If you’re one of those who enjoys eggnog this time of year, pour yourself one and, if you prefer something not as eggy or not as noggy, pour whatever you like and let’s raise a glass to the PGA Tour.
They made it.
Back in the spring, before we fully understood how life-changing and life-threatening the COVID-19 pandemic would become, the tour posted a December finish line along Riviera Maya in Mexico where the Mayakoba Classic ended Sunday.
Despite a 91-day shutdown and a hurricane of uncertainty, the tour and its traveling bubble made it through a reconfigured schedule to the end of a year unlike any other. No more tournaments were canceled after the June restart and the number of positive tests results among players and caddies were remarkably low. There were only 19 such tests among the thousands administered at tournament sites through the year.
That’s worth a satisfied sigh (from behind a mask, of course) and a toast (mask optional).
Not everyone thought playing tournament golf was a good idea but the scaled-down, spectator-free version of the tour worked.
When commissioner Jay Monahan stood in a crowded media room on the morning of March 13 to announce the Players Championship had been canceled and the tour was pausing its tournament operation for at least a month, it created a surreal sensation.
It seemed big at the moment and the enormity of coping with all aspects of the pandemic multiplied. There was a hint of fear in the air.
What Monahan and the tour initially thought might be a break of just a few weeks became a three-month window to essentially recreate the tour under new, tight and changing guidelines.
When the Charles Schwab Challenge began June 11 in Fort Worth, Texas, it felt like an experiment. There was faith in the systems put in place but no certainty that the best-laid plans – and the miracle of modern virus testing – would allow the show to roll along week after week.
But here we are, counting the online shopping days until Christmas, having played 25 consecutive events without finding it necessary to pause out of caution or concern.
Not everyone thought playing tournament golf was a good idea but the scaled-down, spectator-free version of the tour worked. It felt empty at times, particularly at the three major championships. Players bumping elbows or fists after a round replaced handshakes. But those were necessary accommodations.
Remember in May when Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Matthew Wolff and Rory McIlroy slung golf bags over their shoulders and played a Sunday afternoon match at Seminole? It was like dawn creeping in.
Think about what the past six months have given us.
It started with Daniel Berger winning at Colonial but we were all staring at Bryson DeChambeau, who looked like a different person when he returned from the break. He was the game’s incredible bulk, a beefier version of the old Bryson intent on transforming how the game is played.
If Dustin Johnson has been the player of the year, DeChambeau has been the most talked about, the most analyzed, the most questioned and the most fascinating player. He’s like something from a fever dream, a guy whose goal is to club courses into submission.
Crazy as DeChambeau’s stuff sometimes sounds, the craziest part is he won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot doing exactly what he told us he intended to do. If he isn’t in the process of breaking the mold, DeChambeau is at least bending it into golf’s muscle-bound version of art’s surrealism.
Collin Morikawa, a guy everybody said was going to be good, proved it by winning twice in four weeks, including the PGA Championship where he hit perhaps the most memorable shot of the year – his driver on Harding Park’s par-4 16th hole that seemed on line to go in for an ace but set up eagle – while locking down the Wanamaker Trophy.
Johnson turned the FedEx Cup playoffs into his own playground and when he won the November Masters, he changed his legacy, not that he’s close to finished yet. There haven’t been many players like Johnson and while he may not burn to be regarded among the all-time greats, he’s earned his place in that group.
In the space of five events, fortysomethings Stewart Cink, Sergio García and Martin Laird won again, not long after another guy in their age group, Jim Herman, had won at Greensboro, North Carolina. Maybe the road does go on forever.
The usual suspects – Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Webb Simpson – picked up victories and McIlroy found himself on the defensive at times, explaining why his good wasn’t great. If they’re selling future shares of McIlroy, count me in.
Fowler and Jordan Spieth are still chasing it while Wolff looks like someone who may win tournaments in bunches.
That’s some of what’s happened since the PGA Tour returned. There’s something to what McIlroy said earlier this year, that the events didn’t seem the same without the fans. It’s taken a while this year for it to feel like our sports mean what they typically mean. It still doesn’t feel fully right.
But that doesn’t diminish the green jacket Johnson won or the U.S. Open trophy DeChambeau put his name on. Johnson’s success in the FedEx Cup playoffs had a righteousness about it.
Knowing the PGA Tour was there every week gave a cadence to a world knocked off its rhythm. If everything goes well, next year the majors will be played in their traditional spots, there will be a gold medal to be won in Japan next summer and there’s a Ryder Cup – hopefully, full of noise – looming at Whistling Straits.
Those things come next.
For the moment, it’s worth appreciating the success in getting here.