Martin Dempster’s review of 2017: A major year for Sergio Garcia

Defending champ Danny Willett presents Sergio Garcia with his green jacket for winning the 2017 Masters. Picture: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Defending champ Danny Willett presents Sergio Garcia with his green jacket for winning the 2017 Masters. Picture: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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It was a year on the golf course when it paid to have a certain amount of letters in both your christian and surnames. A “Lucky Six” in both cases, in fact, as the majors fell to Sergio Garcia (Masters), Brooks Koepka (US Open), Jordan Spieth (Open Championship) and Justin Thomas (US PGA Championship).

That numbers game mirrored something similar in 2000, though the fact three of the game’s biggest titles then fell to Tiger Woods (US Open, Open Championship and US PGA Championship) after Vijay Singh had won the Masters made this one more noteworthy as the dust settled at the end of a historic season.

It might not have surprised some, of course, if Garcia had become a major winner within just six attempts after the talented Spaniard turned professional in 1999, but it finally happened at the 74th time of asking and how apt that he should claim the Green Jacket at Augusta National on the day Seve Ballesteros would have turned 60.

Garcia became the third Spaniard after Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal and how Arnold Palmer, who was honoured in a tasteful tribute at the start of the first Masters since his death, would have approved of the sportsmanship displayed by Garcia and Justin Rose throughout a thrilling last-day battle in April.

The pair were a credit to themselves, to European golf and their sport for the way they handled themselves, on the course as they went toe-to-toe for that Green Jacket, which was eventually slipped over Garcia’s shoulders following a play-off, and off it as they reflected on their respective outcomes afterwards.

As Koepka reflected on his title triumph in the season’s second major at Erin Hills, the American admitted that winning the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore in 2013 had been an important stepping stone on his journey to stardom.

His winning aggregate of 16-under in Wisconsin tied Rory McIlroy’s record, with Koepka finishing four shots clear of compatriot Brian Harman and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama as he vindicated why fellow players, caddies and even tournament officials were gushing about his potential that week in the Highlands.

Spieth’s ability to become an Open champion was certainly evident when he came close to staying on course for a Grand Slam at St Andrews in 2015, and more than one Claret Jug will surely end up in the Texan’s hands after the 23-year-old became the event’s youngest champion since Seve Ballesteros in 1979.

In an event at Royal Birkdale that saw South African Branden Grace shoot the first 62 in a men’s major, Spieth made life difficult for himself by squandering a three-shot overnight lead within four holes of the final round. It was classy stuff, though, as the man who blew the Masters in 2016 prevented himself from suffering a second psychological scar in his young career by covering the final five holes in five-under to finish three shots clear of Matt Kuchar in second place.

A major year when neither Dustin Johnson, who was on a brilliant run of form when he slipped on a wooden floor and withdrew from the Masters without hitting a single blow due to a back injury, or Rory McIlroy got in the mix ended with Thomas underlining the current strength of American golf by winning the US PGA Championship by two shots at Quail Hollow.

That triumph helped Thomas also claim the FedEx Cup while, on the European Tour, Tommy Fleetwood ended up an equally worthy No 1, especially on the strength of how he dug deep in the final event, the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, to hold off a fast-finishing Justin Rose.

In the women’s game, the United States won a thrilling Solheim Cup in Des Moines, where Catriona Matthew shone for Europe as an 11th-hour replacement for the injured Suzann Pettersen but then called time, effectively anyway, on her playing career in the event by accepting an invitation to captain the home team at Gleneagles in 2019.

In terms of victories - Paul Lawrie won the Dimension Data Pro-Am in South Africa while Colin Montgomerie chalked up two Champions Tour triumphs - it certainly wasn’t a stellar season for Scottish golf. But the successes of both 21-year-old Bradley Neil and 22-year-old Connor Syme in securing European Tour cards for 2018 and Gemma Dryburgh, 24, doing likewise for the LPGA helped put a smile on the face of the game in its cradle in the final few weeks of the year.

Sadly, 2017 was a year when golf suffered a heavy toll in terms of losses, the deaths of European Tour founder and legendary coach John Jacobs, former PGA in Scotland secretary Peter Lloyd, Scottish amateur stalwart Barrie Douglas and, most recently, two-time Ryder Cup player Tommy Horton in particular being felt at different levels in the sport.