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This year’s best of the best and the rest

Thursday, December 20, 2018

As we approach the end of the year, former Reuters golf correspondent Tony Jimenez has asked Tony to look back and select his highlights of the golfing season

Player of the year

Francesco Molinari has been a breath of fresh air. My good friend Costantino Rocca was a fine player but Francesco has taken Italian golf to a new level this year. The way he won The Open was inspirational and then he and Tommy Fleetwood captured the imagination of so many people around the world with their brilliant 'Moliwood' partnership at the Ryder Cup. I'm not underestimating Brooks Koepka's achievements in winning the US Open and the US PGA Championship but Francesco doesn't live in America, he's a true international golfer and I've always thought it's more difficult when you come from a foreign country to break the US stronghold at the top of world golf. In a year when most of the accolades have gone to the likes of Koepka, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson, it was refreshing for me to see Francesco and Tommy combine so well, and show the passion they did, at the Ryder Cup.

Best golfing moment of the year

Georgia Hall's victory at the Ladies British Open stood out for me. She won at Royal Lytham, which has a special place in my heart, and I spent the whole of that final round willing her on. I enjoyed the way she handled herself. It was lovely, too, that her Dad was on the bag with her. It's those kind of stories that draw the non-golf fan into the sport. I don't know Georgia but I'll certainly be keeping a close eye on her performances from now on. I know there was a lot of negativity on social media about the little attention she received at the Sports Personality of the Year show but it didn't surprise me that she was pretty much overlooked. The establishment has often done that to golf. I held both the British and US Open titles at one point in 1970 and I didn't get a BBC award.

Most exciting competition of the year

The outcome of the Ryder Cup certainly came as a shock to the American audience. The Europeans had been written off by most people but it was proof again that match play golf offers a different angle on the game. The attention that the event received around the world was enormous and the passion the European players brought to the table was remarkable. The American pairings weren't necessarily what they should have been while the European players did what they normally do, dovetailed so well. I was there at Le Golf National and was thrilled to witness the week unravel the way it did. I thought the whole event was impeccably run. Paris can be a very different environment sometimes, especially from a security standpoint, but it all went off 100 percent well and it turned into a great advert for France, they certainly came through with flying colours. The Ryder Cup is such an enormous undertaking these days but it was a marvellous week on and off the golf course.

Comeback of the year 

Tiger Woods's win at the Tour Championship in Atlanta was unquestionably the comeback of the year and it was no surprise to me that, by the time he got to Paris a couple of days later for the Ryder Cup, his tank was empty. I felt for him and it showed up how tricky scheduling is these days for the players and officials. One of the things I'm most looking forward to in 2019 is seeing how Tiger responds. How he handles himself now and how he reacts, how often he plays, how often he turns up with his A game? He must have gained an enormous amount of confidence from his victory at East Lake and he knows now that it's all still there for him. He just has to bring it to the fore. Nothing ever surprises me with him. Everyone accepts golf is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. The physical element has derailed him a lot in recent years but Tiger is so strong mentally and he is fearless. He cracked the code many years ago psychologically and I think that given the fair wind and element of good fortune that everyone needs, he can look forward to a positive 2019.

Biggest disappointment of the year

I'm frustrated with the lack of decisive action taken this year by the R&A and USGA rulemakers on the real problems in the game that we must tackle. When are they going to address the issue of anchoring, or restrict the distance the golf ball travels by 25 or 30 yards so that so many of the great golf courses the top players used in the past can be made relevant again? The players smash it a mile these days and most courses are set up to allow them to do it because there is no premium on accuracy any more. Everyone has bowed to new technology. The ball goes miles which also means we need longer golf courses, making them more expensive to maintain and having the negative impact of taking more time to play 18 holes. It’s become a bit ridiculous. The skill of the game, shaping shots, keeping the ball in the fairway, they were attributes that used to be very important. The R&A and the USGA need to do something about the ball but they are frightened the manufacturers will start gunning for them if they make the decisions that need to be made.