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Stephen Gallacher: A memorable 2021 but Collin Morikawa is my golfer of the year

Collin Morikawa celebrates with the Claret Jug after winning the Open.
Collin Morikawa celebrates with the Claret Jug after winning the Open.

Another year is almost at an end and boy, what a 12 months we have had in golf.

When I reflect on an incredible year – and not just because of the pandemic – I find myself thinking of so many fantastic moments, but for me this was the year Collin Morikawa really showed he is the real deal.

He had a fantastic 2020 to be fair, but, given he ended the year as Open champion and the first American to be European number one, I have to pick him as my golfer of 2021.

This was the year he cemented his place as one of the best in the business and his iron play statistics stand toe-to-toe with anyone who has played the game.

He really is that good and I expect many more majors going his way in the years to come.

Could Jon Rahm emerge as Morikawa’s rival?

Jon Rahm.

I’d love to see Rahm emerge as a nemesis to Morikawa after claiming his first major by winning the US Open.

He, too, is amazing golfer and, while his temperament let him down a couple of times this year, he seems to have learned from it and is well placed to be a huge player in the years ahead too.

We should have known a special year was ahead in April as Hideki Matsuyama made history by becoming the first Japanese male golfer to win a major championship when he walked off the 18th at Augusta as Masters champion.

His third round 65 helped him take control as he opened up a four-shot lead heading into the final round only to see that lead cut to just one shot after a double bogey at the first coupled with birdies at the first and second for Will Zalatoris.

To Matsuyama’s credit, he responded like a champion to take a six-shot lead on the back nine at one point, but getting across the line proved a huge test as a rollercoaster finale played out.

Eventually a bogey at the last was enough to give him a one-shot win.

Big Phil chalks one up for the old guard

It was a year of historic major wins, with Phil Mickelson – not to be outdone – earning the distinction of becoming the oldest major winner in history at the age of 50 years, 11 months and seven days when he won his second PGA Championship.

Phil Mickelson celebrates after winning the PGA Championship

His win at Kiawah Island was one all of us old guys and I suspect it was one of the major factors in Lee Westwood’s decision to rule himself out of the running to be Europe captain for the 2023 Ryder Cup.

Lee is 48 and I’m sure he sat there thinking: ‘if Phil can have a good week and win a major at his age then why can’t I?’

I think we all felt that way after watching the events unfold in South Carolina. Here’s hoping some of the old guard can follow Mickelson’s lead in 2022.

Catriona Matthews’ Team Europe an easy choice for team of the year

Team Europe pose after they defeated the United States at the Solheim Cup.

When it comes to team golf, one team stood head and shoulders above the rest – the victorious European Solheim Cup team.

While the amateur men came up short in the Walker Cup and the professionals were well beaten on US soil by a resurgent American team, Catriona Matthew’s team was simply outstanding in beating the US.

What made it so special was that it was only the second time Europe’s women have won on American soil and it was that stunning first session of morning foursomes which set the tone for a memorable win.

I was delighted for my pal Catriona to win back-to-back as captain, but goodness does Suzann Pettersen have big shoes to fill after being named as the captain for 2023.

The Americans will be hurting, but Pettersen is every bit as inspiring as Catriona was and if the match comes close to the excitement we saw this year then we’re in for another cracker of a match.

Golf in good health heading into 2022

Sadly Covid continues to loom large in our lives, but I have to praise Keith Pelley and his team at the European Tour for a sterling effort in the most trying of circumstances.

It’s been a remarkable period for the game, which seems to be going from strength to strength despite being in a pandemic.

It amazes me that, despite a trying 18 months for the professional game, we are emerging even stronger with the European Tour evolving into the DP World Tour for 2022.

We’ve become truly global players in the game and it’s all thanks to the efforts of those behind the scenes.

Locally, it seems the number of people taking up the game is growing at all age levels, too, and we’re seeing waiting lists for membership of some clubs, which is fantastic news.

I wonder if the fact it is outdoors and a relatively safe sporting environment which has convinced people to take up the game or return to it.

Whatever it is, I hope the trend continues.

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