Professional golf moves slowly and it moves quickly.
Day to day, the pace can feel glacial. Monotonous range sessions. Extended practice rounds. Lengthy tournament rounds. All good things in beautiful places — but slow.
The rhythm of those days, though, is relentless. Travel day-practice-day-pro-am day-tournament-days and so on. Every tournament week, the sequence resets, and there are so many tournaments that time passes quickly on the Tour carousel.
So it’s nice to have the opportunity to take a deep breath. And while you could argue this two-week offseason wasn’t particularly “deep” — we now find ourselves caring about golf in December, too, thanks to the Hero and The Match and the PNC too — there’s something refreshing about arriving in Hawaii for the Sentry Tournament of Champions and finding that the Tour’s main characters are slightly different than when we left them.
In other words, it’s debut season. Pros’ sponsors are changing. Their clubs are changing. Their priorities are, too. And while I’ll leave most of the golf-club deal news to our gear guys (Jonathan Wall is sure to have a nice roundup come Monday), there are big changes and small changes that I find interesting. Here are 10 of ’em.
1. Collin Morikawa’s team is expanding.
Two rounds into the new year, Collin Morikawa is making hard stuff look easy. Anybody who has played two rounds of golf in a combined 16 under par has done that, of course, but Morikawa’s performance is particularly impressive given how much tinkering he’s been doing.
After a “frustrating” 2022 season (it’s all relative in this echelon) Morikawa took a hard look at the numbers and decided he needed to improve his putting and his chipping. Enter putting expert Stephen Sweeney, who Morikawa began working with the week of Mayakoba in November. While in Hawaii last week he also began bouncing ideas off chipping specialist Parker McLachlin. I wrote more about this here but the gist is this: It’s working.
It’s usually tough to take adjustments from the practice area to the course itself. I asked Morikawa post-round why he thinks the changes have taken so quickly.
“I think it’s just because, like, they’ve all been better changes, but they’ve all been really simple changes,” he said. He also explained that Sweeney combines the technical with the practical in a way that leaves Morikawa releasing his putter freely.
2. We’ve got some new events, we just don’t know what to call ’em.
When Jay Monahan and the PGA Tour first made its announcement about changes to the 2022-23 season, he explained that top pros were committed to play what were to be called “Elevated Events.” Capital E, Capital E. Tour documents from around that time reflect that terminology, too.
But in recent weeks the Tour has shied away from calling these events much of anything at all. The term most often used these days is “designated events,” all lowercase, or “designated events with elevated purses,” if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
Does this matter? I think it does. Quite a bit, in fact. These events are a centerpiece of the Tour’s response to LIV, and their introduction was received with near-universal praise, but the Tour itself seems somewhat sheepish about trumpeting their arrival. That comes from uncertainty, it comes from an abundance of caution and it comes from the big-picture approach that this year is beta-testing for 2024. At that point perhaps the whole series of elevated or Elevated or designated events will have a name. Maybe it’ll have a sponsor, too.
3. Tom Kim is wearing Tiger’s shoes.
That’s right — Kim is rocking his hero’s shoe brand, the TWs. He’s not the only one, since Scottie Scheffler does, too, but it’s fun to see Kim borrowing from various top pros of the generation before him; he’s got Rickie’s caddie, too, and Spieth’s coach.
It became obvious at the Presidents Cup that it was only a matter of time before Tom Kim became that dude; he seemed destined for global stardom. Well, he showed up at Kapalua looking every bit the part. Kim, who is still just 20, is a full-on Nike athlete, head to toe. He arrived accompanied by Cameron McCormick, who’s best known as Jordan Spieth’s longtime coach, and Joe Skovron, Rickie Fowler’s longtime looper. Skovron’s not so new to Kim — he was on the bag at the Presidents Cup — but the Swoosh Makeover is.
The result is a clean look; Nike mandates its shirts be kept clutter-free, so no other sponsors are allowed. (They pay extra to keep it that way.) The brand also outfits a player’s caddie, which means Skovron is Nike’d out, too. The duo looks good.
Kim has a new home in Dallas, too, which he says he chose because of its central location, its ample practice facilities and its close-knit Asian community. His new home course, Dallas National, is where McCormick teaches. Will Zalatoris wrote a letter of recommendation to vouch for him on his way in.
Kim’s in the big leagues now. He’s playing like it, too.
