John Huggan: Golf’s heroes and zeroes of 2013

Step forward Henrik Stenson, Huggy's player of the year. Picture: Getty
Step forward Henrik Stenson, Huggy's player of the year. Picture: Getty
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As ever, the past year has been a mixed bag on the fairways and, as ever, we sort out the straight hitters from those who went off course

WITH Christmas fast approaching, the season of giving and receiving and eating and drinking (too much) is all but upon us. But something has so far been missing. And here it is. In response to literally one or two e-mails and even fewer text messages, the world-renowned Huggy awards are back for their annual dip into the wild and wacky world of golf. Try to contain your excitement folks.

Charley Hull and Paula Creamer. Picture: Getty

Charley Hull and Paula Creamer. Picture: Getty

Player Of The Year

Yes, some may say Tiger Woods is worthy. But he isn’t. Not this year. The world’s number-one ranked player did win five times in 2013 and he did accumulate more ranking points than any other swinger. But the 14-time major champion significantly failed to add to his haul of Grand Slam titles. Indeed, he appeared to be an increasingly frail figure down the stretch in golf’s four biggest events. In just a few short years Woods has gone from fearless to fragile – no way to win a Huggy.

Of those who did win a major this past year, both Adam Scott – the first Aussie to don a green jacket at Augusta National – and Open champion Phil Mickelson have legitimate claims to golf’s most coveted award. But for all their brilliance, neither showed quite the level of consistency displayed by another, slightly more deserving candidate.

Step forward Henrik Stenson. In the nine months since he finished second in the Houston Open to clinch a last-minute spot in the Masters, no one has played more great golf than the big Swede. Winner of the Fed-Ex Cup and the Race to Dubai, Stenson contended strongly almost every time he teed up. He’s got a quirky sense of humour too. All in all, the perfect Huggy recipient.

Plonker Of The Year

In this always-strongly contested category – past (multiple) winners include Colin Montgomerie and the ever-despicable Steve Williams – there was a runaway winner. Which is just what Steve Elkington should do after revealing himself to be perhaps the biggest plonker ever to earn a Huggy.

Twice this former USPGA champion (appropriately, he defeated Monty in a sudden-death play-off) ventured on to Twitter to sprint ahead of any and every other plonker. A streak of inherent racism became apparent during the British Senior Open when “Elk” reduced every Pakistani citizen to the level of common street mugger.

He wasn’t done though. The boorish Aussie went on to appall every right-thinking person on the planet with an unbelievably crass comment (“no beer was spilled”) in the immediate aftermath of the tragic helicopter crash in Glasgow.

Sadly, exposing himself as a human being barely worthy of the name seems to have been missed by certain sections of the golfing world. Just last week he and his son – who must be so proud of his dad – finished second in something called the “Father-Son Championship” in California. The organisers should be ashamed of themselves. But not nearly as much as Elkington should be. What a plonker right enough.

Hypocrites Of The Year

Here’s what it says on the website of the R&A, golf’s ruling body outside the United States and Mexico:

“It should be the aim of the greenstaff and the committee to have the condition of the course virtually identical from the first practice day to the last day of the event. Significant changes in course conditions between practice and the event itself, particularly in relation to the putting greens, are undesirable.”

At the Open Championship this year, the Muirfield greens were hard and fast early in the week. But by the final round, at least a few were remarkably soft and receptive. Draw your own conclusions as to whether or not the R&A followed their own guidelines. The Huggy committee is way ahead of you.

Rudest Call Of The Year

The phone call was short and not so sweet. Ray Floyd very definitely did not wish to talk about his participation in the 1985 Ryder Cup matches at The Belfry. He was “offended” that anyone might call him and wish to ask a few polite and relatively harmless questions. And he did not wish to speak further. So he didn’t. In all, the “conversation” lasted less than 30 seconds.

Half a minute of my life I’ll never get back.

Most Revealing Call Of The Year

Paul Way beat Ray Floyd on the last hole in the last-day singles of the 1985 Ryder Cup, helped by the American skittering his approach from a fairway bunker into the water short of The Belfry’s 18th green.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Floyd had what Way describes as “a domestic” on the eighth fairway during the match. Using more than a few words of a four-letter nature, Mr Floyd told Mrs Floyd her presence was no longer required and perhaps she might be more comfortable within the cosy confines of the clubhouse. Something along those lines anyway.

Point-Misser Of The Year (Individual Section)

Grant Forrest, Scottish Amateur champion in 2012, is clearly a very good golfer. He’s at college in the States on a golf scholarship and this year he qualified for the Open Championship at Muirfield. All of which is great. But Forrest then felt compelled to withdraw from the six-man Scotland side selected for the European Team Championship. There was no clash of dates involved. The team event was played one week before the Open. So what was the problem? Forrest apparently wanted to “prepare” for the world’s oldest event, one in which making the cut was surely the extent of his ambition.

