Long considered the most staid of sports, golf is not-so-quietly having a bizarre 2009 season.
And things aren't going to get any more sane when the U.S. Open returns to Bethpage Black on Long Island later this month, where there are sure to be more cries of "You da man!" and "Get in the hole!" than polite golf claps.
Where to begin? Two amateurs -- Danny Lee, 18, and Shane Lowry, 22 -- have already won on the European PGA Tour after just one did the trick previously in its long history. The New Zealand star-in-waiting Lee, at the time the world's top-ranked amateur and already tipped as another "next Tiger Woods," triumphed at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia, while Ireland's Lowry wrote a storybook ending with a thrilling playoff victory in his national championship, the 3 Irish Open. Less surprising: Both men have since turned professional.
The PGA Tour's largest victory this season was turned in by -- who else? -- Brian Gay. Brian Gay?! Yes, the 37-year-old notched his second career win (his first took 293 starts) with a record-setting 10-stroke romp at the Verizon Heritage Classic on the much-loved Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Journeyman Michael Bradley won for the first time in 11 years at the Puerto Rico Open, albeit against a weak field, since the world's best were gathered at the World Golf Championship CA Championship, where Phil Mickelson won for the second time this year, or twice as many as Tiger Woods in his much anticipated return from knee surgery. Whether Woods' struggle with his swing, especially his driver, has been a surprise depends on whom one talks to; more expected has been his ability to contend despite rarely having his vaunted "A-game."
Likewise, the departure of Annika Sorenstam was expected to only increase the dominance of top-ranked Lorena Ochoa. With two wins in the first 10 events, her 2009 season has been only mezzo-mezzo. Long-hitting talent Brittany Lincicome broke through to win her first major by eagling the par-5 final hole at the Kraft-Nabisco, hitting a 210-yard approach to four feet. The shot of the year, however, belongs to Peter Hanson, who aced a 207-yard hole in a three-man playoff to earn a spot in the U.S. Open. On the Champions Tour, 50-year-old Michael Allen won its longest-running major championship, the Senior PGA, in his first-ever start on the geezer circuit -- he's yet to win in more than 330 PGA Tour events but now says he wants to be the first man to triumph first on the Champions Tour and then on the regular Tour. The way things are going this year it may well happen.
In golf, two words generally equate with bizarre: John Daly. After a series of high-profile incidents, none of them commendable, the two-time major champion was banned from the tour for six months in November. During this time, Daly underwent lap-band surgery and has already lost 50 pounds, began sporting an incredibly loud wardrobe, and even managed his best finish in four years with a second-place tie at the European Tour's Italian Open. His return to the PGA Tour, scheduled for the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, should only make an already interesting year all the more so.
Evan Rothman is a freelance writer living in Staatsburg, N.Y. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Men's Journal and other leading publications.