Monday Finish: Jordan Spieth rumors, 60-yard drives and Kevin Na’s legacy
Welcome to the Monday Finish, where we’ll tally the scores for the week that was and tee you up for the week to come.
When you think of recent PGA Tour winners, who comes to mind? Since January 2018, World No. 1 Dustin Johnson has eight wins. That’s the most. Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau are next, with six wins each. Then come friendly rivals Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy, with five each. Who comes next?
Kevin Na, of course.
While you were watching Tom Brady take on Drew Brees, Na was chasing down Brendan Steele and the rest of the Sony Open field, playing the final six holes in four under par to win his fourth title since 2018.
“I felt like Waialae is a golf course I really have a chance at, and there’s not too many of these left anymore, so I have to take advantage of it,” he said with a smile in his post-round press conference. There are clearly enough eligible courses left for Na to have jump-started a particularly fruitful second phase of his career.
It’s easy to be happy for Na when he wins these events because he seems so genuinely appreciative to be in this position. He’s 37 years old now, 18 years into his professional career, but he’s avoided the jaded cynicism that can infect other Tour vets — he remains obviously thankful for every opportunity. He gave some simple insight into why he thinks he’s been getting the job done that much more often, too:
“I’ve been winning more often because I know I can do it. Before, it was like, ‘Can I do it? I don’t know.’ Now I know if I put myself in that position, I’ve got a good chance of pulling it off.”
One thing Na still hasn’t ever done is cracked a U.S. Ryder or Presidents Cup team. That’s nothing to be ashamed of — you’ve seen those star-studded rosters — but it’s cool that even now, Na is openly gunning for a spot on the team that’ll take on Whistling Straits come September.
He’s off to a good start.
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THIS WEEK’S VERY BEST THING:
The Sony Open had another winner, too.
Na took home the biggest check from Waialae Country Club, but Chris Kirk’s finish meant even more for his career.
Kirk had been playing on a major medical extension after stepping away from the PGA Tour to battle alcoholism, anxiety and depression. But this week marked his final start on that medical extension, and he needed a ridiculous finish — inside the top three — to regain full PGA Tour status. Guess what? He did it. Kirk played his final 13 holes in seven under par and just about won the tournament, ultimately finishing one shot behind Na in a tie for second place.
“To go into a week and say I’ve got to finish top three to keep going and do it is, you know, silly,” he said after his round. Sure is, Chris! Kirk hadn’t finished in the top three in a PGA Tour event since a T2 at the Sanderson Farms in…2016.
Kirk, who has been remarkably honest about his battle with alcoholism, summarized his struggle after his round on Sunday.
“There were a number of years there where I just wasn’t very happy with who I was and what I was doing, and I was just kind of trying to hide from that,” he said. “I chose alcohol to get me away from where I was.”
The difference today, he added, is stark.
“I can wake up every day and I’m happy that I am who I am, and I have nothing to hide. You know, I just feel like I’m doing the best I can and enjoying life. It’s as simple as that.”
Kirk was understated post-round, but it was obvious through the TV screen just how much it meant. The hug he shared with his caddie and the jubilant high-five he gave Brendon Todd in the parking lot said it all.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
A trip through golf’s rumor mill.
Is anybody’s actual golf swing under more scrutiny than Jordan Spieth’s? The onetime Golden Child has described himself as increasingly uncomfortable over the golf ball in recent years and has slipped to No. 86 in the world. Everyone has a take on Spieth’s swing, from Brandel Chamblee to Gary Player to, we’re guessing, your 12-handicap golf buddy. So it makes sense that a casual mention that Spieth had been working with coaching legend Butch Harmon drew plenty of attention.
But in the coaching world, there’s a chasm between “working with” and “talking to,” and even though I’m grinning as I type this sentence, I’m serious, too. So let’s get to the heart of these Spieth rumors with some straight-up facts:
-Spieth continues to work with Cameron McCormick, his longtime coach.
-In October, at the CJ Cup in Las Vegas, Spieth — with McCormick’s blessing — called the Vegas-based Harmon for a swing consult.
-Harmon thought they were on the right track. “I thought I was going to have to change his club face at the top of his swing,” he told Michael Breed. “But they had worked beautifully on that — the clubface was good.” He worked with Spieth on getting more width and turn in his swing.
– Still, that doesn’t count as “working with” Spieth, according to Harmon: “I was very upset the other day when it was reported by someone that I was working with Jordan because that isn’t true. That’s not fair to Cam, that’s not fair to Jordan, it’s not fair to me. All I did was give him my opinion, which a lot of guys come for.”
To summarize: Harmon gave Jordan Spieth his opinion, but he is not working with him. We’re less worried about the semantics here and more concerned with the results of their process. In other words: How will Spieth swing it in 2021?
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
And what we’ll watch no longer…
After 10 years, Feherty‘s run on Golf Channel has come to an end, the host confirmed in a series of tweets on Sunday.
“Thank you for an amazing reaction since my show has ended,” David Feherty wrote. “The last ten years have been a dream, thanks to the incredible people who agreed to be on this show and all the men and women from NBC/Golf Channel. Stay tuned, you never know what might show up!”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full decade since Feherty launched with an hour-long interview episode with Lee Trevino. Feherty, a dry-humored, self-deprecating, Emmy-nominated host, sat down with a full range of golf’s most intriguing characters, from Rory McIlroy to Stephen Curry to Scott van Pelt and dozens more. For what it’s worth, Phil Mickelson’s two-part interview in his leather jacket is indelibly seared into my brain as the show’s iconic episode.
The explosion of podcasts has meant more spaces than ever for golf’s most interesting people to tell their stories, longform-style. Still, there are no hosts quite like Feherty, who had true star power, and there’s plenty we’ll miss about his back-and-forths.
