Golf | 21 Nov 2018 | By Michael Vlismas
Finding Faith in a Memorable European Tour Season
| Photo by Grant Leversha
In the movie Finding Forrester, Sean Connery’s character is famous for having written a New Yorker feature about the Yankees’ 1960 season, which he titled, “A Season of Faith’s Perfection”. And it could just as easily have been the title for this past European Tour season.
Faith in the process, faith that the grind will pay off, and just a general faith that this will be the week it all comes together.
It was an obvious storyline for every single golfer on the European Tour this year. And beyond this, Tiger Woods arguably put the copyright on comebacks in 2018.
But a few men on the European Tour also summed it up perfectly.
Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Danny Willett and Brandon Stone all came to this season in faith, and ended it with a new hope.
By July, Stone was struggling to find his way back from a loss of form and a general loss of inspiration brought on by a self-imposed pressure to perform. He was in that vortex of playing well but not getting the results. And then came his victory in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, including a final round of 60, to put him back on track.
The last two weeks of the season were all about comebacks, tears and fairytale endings.
Lee Westwood won the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player to become the first European to win “Africa’s Major” three times. But more significantly it ended his own slump in the game, and silenced the questions he had in even his own mind of whether he was capable of winning under pressure. He back-nine performance at the Gary Player Country Club was of the finest ever by a champion in this event.
And that win inspired Danny Willett to claim the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, his first title since winning The Masters in 2016 and then falling down the world rankings thereafter.
Those three events formed part of a Rolex Series which certainly delivered in terms of providing for some of the Tour’s biggest moments of the season.
In May, Francesco Molinari won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and went on to be crowned the Champion Golfer of the Year with his victory in The Open. That in turn carried him to the overall Race to Dubai title, with him becoming the first Italian to achieve this honour.
And when Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen won the Italian Open, it also opened the door to greater achievements in his career as he went on to make his first European Ryder Cup team and share in the glory of a 17.5 to 10.5 victory for his team over America.
Alex Noren won his second Rolex Series title when he birdied two of his last three holes to hold off a strong field of Ryder Cup stars, including American Justin Thomas who finished tied eighth, to win the HNA Open de France.
Then the very man Noren beat into second place, Russell Knox, went one better the following week and beat Ryan Fox in a playoff for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by The Rory Foundation.
And later in the year, Justin Rose used his win in the Turkish Airlines Open to ascend to world number one for the second time this year. The Englishman also became the first player to successfully defend a Rolex Series title.
Elsewhere in the season, Garcia left it late in the year to find his own perfect faith. A frustrating struggle of form and missed cuts started to turn around with his incredible Ryder Cup performance and the history he made as the all-time leading points scorer in a competition that breeds golf heroes as much as any Major does.
Then came the Spaniard’s victory in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation. And suddenly a season he thought was going nowhere suddenly became one in which he arrived at Sun City looking as calm as ever before and opening with a 64 to challenge for the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player.
Amongst the many other moments and thousands of shots hit this season, South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli won the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open on his way to climbing into the top 50 in the world for the first time in his career and having a taste of all four Majors. He later secured his PGA Tour card for 2019 and is without a doubt the man to watch amongst a generation of South African golfers already pushing hard on the heels of Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
Shubhankar Sharma’s two wins this season, including in the Joburg Open, introduced the game to another new star, and he went on to be named the Tour’s Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year.
South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen was named The Graduate of the Year for his impressive move from the Challenge Tour to the European Tour this year.
And for some, even in a seemingly perfect season, there was still room for faith of more to come.
Matt Wallace won three times this year and came close to a fourth in an incredible season. Yet even for Wallace, there was disappointment as what he did wasn’t good enough for a place on the European Ryder Cup team.
Faith is indeed in a constant process of perfection on the Tour.