Eight things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving
November 24, 2020
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- The PGA TOUR got back to action with safety and protocals first in mind. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
We are thankful this Thanksgiving for golf itself.
As the pandemic drags on, the National Golf Foundation reported that September alone saw a 26% jump in rounds played year-over-year, with every state in the continental United States reporting an increase. Through the end of September, year-to-date rounds were up 8.7%, which the NGF called, “A startling turnaround following a disastrous start to the spring.”
Golf is getting us outside, keeping us safe, and keeping us (relatively) sane.
Here are eight other things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
1. The resilience of the PGA TOUR
It had been 91 days of no TOUR events when the best players in the world flew to Fort Worth, Texas for the start of the Charles Schwab Challenge on June 11. Copious COVID tests, no on-site fans, off-the-charts uncertainty. Pro sports were on hold. Nobody knew what to expect.
What we got was all kinds of compelling storylines, from Ancer (Abraham, making a run at the Masters before finishing T13) to Zalatoris (Will, accepting Special Temporary Membership).
Today we can say that the TOUR has been beset by relatively few positive tests, entertained the masses throughout a hard year, and led the way back for all of professional sports.
2. The courage of Camilo VillegasVillegas in July at the Korn Ferry Challenge at TPC Sawgrass, a month before his 22-month-old daughter Mia passed away from cancer. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
After 22-month-old daughter Mia died of cancer in late July, Villegas and his wife Maria refocused and renamed their charity Mia’s Miracles to help other families coping with childhood cancer in the United States and their native Colombia.
Meanwhile, Camilo resumed his career on the PGA TOUR, where he was coming back from a shoulder injury – an injury he now says was a blessing in disguise because it kept him home with his daughter for the little time she had.
Villegas shot 64 to share the first-round lead at The RSM Classic last week. He finished T6th.
3. The tears of Dustin JohnsonDustin Johnson, the reigning FedExCup champion, got emotional after winning the Masters. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
He was as inscrutable as an Easter Island statue at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, when he lost his three-shot lead with a second-hole triple bogey, shot 82, and finished T8. Ditto for the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits two months later, when after grounding his club in a bunker he had to take a crushing two-stroke penalty on the 72nd hole. Johnson didn’t crack after taking the 54-hole lead/co-lead but failing to win two other U.S. Opens, or at the PGA Championship in August, where he shot 68 to lose by two to Collin Morikawa (64).
But after he’d won the pandemic-delayed Masters, Johnson was so overcome with emotion he couldn’t speak in an interview with CBS’ Amanda Balionis. This is what came of having grown up banging balls under the lights at the Weed Hill driving range in Columbia, South Carolina, just an hour or so from Augusta National, always dreaming of the Masters.
Johnson shrugged and offered an apologetic smile as Balionis waited for him to collect himself in his new 42 long green jacket. A world-beater whose golf game seemed almost inhumanly good as he won the Travelers Championship, THE NORTHERN TRUST, the TOUR Championship, the FedExCup and now the Masters, he had never been so relatable.
4. The sportsmanship of Peter Malnati
After coming into the Sanderson Farms Championship ranked 312th in the world and 103rd in the FedExCup, the floppy-hatted Malnati shot a final-round 63, making nearly 140 feet of putts.
He answered every reporter’s question, plopped down on the Country Club of Jackson grass with his wife Alicia and son Hatcher, and waited to see if it would be enough.
Sergio Garcia answered in the negative when he made a kick-in birdie at the 72nd hole nearly two hours later, but a smiling Malnati was among the first to congratulate the winner. No, he hadn’t won, but he’d revived his career. His top-10 finish meant a spot in the field at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open the next week, where he would keep it going with a T5 finish.
With a T48-place finish at The RSM Classic last week, Malnati is up to 16th in the FedExCup.
5. The pioneering spirit of Bryson DeChambeau
Players discuss Bryson DeChambeau's physical transformation in 2020
He won the Rocket Mortgage Classic by three at Detroit Golf Club, and U.S. Open by six after hitting just 41% of the fairways at fearsome Winged Foot in September.
“No chance,” Rory McIlroy said, when asked if he imagined anyone winning that way.
Alas, on a course that seemed much more suited to his newfound power game, DeChambeau came unglued on two of Augusta National’s shortest holes – the drivable par-4 third and cupcake par-5 13th – and finished a disappointing T34 at the Masters in November.
Either way, bulked-up Bryson was and remains must-see TV.
6. The youth of PGA TOUR Champions
Bernhard Langer used to have a stranglehold on the 50-plus circuit, but with the seismic arrivals of Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson, the tour is as competitive as ever.
7. The staying power of TPC Sawgrass
The PGA TOUR’s TPC Network of Clubs and iconic TPC Sawgrass, which started it all, turned 40 in October. It was a good time to remember that TPC courses have hosted more than 400 professional tournaments, with the rent-free venues allowing for bigger purses and charitable donations. On non-tournament weeks, the TPCs are open to recreational players, who can test their games in the same golfing theaters where history has been made.
8. The persistence of the short hitter
Dustin Johnson won the FedExCup, but three of the six multiple tournament winners last season were outside the top 100 in driving distance: Collin Morikawa, Brendon Todd and Webb Simpson.
Justin Thomas, who along with Johnson and Jon Rahm made up the other three big hitters who cleaned up last season, even admitted to dialing back on distance to hit more fairways.
“It just kind of proves yet again that length is not the answer,” he said.
The game is still open to all.