Say a lot of things about 2020, but regardless of the bleak outlook for all sports in mid-March – golf included – this was far from a lost year. The PGA Tour took a 91-day break from competition starting on what would have been the second round of the Players Championship and the LPGA was dark for a total of 166 days from mid-February to mid-July.
Amateur, college and junior golf stopped and resumed, too.
Rather than throw in the towel on their golf careers in these wild times, the following players seized what few opportunities there were and will come out of 2020 far better than they entered it. Take a look, and get inspired.
Bryson DeChambeau talks with reporters after his practice round for the Masters at Augusta National GC. (Photo: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports)
When COVID-19 shut down the PGA Tour on Friday the 13th of March, no one knew how long the break would last.
Bryson DeChambeau, however, didn’t wait to get back to work.
The Mad Scientist had already concocted a plan to become the Incredible Bulk and began his journey to more ball speed and more distance in the fall of 2019. With intense daily workouts and intense eating, he gradually added 25 pounds to his 195-pound frame over the next five months. After posting finishes of T5, second and fourth in his last three starts before the Tour shut down, DeChambeau turned up the volume on his search for eye-popping numbers.
As he said, he “had at it,” when it came to his diet, consuming five to six protein shakes a day and inhaling five to six meals a day to the tune of 5,000-7,000 calories a day. He penciled in three workouts every 24 hours. In the 13 weeks the Tour was silent, he added 25 pounds – and tons of ball speed.
When the PGA Tour returned in June, DeChambeau was weighing in at about 240-245 pounds – and he was many, many yards longer with a golf club in hand. He wound up leading the Tour in driving distance at 322.1 yards. This season, he’s leading the Tour at 337.8 yards per poke.
And he wasn’t all drive for show. He putted for the dough, too. After the break, he won the Rocket Mortgage Classic and his first major at the U.S. Open at rugged Winged Foot, where he trounced the course and the field by six shots behind extraordinary length throughout his bag, sharp iron play and superb putting.
He also tied for third in his first tournament back at Colonial and tied for fourth in the PGA Championship. Had three other top-10s and moved to No. 5 in the world.
In a year like no other, DeChambeau became a new person in 2020. And once the calendar puts to rest with good riddance the year of 2020, DeChambeau will continue to reshape his future no matter what lies ahead.
Dustin Johnson celebrates with the green jacket after winning the Masters at Augusta National GC. (Photo: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)
Asked who made the most of 2020, a terrible and stressful year to say the least, I was tempted to come up with a clever answer, but the truth is, Dustin Johnson is the only acceptable reply. He won the Travelers after shooting a Saturday 61, shot 60 at TPC Boston en route to winning the Northern Trust and then won the FedEx Cup and its $15 million prize. He won the first autumnal Masters and also regained the No. 1 ranking in 2020. I wish questions on the SAT were this easy.
Sophia Popov celebrates victory at the 2020 AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon. (Photo by R&A – Handout/R&A via Getty Images)
From caddie to major champion in less than a month? Sophia Popov defied the odds when, as a Symetra Tour player, she took advantage of a qualifier at the Marathon Classic to gain entry into the AIG Women’s British Open. Three weeks after carrying good friend Anne van Dam’s bag, the 304th-ranked player in the world found herself hoisting a major championship trophy.
-Beth Ann Nichols
Tyler Strafaci holding the Havemeyer trophy after winning the 2020 U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. (Photo: Steven Gibbons/USGA)
Add Tyler Strafaci to the hundreds of college athletes who saw nearly half their senior year wiped out because of COVID. Strafaci, a Davie, Florida native, was a member of a formidable Georgia Tech team that would have been a good bet to win it all in May.
The Strafaci family history is well-known by now, but the 22-year-old had a summer that would make his grandpa Frank Strafaci Sr., the 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, proud. Strafaci didn’t just win one major amateur event, he won three of them: the North & South Amateur, the Palmetto Amateur and the big one, the U.S. Amateur.
Courtesy of the latter, Strafaci managed to do something his grandfather never did: Make a U.S. Walker Cup team. He’ll compete for the Americans in 2021.
Camilo Villegas watches his tee shot on the sixth hole during the third round of The RSM Classic. (Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
I was at the press conference when Camilo Villegas broke down crying as he detailed for the first time that his daughter Mia, not yet 2 years old, had brain tumors. It’s one of the unforgettable moments of my year. On July 26, Mia lost her battle, but Villegas and wife Maria will fight on and have launched Mia’s Miracles, turning tragedy into a celebration of Mia’s life that will help other families undergoing the same experiences with childhood cancer.
Equally as impressive has been Villegas’s rejuvenated game. He held a share of the lead at the RSM Classic in the third round before eventually recording a T-6 finish, but in doing so the 38-year-old veteran from Columbia has proven that his best golf may still be ahead of him.
Rose Zhang holds the trophy up after winning the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland. (Photo: Chris Keane/USGA)
If there were an award for best crossover star in golf, Rose Zhang certainly would win it. The 17-year-old played on every level this year, winning three AJGA invitational titles as well as the U.S. Women’s Amateur. For good measure, she finished 11th at the ANA Inspiration, an LPGA major.
And to think, Zhang almost didn’t even enter the Women’s Am because of a wrist injury that flared up from over-practicing.