a hapless European Team.

But alas, the trash talk continued to Thanksgiving weekend with the staging of the ‘The Match’ and Koepka an easy winner. So, what will the Year of the Tiger bring for the warring pair?

HE’S OUT; HE’S BACK IN; NO, HE’S OUT; WAIT, HE’S SAFE AWARD

It was one of the most bizarre stories in retaining your European Tour card for some time with Scotland’s David Drysdale just needing to make the AVIV Dubai Championship halfway cut to retain 2022 membership. The top-121 on the 2021 Race to Dubai would hold onto their cards and with the golfer affectionately known as ‘Double D’ arriving in Dubai at 121.

Drysdale’s wife and caddy, Vicky were bitterly disappointed in missing the cut and not helped when England’s Ashley Chesters posted a second day 66 to be projected to jump from 125th to take Drysdale’s place at 121st.

However, Chester’s third day 74 had Drysdale back to 121st but that again all changed on day four when Chesters moved to six-under for his round and for all intents and purposes, looking to regain 121st, only for him to bogey the last to officially end the season at 124th and Drysdale cement the coveted 121st position despite missing the cut.

Clearly also helping ‘DD’ was the fact that those ranked 122nd to 124th had also missed the Fire Course cut.

Little wonder the Drysdale’s had good cause to breathe a huge sigh of relief with Vicky, and this a sign of her great character, offering her apology for not speaking post the second round. Vicky? There was no need to apologize as everyone’s just so pleased for you and DD.

GREAT TO BE BACK REPORTING GOLF TOURNAMENTS AWARD

It was just a third golf tournament of four events I ‘covered’ in 2021 since the Players Championship in March 2020,  when the last golfer I had spoken to on that seemingly appropriate Friday, 13th, was Henrik Stenson who I had spotted pushing the shopping trolley for Mrs. Stenson around the nearby Ponte Vedra Whole Foods shop, a short distance from the TPC Sawgrass front gates.

Now in my third event back, I was sitting outside the locker-room at the Jumeirah Estates ahead of the DP World Tour Championship and chatting to Brendan Lowry, father to Open Championship winning Shane Lowry when Shane appeared.

“What the F*** do you want,” was the question from a smiling Irish golfer.

I said to Brendan (laughing): “Mr. Lowry? Your son just swore at me. What are we going to do?” Ah, it was great to be back at the cutting edge of golf reporting and getting a news scoop you would never obtain sitting on a Zoom call.

NICE TO HAVE TIGER’S RESPECT AWARD

Talk of enjoying a player’s respect as I’ve probably spent two-thirds of my golf-reporting career being present around the golfing globe reporting on the efforts of Tiger Woods.

From the States to the UK and Ireland, Germany, Thailand, Australia, China, Turkey, and just recently again in the Bahamas. Funny I was never introduced to Tiger nor did we shake hands but then, more often than not, he has always been giving of his time.

There was the bizarre occasion when he signed a Scottish One Pound banknote for me while waiting for a courtesy car at a tournament. I also remember he once had me in a jovial headlock in a hotel bar in China. There was also probably my Tiger moment in shaking his hands with him soon after capturing what was his highly emotional walk down the 72nd on route to victory at the 2018 Tour Championship in Atlanta.

Now after his near-fatal car crash earlier this year, Tiger sat in front of the assembled media two days ahead of the recent Hero World Challenge. Others in the media centre prefaced their question to Tiger with a ‘welcome back’ etc but without recognition.  Then the microphone came to me.

Qn. Tiger, good to see you again at a golf tournament. TIGER WOODS: Thanks, Bernie.

REMARK OF THE YEAR AWARD

“Nice shirt”.  This remark to Rory McIlroy in his first event back since trying to rip the shirt off his shoulder post his final round of the DP World Tour Championship. My colleague Tour Miss took the innocent-looking snap and your good self tweeted the story. Rory wasn’t happy but we all moved on.

Rory’s been one of the nicest and more approachable of most, and it’s also a reflection of his upbringing he does wear his heart on his sleeve, and why has always been so honest with the media. Here’s hoping in April his shoulders are properly covered with the fitting of a spanking new green members-only jacket that bears the crest on the breast pocket of the badge of a famed Georgia golf club.

BEST GOLF COURSE PLAYED IN 2021 AWARD

This past year was my 20th-year celebration as a proud member at Crail Golfing Society and golf’s seventh oldest club. Saldy, due to lockdown and travel restrictions, and also residing outside of Scotland, meant just four games throughout 2021, two on each course and that’s the Balcomie Links and Craighead Links. I am so determined to correct that number in 2022!

BEST GOLF COURSE PLAYED FOR A FIRST TIME AWARD

I had been writing about Dumbarnie Links since the first sod was turned and finally, and with thanks to David Scott, to tee-up two days after the hosting of the Alfred Dunhill Links was a great pleasure. No matter the rain-curtailed our round after just 10 holes as the piping-hot mushroom soup in the clubhouse was to die for.

BEST SURPRISE GOLF COURSE PLAYED FOR A FIRST TIME

It was around a 75-minute taxi ride from Dubai to Al Harma golf course in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah and what a surprise. I honestly knew nothing about the course, including that it had hosted Challenge Tour events until here it was appearing on the 2021/22 DP World Tour schedule. And what a pleasant surprise with a comfortable, stress-free drive through the desert, passing camels here and there and arriving at a location so vastly different from the ‘madness’ of Dubai.

Al Harma’s a superb layout boasting some great holes and with a wonderful cooling sea breeze coming in off the Arabian Sea. Adding to the enjoyment was having played half-decent and then savouring a chilled beer at the back of the 18th. Thank you to Al Harma’s Craeg Deery for the opportunity.

