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Your grandma was right: What we learned about golf in 06

By Jennifer Mario, Contributor

Ah, January. A new year begins, and a new golf season. But before we wipe last year's slate clean and start marking up the next one, it's good to sit back and mull over what the last year taught us.

Geoff Ogilvy
While no one was looking, Geoff Ogilvy won the 2006 US Open.
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Geoff OgilvyMichelle Wie
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In some years - and I believe 2006 was one of them - what we find out only confirms what we already knew. In short, ought-six proved that everything your grandmother told you was right.

Slow and steady does win the race: At the 2006 U.S. Open, it wasn't the speedy hare that won the day. No, the PGA Tour's jackrabbits fell by the wayside, losing in astonishing fashion to an unheralded challenger.

Colin Montgomerie, the only player in the field to post red numbers on Thursday, went three over on Sunday's back nine to erase his lead. Jim Furyk (two over on the last four holes) and Padraig Harrington (three over on the last three) let the title slip away.

And who can forget Phil Mickelson, who was practically holding the cup in his hands at No. 18 until his fabulous double-bogey?

Along came slow and steady Geoff Ogilvy, with a string of slow and steady pars, to overtake all those unfortunate hares and win his first major.

You really shouldn't rock that boat: The year began with great promise for women's golf as Carolyn Bivens took over the reins from Ty Votaw to become the LPGA's first female commissioner.

With the popularity of women's golf at its apex, Bivens could have coasted along on calm seas. Instead, she decided to shake things up.

First came her decree in February that photos taken by the media at the Fields Open in Hawaii could be used only within 48 hours of the event. The result? The miffed press boycotted. Bivens forgot that that she needs the press more than it needs her.

With the media in a righteous snit, the next task was to alienate tournaments and sponsors. The ShopRite LPGA Classic was yanked from the schedule, and tournament owners were presented with a massive hike in sanctioning fees ($15,000 per event to $100,000). Golf Channel analyst and former LPGA star Dottie Pepper blasted Bivens' "strong-arm tactics."

The LPGA ship doesn't appear to be in danger of capsizing, with purses and audiences pushing new heights. But I'm not sure players or fans want to find out what happens if it gets rocked much harder.

There's no "I" in "team": Tiger Woods. Phil Mickelson. Jim Furyk. Chris DiMarco.

The talent represented in this group is nothing less than phenomenal. But put them on a team together and watch what happens - a nine-point shellacking, the second in a row, and the fifth U.S. loss in the last six Ryder Cups.

No one disputes that Americans have the potential to win. But our guys see each other as adversaries, not teammates. The Europeans travel together, hang out together, consider each other friends. But Team America - well, not so much. For Americans, it's about star power, not team play.

Ben Franklin famously said, "We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately and lose the Ryder Cup by nine points." OK, I made up that last bit. But the gist of it remains true. Ryder Cup captains and U.S. Olympic basketball coaches would do well to heed those words.

With age comes wisdom: Youth certainly has its place, particularly in marketing, but that place is not in the top three. The LPGA's 2006 money list wasn't paced by golf's teen-queen "youth movement" but by Lorena Ochoa, Karrie Webb and (what, in third?) Annika Sorenstam.

Certainly the LPGA boasted an unusually talent-rich rookie class in Morgan Pressel, Seon-Hwa Lee, Ai Miyazato and Julieta Granada, not to mention watchable young stars such as Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis and hot-ticket non-member Michelle Wie.

But just as clearly, it takes a few more years of experience to really dominate.

The more things change, the more they stay the same: Speaking of Michelle Wie, the teen phenom experienced quite a few changes in 2006.

Wie's first year as a professional saw her replace both her agent and her caddie, notch six top-five finishes in just eight starts on the LPGA, collect $730,921 in winnings and a few new sponsors, get her driver's license and receive that all-important acceptance letter from Stanford, her college of choice.

Yet for all the changes, she enters 2007 pretty much where she began 2006: still a part-time golfer/full-time student; still garnering huge galleries as she searches for that elusive LPGA victory; still far from making a PGA Tour cut.

Cream rises to the top: When Tiger Woods missed the cut at the U.S. Open in the painful aftermath of his father's passing, the golf world almost spun right off its axis. But it righted itself shortly thereafter as Tiger came back strong, closing out his year with six straight wins, including the British Open and the PGA Championship.

2006 saw Woods win a whopping 53 percent of the tournaments he entered, turning every event he plays into Tiger v. the Tour. He topped the money list with almost $10 million, picked up his eighth Player of the Year award and, oh yeah, announced that he's soon going to be a dad.

Yes, grandma, all is right with the golf world.

Jennifer MarioJennifer Mario, Contributor

Jennifer Mario is a regular contributor to the TravelGolf Network and the author of "Michelle Wie: The Making of a Champion" (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006). She began playing golf in 2001, became an instant addict, and realized there was a shortage of golf writings from the woman's perspective. A graduate of Duke University, she lives in Durham, N.C. with her family.


 
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