Golf's changing landscape to evolve in year ahead

As 2016 rapidly comes to a close, let's take a look at a few highlights (and lowlights) of the year and then a peek at what the new year might have in store.

1. Remembering The King. No look at 2016 should start without thanking Arnold Palmer for what he did, not only for the game of golf, but for putting golf on the map of sports business. Being in the ESPN studios on Sept. 26, the morning after Arnold passed, was one of the hardest, but also happiest times I've had in TV.

It was a morning of remembering the easy laughter of a friend while at the same time knowing golf would never be the same without that easy laughter. Arnie simply loved golf and loved people, and they loved him right back.

2. The United States won the Ryder Cup against Europe, 17-11, for the first time since 2008. The Americans were buoyed by victories in seven of 12 Sunday singles matches. The win re-energized an event that was beginning to lose a bit of its luster due to the recent European domination.

3. Four different major winners in men's golf. The year was highlighted by the battle between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson at The Open, one that Jack Nicklaus deemed to be even better than the "Duel in the Sun" between him and Tom Watson at Turnberry in '77.

The lowlight came with the controversial ruling involving Dustin Johnson, the eventual champion, during the final round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Thankfully, due to a local rule change issued earlier this month by the USGA and R&A, such accidental movement of a golf ball will no longer result in a penalty. It was a long overdue dose of common sense, especially when green speeds are crazy fast.

4. Time to show some love for Bernhard Langer. The 59-year-old German is simply a golfing machine. For the third time in six years, he won the year-end race for the Charles Schwab Cup and also earned nearly twice as much money (more than $3 million) than his closest pursuer, Colin Montgomerie.

5. Let's show some love for Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn, too. A year ago she missed 10 straight cuts on the LPGA Tour and now is a five-time winner, including a major championship and is player of the year. Amazing what playing with joy instead of fear can do.

6. Lydia Ko's housecleaning. Caddie Jason Hamilton was the first to get a pink slip, but then about a month later, David Leadbetter and Sean Hogan were also dismissed. I'm not going to judge the personalities involved, but I will always be critical of over-involved parents/spouses as well as students and teachers who don't arrive at tournaments with their preparation complete.

Tournament time is when you put your work on auto pilot and play golf, not try to reinvent the wheel with a teacher stuck to you like cellophane. Leadbetter (and he's not alone in this) constantly shows up at the biggest events and is over-involved with the student, not just applying a bit of polish and a pop of confidence. I also found this particular case fascinating because Hogan was Lydia's day-to-day coach, not Leadbetter. But when the biggest events rolled around, Leadbetter was the one present.

Advice to Lydia: Take ownership of everything in your life and do your preparation in the quiet of your home, not in the public eye.

As we are just under three weeks until the PGA Tour season resumes in Hawaii, let's look ahead to the New Year.

1. Tiger returns. Although his first event back in more than a year wasn't exactly a home run, it did have many positives. Woods played four rounds without any apparent physical setbacks, got the competitive juices flowing again and into the routine of tournament golf, plus made 24 birdies, best in the field.

On the flip side, he continued to show signs of the chipping/pitching yips that surfaced in 2015 and the two-way miss was still problematic. It was also an extremely limited field. We'll see how that plays out when he is in full-field events, perhaps as soon as Torrey Pines in late January, where he has won eight times. He has committed to playing in February at Riviera in Los Angeles, where he made his first PGA Tour event as a 16-year-old, an event now benefiting his foundation.

2. Jay Monahan takes over as PGA Tour commissioner. Tim Finchem did an incredible job in more than two decades as commissioner, but I'm excited to see the influence and direction under Monahan. New ideas already seem to be flowing and coming to fruition with a big change at the New Orleans PGA Tour stop (a team format), talk of schedule changes that would see the season end closer to Labor Day and before football really gets cranking, as well as rumblings of a possible LPGA/PGA Tour mixed event.

3. LPGA changes. Speaking of the LPGA, big things are happening in 2017, including Lorena Ochoa's event moving earlier in the year with a match-play format and expanded field, this week's announcement of the Senior LPGA Championship (81 players, no cut, Monday-Wednesday televised event) and the Solheim Cup in August in Des Moines, Iowa.

The positive growth of the tour under Mike Whan continues, but he still needs a boost from Americans winning to grow the tour even more. Only two American victories in 2016 are not going to get it done.

4. The return of injured players. That includes world No. 1 Jason Day, No. 15 Justin Rose and Masters champion Danny Willett. While Rose withdrew after one round of the Hero World Challenge, both he and Willett posted 72 hole scores last week in Hong Kong on the European Tour, with Willett finishing in the top 10. Good signs for sure.

5. Equipment changes. Rumors are that the USGA will begin limiting the length of drivers, rolling back the maximum from 48 inches to 46.5 inches. Wouldn't it be easier to just admit the golf ball that has rendered so many classic courses around the world irrelevant is the biggest issue and roll that back instead of the length of the driver? There goes that uncommon common sense again.

Thanks to all of you for spending your time with us on the golf page at ESPN.com again this year and best wishes for a happy, healthy and blessed holiday season.