Winners and losers from an amazing, historic 2015 year in golf

Montana Pritchard/PGA of America

We are days away from signing off on one of the best golf seasons in the last 15 years. The year that was 2015 was special for a number of reasons, starting and ending with a young man from Texas that re-created the way we look at a new generation of golfers. And he was only one of the great storylines that made up the past 12 months. But with positives come negatives, and that’s where our big list of winners and losers comes in. So join us as we look back on a season that was full of a ton of winners, and some losers.

Jordan Spieth — You can’t start this list with anyone but Spieth, who won five times on tour, including two majors, and had a legit shot at winning three straight with his play at the British Open. Let us also not forget he was in the final group at the PGA Championship on Sunday. Spieth dominated at Augusta National, came up clutch at the U.S. Open, made us all jump out of our seats with his birdie on the 16th at St. Andrews and sprinkled in a playoff win at the Valspar, another at the John Deere and a must-win Tour Championship that handed him the FedEx Cup title.

The two shots Spieth hit that I’ll remember the most from 2015? The flop shot from over the green on the 18th at the Masters on Saturday to save a par after an ugly double-bogey on 17 and his second shot into the 18th at Chambers Bay on Sunday to give himself an eagle look. Two completely different shots, but both under extreme pressure and both showed that of all the talents Spieth possesses, dealing with pressure is his best.

The Players Championship — In a year full of great majors, the Players Championship might have been the best tournament thanks to the way Rickie Fowler finished things off. But more than the finish, it’s simply the golf course and the atmosphere that makes the Players so great, and the mix of 16, 17 and 18 to finish is the best on Tour.

Jordan Spieth. Very good year.

Fowler’s win at TPC Sawgrass will propel him to majors (it certainly propelled him to a big win at the Scottish Open), but it also reminded us that beyond all events, the Players Championship, year in and year out, brings us drama, entertainment and a damn fine golf tournament that is just as much of a must-watch as any of the majors.

Lydia Ko — What more can we say about Lydia Ko at this point? She’s 18, the No. 1 ranked player in the world, and snagged her first major title in 2015. Along with that, Ko won four other LPGA events and was named Player of the Year, the youngest ever to claim that title in the 49 years it has been around.

Jeff Maggert — One of my favorite misconceptions amongst golfers is the 40-something who is shooting some rounds under par and thinks he might give the Champions Tour a shot.

Just 18 years old, Lydia Ko is already a major champion.

When I hear these types of things I think of guys like Jeff Maggert, who have been playing professional golf since 1986, knowing the way this whole process goes like the back of his leathery-tanned hands and are just licking their chops to turn 50 and get the biggest caffeine-shot that golf offers.

Maggert’s year included two major wins, one being the U.S. Senior Open, and two other wins to give him five Champions Tour titles, two more than he had in his entire PGA Tour career. His final-round 65 at Del Paso Country Club was as solid a round of golf considering the circumstances as any played on any tour all season, and held off a charging Colin Montgomerie, who was trying to go back-to-back at the most coveted trophy on the Champions Tour. All in all, a signature season for Maggert, and a reminder that if you want to give the Champions Tour a shot, you have to go through talents like Maggert.

Jason Day — Imagine for a second that you are standing over a birdie putt on the final green at St. Andrews knowing that if the ball disappears, you’ll be in a playoff for the most coveted trophy in golf at the home of golf.

Understand that the Olympics come around more often than a St. Andrews-hosted Open Championship, and winning at the Old Course is as cool as it gets for a professional golfer.

Now imagine you leave that putt painfully short in the heart of the hole after fighting your ass off for an exhausting five days of start-and-stop golf, and you’re left with your head bowed and a playoff to watch without you in it.

No way a mortal is doing what Day did following that. No way a regular golfer without an extreme level of talent and chutzpah is going out the next week after a transcontinental flight and a new tee time and venue and winning with a clutch birdie on the 72nd hole. No way someone can dominate the very next major the way Day did at the PGA Championship, walking alongside the Player of the Year and kicking his tail up and down Whistling Straits, hitting drives that would make Tim Burke gasp in astonishment.

Who would’ve thought Jason Day would bounce back from this to win a major title just a month later?

What Day did following that heartbreak at the British was one of the coolest moments of the year, and showed a lot of things about the 28-year-old that weren’t there in prior seasons.

Davis Love III — When you’re the upcoming Ryder Cup captain, your own golf game gets pushed down the list of priorities, but that didn’t stop the 51-year-old from winning his 21st title on the PGA Tour at the Wyndham Championship in August.

Love became the third oldest player ever to win an event on the PGA Tour, and he did it with a final round 64, the sixth time in his career he has shot 64 or lower on Sunday to win.

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The Valley of Sin — The 18th at St. Andrews, for all its beauty and history and importance to the game, isn’t exactly the 17th at Carnoustie. In today’s game, the 18th is a drivable hole a lot of the time, and even into the wind gives players a massive fairway to hit followed by a short to mid-range iron approach to a friendly target. The one defense the 18th has is the Valley of Sin. It was where Constantino Rocca famously fell apart in the 1995 Open only to redeem himself with a hole-out to land in a playoff with John Daly, and it was the one place that Jordan Spieth couldn’t hit his approach during the final round of this year’s Open if he hoped to land in a playoff for a third straight major title.

But Spieth’s iron shot was sinful, and the Valley ate it up, proving that while the hole appears friendly to all competitors, everyone is a yard or two away from tragedy.

Louis Oosthuizen’s final three rounds at the U.S. Open — 66-66-67. That was Oosthuizen’s closing 54 holes at Chambers Bay, plenty good to win a second major title and blow away the field if not for that horrible, gut-wrenching, dreadful … nope, we will get to that opening round in a bit.

