Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeauu, Lee Westwood, Georgia Hall – 10 reasons golf made us smile in 2020

Despite the Covid-enforced cancellation of The Open and Ryder Cup postponement, golf in 2020 provided welcome cheer in this largely miserable year.

The game was not immune from suffering; many other tournaments were lost including the Evian Championship – a women’s major – and the seniors circuit in Europe was wiped out.

Golf mourned the loss of luminaries such as legendary commentator Peter Alliss, LPGA Hall of Famer Mickey Wright, the flamboyant Doug Sanders, genial Ryder Cup veteran John O’Leary, European Tour winner Gordon J Brand and top architect Pete Dye.

But, as the first professional sport back after the pandemic, golf yielded a plethora of enthralling storylines to delight fans far and wide.

So at a time when many are in need of a lift, here are 10 reasons why golf made us cheerful in 2020……

Popov’s Troon triumph

In the one major to be played in the UK in 2020, Sophia Popov stormed to a thrilling victory at the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon. The then 27-year-old German arrived from the LPGA’s feeder circuit, ranked only 304 in the world, and departed with one of the most prestigious trophies in the game.

So limited were the engaging Popov’s playing prospects only a few weeks earlier, she had caddied for her friend Anne Van Dam. But in a glorious August week on the Ayrshire links the champion showed indomitable spirit and the immense potential of her game.

Her back story was inspirational, having battled the debilitating effects of Lyme Disease before landing this life-changing first major title. Upon winning she dissolved into floods of tears and who could blame her?

Hail the DJ

Emotions also bubbled to the surface for the usually poker-faced Dustin Johnson as the men’s world number one cruised to a first Masters title and a Green Jacket he coveted more than any other trophy.

Switched to November, the tournament brought autumnal hues instead of springtime splendour but was no less photogenic.

In scoring terms, Johnson’s golf was the best ever seen at Augusta, finishing 20 under par to break the Masters record by two strokes.

He was never in danger of choking, until his emotional post-tournament TV interview.

Bryson breaks boundaries

Big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau attracted attention beyond usual golfing boundaries after spending lockdown bulking up in dramatic fashion.

The 27-year-old American added three stones to his weight in nine months as he channelled long driving techniques into the traditional game in a way many thought impossible.

In September he romped to a six-stroke US Open victory over the famed and fearsome Winged Foot, to claim his first major and make golf the talk of the sporting world.

Experience counts

Lee Westwood in face mask with Race to Dubai trophy
Lee Westwood was first crowned Europe’s top golfer in 2000 and won the inaugural Race to Dubai in 2009

England’s Lee Westwood bucked a youthful trend that largely dominates the game by showing that experience remains a valuable commodity.

The 47-year-old calmly won in Abu Dhabi at the start of the year and nervelessly claimed the runner-up spot at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship this month to secure a third Race to Dubai title in thrilling style, 20 years after he won his first.

Westwood hosted the British Masters as the European Tour emerged from lockdown and was voted the circuit’s Player of the Year. Now he looks towards 2021 for a record-equalling 11th Ryder Cup appearance.

Youngsters breaking through

But there is no stopping the surge of the younger brigade. This was the first full year in the professional game for Norway’s Viktor Hovland (23) and Americans Collin Morikawa (23) and Matthew Wolff (21).

The talented trio are all compelling to watch and ended 2020 inside the world’s top 15. Morikawa is a major champion after winning the US PGA and Hovland, who won two PGA Tour events this year, seems certain to make his European Ryder Cup debut in 2021.

Meanwhile, a chap by the name of Charlie Woods showed plenty of potential while playing with his dad Tiger as they dominated the coverage of the PNC Championship in Florida last weekend but let’s not get carried away though, he is still only 11.

Shining stars in the States

Georgia Hall
Georgia Hall was named Ladies European Tour player of the year after winning the LET Order of Merit in both 2017 and 2018

Britain was able to celebrate rare victories on the LPGA Tour as Georgia Hall and Mel Reid broke through with their first wins in America.

Hall, 24, won a play-off to land the Portland Classic in September before Reid claimed the LPGA Classic a fortnight later.

For Hall such a triumph helped back up her Women’s Open success of 2018, while Reid’s victory was long overdue for a player of such quality.

Both should be mainstays of Europe’s Solheim Cup defence in Ohio next year.

Hilarious Hatton’s highlights

For Tyrrell Hatton 2020 will hold special memories, having also won for the first time in the United States.

The 29-year-old’s triumph at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was the last victory to be applauded by a full crowd this year and showcased the High Wycombe player’s immense talent and tenacity.

Winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth was a quieter affair but still a performance of the highest order against the strongest men’s field assembled in England this year.

In the absence of galleries Hatton’s tempestuous and sarcastic running commentary on his shots brought an often hilarious soundtrack to the action.

Knockout finish for Ko

Korea’s Ko Jin-young deserves saluting after a superb season-ending victory that made her the LPGA’s leading earner in 2020 despite playing only four tour events.

The five-shot victory was a seventh career win on the LPGA Tour for the 25-year-old who also finished joint second at the Women’s US Open.

Ko, who won two majors last year, has spent all but one week as world number one since March 2019 and her reign at the top looks destined to continue for quite some time.

Roses bloom in thorny year

Charley Hull
Charley Hull is England’s top ranked player at 34th in the world

With the Ladies European Tour devastated by the pandemic, Justin and Kate Rose stepped up with the Rose Ladies Series, to provide vital backing to an inspired idea from English pro Liz Young.

It resulted in a string of one-day tournaments which provided much needed playing and earning opportunities across England for the country’s leading female players.

Sadly the three-day finale was ruined by wild fires that encroached on Wentworth’s West Course, but Charley Hull was still crowned the inaugural series winner.

More significantly, Rose’s intervention provided a timely boost after several leading female players had called on the leading men to start promoting the women’s game.

A rosy future

Which brings us to golf in general. If there have been any silver linings to this devastating year then one is the thousands of people who have discovered or reacquainted themselves with the sport in 2020.

Membership and participation numbers soared. Tee times were booked out, driving ranges have been packed and sales of equipment have gone through the roof.

The myth that golf is in terminal decline has been put on hold. Now there is a critical challenge to make sure momentum is maintained in happier times.