Internet popularity is not a straight meritocracy, lest you think the Kardashians are really the most important people on the planet. This is also true in golf, where a guy who won one limited-field tournament drew far more eyeballs than a guy who grabbed two majors (Sorry about that, Brooks Koepka), and a Ryder Cup disaster on one side was inherently more interesting than the triumph on the other.
Then again, a review of the most popular stories on GolfDigest.com in 2018 is still a telling window into what resonates with golf audiences, and why. Among our takeaways studying our traffic patterns: a polite pursuit like golf still inspires plenty of friction, no one’s sure what to make of Patrick Reed, and stories of human persistence and redemption clearly still matter.
In terms of readership, these are the stories that performed best over the past year.
1. Valentino Dixon, whose golf illustrations sustained him while in prison, has his murder conviction vacated after 27 years in jail
Quite possibly the most unlikely story in our history. Valentino Dixon was a prisoner wrongfully convicted of murder who, to that point, had never set foot on a golf course. That Golf Digest’s Max Adler was still intrigued by his story was an essential step in his path to freedom.
Although Dixon has never hit a ball or even stepped foot on a course, the game hooked him when a golfing warden brought in a photograph of Augusta National’s 12th hole for the inmate to render as a favor. In the din and darkness of his stone cell, the placid composition of grass, sky, water and trees spoke to Dixon . . . It took about a hundred drawings before Golf Digest noticed, but when we did, we also noticed his conviction seemed flimsy. So we investigated the case and raised the question of his innocence.
2. Smiling Through The Tears: David Feherty on comedy and tragedy
Few people in golf lead a more complicated existence than David Feherty, a lighthearted presence on golf broadcasts and star of a one-man show who has endured through addiction, mental illness and the death of a son.
The first person to tell you that Feherty still struggles with his addictions every day is Feherty. He takes 14 pills a day—seven of them psyche meds—to help him deal with his depression, bipolar disorder and various physical maladies that will never go away.
“There isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not sad for at least part of the day,” he says. “And some days, I’m just sad all day. It’s gotten worse since Shey died. Sometimes I just start to cry and can’t stop.”
3. Ryder Cup: The real reason the United States lost, and why no one wants to discuss it
Arguably more entertaining than the Ryder Cup itself is all the hand-wringing that takes place before and after. This was especially true when the U.S. got blown out again on European soil, and everything from team chemistry to tight fairways were cited as reasons. An opposing view, however, was quite simple: Sometimes you just get beat.
It’s OK; no-shows and stumbles and smackdowns happen. In all sports, distinctly in golf. But this, the Ryder Cup, is more than golf, we are told. For pride, country, each other. More so than any tournament or player, fans are personally invested. A sentiment great for the competition, in build-up and engagement. Problematic, however, when it comes to acceptance.
4. 10 things wrong with your golf bag
Call it negativity bias, but we tend to respond to what we’re doing poorly better than what we’re doing well. Hence the conceit of this story that examines common mistakes made with our golf bags and how we can correct them.
Do you really need that 4-iron that you can’t lift above table height? Maybe you have a lot of dogleg lefts and you fight a slice (a draw-biased driver would help here). Perhaps you have a pitching wedge and sand wedge but you face a lot of shots between 70 and 105 yards (consider going four wedges). If you don’t use a club very often it’s entirely possible something else in place of it would be more useful.
5. Bizarre turn in story of golfers DQ’d from state tournament: players, administrators say rules official told them to hit from wrong tee, then denied it
It’s not a golf season without an assortment of rules controversies that only succeed in making golf rules seem unnecessarily complicated. This one especially is a head-scratcher, involving a collection of trusting high-school golfers given bad information by an ill-advised volunteer, and a collection of administrators left helpless in its wake.
Miller says it was the rules committee that made the ruling. “They stated that the individuals that hit from the incorrect tee should be disqualified.”
The situation became further complicated when players, coaches and the volunteer official were brought together. Multiple people involved said the volunteer official at that time denied that he told players to hit from the red, counter to the account of the players and coaches.
