If anything positive has come from the pandemic era, it is that most of us have developed a sense of gratitude for things we used to accept as routine. Remember hugging your elderly family members? Remember cheering your favorite song at a concert? How about the fun of a neighborhood picnic or having friends over for snacks while you watched a big game? If you’re like most of us, you took those things for granted – regular moments in a well-lived life. Now, you cherish their memory and long for their return.
American Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude, a time to reflect on our most meaningful relationships and give thanks for our treasured blessings. In October of 1863, as the American Civil War raged, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the holiday we call Thanksgiving by saying, “The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart.”
Golf seems appropriately small in the grand scheme of world affairs, especially now. But that doesn’t stop those of us in the game from being grateful.
This year I am thankful for:
- Recreational golf as a respite, an escape from the anxiety of an uncertain time and an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends through the game of a lifetime.
- Professional golf and its leaders for bringing sports back to the public stage. We forget that the PGA Tour resumed play in June and the LPGA Tour kicked off the restart with the first Drive On Championship in July at the Inverness Club. Our game provided a moment of normalcy, an escape from the hardships and worries brought on by the global virus. It wasn’t easy. And it shouldn’t be easy to forget.
- Our early restart winners and the drama they provided, especially Danielle Kang, who added an element of flair to her back-to-back wins in Ohio. Kang has always loved the spotlight and her victories at Drive On I and the Marathon Classic were no exception. In the first, she fired a final-round 70 told off a charging Celine Boutier by a shot. And in the second, she was on the receiving end of a late collapse by Lydia Ko. In both cases, Kang made fans forget that the LPGA Tour had been away. She proved to be the perfect winner for a perilous time.
- Sophia Popov, a magnetic young woman who authored the best story in golf and arguably the best in sports in a year that sorely needed it. To say Popov came out of nowhere doesn’t come close to capturing her extraordinary victory at the AIG Women’s Open. Remember how you felt when you learned that Popov was ranked 304 in the Rolex Rankings as she led round after round at Royal Troon? It seemed too good to be true. Surely such an underdog couldn’t hang on for 72 holes at one of the game’s most storied venues. But hold on she did, making one crucial putt after another, punching the cold Scottish air with a fist of defiance for all of us. When the final putt disappeared, hers were not the first tears to fall. Sophia won one for all of us. And the golf world will forever be grateful.
- The consistent friendship of Sei Young Kim. Like Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, Kim wants the ball in the biggest moments. Very few things survive in a pressure cooker. Kim and athletes like her thrive in it. But what makes her even more extraordinary is her down-to-earth kindness, her accommodating spirit and her consistency, not just in golf but in every moment outside the ropes. Quick with a joke, a smile and an encouraging word, Kim is a better friend than she is a golfer. And she’s on the cusp of being the best golfer in the women’s game.
- The winning returns of Stacy Lewis, Austin Ernst and Georgia Hall. Anyone who thinks winning is easy doesn’t understand golf, much less the professional game. The commitment, the work and the mental toughness it takes to claw your way back to the top should be admired by all. These players did it in a year filled with built-in excuses. That in itself is extraordinary. And they, as always, are an inspiration.
- Mel Reid, Ally McDonald, Madelene Sagstrom and every first-time winner who stands on the final green having realized a lifelong dream. They are why we watch. They are why we care. They make us fans. They bring us back.
- The scores of sponsors, staff and volunteers who mobilized, wrote checks, crafted protocols and marched through fire to make this season happen. They didn’t do it for fame or fortune. They did it for love of the game, the Tour and the people who make up both. For that, they deserve the loudest ovation of all.