The biggest lesson to be learned from golf in 2011 was quite simply that the standard of the game and the levels of competition just gets higher and higher, not just in the standards set by the players but also with the tournament organization and TV coverage.
The re-vamped European Tour now known as the Race to Dubai has added a new dimension to European Golf. Although it possibly has some way to go before it begins to attract some of those star names from the US PGA Tour, it is constantly discovering new talent and it should be noted that it is four European players who sit in the top four places in the world rankings.
Top of that list is Luke Donald, who became the first man in golf history to win the money lists on both the US tour and Race to Dubai Tours. Four wins during the year and whole host of top five and top ten finishes, confirmed him not only as the best in the world right now but also by far and away the most consistent.
The young Ulsterman, who sits one place behind Donald in the rankings, Rory McIlroy also enjoyed an unforgettable year. The 22 year old won a first Major at the US Open, where he broke just about every record that is to be broken in that most prestigious tournament. That win came on the back of a hugely unfortunate final round at the US Masters in April where after three rounds McIlroy had decimated the field and the daunting Augusta course. We all know what happened to him in that final round, but the courage he showed from that disaster to win the US Open in such style was actually almost beyond belief. The lesson learned by all golf fans and players is that Rory McIlroy is going to be around at the very top for a very long time.
Darren Clark, also from Northern Ireland, also learned and taught a lesson in 2011 in that Major golf tournaments are not the exclusive domain of the top ranked players. His epic win in the Open Championship at Royal St George served up a huge fillip for the more mature generation of golfers who are still mixing it with the younger guys. His win also taught us that winning golf tournament’s is all about playing well for four rounds, maintaining focus, confidence and having the belief that he had as good a chance of anyone else of winning a Major.
Although McIlroy fell by the wayside at the ‘Masters’ it allowed for another young player, Charl Schwartzel from South Africa to claim a first ‘Major’ title. He followed compatriot, Louis Oosthuizen who had won the ‘Open’ in 2010 becoming a second South African ‘Major’ winner in successive years. His win and Oosthuizen‘s in 2010 have gone a long way into re-establishing South African golf and its ‘Sunshine Tour’, on which both players have their roots, firmly on the world map.
The PGA Championship in August gave America a first ‘Major’ winner, since Phil Mickelson won the Masters in 2010. Keegan Bradley’s another youngster at 25 years old became only the third debutant in a ‘Major’ to claim a win. The ‘Rookie’ from the State of Vermont won the title after a play-off win over fellow American, Jason Dufner on the Highlands Course at the Atlanta Athletic Club which has seen him rise from 108 in the rankings to a current position of number 30.
On a more ominous note, 2011 also taught us never to write off true champions, Tiger Woods after slipping out of the world’s top 50 following his woes of the previous two years is now well and truly back. Tiger finished up the year winning the Chevron World Challenge after finishing third three weeks earlier in the Australian Open. The 14 time ‘Major’ winner is now back up to 22 in the world and has the 2012 US Masters firmly in his sights!