The Year In Golf Based On Shots From Every Club In The Bag

One swing can win a tournament as easily as it can lose one. Other shots are more subtle, and even if they don’t yield birdies or eagles, they can go a long way in shaping a player’s season.

What follows is an annual review of the year in golf by looking at shots hit with every club in the bag, from the driver to the putter.


Rory McIlroy had to rally just to regain control against Denny McCarthy in the second round of the Match Play. He took a 1-up lead to the 375-yard 18th at Austin Country Club and unleashed that powerful, balanced swing. The ball not only reached the green, it stopped 4 feet away.

McIlroy led the PGA Tour in driving distance. This was one swing that showed why.


The U.S. Open returns to Los Angeles Country Club in 2039, leaving the club plenty of time to install a plaque on the 14th fairway, if it hasn’t already. Wyndham Clark was 282 yards away when he ripped a 3-wood toward an 8-yard wide neck at the front of the green. It crept onto the putting surface to 20 feet, setting up a two-putt birdie and giving him a three-shot lead with four holes to play. Clark was among two first-time major champions this year.


McIlroy was tied for the lead with Scotland’s own Robert MacIntyre as he played the 18th hole of the Scottish Open. The wind was so strong that McIlroy had 200 yards to the flag and chose 2-iron, which typically goes 260 yards. The calculation was perfect, and so was the swing. He hit it to 10 feet and called it his best shot of the year.

He made the birdie to win by one. McIlroy was shut out in the majors again, but his two victories included his first title in Scotland.


Leave it to Brooks Koepka to dispel the notion that players who defected to LIV Golf would not be sharp at the majors. He made his presence felt at the Masters, and one shot that stood out was his 3-iron on the par-5 eighth to 15 feet for eagle in the second round. Koepka led going into the rain-delayed marathon finish and was tracked down by Jon Rahm. But it was a reminder that his game shows up at the majors, and a month later he had a PGA Championship title to show for it.

Also worth noting is that 3-iron is his lone holdover from 2016 when Nike got out of the golf equipment business.


It’s not often a player billed as the next great thing lives up to the expectation so quickly. Such was the case of Rose Zhang, who had won all the big amateur events while at Stanford and then won in her LPGA Tour debut as a professional.

Zhang captured the Mizuho Americas Open in a sudden-death playoff. The clincher was her 4-hybrid to 10 feet on the 18th at Liberty National. It was her only LPGA win of the year, but it served as a memorable launch to her pro career.


Brian Harman had a five-shot lead going into the final round of the British Open and already was 2 over on a rainy Sunday, including a bogey on the par-5 fifth. One swing led to this first birdie, settled him down and sent him on his way. He hit 5-iron on the 185-yard sixth hole to about 15 feet. That was the first of two straight birdies, and he won by six.

“My best 5-iron of the year,” he said. “That flipped my day.”


Kurt Kitayama, the Californian who played 11 tours during his career, was part of a five-way tie for the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with three holes to play. On the par-3 17th, he drilled a 6-iron to 15 feet for birdie to take the lead, and held on for par on the closing hole to beat the likes of McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth and Tyrrell Hatton.

The elevated events brought out big names on Sunday afternoon, and they rewarded whoever played the best golf. For Kitayama, it was his first PGA Tour win.


Right when it looked like California club pro Michael Block’s 15 minutes of fame were over at the PGA Championship, he reached the 15th tee at Oak Hill and went viral. Paired with McIlroy in the final round, Block hit 7-iron into the cup for a hole-in-one.

He wound up in a tie for 15th, the best finish by a club pro in 37 years, earning him sponsor exemptions from Colonial to Australia. It also earned him a trip back to the PGA Championship.


The clincher for Rahm at the Masters came on the 14th hole with a shot from the trees right of the fairway. Rahm had 137 yards, his shot blocked by a pine tree and the ball slightly below his feet. He chose 8-iron, opened the face and hit a 10-yard slice. It came out perfectly and rode the ridge down to 3 feet. He made birdie, Koepka made bogey, and the Spaniard had a five-shot lead with four to play.


Shots that defined the year aren’t necessarily the best shots. Corey Conners was in a bunker right of the 16th fairway in the third round of the PGA Championship, two shots ahead of Koepka. Viktor Hovland was in the same spot in the final round, one shot behind Koepka.

Both hit 9-iron into the lip of the bunker. Both had to dig out the ball from an embedded lie and drop in an awkward spot in gnarly rough. Neither reached the green. Both made double bogey. Conners shot 75 the next day. Hovland was four behind with two to play.


Stay on the 16th hole at Oak Hill in the final round. Koepka watched the travails of Hovland, and finally stepped up quickly and hammered his pitching wedge out of deep rough onto the green to about 5 feet. It was a scary, downhill putt. Koepka made it and enjoyed a casual stroll up the 18th to the Wanamaker Trophy for his fifth career major.


Amy Yang had never won an LPGA Tour event in America, and the final event of the year was going to be a challenge. She was chasing Nasa Hataoka in the CME Group Tour Championship when they came to the par-4 13th. Yang holed out with a sand wedge, giving her the lead for the first time in the final round. She held on to win, her first title in America, this one worth a $2 million check.


Hovland was in the second match out to start the Ryder Cup at Marco Simone, with Swedish rookie Ludvig Aberg along for the ride. On the opening hole, Hovland was some 60 feet short of the hole in a fourballs match against Harman and Max Homa. Using his 60-degree wedge, he pitched it into the ridge, down toward the cup and holed it for birdie.

That set the tone for Europe, which swept the opening session and didn’t trail in any match.


Nick Taylor was in a playoff with Tommy Fleetwood in the RBC Canadian Open, fully aware that no Canadian had won his national open since 1954. His second shot to the par-5 18th at Oakdale came up 72 feet short. Distance matters because this was historic. Taylor hit the putt with perfect pace and threw his putter when it dropped for eagle.

How significant was the putt? The Canadian Open changed its logo for next year to reflect Taylor’s reaction to the putt heard ’round the Great White North.