What a year, a year in which history was made at every moment.
From a man who won the Open on his debut to a 50-year-old who won the US PGA. From Europe’s record defeat in the Ryder Cup to the continent’s stunning success at the Solheim Cup.
These are my 11 players who came to define the season.
Collin Morikawa brilliantly won the Open Championship in July on his tournament debut
1 Collin Morikawa
Who says you have to hit the ball for miles and be built as an outhouse to rule the modern world? Give me the best iron player of his generation and a brilliant putter every day.
It helps, of course, that he’s fearless too. Want to win the Open on your first try, and also at the quirky Royal St George’s.
Not to mention a starring role at the Ryder Cup and the first American to win the Race to Dubai.
To think that PGA Tour members voted Patrick Cantlay Player of the Year. What a joke.
On Sunday, Morikawa became the first American golfer to win the prestigious Race to Dubai
2 Phil Mickelson
What a time to be old. Bernhard Langer won the Champions Tour at the age of 64. Rory McIlroy was playing with 78-year-old former US Walker Cup player Vinny Giles a few weeks ago and was blown away when he shot 69 from the back tees at the diabolical Seminole in Florida.
The golden oldie, however, was Mickelson, who won the American PGA at Kiawah Island and became the first over-50 man to win a major.
He also won four times on the Champions Tour – when he was able to make the effort to show up.
Phil Mickelson won the US PGA on Kiawah Island and became the first man over 50 to win a major
3 tiger forests
A shadow hung over the season after a dark February day in Los Angeles, when the world held its breath and wondered if the man who played the game better than it’s ever been played would survive a horrific car accident.
Thankfully the prayers were answered and Tiger has not only recovered enough to become a capable parent to his two teenage children, he posted a video of himself taking a full-length shot on Sunday that nearly broke the internet.
There will be no dry eyes over the Swilken Bridge as he makes it to the 150th Open in St Andrews.
Tiger Woods posted a video of him hitting balls for the first time since his car accident in February
4 Leona Maguire
With due apologies to Jon Rahm, the achievement of the year by a European arguably at the Ohio Solheim Cup came from an Irish golfer who left the team in stars and stripes in awe with a record four and a half points for a rookie out of five.
The Emerald Isle has delivered numerous incredible feats from its leading artists over the past 15 years and this puts Leona alongside the legends.
5 Rory McIlroy
If ever a moment summed up this year’s Ryder Cup exodus, it was the tears that fell free at the finish of Europe’s talisman. It’s been way too long for Rory in the events that matter most, and he may never find the cure.
But given Ryder’s response to turning down tens of millions of dollars to participate in the Saudi-backed world tour, it’s not surprising that his huge fan base remains with him. But less of ripping shirts, please.
That was downright embarrassing.
6 Nelly Korda
Talk about the girl who has everything. The one who looks like she stepped off a catwalk with a swing that might be the best in the game.
Some players never get over the excitement of a first big win. Korda followed it up with Olympic gold.
She also may have inspired the sports headline of the year: Nelly the Elegant. Take a bow, my sports post colleague who invented it.
Nelly Korda followed up on the excitement of her first big win by winning Olympic gold in Tokyo
7 Hideki Matsuyama
An Asian golfer to win the Masters was arguably the final frontier of the game, a daunting mental challenge in its own right, but immeasurably more difficult for any man from golf-obsessed Japan.
The success of Matsuyama produced two unforgettable images. One was the man himself, sitting in the lobby of the Atlanta airport waiting for a flight home, looking like any other economy-class gambler except for the green jacket on his side.
The other was his caddy on a deserted 18th green after the moment of triumph, facing Amen Corner and making an appreciative bow.
8 Richard Bland
How do you explain the phenomenon of the Southampton golfer, who in one season at the age of 48 overshadowed everything he had achieved in every other campaign dating back to the last century?
A first win in his 542nd event was surprising, but he kept going to become the oldest halfway leader in US Open history, finishing the season in 11th place in the Race to Dubai – the first time he ever competed in the top finished 25.
The British golfer of the year, without a doubt.
Richard Bland finished the season 11th in the Race to Dubai – his first ever finish in the top 25
9 Anna Nordqvist
You can scold the R&A for their part in holding back the women’s game for decades and goodness knows, I’ve done it often enough myself. But give credit where it’s due, and how they’re trying to make it right now.
This year’s Women’s Open was the best yet in Carnoustie and showed why this generation fully deserves the elevated profile.
On arguably the hardest 18th hole in the British game, the cool Swede Nordqvist demonstrated exactly how to win a major.
Anna Nordqvist demonstrated exactly how to win a major at this year’s Women’s Open
10 Jon Rahm
A first major, a first child and the first place in the world ranking for the Spaniard. Not to mention two Covid attacks and two bells and whistles to the US opposition at the Ryder Cup.
Rahm is entering the new year with Morikawa’s breath on his neck. In other words, the kind of stuff he enjoys.
11 Greg Norman
The story that rumbled beneath the surface all year eventually went beyond conjecture with the charismatic Aussie dubbed as the face of the Saudi Gulf, with hundreds of millions of dollars at his fingertips as he plans their worldwide tour.
There are no public signings yet, but let’s just say the Shark has been circling some household names in their mid to late 40s, including several Brits, and it could have ramifications when it comes to the Ryder Cup captaincy.
No revolution is ever peaceful.
Aussie Greg Norman was named as the face of Saudi Gulf, planning their global tour