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December 11, 2014 - 11:20am
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T.J. Auclair
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Christina Kim
USA Today Sports Images
Christina Kim's win in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational was arguably the biggest surprise of 2014 and certainly one of the best feel-good stories of the year.

Whether it was an unlikely winner, a dominating performance, or an incredible shot under the gun, there were plenty of surprises in the world of golf in 2014.

Here's a look back at 10 of the biggest surprises over the last 12 months.

10. Billy Horschel gets hot, wins FedExCup

Talk about getting on a roll at just the right time. In the course of three tournaments, the Florida Gator turned a rather forgettable year on the course into the best season of his career. Before the start of the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedExCup, Horschel had two top-10 finishes to his name in 2014.

RELATED: Top shots of 2014 | Memorable bad shots | Most popular stories

After a missed cut in the playoffs-opener at the Barclays, it looked like there was a real chance his postseason would end the following week at TPC Boston. But as coach Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friends!"

Horschel tied for second at the Deutsche Bank Championship (even after a terrible mishit on the final hole cost him a chance at a win). He then won a week later at Cherry Hills in the BMW Championship and capped it off with a victory the following week in the Tour Championship to snag the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus that comes with it. And, for good measure, just a few days later Horschel and his wife welcomed their first child -- a beautiful little girl -- into the world.

9. Martin Kaymer blows away the field at Pinehurst No. 2

All the talk leading into the newly renovated Pinehurst No. 2 for the 2014 U.S. Open was about how difficult the conditions would be... even without the true U.S. Open rough. Some wondered if the winning score would even come in under par.

Well, it certainly was difficult and in the end, only three players finished 72 holes under par. That said, it was no contest. The man who won -- Kaymer -- looked to be playing a different course from all the others. Kaymer, now a two-time major champ, smoked the field with an eight-shot victory, finishing a remarkable 9-under par. That wasn't supposed to happen on that course under those conditions.

Erik Compton and Rickie Fowler tied for second at 1 under.

It wasn't a surprise that a player like Kaymer won... but the fashion in which he did sure was.

8. Rickie Fowler records top-5 finishes in all four majors

The biggest surprise here? That he didn't win any of them! For the first time in the game's long history, a player recorded a top-5 in all four majors without winning one of them.

Disappointing? Maybe a little for Fowler. But, man, what an impressive run.

It all started in April when Fowler tied for fifth at the Masters -- his worst finish in 2014 at the majors. Worst!

Fowler then tied for second in the U.S. Open and British Open before tying for third at the PGA Championship. Again, an amazing run.

7. Jimmy Walker wins three times before the middle of February

It's fair to say that Walker, 35, is a late bloomer. He was a journeyman who many times put himself in a position to win, but could never quite close out a tournament on the PGA Tour.

Well, in 2013-14, the floodgates opened for the feisty Walker. After convincing renowned coach Butch Harmon to give him some tutelage, Walker's game became "next-level" good.

Walker snagged his first Tour win at the Open in October of 2013. He followed it up with a victory in Hawaii at the Sony Open and then another two starts later at Pebble Beach.

Were we surprised that he finally won? Not at all. But, for a three-month span, Walker was the hottest player on the planet.

6. Matt Jones holes out to win in Houston, punches ticket to Masters

One of the many perks of winning on the PGA Tour is an invitation to play in the Masters.

For several years now, the Shell Houston Open has been the final opportunity for players not otherwise exempt to earn a spot in the Masters field -- it's played the week before the season's first major.

Jones, an Aussie who had never won on the PGA Tour, holed a 42-yard pitch shot on the first hole of a playoff with Matt Kuchar to not only win the tournament, but to earn a spot in the Masters.

5. Miguel Angel Jimenez wins first Champions Tour start

What can you say about the world's most interesting golfer that hasn't been said?

"He once contended against the young guns finishing fourth in the Masters at age 50 and then won the following week in his Champions Tour debut. He is, the most interesting man in golf."

