SANDWICH, England — Like it did with everything else, COVID-19 turned golf upside down.
In 2020, there was no Open. The Masters was in November. The PGA Championship was back in August, where it normally fell before being moved to May the year before. The U.S. Open was in September.
Instead of nine months between The Open and the Masters, it was five months — and back-to-back Masters — between majors and a run of seven in 11 months.
It’s been a wild ride, with three of the majors played without spectators in 2020, a limited turnout in April for the Masters, a seemingly COVID-free, raucous environment at Kiawah for the PGA, and a controlled situation at Torrey Pines for the U.S. Open.
The Open at Royal St. George’s brought the biggest crowds since the pandemic began in March of 2020. The 30,000-plus spectators a day were treated to terrific weather that, unfortunately, took the teeth out of the venerable links.
So we are now back to waiting nine months for the Masters and the next major championship. We do have the Olympics and a Ryder Cup coming. And, of course, the memories of 2021. Here is a look back at the four major championships.
Winner: Hideki Matsuyama
What happened: Matsuyama took a 4-shot lead into the final round on the back of a strong finish to the weather-interrupted third round, then hung on for a 1-shot victory over Will Zalatoris with a final-round 73. He became the first Japanese male golfer to win a major championship.
Best moment: Matsuyama’s caddie, Shota Hayafuji, took the flag — as is customary for the winning caddie — then returned the flagstick to the cup on the 18th hole. He then turned to the course, removed his hat and bowed. “I was thankful,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about doing it and it just happened.”
— ESPN (@espn) April 11, 2021
Honorable mention: Matsuyama in victory being asked about the impact his longtime manager and interpreter, Bob Turner, has had on his career, getting emotional — and then Turner struggling to convey those words in English because he was expressing Hideki’s words about himself.
Worst moment: Xander Schauffele’s 8-iron approach to the 16th green on Sunday that came up short. He had made a valiant rally to pull within a stroke, and could have put pressure on Matsuyama by hitting the ball anywhere on the green. Instead, the water ball pretty much ended any drama.
The PGA Championship
Winner: Phil Mickelson
What happened: Mickelson, at age 50, became the oldest major champion in the game’s history with a final-round 73 that was good for a 2-shot victory over Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen. It was Mickelson’s sixth major title and 45th PGA Tour win.
Best moment: The scene on the 18th hole, with thousands of fans swarming around Mickelson after he played his second shot to the green, a celebration unseen in golf for some time.
Honorable mention: During the third round, Phil asking a technician to have a drone removed from his line of sight as he believed it might interfere with his ball flight.
Worst moment: The scene on the 18th hole, with thousands of fans swarming around Mickelson … and Koepka, who said a spectator clipped his already-injured knee. The situation turned out to be fine, but for a few harrowing moments it was also scary and could have really been bad.
Winner: Jon Rahm
What happened: Rahm became the first player since Tom Watson in 1982 to win the U.S. Open with birdies on the final two holes, shooting a final-round 67 to edge Louis…