5 intriguing changes (caddies, coaches, clubs!) spotted at Tiger Woods’ event

Scottie Scheffler with a new bit of PGA Tour technology, Tiger Woods with a new face on the bag, Collin Morikawa with a new perspective on sitting and Will Zalatoris with a new putter in his bag. (Clockwise from top left)

Scottie Scheffler with a new bit tech, Tiger Woods with a new face on the bag, Collin Morikawa with a new perspective on sitting and Will Zalatoris with a new putter in his bag. (Clockwise from top left)

Getty Images

ALBANY, Bahamas — There are massive changes coming to the PGA Tour.

We’ll just (mostly) ignore those for the sake of this article.

I’ve spent the last few days wandering the golf course at Albany (Not The Albany, not Albany Resort, not Albany Country Club, just Albany, thanks) and while I’ve come away with sand in my shoes, blisters on my heels, and a mildly better understanding of professional golf’s current geopolitical conundrum I’ve also come away with a few concrete observations that seem both real enough and interesting enough to share. So let’s do that here.

1. Will Zalatoris is putting with a broomstick!

On Tuesday Zalatoris spoke to the media about the mental and physical journey he’s undergone over the course of the last year. It was jarring hearing him describe the emotional rollercoaster of Masters Week, where he blew out his back ahead of Thursday’s opening round, headed into surgery just two days later and spent the next seven months rehabbing and rebuilding to get to this point. He seems giddy just to be back competing.

But I didn’t actually see him play any golf until Wednesday, when it became clear that the putter in his hands was extremely different.

That’s right, gang: Zalatoris is going sweeping. He’ll become the latest member of the broomstick boys when he rolls his first putt on Thursday with the split-grip L.A.B. putter he’s used this week in practice. And he’s pumped about that, too.

I chatted with Zalatoris post-round and learned that when he’d ordered a couple armlock-style putters from the L.A.B. guys — his previous putting style — they’d sent along a couple broomsticks to try, too. He was won over immediately.

“I can see the lines so much better,” he said. “It’s just so much more comfortable, too. I was a streaky putter, I was always a zero strokes-gained guy but I’d miss a few short ones here and there. So far so good.”

Zalatoris has tended to putt well in big-time events but has also gone unfortunately viral on a few, uh, wiggly putting strokes in recent years. He expects the broomstick to help with that. If that sounds familiar, Lucas Glover struggled with his stroke on short putts, too, before switching to the broomstick this summer, turning his game around and winning back-to-back events shortly thereafter. Coincidentally, Zalatoris says he was already working with the broomstick in practice when Glover won.

He’ll hope to do the same.

Bonus putter-related change: There’s something going on with Scottie Scheffler’s new putter, an Olson, as spotted by our gear whisperer Jonathan Wall.

2. Collin Morikawa changed his coach!

On Tuesday evening, as the sun began to set over the Albany marina, the top-tier twosome of Max Homa and Collin Morikawa strode their way up the ninth fairway, wrapping up a nine-hole match. That’s no surprise; the two Californians are friends and frequent golf partners. But now they have something else in common: a golf coach.

Mark Blackburn has been Homa’s coach for years but only picked up Morikawa this fall after a frustrating season and an emotional split with his coach of nearly two decades, Rick Sessinghaus. Morikawa’s a relatively stoic guy but opened up about just how difficult a call that had been.

“We’ve been working for just over 18 years, which wasn’t easy,” he said Tuesday. “He’s more than just a coach, he’s one of my really good friends. He’s someone I’ve always looked up to, someone that’s been there for every step of my life, essentially — not just in golf but just kind of living life, right?”

Morikawa described Sessinghaus as someone he’d talked to every week since he was a kid and someone who has helped get him to this point. But when Morikawa turned to Blackburn shortly before the Zozo Championship, something clicked right away: he won his first tournament in multiple years.

“I had to do it, I just felt like it was time to make a change at some point. What I saw kind of over the past two years wasn’t to my expectations and standards and goals what I wanted, so I brought on Mark Blackburn,” he said. “Obviously there’s no better way to start, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for us to kind of dig in and really know what we’re going to do.”

Morikawa spoke glowingly of Blackburn and the way he’s already helping him better understand his swing and its effect on his body — particularly relevant given his recent struggles with back injuries. Morikawa says he’s been revisiting the fundamentals of body movement, all the way back to how he sits, in an effort to keep the next several years healthier and happier.

For Blackburn, who has guided Homa through an ascendant few years and worked with Justin Rose throughout his return to glory this season, Morikawa represents another top horse in his stable. So far, so good.

Bonus Morikawa-related change: I’m serious about Morikawa’s sitting dilemma. Here’s what he offered on the subject:

“To be honest, I almost have to take — not one step back or two steps back with this, I have to take 10 steps back and start like as if I was a baby just reprogramming how my body works,” he said.

Collin Morikawa is working on sitting better. (It’s more important than it sounds!) Also, we didn’t have a photo of him with Blackburn. Getty Images

“Simply sitting in a chair, I’ve got bad posture and I do things very improperly that isn’t good for the long term of my body or of my spine, essentially. Look, you get in habits. We look at our phone, we curl up in our bed, it is what it is. But if I want to do this for a long time and I want to do it really well, there are things that you can just slowly change, but it has to start with simply the way I move my body around day to day.”

3. Tiger Woods changed his caddie!

This is old news; we’ve known for months that Joe LaCava, with Woods’ blessing, is the full-time looper for Patrick Cantlay. But we also haven’t seen Woods play a single tournament in the meantime.

This week he’s turning to a familiar face, Rob McNamara, who’s been by Woods’ side at every tournament and public appearance for years anyway.