4. There are new faces at NBC.
This week marks Smylie Kaufman’s first week at NBC as a full-time staffer since signing on as on-course reporter. His close relationships with today’s top players paid immediate dividends on Day 1 when he dropped the heartwarming nugget that playing partners Jordan Spieth and Tom Kim had actually spent Christmas together — and that Kim hadn’t been shy about going back for thirds and even fourths at dinner.
(“He was really nice enough to invite me for Christmas,” Kim said of Spieth post-round. “My family wasn’t home and I was kind of by myself. So I got to spend some time with the Spieths and kind of babysit Sammy, which was really cool.”)
And while Kaufman has received a warm welcome, it’s clear from talking to just about everyone at Sentry — players, media, fans — that the man he’s replacing, Roger Maltbie, will be dearly missed. Maltbie was a constant and beloved presence before NBC Sports elected to go in a different direction beginning this year. Maltbie has expressed his dismay at the exit, and it’s clear he’s not alone in feeling that way.
NBC’s other headline hire, Brad Faxon, will make his season debut at the Honda Classic.
5. Caddies are allowed in the locker room.
I’m not sure when this started, honestly — sometime late last year, I think — but caddies are now allowed in the players’ locker room to assist their bosses. Earlier this week I wrote about how this feels like a symbolic move. It represents the Tour’s willingness to respond to LIV’s arrival (caddies were crowing about their treatment on the breakaway circuit) and players’ recognition of their collective decision-making power.
Still, they’re not encouraged to get overly comfortable. The notice to players suggested caddies are “asked not to loiter or linger in the player locker room when not assisting their player.” So there.
It’s a different type of week for caddies, period, who spend the early week in carts before undergoing the biggest, steepest walk of the year come tournament time.
I mentioned to one looper that well, at least the view is nice.
“Yeah, and we’re guaranteed to make a s—load of money,” he cracked back. “That helps get up some hills.”
6. There’s more money up for grabs.
That’s thanks to the aforementioned tournament status as a “designated event with an elevated purse” — and that purse that has now risen to $15 million thanks to tournament partner Sentry.
Sentry is an enthusiastic title sponsor, to say the least. Their latest commitment, which includes this year’s elevated big-money status, now extends through 2035. That’s a whole bunch of tournaments and a whole bunch of cash. The winner will bring home $2.7 mil, while last place will still log $200,000.
7. Matthew Fitzpatrick is Greysoned out.
While it doesn’t appear to have been officially announced — and he isn’t yet listed as an ambassador on their website — Matthew Fitzpatrick showed up this week in Greyson clothing. Justin Thomas is the brand’s best-known rep on Tour, but the addition of Fitzpatrick would mean they had the winners of two of last year’s majors. That’s nothing to shake a 7-iron at.
8. There’s some new-look sponsor spending.
Two signings that came out earlier this week featured zero Tour players: Podcasters-turned-filmmaker-squad No Laying Up announced it had signed with Titleist, while Callaway brought on YouTube vlogger group Good Good. TaylorMade has an ongoing relationship with Barstool Sports’ golf arm, too, suggesting that companies are thinking outside the box. Hiring high-profile content creators gives brands easy access to those group’s built-in audiences. It also opens the door for content opportunities that can elevate their Tour personalities, as demonstrated by No Laying Up’s video with Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth earlier this week.
9. Patrick Cantlay is available.
While some pros rolled up to the Plantation Course sporting new logos, Patrick Cantlay showed up with far fewer. His all-black bag is still filled with Titleist clubs but is missing the staff logo. His shirt is even more blank; Hugo Boss went a different direction so Cantlay is very much on the market for a clothing deal and companies who would want to sponsor that deal. I got the chance to talk to Cantlay earlier this week for the Drop Zone podcast, where he dished on his sponsor situation and also just about everything else.
10. There’s slightly less of Keegan Bradley.
If you needed some New Year’s encouragement to stop eating vegetables, here’s your chance: Keegan Bradley has slimmed down an estimated 30 pounds in an effort to improve his fitness and his performance throughout lengthy tournament weeks.
“If it walks, swims or flies, you can eat it and I did a lot of fruit as well,” Bradley told Sports Illustrated of his new diet. “So, I’d have eggs in the morning, maybe chicken or ground beef and then steak at night. All grass-fed meat is the key, and no condiments and no sides.”
Got that? “No sides.” The no vegetables part seems easy. Forgoing all carbs seems much tougher…
Perhaps that’s a change you can incorporate, too. But maybe wait ’til next year.