The 2007 golf year is all but over, but what a year it was! With the debut of the FedExCup and the emergence of a new number one on the the LPGA, the world’s top men’s and women’s tours had major stories. They weren’t alone.
Let’s review some of the best, if not necessarily the biggest, stories on each of the top tours.
Number Five: The Nationwide Tour
Richard Johnson (not to be confused with Richard S. Johnson, who played the PGA Tour most of 2007) won the Nationwide Tour money race, earning his card onto the PGA Tour for 2008 (something Richard S. Johnson will have to do through Q-School). No, neither Johnson was the big story this year on the Nationwide Tour.
The story of 2007 in the golf’s Triple-A minor league was Daniel Summerhays, the first amateur to win on the Nationwide Tour. The 21-year-old shot a 2-under 69 in the final round of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational to cap a 6-under performance for the week. The second place finishers, Chad Collins and Chris Nallen, each earned $100,800 (which included the split of the first-place money – a cool $126,000).
Following the event, Summerhays decided to turn pro and claim his exemption on the Nationwide Tour. He went on to make 11 cuts in 13 starts and earned $46,926. Time will tell if he can build on his success at the OSU Scarlet Course, but I expect him to win again 2008, maybe even twice.
Number Four: The Champions Tour
I really, really try to care about the Champions Tour. But how seriously can you take a tour that lets the Golf Channel haul a couch out onto every course and conduct interviews on it? Conversely, I’d much rather play in a pro-am on the Champions Tour than on the regular Tour (excluding being paired with one of the really big names, that is).
All right, clearly the Champion’s Tour has to come down to Loren Roberts or Jay Haas. Right? Roberts won the Charles Schwab Cup. Haas was the top money winner. I just can’t decide.
So let’s go with Rick Rhoden. Rhoden, 54, just qualified for his card through the Champions Tour qualifying school. He’s one of 31 guys who earned a card, and he did it by tying for medalist. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Rhoden pitched for 16 years in the Major Leagues for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, and Houston Astros. He amassed a 151-126 record as a pitcher. Rhoden has been the Ex-Jock-Most-Likely-to-Make-It-in-a-Second-Pro-Sport for some time. To date, he’s played in 32 Champions Tour events, made 28 cuts and won a total of $339,174 in his golfing career.
Number Three: The PGA European Tour
Like many Americans, for the most part my viewing of the European Tour is limited to the occasional weekend morning on the Golf Channel and, naturally, the Open Championship. The European Tour just seems odd sometimes. For instance, they are currently playing the third event of the 2008 season. To Americans, watching the European Tour is sometimes a little like watching a Golden Tee game in a bar, the courses are set in incredible places with amazing scenery (Dubai, Scotland, and New Zealand this week). It’s pretty cool to see the courses, even if you don’t recognize many of the players. Don’t get me wrong, the European Tour produces some of the best players in the world. But all the best seem to spend more time the PGA Tour, eventually.
The 2007 Open Championship was very European, however. It was almost Sergio’s year, but then it wasn’t. Sergio’s putting stroke let him down (despite having one of the best weeks of his recent career up until the last few holes). In the end, Padraig Harrington survived the last couple holes at Carnoustie to become the Champion Golfer of the Year.
While Paddy finally breaking through at a major was probably the biggest story of 2007, the surprise story of the year was Andres Romero. The 27-year-old Argentinean was leading at Carnoustie on Sunday of the Open Championship until the 17th hole got the best of him. Rather than wallowing in depression, Romero went out the next week and won the Deutsche Bank Players Championship of Europe. Over those two weeks, he went from 114th in the world to 29th. He finished the year at seventh on the European Tour Order of Merit.
Number Two: The LPGA
The fall of Michelle Wie, the decline/injury/engagement of Annika Sorenstam, the emergence of Suzann Pettersen, and the ascendancy of Lorena Ochoa… All and all, the LPGA may have had the best year as a whole of all the tours. It still struggles for viewers, but if the rivalry of Paula Creamer, Ochoa, and Pettersen can continue the LPGA should be in good stead for years to come. If Annika Sorenstam gets back to playing her best and/or Michelle Wie seeks emancipation from her parents and remembers how to play golf, then the LPGA might actually start turning in some serious Nielson numbers. Throw in a newly competitive Natalie Gulbis and the circus might really come to town.
The best story of 2007 is Pettersen (if only because Ochoa was already very close to dominant). With five wins (three in the last six tournaments of the year) and 11 top-ten finishes, Pettersen exploded onto the scene 2007. The 26-year-old “Tutta” caught fire after borrowing a putter from one of her pro-am partners at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship.
Number One: The PGA Tour
Here’s the list of the also-rans: Rory “The Mouth” Sabbatini, Woody “Aqua Man” Austin, Boo “KO’d by an Orangutan” Weekley, Steve “Mr. Freeze” Stricker, Zach “Masters Champions Don’t Need Nicknames” Johnson, Angel “El Pato” Cabrera, and Phil “FIGJAM” Mickelson.
But in the inaugural year of the FedExCup, the story of the year is Kyle Lograsso, the five-year-old cancer survivor who now wants to take on his idol, PGA Tour superstar, Tiger Woods.
OK, the PGA Tour story of the year is Tiger Woods (once again), but if you haven’t heard Kyle’s inspirational story you are really missing something.
Oh, and aside from winning the FedExCup, Tiger had seven wins in 16 starts, 12 top-ten finishes (10 of which were first or second), and he sported a 69.79 scoring average. He led the money list, the Official World Golf Rankings, scoring average, and greens in regulation. Not too shabby! But you already knew all this… now go back and read about Kyle.