RULING OF THE YEAR AWARD

PGA Tour officials said they had received a phone call from Norway wondering if Viktor Hovland had breached the rules on day one of the Players Championship. In fact, the caller turned out to be none other than Hovland’s mother, Galina, saying she’d rang over an incident at the 15th when Viktor moved his marker using his putter but then forgot to replace the marker back to its original spot.

Hovland was penalised two strokes. ‘Thanks, mum!’

BACK TO THE FUTURE MOMENT

Of the great highlights of the year was welcoming Huey Lewis into our rented premises during the week of the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.

Huey has been a regular visitor to St. Andrews and it was a fantastic evening spent in the company of the music legend who with his band ‘The News’ is revered for such hits as ‘The Power of Love’, ‘Hip to be Square’, ‘Stuck With You’, ‘The Heart of Rock and Roll’ and ‘Back in Time’ which is the theme track to the smash-hit movie ‘Back to the Future’. Great spending time with you Huey and glad you loved the French red.

MEDIA STAFF OF THE YEAR AWARD

I honestly have not worked as hard from the one spot as this past year and this with thanks to both the European Tour and PGA Tour media teams. The advent of Zoom has presented golf writers, like me, with the opportunity to cover events I would not normally cover in ‘non-Covid’ times and with media officials going out of their way to obtain quotes from those players I would normally be talking to if I was at a tournament.

Of course, there was having to put up with staring into the study, bedroom or spotting carefully arranged bookshelves in my colleague’s houses plus often being presented with the top of someone’s head. And while it was profitable in covering events I would not normally cover, the big question going forward is what will be the Zoom arrangements when we get back to normality?

BEST 2021 MEDIA GIFT/FUNCTION AWARD

There was a lovely set of glasses along with a bottle of red wine earlier in the year as a thank you from the Players Championship on the PGA Tour. Then on my return to tournament golf, there was, and in lieu of the annual media dinner, a smart-looking Millar Sports long-sleeve top handed out to the media attending the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

Big thanks again to Rolex for hosting the media attending the DP World Tour Championship as it’s become the media’s major with again a great barbeque plus there was also an evening outing to Emirates Club to play the par-3 course under the lights of Dubai.

Of course, I am again hugely indebted to Hero Moto Corp for the opportunity to be present in the Bahamas.

WORST AIRLINE BAGGAGE HANDLING AWARD

Forgive me as now I’m changing the tone of my awards. It was the first time since June 2020, I stepped aboard a commercial airline to cover a tournament and that was an Emirates Airline flight direct from Nice to Dubai for the closing two events of the European Tour season. Then in unpacking my golf bag, my driver was in two pieces and I hasten to add here, and those that know me, that it was not done on a golf course (smiling).

I visited the temporary Callaway facility on the range at Jumeirah Estates to obtain a new shaft.

“Ah, sorry Bernie we don’t have any ladies shafts in stock,” said Callaway’s and former European Tour star Ian ‘Garby’ Garbett laughing loudly. Garby’s always been great at taking the proverbial. Thanks to Garby and the lads at Callaway for replacing the shaft and also for all you’ve done and continue to do for this grateful scribe.

MOST OVERUSED WORD IN GOLF AWARD

ICONIC. A six-letter word that has now become the most overused word in golf. I am tired to my back teeth that every new week tuning into TV coverage of events here’s a bubbling TV golf analyst happily announcing something as ‘iconic’.

Whether it’s the host golf course, an individual golf hole, a clubhouse, a water hazard, a particular bunker, a tree, or whatever commentators now label everything golf as ‘iconic’.

Please, give me a break! The Eiffel Tower is iconic being a symbol of Paris and so too is the Sydney Harbour Bridge but not a blooming golf hole, a water hazard, or a damn tree or whatever!

Then there’s my favourite other word and that being ‘outright’, as he or she moves into the ‘outright lead’! Again, either you are leading a tournament or you are sharing or tied for the lead. The use of the word ‘outright’ is totally unnecessary. I know my dear departed friend and colleague Doug Lowe, who sadly passed away a decade ago in March, would be turning in his grave each time he heard the word ‘outright’ being used in this context.

COULD NOT HAVE PICKED A WORST MOMENT AWARD

It was shameful officials chose to advise Jon Rahm, and in full view of everyone, he was being disqualified after had tested positive for Covid-19 after he holed out on day three of the Memorial when leading by six shots.

Among those looking-on was tournament host Jack Nicklaus and you could also guess his reaction to what was unfolding.

Surely, it could have been done in the privacy of the locker room or clubhouse.

FURTHER LINING THE POCKETS OF PAMPERED PROS AWARD

If they don’t have enough money already, the PGA Tour introduced a highly contentious ‘Let’s give more money to the top-10 PGA Tour members on social media’ initiative.

The ‘Player Impact Program’ was introduced to ‘recognise and reward players who positively move the needle’ meaning the top 10 highest scoring players shared a $40m pot, and the highest-ranked player to earn an $8 million bonus.

Honestly, does Tiger Woods really need an extra $8m added to his savings? The only impact the program made was for so many to cry out declaring: “Why not channel the $40m in boosting the prize-money of ‘other’ Tour’s run by the PGA Tour and bin such nonsense as a ‘Player Impact Program’”.

RAISING A GLASS IN THEIR MEMORY

As the Christmas/New Year festive season approaches, it would be remiss here not to remember a number of journalist colleagues we lost in 2021.

They were five AGW colleagues and each within a five-month span from April with Jock MacVicar passing away followed by Goran Zachrisson, Ben Wright, dear ole Renton Laidlaw, David Hamilton, and just in recent days the passing of my dear American-born friend Kaye Kessler who would greet me at every Masters.

Here’s raising a glass to each. AND with Christmas now just days away, greetings to all and trust the golfing Santa is kind to you.

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