A year ago, Brooks vs. Bryson dominated conversation around the PGA Tour. Those were the days.
Kyle Terada/USA Today
The big news out of Jay Monahan’s news conference at East Lake a year ago was a new policy aimed at curbing poor fan behavior. The PGA Tour commissioner was responding to the taunts of “Brooksy’’ that were frequently aimed at Bryson DeChambeau during rounds because of his ongoing spat with Brooks Koepka.
Seems quaint now.
Back then, the DeChambeau-Koepka catfighting was an amusing yet high-profile sideshow.
A year ago at the Tour Championship, questions centered around whether the two of them could get along on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Patrick Reed had returned from being hospitalized with double pneumonia—and quips about whether his math was wrong.
Scottie Scheffler was no lock to be one of captain Steve Stricker’s at-large picks for the Ryder Cup, with a debate over whether Kevin Na or Kevin Kisner or Reed should get the spot.
And Tiger Woods had barely been seen, hardly heard.
And Monahan thought dealing with COVID-19 was bad. The discourse is considerably different as he heads to Atlanta this week for the PGA Tour’s season-ending tournament, the Tour Championship, which will crown the FedEx Cup champion for this season.
DeChambeau, Koepka, Reed and Na are gone to the LIV Golf Tour, the controversial Saudi-backed circuit that has proven to be quite the disruptive force in the game, leading to considerable animosity and the possibility that more players will leave following this week’s tournament.
Eight of the 30 players who competed in Atlanta a year ago have gone to LIV Golf and will play in the circuit’s event next week outside of Boston.
And Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have taken on a leadership role, with Woods flying to Delaware last week to attend a players-only meeting in which several aspects of combating LIV Golf and strengthening the PGA Tour were discussed.
As reported Saturday by Sports Illustrated, one idea floated would see the PGA Tour designate 18 tournaments within its structure for 60 players with $20 million purses and no cut.
The Fire Pit Collective website reported that to pull this off, the PGA Tour might seek equity stakes and forego its tax-exempt status, something that would be a huge change in the Tour’s long-time business plan.
One thing is clear: the PGA Tour in some way seems headed more toward a model consisting of haves and have-nots. And the idea of 18 such tournaments with big money and no cuts is exactly what many players have decried is a negative for LIV, which plans to have 14 tournaments next year: a lack of competitiveness.
While it is quite possible the idea that came from the meeting never occurs, or is greatly altered, there still remains a sense that the star players in golf are underpaid given their value and that there should be some form of compensation for all players, whether they make a cut or not.
The idea of a $500,000 advance per exempt player was floated, although it would be against earnings, which sort of defeats the purpose.
Meanwhile several more players, including British Open champion Cam Smith, are expected to head to LIV Golf next Monday in time for the Boston tournament, the fourth of eight planned for this year.
Back in February when the concept was seemingly dead, the LIV folks regrouped and were mocked for coming up with an eight-tournament invitational schedule. There was so little confidence in the venture that many wondered if LIV would be able to fill the 48-man field for the first event. Officials disclosed they’d be paying out the entire $25 million purse no matter the number of participants.
Turns out, they had no trouble and have now been turning players away.
Dustin Johnson, DeChambeau, Koepka and Sergio Garcia are among the players who were in Atlanta a year ago and are now with LIV.
Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has a bunch of ideas to consider. It has already raised the purses of several events for next year and announced a three-tournament global series with specifics of big money events for the fall—but it appears that is not enough.
Monahan has a news conference scheduled for Tuesday, and it’s unclear if he will have anything of significance to announce. If he does, it is not likely to have much to do with naughty fan behavior.
Greg Norman questioned the “integrity and accuracy’’ of the Official World Golf Ranking if LIV Golf events are not included in the system that helps slot players and is used, among other ways, to determine fields for major championships.
Norman, the CEO and commissioner of LIV Golf, sent a letter to players last week outlining his concerns.
“Without LIV’s inclusion, the integrity and accuracy of the rankings themselves are severely compromised,’’ Norman wrote. “The proportion of leading players in the world in the LIV series means that, despite smaller fields than some existing tour events and those that took place opposite the LIV Invitational events, the strength (of field) remains highly competitive and among the top few in the industry.’’
Norman contends that not including LIV players will render the existing OWGR “inaccurate’’ and should it continue “marginalized.’’ He said LIV players have lower rankings than they are “rightfully entitled to, as well as non-LIV players enjoying falsely enhanced rankings.
“Simply put, it will be impossible to consider the OWGR rankings accurate or even relevant if OWGR persist in 48 of the best golfers in the world.’’
Norman has a point that leaving out professional golfers with notable accomplishments can skew the rankings.
The problem is the OWGR does not operate on LIV’s timetable. While the criteria for inclusion are wide-ranging, a couple of notable shortcomings will hurt LIV’s cause: an average of 75 players per event and the lack of a 36-hole cut.
LIV can argue that its events are part of a bigger circuit on the Asian Tour that will use the International Series as a smaller feeder into LIV Golf. Those tournaments—now 10 with the belief it will increase to 15—have full fields.
And it’s possible the OWGR could work around the no-cut aspect by not awarding points to the full field.
But one problem still exists: tours generally are required to operate for at least a year before being awarded points, and LIV’s structure which will include a set field of 48 players won’t go into effect until 2023. Even if it’s a year from the onset of the series in June, that would mean at least next summer.