Yes, that's exactly what Jimenez did. After the fourth-place showing at Augusta, he won the next week in the Greater Gwinnett Championship on the Champions Tour.

He also won twice on the European Tour in the 2013-14 season -- once at age 49 and once at age 50.

Asked about his longevity after his Open de Espana win in May, Jimenez said: "There is no secret. Good food, good wine, good cigars and some exercise!"


And here's that exercise Jimenez spoke of:

4. 11-year-old qualifies for U.S. Women's Open

A sixth-grader competing in a major championship? Come on!

That's precisely what 11-year-old Lucy Li (now 12) did this year, making it through qualifiers to earn her spot in the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Simply put -- remarkable.

Li could be one of those players on the ladies side who we'll be hearing about for years to come. Our favorite thing about Li's appearance at the Women's Open -- aside from incredibly respectable scores of 78-78 -- is that she remained a kid throughout the week.

While many would think she'd be understandably shy, or nervous, she couldn't have been anymore loose. We particularly loved this photo below during one of her post-round interviews:

3. Michelle Wie wins the U.S. Women's Open

While we're at it, let's keep the focus on the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst No. 2. It was the crowning achievement for Michelle Wie.

She has been under the microscope since she was 10 years old and became the youngest player ever to qualify for a USGA event. After that, she was known for making appearances in PGA Tour events and everyone thought she'd be the next most dominant player in the women's game (she still may be one day).

However, not everything pans out when it comes to realizing the expectations others have for you.

Wie never truly had a chance to be a kid, which is why it was refreshing that she decided to attend Stanford and enjoy the college life, while also mixing in LPGA starts.

With her U.S. Open win, though, the monkey was finally off Wie's back. She's now forever a major champion.

2. Mo Martin wins the RICOH Women's British Open

Mo Martin is the complete opposite of Wie. With all due respect to Martin, she was little known before her magical week at Royal Birkdale in the RICOH Women's British Open.

If you like the story of the underdog -- and who doesn't? -- Martin is about as good as it gets.

Winless in her career on the LPGA, Martin hit the most magical of shots on the final hole at Birkdale to set up a short eagle putt that would eventually win her not only her first LPGA event, but also her first major.

Our favorite part of this story? Martin used her winnings to save her family's ranch in Porterville, Calif. How cool is that?

Oh, and here's that remarkable approach to the 72nd hole in case you wanted another look:

1. Christina Kim wins the Lorena Ochoa Invitational

Our final entry is also the most recent of the listed events. Christina Kim, 30, has one of the biggest personalities on the LPGA.

She's funny, charismatic and easily one of the best Twitter follows (@TheChristinaKim).

And, as we learned in July of 2012 in a blog Kim penned entitled, "I guess it's time to address the elephant in the room," it turns out she was a sad clown.

In the blog, Kim detailed her battle with depression and thoughts of suicide.

Writing can be therapeutic. It was also brave and dare we say "courageous" of her to put it all out there.

There are no statistics to measure how many people Kim influenced with that blog. But, surely it's refreshing for those struggling to know they're not alone.

So, when Kim won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November in a playoff over Shanshan Feng, it was extra special.

It was Kim's first LPGA title in nine years and arguably the biggest of her career.

Did the win put an end to the world's depression? Of course not.

But it was an example of how a person -- when confronting their issues head on -- can accomplish anything.

Kim's victory was the biggest surprise and greatest comeback story of 2014.