(Random sidenote: McNamara’s most recent caddie appearance came in another unofficial capacity as Justin Thomas’ caddie in the match that he, Woods, Rose and Rory McIlroy played at Payne’s Valley in September 2020.)

Rob McNamara caddied for Justin Thomas at the 2020 Payne’s Valley Cup. Getty Images

McNamara makes perfect sense as a one-week fill-in. But if Woods is serious about filling out a multi-event schedule next season — one that could include a half-dozen events or more — who will he turn to as caddie? Do McNamara’s other duties preclude him from looping? And which full-time caddie would give up their current gig to work such a limited schedule? It’s a trickier position that you might think at first. But Woods made it very clear: He’s not sure. So far he’s only ruled out one candidate: his son Charlie.

“As far as next year, I don’t know yet. I don’t think Charlie’s going to be able to caddie. Can’t play hooky that often,” he said. “I don’t know. Honestly, I really don’t know. I was just looking forward to this week and seeing how things turned out. I’m curious to see what 72 holes looks like on the body and my game and then try and set a schedule going forward into next year.”

Tiger Woods and Rob McNamara on Wednesday at the Hero. Getty Images

There’s one semi-retired caddie who would be a logical fit. But we’ll keep our nostalgic visions of a Tiger Woods-Steve Williams reunion tour at bay for the time being.

Bonus caddie-related change: Jordan Spieth’s caddie this week? His buddy Eric! Michael Greller has the week off while Spieth has turned to high school golf teammate Eric Leyendecker to fill his spot. The two last teamed up at this event in 2017 — and finished T3. Considering Spieth hasn’t done better than 15th in three starts since, maybe there’s something to this team.

4. The PGA Tour is changing its data!

They’re trying to, at least. On Wednesday, pro-am participants were asked to help the Tour test out some new technology aimed at bettering the shot-by-shot data they can collect at PGA Tour courses that aren’t fully equipped with ShotLink.

What does this mean? Big-time fans (and bettors) among you will be familiar with the horror of tracking a player on the PGA Tour website or app when an event is being played overseas or at a tournament with multiple courses. You can’t do it! At Japan’s recent Zozo Championship, for instance, Collin Morikawa’s victory was largely data-free.

Scottie Scheffler was among the pros testing the PGA Tour’s new tracking technology. Getty Images

Currently the Tour is experimenting with a lightweight device that players clip onto their belts and is far easier to transport overseas, say, than the bulky ShotLink system. The few pros I asked about it on Wednesday seemed intrigued by the idea and not overly bothered by the clip-on device, but the Tour will undergo more testing before putting the tech into play for tournament rounds.

Bonus pro-am related observation: Because there are more pro-am groups than players in the Hero field, every year a handful of extra pros get recruited to come in for the day, joining a group in the process. This year’s crop of bonus golfers? Lexi Thompson, Taylor Montgomery, Akshay Bhatia, Tom Hoge, Ben Griffin and Lee Hodges. I don’t know of any other tournament on the schedule where pros would come in for the Wednesday pro-am without being in the Thursday field, but some combination of appearance fee, trip to the Bahamas and proximity to Tiger Woods’ event seems to do the trick.

5. The PGA Tour has changed its board!

We’ve known for months that Tiger Woods has joined the PGA Tour’s Policy Board and we’ve known for a week that Jordan Spieth has replaced Rory McIlroy on the board — but we hadn’t heard from either one of them explaining their new roles.

That changed on Tuesday when Woods and Spieth each took to the microphone. While neither was overly detailed about the work the Board is doing — revealing too much could, I’m guessing, be detrimental to that work — it was possible to piece together a few simple truths.

One truth is that both Woods and Spieth were deeply frustrated by the framework bombshell of last June 6th; each very literally used the word “frustrated” as well as the phrase “can’t happen again.”

Another is that both Woods and Spieth have been working hard behind the scenes towards a new structure that would ensure what Spieth described as “a better place than we’ve ever been.”

Woods was slightly less enthusiastic, expressing his frustration with “some of the slowness and the governance change that we want to have happen.”

At its most basic, there are two different PGA Tour deals that could happen involving outside investment: One version that includes the Saudi PIF and another that doesn’t. We’ll save prediction time for later but either way, buckle up.

Off-island, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was at the New York Times’ DealBook summit and echoed the sentiments of Woods and Spieth that he’d like something to be decided by Dec. 31. He just didn’t shed additional light on what that something will be.

“We’re having conversations with multiple parties,” he said, per The Athletic’s Hugh Kellenberger. “The deadline of our conversations with the PIF is a firm target. I’ll be with Yasir next week and we continue to advance our conversations.”

In the meantime there’s more work to do. In his comments, Spieth added that he completely understood why Rory McIlroy had stepped down from the position of player director, given the time and energy required to get to that point.

“I feel like he’s taken some hits for trying to look out for the PGA Tour and I think he feels proud of what he did, I would imagine, and feels like good things are going to happen, which I wholeheartedly believe,” he said.

Spieth had already been hard at work behind the scenes even without a seat at the board. Now he’s got a front-row seat and a microphone. And he’s impressed that the greatest player of this generation is sitting there with him.

“It is really cool that he’s spending the time and the effort that he has been,” he said of Woods. “Almost, you know, I know he doesn’t sleep a lot, but he’s spending most of his waking hours thinking about how to better the PGA Tour for the players.”

Bonus Hero World Challenge observation: A combination of recent flooding and something called “bermuda mites” means Albany is in less-than-perfect condition. This course always brings plenty of funky lies and grainy chips but expect this week to be slightly funkier, grainier and trickier around the greens.

Better them than me.

Dylan (cautiously) welcomes your comments at

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