Winning isn’t everything in golf, even if we act like that is the case. In three of the four majors, 155 golfers are going to walk away having lost, and the maddening part about this sport is that it’s the one in which you cannot control what your competition does.
You could have the greatest four-day stretch you’ve ever had (see: Phil Mickelson at Royal Troon in 2016) and still walk away without a trophy. It’s also part of what makes it such a beautiful game, but that’s another story for another time.
Because we overvalue winning in 2019 (in all sports, but especially in golf), you may have missed a few golfers who are having sensational seasons but don’t have the right hardware to prove it. When I look back on the year, I’ll think of these guys as having had tremendous success because of the way they’ve scored and played, but it certainly won’t be viewed that way by everyone.
There is a solution though. Winning an Open — the last major on the calendar this year — would bring their years to an equilibrium of sorts. The best players in a year don’t always win majors, of course, but winning this major would — for these five players I’ve identified — be a deserved and fitting sendoff into the end of the summer.
1. Adam Scott: He’s not being talked about at all, but Scott is having one of the 20 best seasons of the last 15 years. And he doesn’t have a single trophy to show for it. The Australian has been in Northern Ireland for a week already, though, and he’s been getting tips from hometown hero Darren Clarke for how to conquer Royal Portrush. He also sounds like he’s in good spirits heading into the 148th Open.
“I haven’t played the tournament yet, so you might want to ask again later Sunday,” Scott told the Associated Press. “But Muirfield is my favorite Open venue, and this is right up there as far as the quality of the golf course. The other thing it has going for it is it’s spectacular. There’s more elevation. You see the ocean, the dunes. Often you come into a links, you drive in and you don’t see anything but flat. Here, it’s a spectacular course.”
2. Hideki Matsuyama: He has quietly regained his slot as one of the premium ball-strikers on this good earth. Only Henrik Stenson has been better on approach shots, but Matsuyama’s best result to date is a T3 at the Farmers Insurance Open. There’s hope for him though to win his first ever major.
The Forecaddie counted an almost perfect blend of shot shapes required off the tees and greens, setting up ideally for stout ball strikers who may just be so-so on the putting surfaces.
3. Dustin Johnson: Wait, D.J.? Hasn’t he won twice already this season? Indeed, but when Johnson is embroiled in one of the great strokes gained seasons of his career, you’d expect at least one major championship. He’s been close — and maybe it’s because he’s been close that he’s on here — but he’s yet to snag the second major of his career. If his form holds over the next month, Johnson will have touched off his fourth consecutive season inside the top 30 seasons all time in strokes gained. To have walked away from those four years with just one major championship would be a massive bummer.
4. Patrick Cantlay: He’s another guy who’s currently having a top-20 strokes gained season since the stat was invented in 2004. I repeat, Patrick Cantlay is having one of nine players ever to average 2.18 strokes gained per round (or better). Seven of the other nine are major champions. And while he won the Memorial Tournament — one of the biggest non-majors of the year — a major would fit nicely into what he’s already accomplished in 2019.
5. Rory McIlroy: There are a couple of things going on here, but the primary point is that only a major win would drive home the reality that … ::picks up megaphone and runs down the street screaming:: … Rory McIlroy is having one of the great statistical seasons in golf history! His 2.7 strokes gained are by far the best number of his career and getting scary close to Tiger’s three seasons of 3-plus strokes gained. In two of those three seasons — 2005, 2007 and 2009 — Tiger won a major. Rory has two pretty large wins at the Players Championship and Canadian Open, but people can’t seem to think past the big four trophies. Because of that, it would be a shame for one of the best ball-striking seasons of the last two decades to not end with at least one of the ones that matter the most.