Jason Palmer
European Tour via YouTube
Jason Palmer cured his chipping yips by taking his left hand completely out of the equation.
If you get a chance to check out the Alfred Dunhill Championship on TV this week, I recommend you do so. Hopefully, you'll get a chance to catch Jason Palmer of England.
You'll know him if you see him – he's the guy who chips one-handed from 50 yards and in. 
To be clear, the 30-year-old Englishman has the regulation two hands, but decided to try chipping with only his right hand after years of struggling with his short game. This radical approach works so well for him that he's played his way onto the European Tour – and swears that he wouldn't be there had he not gone one-handed.
"I dreaded missing the greens and it was affecting me badly," Palmer told Reuters on Wednesday. "I made the switch while on the Alps Tour in 2010, just really to try something different. As soon as I did, I went on a great run of form and I've stuck with it. 
"I used to get a sinking feeling when I missed the greens, but now I quite enjoy it," he added. "I get to show what I can do."
Palmer said his chipping struggles prompted him to try to become as accurate as possible off the tee and into the greens – his goal, he said, was to avoid chipping at all. Now he believes his success can provide some inspiration to other golfers, and everyone who can benefit from thinking outside the box.
"There are countless examples of players who have struggled with a particular aspect of golf," he said. "If you look at putting, there are a variety of different grips and so many ways to get around that."
Here's a video of Palmer demonstrating his one-handed style:
Worst shots of 2014
Hey, hockey star T.J. Oshie... we feel your pain.
Let's face it – we wouldn't appreciate the great shots we hit if we didn't make a mess of things now and then. No one is immune from a mis-hit from time to time – even the game's biggest stars. In fact, in 2014 alone, we saw players like Rory McIlroy, Stacy Lewis and Ernie Els hit shots that they certainly would like to have back.
When I think of mis-hits, I tend to think of the shot I mis-hit the most – my driver. But as we compiled our list of memorable mess-ups from 2014, only one of them was a wayward tee shot. This just reinforces what we're so often told – that the secret to success is a solid short game.
Here we go.
That's a lesson PGA Tour player Richard H. Lee confirmed in May at The Players Championship. During the final round, Lee landed his tee shot safely on the island that holds the green on the famous 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass.
So far, so good. Right? Right. Lee's ball was sitting in the fringe just off the putting surface, so he pulled out a putter, and … advanced his ball a couple of inches. Then, he did it again! Two putts, two fluffs, and he's a grand total of about a foot closer to the hole. Oof. 
At least he was finally on the green, though, and was able to two-putt for a double bogey.
And, give the guy some credit for dealing with his disaster with good cheer. The next day, he noted on Twitter that his 7-year-old daughter told him that she could have done better, and added the hashtag #sheisright. 
The proof that we can all relate to Lee's flopped shots was evident almost immediately, as dozens of our Facebook friends shared their own on-course blunders. Among them was this memorable moment from Chuck Posten: "Taking practice swing on tee box on rainy day and hybrid slips out of my hands and into pond."
Talk about your water hazard! You can read all the entries by clicking on the headline above. Most of them are pretty funny, though one of them is kind of sad.
Lee got some infamous company in July, when none other than Els – a four-time major champion – kicked off his British Open in cringe-worthy fashion. His opening tee shot at Royal Liverpool cracked a spectator in the head, drawing blood. 
The Big Easy was understandably shaken, but he'd be quivering before the hole was over. After reaching the green, he needed only to sink a one-foot putt to salvage a bogey. He stepped up – and knocked it 18 inches past the hole. Frustrated, he scraped the ball back toward the cup, but it again refused to fall. Finally, he tapped in for a triple bogey.
