Putting a bow on weird, wild, wonderful 2022

While LIV Golf and its band of characters were the year's headliners, there were other noteworthy stories of arrival, comebacks and redemption

Gardner Dickinson famously said, "They say golf is like life, but don't believe them. Golf is more complicated than that." Those words certainly rang true in 2022. And as the year comes to an end, the complexities still are being sorted.

Reflecting on what has passed and what still percolates, there’s no question where the biggest splash took place: Greg Norman and his Band of Others complicated the hell out of everything. 

With guaranteed contracts, 54-hole tournaments, team formats, no-cut consequences, a polarizing CEO and loads of Saudi Arabian money, LIV Golf became a four-letter word to the status quo. Phil Mickelson, who ripped the PGA Tour and called the Saudis "scary mother……s" early in the year, landed the first cannonball, joining the Saudi circuit and accepting a deal reported to be worth $200 million. 

Saudi International 2022
Phil Mickelson, left, and caddie Tim Mickelson on the 18th green during the 2022 Saudi International's final round at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Mickelson was quickly blackballed by the PGA Tour, but others followed nonetheless. The dollars were astounding and the concept was like something out of a Dire Straits song, i.e. "That ain’t workin, that’s the way you do it … money for nuthin’ and the checks for free."

But, while names like Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau took the plunge, as 2022 came to a close, British Open winner Cameron Smith remained the only OWGR top 10 to cross over. What’s more, the new tour still didn’t have a significant TV arrangement, COO Atal Khosla resigned and the league was facing an antitrust lawsuit filed by the PGA Tour.

Meanwhile, the establishment upped its game with financial enrichments for loyal members, while Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods launched a stadium-based virtual competition to fight novelty with novelty.

The only thing missing in this convoluted clash is a good crypto scandal. Then again, stay tuned, the chips are still falling. 

But Desert Storm wasn’t the only story to make golf headlines. A few other developments begged for attention in 2022, not all of them spelled with roman numerals. To wit:

Just months removed from a seminal victory in the PGA Championship, "Lefty" self-detonated a Hall of Fame career. While he insisted he understood the remarks to be off the record, Mickelson’s cold-blooded comments in an unauthorized autobiography scorched the earth, as he blasted the PGA Tour for "obnoxious" greed, and then accepted the Monopoly money offered up by the "scary" guys. The optics were not good for a fan favorite.

The guy with "calves like Adonis" turned into Howard Hughes, growing a scruffy beard and sitting out The Players, Masters and PGA. He returned for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and British Open at St. Andrews, but it wasn’t pretty, as he missed cuts in both. His future — as a player, television analyst, product spokesman and piece of golf royalty — has been seriously tarnished.

Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open
Lydia Ko on the 10th hole during the final round of the Women’s Scottish Open at Dundonld Links, Troon, Scotland.

Lydia Ko, the zesty New Zealander, had a spectacular start to her career. She was the world’s top-ranked amateur for 130 weeks, and became the professional world’s No. 1 at age 17. Upon turning pro, she won two majors before turning 19 and twice scored competitive rounds of 62. During her first three LPGA seasons (2014-16), she won 14 times. And then she entered a witness protection program, or so it seemed. Changing coaches, changing equipment contracts, Ko won only twice in 109 starts between 2017-21, contending infrequently. In 2022, cracking the ripe old age of 25, as abruptly as she disappeared, she returned. 

She collected three wins and 14 top-10s, including a victory in the season-ending CME Championship. With nearly $4.5 million in earnings, she was the LPGA Player of the Year and bumped Nelly Korda from the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Maybe you can go home again.  

Woods is always a story, and if he’s not a story that’s a story. First, he surprised observers in December 2021, showing some good form alongside his son Charlie in the PNC Championship. When he followed that by entering the Masters, only 14 months removed from his horrific car crash, the shockwaves intensified. And when he opened the championship with a 71, people got giddy. A second-round 74 pulled back on the excitement reigns, but it was good enough to make the weekend and grow the legend. 

That said, the Augusta National hills took their toll on a battered body and Woods hobbled to a 78-78 finish. Thoroughly admirable, but not quite "Lazarus of Bethany." Reality set in further as the year went on. Woods was able to make the cut again at the PGA, but grit notwithstanding, he was clearly compromised and withdrew after a Saturday 79. 

He tried again at St. Andrews, where he has won two majors, where many envisioned a genuine return. But an opening 78 said otherwise and his cut-missing finish on Friday had a teary-eyed feel of finality. Months later, bothered by plantar fasciitis in his right foot, Woods withdrew from his own Hero World Challenge. He then limped through the 2022 PNC event, determined to once more tag along with Charlie. 

Woods turns 47 as the calendar turns ’23. His presence still makes the needle jump for a league that now has LIV dollars with which to contend. Did someone say cart?

The Masters
Scottie Scheffler holds the trophy of Augusta National Golf Club after winning the Masters, his first major title, in Augusta, Georgia.

For those focused on the course, Scottie Scheffler was the dominant gene early in the year. When he captured the WGC Match Play Championship his third win in 42 days, the former Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year rose to No. 1 in the OWGR. His fourth win came at the Masters and then Scheffler finished just one stroke behind Matt Fitzpatrick at the U.S. Open. That’s right - it was Scheffler’s world and we were all just living in it.  

The year didn’t finish quite as well. After 54 holes of the Tour Championship, Scheffler had a six-stroke lead in the FedEx Cup standings and an $18 million payday staring him in the face. But a final-round 73 opened the door for the surging McIlroy and Scheffler finished a stroke back. He then managed but a half-point in four matches at the Presidents Cup.

Nonetheless, setting a season-long record of more than $14 million in earnings, Scheffler shined bright in 2022.

McIlroy made noise both on and off the course. For one, the Northern Irishman became the loudest and staunchest defender of the established tour’s way of life. He erred early in the year when he suggested the Saudi-backed movement was “dead in the water.” 

But he worked with Woods behind the scenes to rally remaining players, and engaged Norman in a public battle of snipes. When he won the RBC Canadian Open in June, McIlroy noted it was “a moment I will remember for a long, long time. It's my 21st PGA Tour win and one more than someone else.” 

Uh, that “someone else” would be Norman, who has 20 career wins. 

McIlroy certainly was to be reckoned with in the playing arena. He was second at the Masters, closing with a memorable bunker shot and final-round 64. He shared the 54-hole lead at the British Open, before Smith came from behind. He also had top-10s at the PGA and U.S. Open. Otherwise, all he did was win three times, capture the FedEx Cup points title (for the third time) and win the DP World Tour’s points championship.

All told, the 33-year old McIlroy collected $26.7 million during the 2021-22 campaign and now reigns as the undisputed King of the FedEx Cup, having made more than $50 million from that competition alone in his career.