It has not been a year synonymous with “feel good,” and as much as we love this game, 2020 was a reminder that golf is just that—a game. That doesn’t mean golf, and how we feel about it, should be devalued in priority, for that overlooks the truth that in these chaotic and divided times: sports have the power to unite.
Particularly with its feel-good moments. Big or small, they help us remain positive and optimistic, instill us with hope and inspire us to do better. Despite its trials, 2020 still gave us plenty enough to cheer. Here are our 10 favorite feel-good moments of the past year.
Lee Elder’s legacy at the Masters was already established, breaking the tournament’s color barrier in 1975. That legacy will take on a new life next April, as Elder will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as honorary starters for the 2021 Masters. “The opportunity to earn an invitation to the Masters and stand at that first tee was my dream, and to have it come true in 1975 remains one of the greatest highlights of my career and life,” Elder said. “To be invited back to the first tee one more time to join Jack and Gary for next year’s Masters means the world to me.” Along with the first tee ceremony, Augusta National will fund a Lee Elder scholarship at Paine College in his honor.
Inspiration at Royal Troon
Reminding us the best Cinderella stories have nothing to do with Carl Spackler, Sophia Popov went for nearly quitting the game to winning the Women’s British Open. In the field thanks to a top-10 finish at the Marathon Classic, Popov—ranked 304th in the world at the start of the week—shot 67-68 on the weekend at Royal Troon to earn her breakthrough.
A journeyman’s wish fulfilled
Jared Wolfe was at a crossroads. A pro for more than a decade, Wolfe only had 41 career starts on the Korn Ferry Tour heading into 2020 and struggled in those opportunities, so he and his wife made a pact before the season: Gain status on the KFT or PGA Tour, or find another career. Wolfe took those words to heart, winning the Bahamas Great Abaco Classic in January and the Wichita Open Supporting Wichita’s Youth in September. Those victories, coupled with three other top-10 finishes, essentially secured Wolfe a PGA Tour card for the first time at age 32. The KFT’s carryover season means Wolfe’s tour status won’t begin until fall 2021, although another win on the KFT will earn him an immediate promotion to the big time.
Golf exhibitions, historically, have been dismissed by golf fans. They featured big names and bigger money but the stakes never matter, if they were even remembered to begin with. However, instead of lining the pockets of the rich, a series of high-profile exhibitions in 2020—TaylorMade’s Driving Relief (above) and two editions of The Match—generated millions for charities and food banks and HBCUs in a time when every dollar counts.
Winning for a fallen teammate
Cullan Brown, a golfer at the University of Kentucky, died in August less than a year after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. In his team’s first event after his passing, Brown’s former roommate Alex Goff—carrying Brown’s UK bag—overcame a rules and scoring dilemma to win the SEC’s Blessings Collegiate Invitational. “I knew that Cullan was watching down on me and he was with me every moment, and I truly believe that he was the reason I won,” Goff said afterwards. “I can also say that if he was still here, I probably would’ve finished second.”
Harbour Town is a favorite among players for its family-friendly atmosphere, but it’s been especially hospitable to Davie Love III: Five of his 21 PGA Tour victories have come at Hilton Head. Still, Love’s journey to the RBC Heritage this year was different, his first appearance since a house fire destroyed his Sea Island, Ga., home in March. “Certainly [wife] Robin and I packing up to come to a golf tournament was exciting, but it was also a little emotional,” Love said before the tournament. “We didn’t have anything to pack like we usually do. I’m searching for head covers, and my son gave me a ball-mark fixer. I was like, I just don’t have enough equipment to go play a PGA Tour event. So it’s been ups and downs like that.” Also lost in the fire was most of Love’s memorabilia from his playing career. Which is what made Steve Wilmot’s gift all the more touching. Wilmot, the tournament director at RBC Heritage, surprised Love with a tournament plaque in honor of his five victories.
According to the National Hole-in-One Registry, about 128,000 aces are recorded each year. One would be hard pressed to find one of those 128,000 as stirring as Laurent Hurtubise’s hole-in-one. Hurtubise, an amateur hailing from Canada, accomplished his feat during The American Express pro-am … and did so with one arm.
The clip went viral, with Hurtubise using his newfound fame for good, visiting the Shriners Hospital for Children in Montreal to meet with disabled children. “It’s striking to see myself as inspirational because I was born like this,” Hurtubise told Golf Canada. “I’ve never seen myself as inspirational, except to the guys who play golf with me or played hockey with me. They were always saying ‘Wow, you’re good.’ But it was always normal for me to do my best, so that hole-in-one made me really realize what a positive effect I had on other people.”
It was billed as the Masters that distance would break. That did not bode well for Bernhard Langer. The 63-year-old was last in the Masters field in driving distance, 60-something yards behind category leader Bryson DeChambeau. Yet Langer finished at three under for the tournament in his 37th career Masters start. DeChambeau, the reigning U.S. Open champ, was two under. Long live Bernhard Langer.
Miguel’s European Tour milestone
Miguel Angel Jimenez made his 707th career start on the European Tour at the Hero Open, breaking Sam Torrence’s record for most appearances on the Old World circuit. And, like everything he does, golf’s most interesting man did it in style, shooting an eight-under 64 at Forest of Arden C.C. Saluted by his fellow pros at the 18th green, the 56-year-old Spaniard provided these words of wisdom: “I enjoy everything about my life here. It’s not the first time I’ve said it, this is a way of living. Golf is my life, you never remember any bad moments. You can understand that you’re not going to be in a perfect mood and not make a perfect score every time. You can have a bad game, but not a bad day, that’s the difference.”
Days before the PGA Tour’s restart at Colonial, Harold Varner III spoke of his experiences with inequality. The message was eloquent and passionate, offered perspective and understanding. Then the most remarkable thing happened. Varner, at a juncture where the lines of sport and society are blurred, contended at Colonial. He ultimately did not win the event; didn’t even finish top 10. But with his words and resolve, with a performance that can only be measured against the pain and uncertainty and fear we all face, Varner showed us the best that golf can be.