Els's three-putt was painful, but St. Louis Blues star T.J. Oshie went him one better – or, maybe we should say, worse – only a few days later at the American Century Championship celebrity tournament. 
Oshie scored four times in six tries during a shootout to defeat Russia during the Winter Olympics. Out at Lake Tahoe, however, he four-putted from a mere seven feet. His first miss wasn't too bad, but he followed it up with an agonizing lipout, and then another, even more agonizing lipout. After finally tapping in, Oshie couldn't be faulted for wanting to trade his traitorous putter for his good old hockey stick.
Not all of the year's big misses came on such small shots. Stacy Lewis – the world's top-ranked female player at the time – flubbed a fairway wood during the third round of the LPGA Tour's Evian Championship in September. 
With a decent lie in the middle of the fairway, she took dead aim at the flag and … clunked it a few yards off to the left. After indulging in a moment of disgust, though, she rallied to finish 16th and went on to claim the tour's Player of the Year honors. 
Speaking of Players of the Year, Rory McIlroy joined our list in October. Coming off his thrilling PGA Championship win and a victorious Ryder Cup, Rors was in the hunt at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship when he strolled up to the famous Road Hole at St. Andrews.
His second shot wound up a bit short of the green, but on the mown apron leading up to the putting surface. So, in typical links fashion, he pulled out his putter – and knocked his ball into the Road Bunker. That's right, the best player in the world putted his ball into a bunker. Feel better about your own failings now?
Undaunted, McIlroy got up and down for a bogey, but his mistake was costly. He wound up losing the tournament by a shot. Click the headline to see Rory's bunker blunder.
A few days later, McIlroy traded chilly St. Andrews for balmy Bermuda and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. In the final round, though, he hooked his tee shot on the par-5 17th hole well left and into a hazard. The shot itself wasn't so bad – at least the ball stayed out of the water – and we include it here because it set up one of the year's most memorable shots.
McIlroy's options were to take off his shoes and stand in a couple feet of water, or stay on dry land and take a whack at it left-handed. Choosing Option No. 2, he turned a long iron toe-down, took a mighty cut and splashed his ball well away from the water. 
He got his white pants all muddy – which is why I never wear white pants on the course – but his recovery gave him a chance to save par, which he did. And the lesson we can learn from these two McIlroy mistakes is this: Making the best of your inevitable screw-ups is a huge key to salvaging a good score.
And while we have McIlroy on the mind, his third and final entry on our list came in November, during the second round of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. He powered his drive well down the fairway on the par-5 seventh hole, then pulled out a 3-wood to go for the green.
He took his stance, pulled the trigger – and stubbed the ground well behind the ball. With dirt and grass flying everywhere, his ball fluttered meekly forward and wound up in a bunker. Ouch. Again, however, he recovered nicely, making a par.
On the same day as McIlroy's misadventure in Dubai, an amateur named Patrik Vesterlund posted a video on his Facebook page that showed one of his golf buddies hitting an errant shot. Where players like McIlroy and Lewis handled their misfortune with restraint, however, Versterlund's unnamed pal did not.
The guy was facing a short chip shot up a slope. He took a mighty cut – and somehow the ball hopped backward into the pond. The guy freaked out – and jumped into the pond, not once but twice. Really, twice. After all that, I'm pretty sure it's safe to say he didn't get up and down for a miraculous save. Click the headline to see the guy freak out.
One thing we can say about the golfers on our list to far – at least they were trying to hit the shots they screwed up. In early December, we ran across a video of a guy who messed up a shot he wasn't even trying to hit.
How, you ask? Well, he was taking a practice swing when he dug up a huge divot, which went flying – right into his ball. The ball moved a few inches, and yes, kiddies, that counts as a stroke.