“I was in the meeting where the official was called over and asked, ‘Did you tell players to go off the red?’ And he said, ‘No, I would never do that,’ ” Coach Isom says. “Then he just walked back to the course.”
6. How to fix a slice in 5 minutes
A quick fix to one of golf’s enduring faults, from one of the best teachers in the world. If Tiger Woods was able to win five majors with Hank Haney, we’d be wise to listen to as well.
The unfortunate reality is that a large majority of players—maybe 90 percent—struggle with a slice. They don’t have a good grip, they make a steep swing into the ball, and they don’t understand how the hands work in a good release. Those things combine to produce high, weak shots to the right.
7. The 13 dumbest things in golf
Outrage, like misery, is best enjoyed in group settings, hence the premise for this piece on all those things in the game that don’t quite make sense. For instance, making a hole-in-one and then having to buy everyone drinks.
Golf has a few things backwards but this might be the most egregious. People who did absolutely nothing other than be on the premises are getting a free cocktail while the guy or gal who slam-dunked it in the hole gets a whopper of a bar bill? We understand the tradition. We’re just saying it’s a bit messed up.
8. Masters Preview: What pros really say about Tiger’s chances
Another installment in a popular franchise in which Golf Digest writers survey players, coaches, and other insiders about pertinent topics focused on one player in one tournament—Tiger Woods in the Masters. With Woods set to play Augusta National for the first time in three years, opinions ranged from the technical to the existential.
“I mean, look at the mug shot that was splashed all over the place. Did you ever think that the guy you covered in 2000 who was at the top of the world would ever have a picture like that? He was a deity. The stuff he went through—and regardless if he’s the one responsible for putting himself through that—he dealt with a lot of stuff that few people go through. He was hanging on to a lot of shit, and he looks like he might have had a deep inner moment and let it all go.”
9. PGA Tour player accuses fellow pro of cheating at Quicken Loans National
Cheating accusations in professional golf are like asteroid collisions—infrequent, but devastating. So when Joel Dahmen took issue with a drop made by playing partner Sung Kang in July at the Quicken Loans National, it set off a chain reaction on the golf course, on social media, and beyond.
Dahmen, however, continued to feel Kang’s drop was unjust, airing his grievances on Twitter Sunday night.
When asked why Palmer and Crane played through, Dahmen was blunt: “Kang cheated. He took a bad drop from a hazard. I argued until I was blue. I lost.”
This accusation quickly drew follow-up inquiries on the matter, and Dahmen was happy to oblige. “It was a typical dispute about where or if it crossed the hazard,” he said. “It clearly did not cross the hazard. We went back and forth for 25 minutes, and he ended up dropping closer to the green.”
10. Masters 2018: Should you hold Patrick Reed’s complicated past against him?
When a player works his way into contention at the Masters, an inevitable question is whether you should root for him. With Patrick Reed, the eventual green jacket winner last April, it was really a question of whether you’re rooting for the fiery competitor with an all-world short game, or an abrasive golfer with a murky past?
Reed has managed to succeed on the PGA Tour despite this reputation in large part because he has been able to ignore it, or at least not let it interfere with the job at hand. He wears his Captain America nickname with pride, and chooses not to listen to the whispers about him. He has earned more than $20 million playing the PGA Tour, which buys an awful lot of earplugs.
Asked on Saturday night why he thinks people on social media tend to root against him, Reed’s answer was insightful.
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask them?” Reed said, a bit gruffly but not entirely dismissively.
11. Smylie Kaufman, his once-promising career on hold, speaks out about the dark side of social media
More than three years removed from a celebrated run that included his first PGA Tour win and a spot in the final pairing of the Masters, Kaufman opens up about his decline since, and the fun had at his expense online.
It didn’t help any, either, that one of his favorite outlets, social media, had turned less, well, social amid his struggles.
“Social media doesn’t help,” Kaufman said. “That place sucks. It was so great for me for so long, but it was never anything good the last six months. When I go to Twitter, it’s like reading the newspaper for me. Well, I don’t wanna see Tom or Joe telling me how bad I suck when I read the newspaper.”