As 2019 comes to a close, it's time to reflect on a historic and memorable year. Our GolfChannel.com writers weigh in on their favorite moments.
WILL GRAY: It’s a moment that might seem inconsequential, given the player involved didn’t even make the cut, let alone contend or win. But the scene late Friday afternoon at Royal Portrush is one I won’t soon forget, as all of Northern Ireland tried to will Rory McIlroy to the weekend after a disastrous start.
The hype for McIlroy’s starring role in The Open’s return to Portrush lasted only a hole, but by the time he reached the treacherous 16th hole an improbable weekend appearance was still up for grabs. The Ulsterman took dead aim at “Calamity,” knocked it to 15 feet and rolled in the birdie putt in the chilly mist.
With nearly every fan on the property seemingly drawn to the narrow passage from the dune overlooking the 16th green to the 17th tee, McIlroy strode confidently ahead. It wasn’t to be, and minutes later his Open ended, but for a brief instance overlooking the cliffs there was magic in the air and a country united behind its favorite son.
REX HOGGARD: In the twilight gloom Rory McIlroy marched up the 18th fairway at Royal Portrush to thunderous applause. He wasn’t going to win The Open. He wasn’t even going to play the final two rounds, but the emotion of both the crowd and McIlroy proved how much in meant for golf’s oldest championship to return to Northern Ireland.
McIlroy made a mess of his first round, hitting his opening tee shot out of bounds on his way to a quadruple-bogey 8 and a first-round 79. Only in retrospect was the Northern Irishman able to concede he was overcome by the moment.
But it was McIlroy’s inspired attempt to make the cut that produced the year’s best moment. On Friday, he played his first nine holes in 2 under before birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 12 moved him to within a shot of earning a spot in the weekend field. His attempt to make the cut fell short with a par at the closing hole but the moment, even in relative defeat, was unforgettable.
“Today was probably one of the most fun rounds of golf I've ever played,” he said following Round 2. “It's strange saying that standing here and having had a bit of success and won this championship before. To play in front of those crowds today and to feel that momentum and really dig in, it's going to be a tough one to get over.”
RYAN LAVNER: Now that the tournament has smashed all expectations, it’s safe to admit: I was skeptical about the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
I thought most of the amateur stars would tee it up instead in the LPGA major. (Incorrect.)
I thought the flow of competition would be disrupted by the practice day before the final round. (Nope.)
I thought Augusta National wouldn’t be set up in a way that could both challenge the players and still produce the usual fireworks.
Oh, was I wrong about that.
The final-round duel between Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi was so dizzying, their level of play so spectacular, their sportsmanship so inspiring, that it literally made me teary-eyed standing behind the 18th green in what eventually became my favorite moment of the year.
Those two players in particular faced such an incredible burden in the inaugural event. They were pioneers, the faces of the tournament, sure-fire future LPGAers who turned down pro checks for amateur glory. They were the first women to compete at the home of the Masters, and yet they handled that responsibility and that stage with such effortless grace, culminating in one sweet moment on 18: The birdie, the roars, the hug.
Why did that moment resonate so deeply? Seven months later, I’m still not exactly sure. Maybe it was because, having covered the college game, I’d gotten to know Kupcho and Fassi over the past few years, and I was happy to see their success. Perhaps it was because their genuine respect and admiration for each other, even in the heat of competition, was so refreshing. But it’s most likely because the first edition of the ANWA had been so unexpectedly brilliant that now the future seemed limitless – for those two stars who will be inextricably linked, sure, but also for the thousands of young girls watching at home, hoping one day that could be them.
RANDALL MELL: There were so many magical moments in golf this past year, from Tiger Woods winning the Masters to Hinako Shibuno introducing her charms to the world in her victory at the AIG Women’s British Open to Suzann Pettersen’s fairy-tale walk-off ending to the Solheim Cup, but none was more enchanting than what Amy Bockerstette gave us at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
“I got this!”
Her words didn’t just stick in the minds of so many people who watched and re-watched her viral moment. They stuck in so many hearts. Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar and Norman Vincent Peale couldn’t top her inspirational message.
The Special Olympics golfer with Down Syndrome made a lifelong friend in Gary Woodland, getting up and down for par from that bunker at TPC Scottsdale’s iconic 16th hole earlier this year.
“She’s meant everything for me from a mental standpoint,” said Woodland, who went on to win the U.S. Open four months after playing alongside Amy. “Her attitude, her love of life, her love for the game and her positive energy is so contagious.”
Her message was a gift to anyone who watched her make par in Phoenix.