Chipping, as we have demonstrated several times in this post, is hard. Sometimes it's so hard that even the guy many consider to be the best ever to play our beloved game can master it.
Tiger Woods was playing his Hero World Challenge in early December. His full swing looked pretty good at Isleworth, but his short game, well, not so much.
In fact, one of the tournament's big headlines was Woods' repeated short-game shortcomings. Specifically, no less than nine times did he chunk, duff or otherwise flub chip shots during his four rounds. Nine times! You can see them all by clicking on the headline.
Frustrated as he must've been, at least Woods maintained his composure. The same can't be said about the star of my final, and favorite, item – a precious little guy whose reaction to missing a tap-in is completely over the top.  I can't help but chuckle every time I see it –  and hey, how better to cap off a collection of bad shots than with a good laugh.
Glen Garden Country Club
JJ Killeen via Twitter
Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth was the site of a famous match between Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson when both were teenaged caddies at the club.
Today is a sad day for golf in my home state of Texas, because Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth is closing its doors after more than a century. The property, a few miles southwest of downtown, will become the home of a whiskey distillery.
Glen Garden isn't as famous as other prominent Fort Worth golf clubs like Colonial and Shady Oaks. But it holds a unique place in golf history – it's where Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson met, worked as caddies and competed against each other as teenagers. 
The club also was the home base of LPGA Tour great Sandra Palmer, who won two majors among her 19 career titles.
"I loved that old course," longtime sportswriter Dan Jenkins, a Fort Worth native, told John Henry, who's written an excellent retrospective in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Played a lot of golf there. The Glen Garden Invitation was one of the best tournaments on the West Texas amateur circuit."
Glen Garden was founded in 1913 as an alternative to the city's only other golf club at the time, the exclusive River Crest Country Club – its original initiation fee was $50, a bargain compared to the $200 required to join River Crest. It opened with nine holes with sand greens, and later added an eclectic second nine that included back-to-back par 5s and a closing stretch that included four par 3s in the last five holes.
Hogan and Nelson were working as caddies at Glen Garden in 1927 when they squared off in the club's annual Caddie Championship as 15-year-olds. They two tied in regulation before Nelson edged Hogan by a stroke in an 18-hole playoff – he sank a 30-foot putt to clinch the victory – to begin a hometown rivalry that lasted for decades. 
For his victory, Nelson received a junior membership. Hogan then moved over to another nearby club, which also is long gone.
Coincidentally, Glen Garden was also the site of the 1945 Glen Garden Invitational (then a PGA Tour event), which Nelson won – by eight shots over Jimmy Demaret – to end his incredible run of 18 PGA Tour victories that season. 
Between 1915 and 1920, the club's head professional was Jack Burke, Sr., who won the 1941 Senior PGA Championship and also served as head professional at prestigious River Oaks Country Club in Houston. Burke is also known as the father of Jack Burke, Jr., who received the 2007 PGA Distinguished Service Award for a Hall of Fame career in which he won the 1956 Masters and PGA Championship, amassed 16 career tour titles, played on five straight Ryder Cup teams and captained two others.
The Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. is buying the Glen Garden property, and has agreed to buy the club's memorabilia as well. The course is expected to be developed, though there has been talk of keeping a hole or two intact for history's sake.
December 10, 2014 - 3:30pm
tj.auclair's picture
December 10, 2014 - 1:17pm
Michael.Benzie's picture
Phil Mickelson dissed by Keegan Bradley
Snappy TV
At the end of the first session of the 2014 Ryder Cup, Phil Mickelson did not feel the love from Keegan Bradley in this fun moment caught on camera.