Forrest is young. But his lack of respect for the national jersey is still deserving of recognition. A Huggy is on its way.

Dope Of The Year
We’ve all heard the story. On the 15th hole at the Masters, Tiger’s ball hit the pin and rebounded into the pond. He then dropped another ball in the wrong place. Those in charge at Augusta National knew of the mistake because David Eger – a Champions Tour player previously employed by the PGA Tour and USGA as a rules official – called in to tell them so. Yet they chose to do nothing.

Trouble was, live on television, Woods described what he had done. So action had to be taken, the usual penalty being disqualification. But, citing their own incompetence, the green jackets – fronted by former US Amateur champion Fred Ridley – decided on “only” a two-shot penalty. It transpired later a big factor in the decision not to act was a long-held antipathy between Ridley and Eger. Such pettiness just isn’t good enough Mr Ridley. And for that you get a Huggy.

Round Of The Year

Some members of the exclusive Huggy committee spoke up in favour of the all-but flawless final round 63 (nine under par) Scotland’s Martin Laird shot to win the Valero Texas Open. Others cited the last-day brilliance of Phil Mickelson at Muirfield en route to winning the Open. Jim Furyk’s 59 at the BMW Championship also had some, well, champions. But really, this was no contest.

During the World Cup of Golf at Royal Melbourne, Welshman Stuart Manley shot a third round of 72, level par. Ho-hum, you may think. Well, think again. Four under par after three holes and three over par after four holes (think about it), Manley made four birdies, two eagles, two bogeys and, wait for it, an 11 on a par-four. One of those eagles was a hole-in-one, for which a lovely new car was the prize. In the final round though. Manley was a day early with his ace. Hopefully a Huggy will make up for at least some of his disappointment.

Point-Misser Of The Year (Greens Section)

Speaking of Royal Melbourne and the World Cup, one of the officials on site was “Slugger” White, a vice-president of rules and competitions at the PGA Tour. Mr White was apparently not impressed by what he saw there, however. The best, most interesting and most strategically challenging course in the southern hemisphere just wasn’t up to scratch, especially around the greens.

As far as ol’ Slugger was concerned, not enough long grass circled the putting surfaces. He wanted to eliminate any need for imagination, flair and feel and replace it all with a succession of hacks/gouges, the only option left to players when rough encroaches close to the fringes. In other words, White wanted every player reduced to the same one-choice level.

Truly, this was a revealing statement, one that goes a long way to explaining why so many events on the so-often one-dimensional PGA Tour look so (un)remarkably similar. Whatever, Slugger is a worthy recipient of his first Huggy.

Windbreaker Of The Year

And we’re not talking waterproofs here. At a tournament which best remain nameless, a European Tour player – let’s call him Jamie Donaldson – arrived on the 14th tee. Over the ball and apparently ready to hit, he suddenly backed off the shot.

Concerned, his caddie asked if he was OK. He was. Well, sort of. “I’m fine mate, I just need to fart,” said the Welshman.

So he did. Rather loudly. As the players left the tee, one spectator was heard to comment, “Man, that’s just not right.” No, it isn’t.

Most Delightful Exchange

At the end of a Solheim Cup match she had just won 7&6, 17-year-old Charley Hull asked her opponent, former US Women’s Open champion Paula Creamer, if she would autograph a ball for her friend James. Creamer sportingly did so. A lovely little moment underlining how golf is, after all, just a silly game.

Point-Missers Of The Year (Golf Club Section)

Only in golf would this sort of nonsense go on. When some forward-thinking members of the grandly titled and all-male Royal Burgess Golfing Society (instituted 1735) proposed entry into the 20th century – the 21st would obviously be too much to ask – through the introduction of female members, the club’s mechanism for agreeing change creaked into action.

After a bit of verbal back and forth from both sides, a vote was taken. That vote decided if a second vote could take place, one that would decide whether or not a third vote – this one (finally) to decide whether or not to let these “aliens” in – could be held. I am not making this up.

To the surprise of, one suspects, precisely no one, the dinosaurs still living amongst the current membership “won” the day. There will be no women members at Royal Burgess any time soon. Yet again, golf’s wider image is a figure of fun – Neanderthal men living in caves.

And finally…

Silliest Phenomenon Of The Year

Dufnering. Named after USPGA champion Jason Dufner, it involved sitting on the floor, back against the wall, with a coma-like expression on one’s face. Many, especially Americans, seemed to find it hilarious and endearing. It was neither. It was simply silly.