A pandemic pause. New faces making big impacts. Dustin Johnson’s dominance, both then and now. And what about Tiger?
Golf certainly had a different look and feel over the past calendar year as COVID-19 reshaped when, where and how the PGA Tour takes place. Still, the links offered more than a few memorable moments and interesting storylines to reflect on. Let’s take a look back at 10 of the biggest in professional golf from 2020.
1. A safe return to action
For three months, Tyrrell Hatton’s ear-to-ear grin was the lasting image for PGA Tour fans. The Englishman captured his first Tour victory on March 8 in Orlando at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, staving off Marc Leishman by a single stroke. Less than a week later, professional golf joined other sports leagues around the globe in bringing live sports action to a halt as the world made efforts to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
The next seven PGA Tour events were cancelled or postponed, leaving everyone wondering when golf would return and what it might look like. The answer came on June 11, when the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth became the first live sporting event to take place in the United States since the pandemic began. Daniel Berger picked up his third win without the support of a raucous gallery, as spectators were not allowed on the course until the Houston Open in early November as a health and safety precaution. Limited fans, mandatory personal protective equipment and proper social distancing protocols remain in effect for PGA Tour events as efforts to balance a sense of normalcy with a focus on safety remain for the foreseeable future.
2. Bryson bulks up
Much has been made about Bryson DeChambeau’s love of physics. His unique club customizations have been well documented. In 2020, DeChambeau decided to use the science on himself. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the California native added 20 pounds of muscle mass, before adding another 20 during the playing hiatus. The result? Some pretty amazing golf when the action resumed.
DeChambeau won the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July, finished fourth at the PGA Championship in August and rallied to capture the U.S. Open for his first major championship in September. And all that bulking up? It appears to have paid off. At the Shriners Hospital for Children Open, he became the first PGA Tour player to hit a ball more than 322 kilometres per hour during an event. While preparing for the ZOZO Championship in October, DeChambeau hit a practice drive nearly 370 metres. The working out appears to be working out.
3. Dustin Johnson wins FedExCup
A strong finish at the Tour Championship helped Dustin Johnson cap an incredible season with the PGA Tour’s highest individual honour. The South Carolina native held off spirited efforts from Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele to pull out a three-stroke win and secure the 2020 FedExCup, along with its U.S. $15 million prize ($21 NZD). Johnson became the first No. 1 seed to win the FedExCup since Tiger Woods captured the crown in 2009. Along the way, Johnson picked up a pair of PGA Tour wins at the Travelers Championship and THE NORTHERN TRUST, the latter of which saw him dominate the field by 11 strokes. His season was enough to deliver him, Player of the Year honours, for the second time in his career. And speaking of Dustin Johnson …
4. Dustin dominates a different Augusta
What he started in the 2019-20 season, Johnson carried over into the 2020-21 campaign with one of the most dominant performances at the most unique Masters ever. With no patrons allowed at Augusta National and the azaleas definitely not in bloom, Johnson took control of the tournament during Round 2 and never let up, rolling to a 20-under effort and his first Green Jacket. Keep in mind, Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im tied for second at 15-under (Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters at 13-under). A fan-less Augusta in autumn was certainly different but no less memorable.
5. Morikawa’s rapid rise
Not even COVID-19 could stop Collin Morikawa’s ascension in professional golf. Since the 2020 restart, the second-year pro has amassed a runner-up finish at the Charles Schwab Challenge—where he lost in a playoff—extended his made cuts streak to 22, and won his second Tour title in July when he beat Justin Thomas in a playoff. Yet somehow, it only got better from there. In August, Morikawa captured the PGA Championship, capped by a memorable drive on the par-4 16th that settled 7 feet from the hole. It was his first major title in only his second start in a major championship and made him the third-youngest player ever to win the PGA Championship.
6. Waiting on Tiger
When Tiger Woods held off Hideki Matsuyama in October 2019 to win the ZOZO Championship by three strokes, fans assumed it was a matter of time before the golf icon would win his 83rd Tour event to move ahead of Sam Snead for most PGA Tour wins all-time. More than a year later, the waiting game continues. COVID-19 certainly cut down the events Woods could have played in for several months, but since the action resumed his performances have placed him well off the leaderboard. Since July, Woods has finished no higher than tied for 37th in the six events he’s taken part in, even missing the cut at the U.S. Open back in September. When will history be made? That’s still to be determined.
7. “Asian Swing” makes a temporary stateside visit
In 2019, the PGA brought golf to Asia with stops in Japan, South Korea and China, with fans pouring into the galleries to watch. A year later, those events had a very different feel as they were forced to return stateside in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Japan’s ZOZO Championship was played at Sherwood Country in Thousand Oaks, Calif., while the CJ Cup was moved from South Korea to Las Vegas. The WGC-HSBC Champions originally slated for China was cancelled completely. Because of their success overseas in 2019, hopes are high of having these three events return to Asia when it is safe to do so remains.
8. Zalatoris makes instant impact
Will Zalatoris wandered through the wilderness for two years after first turning professional, failing to get beyond the first stage of Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying School in 2018, then having to rely on Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions the following year. But 2020 was a different story, as Zalatoris put together ten top-10 finishes across 16 Korn Ferry Tour starts, including five straight following the resumption of play in June. The pandemic meant that there would be no graduating class this year, but that didn’t seem to faze the 24-year-old, who put together three top-10 finishes across his first four PGA Tour starts this year—including a T6 at the U.S. Open. At the Bermuda Championship in November, Zalatoris got the FedExCup points needed to secure special temporary membership on Tour.
9. Aussie impact
When the calendar flipped to 2020, the boys from down under flipped the switch. Australian golfers combined for three wins through the first seven PGA Tour events to begin 2020. Cameron Smith’s victory at the Sony Open in Hawaii got things started in mid-January, followed by Marc Leishman’s title at the Farmers Insurance Open two weeks later. Adam Scott capped the run with his triumph at Genesis Invitational victory in February. Leishman also finished runner-up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, the last PGA Tour event before coronavirus put all sports action on hiatus.
10. The Super Season
Because COVID-19 caused a reshuffling of the 2019-20 schedule, the 2020-21 calendar is going to be loaded. Among the 52 events slated to take place this season, the PGA Tour season will see six major championships played, with the U.S. Open and Masters Tournament getting a double booking. Throw in THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP, FedExCup and four World Golf Championships events, and it makes for a season unlike any other. Additionally, the schedule change meant no Tour golfer lost their cards this year, with only a few new faces set to join the mix. In short – this year’s FedExCup champion will truly be the best of the best.