But the fact that Oosthuizen bounced back not once, not twice, but three times during his week at Chambers Bay was enough to celebrate his ability to fight, and he was one shot away from landing in a lengthy playoff with Spieth.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw — The two best designers in the world right now hit another home run — OK, fine, a Grand Slam … in the bottom of the ninth of the World Series to win it all — with Cabot Cliffs, their version of Pebble Beach and Kingsbarns on the coast of Nova Scotia that Golf Digest rated the best new golf course in the world.

We praise artists all the time for their works in art, film and music, but let us not forget that taking a piece of land like what the Coore/Crenshaw team did in the small town of Inverness is a beauty to behold for not just golfers, but anyone with a set of eyes and a beating heart.

Suzann Pettersen — The Solheim Cup, the biggest and most fun event in women’s golf turned ugly when American Alison Lee picked up a short putt she thought was good on the 17th hole of a tight match against Pettersen and Charlie Hull when both Europeans walked off the green.

The stunning Cabot Cliffs golf course in Nova Scotia.

Blame on Lee is warranted, because two-footers under those circumstances have been missed plenty of times before in similar situations, but the way Pettersen seemed to handle it took away from the integrity of the event and tainted the matches for the Europeans.

On top of that, the Americans came back and won, and many people think the incident on 17 took the wind out of the sails for the Euros. Pettersen has apologized profusely for what went down on that green, but much like the Americans’ celebration after Justin Leonard’s putt disappeared in the 1999 Ryder Cup, this will be something that will forever come up when a controversy plays out at the Solheim.

Rory McIlroy — Heading into the 2015 season, it was Rory, not Jordan, Jason, Rickie or Dustin, who was atop the golf world, and by a large margin. McIlroy had won two consecutive majors, was going for three in a row at Augusta, including a career Grand Slam, but ended the season with only one major, and that was the injury to his anterior talofibular ligament playing soccer in July.

Despite the injury, Rory won twice on the PGA Tour and twice on the European Tour, including a victory at the DP World Tour Championship that solidified another Race to Dubai trophy, but McIlroy’s talent level is one that, for better or worse, is measured at this point in his career by majors and majors alone.

Considering how he ended 2014, and the expectations that surrounded him in ’15, it wasn’t the season that Rory had hoped to have.

The good news? Rory’s personal life seems to be as solid as it ever has been, and when the mind is right, normally the golf game follows. I don’t expect we will be seeing Rory’s name on this side of the list at this time next year.

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The British Open playoff — It’s tough to think that a playoff at St. Andrews with so many great storylines (Marc Leishman winning a major after nearly losing his wife earlier that year, Louis Oosthuizen going back-to-back at St. Andrews and Zach Johnson adding the Claret Jug to his green jacket) could be a snoozer, but considering Spieth missing out by a single shot and Day coming up just short of joining the trio, it really was.

Johnson made two birdies to start, which sounds exciting, but for whatever reason the air just seemed to have left the building, and when Oosthuizen missed a short par putt on the Road Hole, it was Johnson who was in the driver’s seat to snag a second major.

On paper the playoff looked exciting, but the viewer was just left wanting a bit more, and the fact that Spieth came so close to continuing his amazing major run and bid for a Grand Slam only to fall a shot out was a bummer for all golf fans who love rooting for history.

Louis Oosthuizen’s opening round of the U.S. Open — I told you we would get to it! Oosthuizen, paired with Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler, played Chambers Bay like the three were auditioning for the next Haney Project, not vying for a major, eventually posting hockey sticks to sit 12 back of the leader.

Of course, we talked about what he did after that. An incredible bounce-back nearly saw the South African make history at the U.S. Open, but it was just too high of a mountain to climb.

The old golf saying was once again defined — you can’t win a golf tournament on the first day, but you can sure lose it.

Paige Spiranac haters — If you don’t know who Paige Spiranac is at this point, you either don’t have a smart phone or you block clickbait articles, but no matter, the moment the young woman got a chance to play in a pro event, the trolls were itching to call her out if the debut didn’t go as planned.

Of course, Spiranac struggled as one would expect with the press and the pressure when she got a sponsor’s invite to the Ladies European Tour’s Dubai Masters, shooting rounds of 77-79 to miss the cut, but that was only when the hits began.

Like it or not, Paige Spiranac haters, she deserves her shot.

Instead of being allowed to build on an initial experience in front of the cameras and take some of that to the range, the social media world blew up, with those same people that comment on every picture and video she posts calling her every name in the book and accusing her of taking up a spot and not being good enough to be between the ropes.

First, 77-79 didn’t exactly put Spiranac in Jerry Rice territory, and is respectable for anyone that can take a deep breath and understand what goes into the amount of press and pressure that Paige had that week in Dubai.

Second, the immediate hate was everything that is wrong with the social media world in 2015. We love them until we can hate them, and the moment those putts stopped dropping it was game on for commenters and followers of their favorite Instagram star.

Being a professional golfer was my dream, might have been your dream, and is most likely the dream of 99.5 percent of collegiate players out there. What example are we as golf fans setting by publicly humiliating the first one who gets an opportunity to chase that dream in front of a live, television audience?

I remember my first pro tournament, I was so nervous I could barely get my glove on. At one point I looked over at my dad, who was caddying for me, and told him, "Dad, I’m the only guy in the group that has made a bogey." We were on the 15th hole. A reminder: pro golf is really, really, really, really hard, and I’m sure every success story on the PGA and LPGA Tours have their own version of the Paige story when they decided to turn professional.

Tiger Woods’ health — Can’t you just let the guy have one more solid season without a knee or an ankle or a back or a wrist? That’s all we’re asking here!