Essential Golf: A passion for the Game

Looking Back at 2020’s PGA TOUR Award Winners

Zach Johnson, 2006

Dustin Johnson earned second Player of the Year award; Scottie Scheffler was top rookie; Zach Johnson was honored with the Payne Stewart Award; Webb Simpson won the Byron Nelson Award

Asked at the season-ending TOUR Championship which golfer might garner his vote for PGA TOUR Player of the Year, Dustin Johnson stared stoically into the distance, much like a seasoned poker player sitting on pocket aces.
“I’m not sure yet,” Johnson said on the eve of the tournament at East Lake Golf Club. “I think this week will help decide that.”

Sizzling golf

He was right. Four days later, Johnson, 36, of Jupiter, Fla., captured the TOUR Championship to put the last touches on a sizzling late stretch of golf. It capped a 2-1-2-1 finish that began at the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in August, and culminated in his first FedExCup championship (see pp. 24-26). For Johnson, one more trophy remained after East Lake: Johnson’s fellow players voted him the recipient of the Jack Nicklaus Award as PGA TOUR Player of the Year.

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson tees off at the 2nd during the final round of the Barclays tournament at the Plainfield Country Club on August 27, 2011 in Edison, NJ

Texan Scottie Scheffler, 25, was the recipient of the PGA TOUR’s Arnold Palmer Award as the circuit’s top rookie. Scheffler did not win a tournament in 2019-20, but had a stout rookie season, posting seven top-10 finishes in 23 starts, including top-5s at the PGA Championship and THE NORTHERN TRUST. At the TOUR Championship, Scheffler rallied to finish fifth in the FedExCup standings.

Quality finalists

Johnson edged out a group of quality finalists for the Nicklaus Award: (alphabetically) 2020 PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm, Webb Simpson, and Justin Thomas. Thomas, 27, won three times in 2019-20 (THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES, Sentry Tournament of Champions, World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational), with Morikawa, Rahm and Simpson each winning twice.

Webb Simpson at Bethpage Black during the Barclays in 2012 at Farmingdale, NY

It marked the second time Johnson won the Nicklaus Award as the TOUR’s top player. He also won in 2016, when he triumphed at the U.S. Open.
Johnson, slowed by injury late in 2019, overcame a slow start to his season. He was outside the top 100 in the FedExCup standings until his summer victory at the Travelers Championship, and then he took flight. He had the 54-hole lead at the PGA Championship (tying for second); dominated at THE NORTHERN TRUST at TPC Boston (winning by 11 shots); forced a playoff with an improbable 43-foot putt at the 72nd hole at the BMW Championship (eventually losing to Rahm in a playoff); and prevailed at the TOUR Championship. Johnson had seven top-10 finishes in 14 starts, and finished the season with the World No. 1 ranking.

Scottie Scheffler
Scottie Scheffler at TPC Boston in the first event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs

“Yeah, it was a really good year,” Johnson said. “Especially at the end of the year, I really played well. From the PGA through the TOUR Championship, I really played some really good golf … Obviously to win Player of the Year, it’s a great honor, and it’s voted on by your peers, so it’s something that means a lot to me.”

Spectacular performance

Johnson’s three victories lifted his career total on the PGA TOUR to 23. He also extended his streak of consecutive seasons with a victory to start his career to 13, an accomplishment shared by Palmer, Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

“His demeanor and athleticism on the course make it look very easy, but behind the scenes, he’s worked incredibly hard coming back from injury and his 2019-20 season speaks for itself in further bolstering his World Golf Hall of Fame resume,” PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan said of Johnson. He called Johnson’s performance in the FedExCup Playoffs “nothing short of spectacular.”

More awards

Scheffler captured Rookie of the Year over (alphabetically) Harry Higgs, Viktor Hovland and Maverick McNealy. He was the second consecutive player (after Sungjae Im in 2019) to earn top rookie honors after being named top player on the Korn Ferry Tour the previous season.
With an adjusted scoring average of 68.98, Simpson won the Byron Nelson Award for 2019-20. Also, Zach Johnson received the Payne Stewart Award, given to a player showing character, charity and sportsmanship. 

By Jeff Babineau