1. Patrick Cantlay became the ninth player to win multiple times this season, tying the most (2018-19) in 20 years on the PGA Tour. Others who won at least twice were Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns, Xander Schauffele, Cam Smith, Tony Finau, Max Homa, Hideki Matsuyama and Rory McIlroy.
2. Shane Lowry was the first man out, missing the Tour Championship and the top 30 by just 18 points. A bogey at the 17th hole doomed him Sunday.
3. Viktor Hovland made a hole in one on Sunday, his second of the year but one that is probably more meaningful to someone who will receive a scholarship out of it. Hovland’s ace means BMW will donate the equivalent of a $125,000 full-tuition scholarship to the Evans Scholars Foundation. He aced the par-3 2nd hole with a 6-iron from 203 yards and the scholarship will be awarded in his name.
4. The Western Golf Association seems content with moving the BMW Championship—formerly the Western Open—out of the Chicago area more often. Next year’s tournament at Olympia Fields will be the last there for at least four years. It announced this week the tournament will go Castle Pines (Colorado) in 2024, Caves Valley (Maryland) in 2025 and Bellerive (St. Louis) in 2026. That year, the Presidents Cup will be played at Medinah outside of Chicago. Starting in 1962, the Western Open was played in the Chicago area every year through 2007.
Tom Weiskopf passed away Saturday at the age of 79 after battling pancreatic cancer. A winner of 16 PGA Tour events, including the 1973 British Open at Troon, Weiskopf also became a noted golf course architect and spent time as a golf analyst on TV.
It was during the 1986 Masters that Jim Nantz—working the tournament for the first time—was in the 16th hole tower as Jack Nicklaus was trying to win his sixth Masters. Nicklaus was surveying his tee shot when Nantz asked Weiskopf what might be going through the Golden Bear’s mind.
“If I knew what he thought, I would have won this tournament,’’ said Weiskopf, who was runner up at the Masters four times.
And then he figured that Nicklaus “is going to fire at this pin. He’s going to think, “Jack, this is the time right now. Make the swing that you are capable of making.’ ‘’ And Nicklaus nearly knocked it in for an ace, setting up a 3-foot birdie putt that helped him shoot a back-nine 30.
As a reminder, the 30 players who made it to Atlanta for the Tour Championship based on their FedEx Cup points will now be slotted in order, but assigned a “strokes’’ adjustment that reflects their place in the standings. The leader, Scottie Scheffler, will start the 72-hole tournament at East Lake at -10. Next is Patrick Cantlay at -8, then Will Zalatoris -7, Xander Schauffele at -6 and Sam Burns at -5. Cam Smith, who skipped the BMW, dropped to sixth and will be at -4, six shots back.
This format began in 2019 and means that there is no individual winner of the Tour Championship. It is meant to mirror the previous format that had players see their points total adjusted to allow for a mathematical chance for all to win the FedEx Cup. And this system is cleaner in that by watching a scoreboard, you know exactly where you stand.
But it’s still an awkward format, one not totally embraced by all who participate—including the defending FedEx champion, Patrick Cantlay.
“We went to everyone starts at a different score to par a couple of years ago; it still feels strange to me,’’ Cantlay said. “It is a little clearer to watch on TV because you only have the one tournament going on, but the fact that it’s the Tour Championship is kind of gone, which I think is a shame really.’’
Under this scenario, Tiger Woods would not have been given credit for his 80th PGA Tour win in 2018 when he won the Tour Championship and Justin Rose won the FedEx Cup.
Last year, Jon Rahm and Kevin Na shot the lowest 72-hole scores but were not rewarded with any kind of victory—although it was noted that way according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
The first round of the Masters is in 227 days, which leaves plenty time those yet to qualify to earn an invitation to the 2023 tournament at Augusta National. Those who qualified for the Tour Championship by being among the top 30 in FedEx Cup points are due to receive an invitation to the Masters.
Following the season-ending Tour Championship, the 2022-23 schedule will begin Sept. 15 in Napa, California, at the Fortinet Championship. That is the first of nine fall events with FedEx Cup points, thus meaning an invitation to the Masters with a victory.
The top 50 in the Official World Ranking at the end of 2022 will also get an invitation. The 2023 tournaments leading up to the Masters as well as the top 50 in the world two weeks prior are the other ways to get in.
And Sam Bennett and Ben Carr, who met in the final of the U.S. Amateur on Sunday at Ridgewood Country Club, also earned Masters invites as the tournament takes the top two players. By winning, Bennett per tradition will be grouped with defending champion Scottie Scheffler during the first two rounds.
> Tom Watson on the death of Tom Weiskopf.
> Rory with the toss into the water that you don’t see every day.
The PGA Tour’s 2021-22 season comes to end this week at the Tour Championship, the final event in the three-tournament FedEx Cup playoffs. All in the 30-player field have a mathematical chance of winning the FedEx Cup and the $18 million bonus. The last-place finisher receives $500,000—half goes into his Tour retirement account—so nobody should really leave Atlanta displeased.
After using FedEx points all year to this point, the top 30 have been re-seeded in order with a strokes-adjusted format that sees the leader start at 10 under par and the player in 30th start at even par. East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta is a par 70.
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Bob Harig is a golf writer for Morning Read/SI.com and the author of the book “Tiger and Phil: Golf’s Most Fascinating Rivalry,’’ which was published in April 2022 and can be ordered here.
A year ago, Brooks vs. Bryson dominated conversation around the PGA Tour. Those were the days.