It's that time of the season where publications reflect on the best work of the year, and today, we're looking at the 10 most popular stories on and its websites in 2014. 

It's a varied group of stories, from the buzzy, fun pieces you might expect (see: Keegan disses Phil at No. 10) to more traditional news such as Tom Watson's Open Letter to an inside look at the infamous "Tin Cup" hole.

So without further ado, let's look at the top 10, with some editor's insight to why we think they did as well as they did.

No. 10: Keegan Bradley disses Phil Mickelson at Ryder Cup

Is there anything worse than getting shut out on a high-five, a handshake or a hug, asked T.J. Auclair? We captured this awkward moment off TV when Phil Mickelson was trying to get some love from teammate Keegan Bradley after the pair took down Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy, 1-up on Friday morning in the opening fourballs matches at the 40th Ryder Cup. Take a look below. It's fast, but funny.




No. 9: PGA Tour unveils 2013-2014 schedule

So there is this company called "Google." You may have heard of it. At any rate, Google and its fellow search-based sites are the key reason this story was as popular as it was. Fans of the sport wanted to see the new wraparound PGA Tour schedule as well as just basic weekly events, so over time, this was one of our most read pages. 

No. 8: Bubba Watson wants to be held accountable for his actions

Over the course of the year, whether in stories or on social media, it's clear that Bubba Watson has a huge following. It's evident at the tournaments, and to geeks who look at site readership (like me). Watson addressed the media at The Barclays and gave an honest assessment of criticism he received at the 2014 PGA Championship, where he seemed to stubbornly battle almost everyone over a fan-friendly, charity driven Long Drive Competition. He also said his attitude on the course wasn't acceptable. The honest insight in this public forum was very compelling, coming from one of the world's most popular athletes.

No. 7: What did Bubba Watson's caddie get for winning the Masters

One small part of Watson's media hit at the PGA Championship was a moment when he had his caddie Ted Scott tee up his ball in a rainstorm, and it plays on the running media narrative that Scott sometimes has a difficult task on the bag of the emotional player. Scott's tweet thanking Watson after their second Masters victory together was another reader favorite.

No. 6: Louis Oosthuizen's surprising Long Drive Competition win

It was Louis Oosthuizen's surprising win in the previosly mentioned PGA Long Drive Competition that made the big board with our readers. He beat a field with Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and many others well ahead of him in typical driving stats on Tour. It was interesting. Oosthuizen didn't even come to the par-5 10th at Valhalla to hit until the late afternoon, so many of the fans who had watched Adam Scott, McIlroy, Jason Day, and other favorites, weren't there to see the winning 340-yard drive.

No. 5: Story behind the infamous 'Tin Cup' hole

This was both a reader favorite and an editor favorite. Around Oscars last year, we wondered if the notorious and fictional hole from the U.S. Open in the cult favorite "Tin Cup" was played by locals and fans of the movie. It's the signature hole and scene where Kevin Costner's character makes a 12 by stubbornly continuing to not lay up. Staff writer T.J. Auclair talked to PGA Professionals at the Texas course (the movie had the course in N.C.). Among the many details: the par-5 18th is really a par-4 fourth hole. “If you didn't know the fourth hole was the hole used in the movie, you wouldn't recognize it,” said Dave Altemus, President of the Southern Texas PGA Section and the General Manager of Royal Oaks Country Club in Houston. “The movie was so iconic. It’s one of best golf movies ever made. Everybody who’s a golfer has seen ‘Tin Cup.’ ”

No. 4: Shortest consecutive shots you'll ever see by a Tour pro

Another thing we've learned. People like train wrecks. And this story featured a video that was a train wreck of a hole at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. See video below, and you'll understand why this was so popular. One nice note about this story: It was great to see the humility in Richard Lee's Twitter post after the putts (Well my 7 year old daughter says. "Dad I think I would have done better on 17!" " I can at least move the ball" #smh #sheisright). The video on YouTube has nearly 1 Million views (as of December 2014).



No. 3: Explaining Footgolf and what it means for golf

This is an unexpected top story, likely drawing interest in Europe and from a broader group of non-golfers. New to FootGolf? It's essentially basic golf rules but kicking a soccer ball around the course, and it's one of many "grow the game" intiatives the PGA of America is spitballing.

No. 2: Open Letter from U.S. Ryder Cup Team Captain Tom Watson

Tom Watson's open and public letter in response to post Ryder Cup criticism addressed the firestorm first sparked by controversial media room comments following the defeat. Said Watson: "I completely understand his reaction in the moment. Earlier this week I had an open and candid conversation with him and it ended with a better understanding of each other's perspectives. Phil's heart and intentions for our Team's success have always been in the right place. Phil is a great player, has great passion and I admire what he's done for golf."

No. 1: The most insane 3-foot putt you'll ever see

This story and video was far and away No. 1 on the site this year. We'll let you take a look. It's just weird enough and we can consider this one of the best 3-feet putts in 2014.