We’ve highlighted some of the strengths of the new-look Golf Channel, like the early success of Golf Today, but extensive corporate restructuring means saying goodbye to some of the programming of which we’d grown especially fond.
The 68-yard tee shot.
You likely heard the chatter about the 18th hole at Waialae Country Club because of the mild stir caused by a late installation of in-course out-of-bounds. But what you might have forgotten is that No. 18 provides arguably the most-fun tee-shot scatter plot on Tour. Check it out:
The tee shot demands a high draw, but the left side of the hole is guarded by tall palm trees. That’s how you end up with tee shots like the red-arrowed selections above, which we assume were some unfortunate ricochets. Those tee balls, from left to right:
–MJ Daffue, 68 yards, made bogey
–Anirban Lahiri, 102 yards, made bogey
–Branden Grace, 167 yards, made bogey
–Y.E. Yang, 138 yards, made par
The pros: They’re just like us!
Another note on scoring: Waialae’s two par-5s come at the end of each nine. The aforementioned 18th is a fun, reachable hole that played to a scoring average of 4.4 on the week (4.5 on Sunday) and provided plenty of drama down the stretch — including big-time up-and-downs from Na, Kirk and others.
No. 9 is Waialae’s other par-5 but looked, smelled and played an awful lot like a par-4 all week and particularly when the wind switched on Sunday. Get this: On Sunday, pros made 14 eagles against just six pars (and two bogeys). That’s how a hole ends up playing more than a stroke under par for the day; No. 9 averaged 3.945 on Sunday and 4.17 for the week.
What’s next for Justin Thomas?
Ralph Lauren announced on Friday afternoon that it was splitting with Justin Thomas after the world No. 3 muttered a homophobic slur on last week’s broadcast. Plenty of internet quills have been dipped on those very subjects, none with more clarity and nuance than Golfweek’s Eamon Lynch here.
But for the purposes of Uni Watch, let’s momentarily stick to the nuts and bolts of Thomas’ actual wardrobe. Thomas always wears a Titleist hat and Footjoy shoes, so that won’t change, but when he shows up in Abu Dhabi next week, what brand shirt will he be wearing? How will he decide what pants to wear? It’s a familiar dilemma for brand-mixing amateurs around the world, but it’s a curious — and rare — circumstance for one of the PGA Tour’s top stars. Buzz through the rest of the world top 10 and you’ll realize just how much we associate pros with the apparel they sport:
1. Dustin Johnson — Adidas
2. Jon Rahm — TravisMathew
3. Justin Thomas
4. Collin Morikawa — Adidas
5. Xander Schauffele — Adidas
6. Rory McIlroy — Nike
7. Bryson DeChambeau — Puma
8. Webb Simpson — FootJoy
9. Tyrrell Hatton — Adidas
10. Patrick Cantlay — Hugo Boss
Okay, a confession: I had to Google Patrick Cantlay’s look to jog my memory, but still — you get the point. It’s rare to see a top pro dress himself. One exception is Patrick Reed, who bought his own G/Fore shirt and Titleist hat before last week’s Tournament of Champions.
Another is Scott Piercy, who was dropped by Titleist and FootJoy after a series of Instagram posts earlier this year and showed up to the Players Championship fully logo-free.
Of course, no non-logo discussion would be complete without a nod in the direction of Tony Romo, who always dresses like he’s a particularly athletic participant in a Getty Images stock photo shoot.
As for Thomas? We’ll bet on FootJoy clothing for the coming week. But it seems likely that he’ll land with another apparel company before long.
One cheerier apparel note: How about Kevin Na walking in putts while sporting a logo of Kevin Na walking in putts? With that level of confidence, it’s no wonder he’s on a winning streak.
WORDS OF THE WEEK
A missed cut to remember.
I laughed out loud when, on Friday afternoon, the Golf Channel broadcast cut to a man wading through the shallows of the Pacific Ocean holding a fishing rod — and then tossed up his Thursday-Friday scores, like he’d just finished out on No. 18.
Yes, that’s Davis Love III, looking for bonefish. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect voice for the moment than Hawaii resident and fishing enthusiast Mark Rolfing. He turned the moment into simple, soothing poetry as the cameras followed Love on his Friday afternoon trek:
“There’s an angler out there, Davis Love III, who is hunting some bonefish. As we pan down, let’s see where he is. There he is! [Davis Love checking his phone] Interestingly enough, I sent him a text a few minutes ago, let’s see if he responds.
“He and I fish out there a lot, and I love being with him out there; he is really a great angler. But I’m not sure what he’s up to right now. I’m going to give him a pretty hard time about this. No cell phones allowed. He doesn’t even have the line in the water!
“This is all sight-fishing, so, you’ll see, he’s going to walk slowly. The tide is low now. These fish are grey, they call ‘em ‘the grey ghosts of the deep,’ and he will spot ‘em. I was out there earlier, as I said, and I had one sighting, but you have to be really good with the casting, and I threw it right on top of these two fish and they spooked right away.
“Davis would not have made that mistake.”
Three things to watch this week.
1. The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship features among the European Tour’s highest purses and marks the beginning of the Desert Swing. The event also means Rory McIlroy’s 2021 debut. A year ago, McIlroy was playing arguably the most consistent golf of his entire career; can he jumpstart the new year in similar fashion?
2. The Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions kicks off the 2021 LPGA season. While the world’s best won’t all tee it up this week, the tournament is the first step in answering a simple question: Will the stars of 2021 be the same who starred last year? Will Jin Young Ko and Sei Young Kim battle for the top spot in the world? Will Nelly Korda and Danielle Kang mount a challenge?
3. The American Express marks our first look of the new year at a few more Tour stars, including Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. Our cup overrunneth with tournament golf action.