Phil’s semantics, Koepka’s gym change, Butch Harmon’s golden touch | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where anything we type here should be considered “off the record.” Let’s get to it!
This week, a strange side-effect of golf’s current ecosystem was a head-spinning cocktail of 24/7 golf. Like, check out this timeline (all times ET and approximate):
3:45 p.m. — Lexi Thompson finishes off Aramco Series win in New York
7:30 p.m. — Zozo Championship final round tees off in Japan
3:00 a.m. — Keegan Bradley taps in for his fifth PGA Tour win
5:00 a.m. — LIV’s shotgun start goes off in Saudi Arabia
6:50 a.m. — DP World Tour leaders tee off in Spain
11:00 a.m. — Brooks Koepka wins LIV Jeddah in a playoff
11:45 a.m. — Adrian Otaegui finishes off a six-shot win at Valderrama
12:15 p.m. — Fred Couples tees off in the last group at the SAS Championship
All that before NFL games kicked off! Phew. And you thought golf season was over…
Chances are, you missed at least a few of the golf shots struck over the weekend. So let’s run through the week’s winners and, well, not-winners.
WINNER: KEEGAN’S RYDER CUP CASE
There is a contingent of golf fans who dislike watching Keegan Bradley play golf. They complain about his twitchy pre-shot routine, they hate on his Aimpoint putting method, they make fun of his post-rule-change putting woes. But these people are haters, they are losers and they are not welcome on the Monday Finish.
That’s right, folks, this is officially a pro-Keegan space. And while I’m contractually obligated, as a son of New England, to root for Bradley, I genuinely enjoy watching him play golf, too. In a profession filled with stoic, blasé dorks, Bradley is the ultimate try-hard — in a good way. He plays every shot as if his reputation is on the line. That means that the low moments are particularly low (Bradley likely still hasn’t gotten over the 2012 Ryder Cup) but the victories taste that much sweeter, too.
Enter Sunday at the Zozo, when Bradley combined his typically on-point ballstriking with a hot putter and outlasted the competition for a one-shot victory that sent him directly from the 18th green into an emotional wreck. “I can’t keep it together,” he said more than once. This was his first victory since the 2018 BMW Championship, which meant, in the interim, there was a lot of trying hard and coming up short. The victory was also a testament to his putting improvement; per Sean Martin, Bradley went from one of the worst putters on Tour in 2021 to Tour-average in 2022. That is a massive difference.
I also love Bradley because he’s not afraid to say what he thinks, what he feels and what he believes. And so even though he hasn’t made a U.S. team since 2014, he wasn’t shy about declaring that as a goal in the immediate aftermath of his win.
“This is what I want to do,” he said. “I want to win tournaments. I want to play in Ryder Cups. I want to be in the conversation. This is a good start.”
The Ryder Cup’s a ways away. This win didn’t technically count for qualifying points, either. Still, he’s right: Good start.
NOT-WINNER: WORKING OUT
Brooks Koepka won the LIV event in Jeddah this weekend, his first worldwide victory since the 2021 Phoenix Open. He cited his recent improvement in physical health as a key to his victory. And he credited that improvement in physical health to…skipping the gym.
“I haven’t hit the gym in a long time,” he said. “Just trying to be healthy, man. I’ve had quite a few nagging stuff over the year where we weren’t sure if we were going to go under the knife or not, and backing off in the gym has helped.” Koepka added that he feels the best he has in three years. All due to skipping workouts! Sure, this may be a setback for the golfers-are-athletes movement, but it may be a step closer to you, too, being a professional golfer. Just ignore the fact that Koepka also won enough money this week that he is literally going to buy his brother a lime-green Lambo.
You probably can’t do that. But you can stop going to the gym. In that way you can be like Brooks today.
WINNER: GOING TO SEE BUTCH
Butch Harmon is golf’s King Midas. Stop into Las Vegas with a small swing ailment, get a quick tip and emerge ready for victory. At least, near-victory.
That’s what Rickie Fowler did this past week. Fowler began the season with an overhaul of his team — new caddie, new clubs and new coach — and in this case “new coach” meant a former coach, since he used to work with Harmon regularly before the legendary swing doctor reduced his travel in 2019.
But when Fowler missed the cut at last week’s Shriners, the timing was ripe for a trip to see Butch Harmon. “It’s kind of a combo of old and new,” Fowler said of the changes.
They worked; Fowler held a share of the 54-hole lead and wound up T2. It’s not winning, but it’s not nothing, either.
As for Harmon? This is status quo. Think back to 2021, when he consulted with Jordan Spieth just before his resurrection from the edge of the top 100 in the world back to its top tier by year’s end. Think of Rory McIlroy, who consulted Harmon’s “swing database” a couple years back. And, most relevant of all, think of Fowler a year ago this time. Although the two hadn’t been working together, Fowler stopped in to see him ahead of the CJ Cup and then promptly went on to hold the 54-hole lead before going on to finish T3. Sound familiar?
NOT-WINNER: THE MENA PLAN
LIV Golf’s attempt to circumvent the OWGR process via backdoor strategic alliance with the little-known MENA Tour didn’t work as quickly or successfully as commissioner Greg Norman had advertised to his players. That’s not to say it was useless; the ploy forced the OWGR to release a statement saying, in essence, they were thinking about it. Maybe it’ll result in a speedier judgment. But for now, it looks aggressive and desperate and hardly feels like the action of a tour that thinks it has a rock-solid legitimate case to earn points. Now that LIV golfers are staring down the final scheduled starts of their season, their ranking points will continue to dwindle until a judgment is made.
WINNER: SAUDI GOLF’S LET EXPANSION
People have talked for months about what it would look like had the PGA Tour cooperated with Golf Saudi-slash-LIV and allowed them to get involved within the Tour’s ecosystem. My guess? It would look something like this week’s Aramco Series event in New York.
Aramco is a massive oil company owned entirely by the Saudi government and chaired by Yasir Al-Rumayyan. Al-Rumayyan is also the president of the Arab Golf Federation — and governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which funds LIV. In other words, the money for these events and LIV events is coming from the same place. And the Aramco Series events are co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour, which is run as a 50-50 joint venture with the LPGA. In other words, everybody is already involved.
The reaction is notably more muted to the Aramco Series events. There are plenty of reasons that’s the case, but in part the lack of outrage comes from the fact that they’re not (yet) attempting to change the league’s existing structure nor threatening its future. But Aramco’s quiet assimilation into the women’s game has clearly worked: Several of the game’s biggest stars showed up, including Nelly and Jess Korda, Lexi Thompson, Brooke Henderson and Leona Maguire. Thompson, who went on to win the event, gave an outright endorsement of Golf Saudi’s entry into the market:
“I would say that without the support of Aramco, LET would not be as strong as it is today. And I think they are growing the game of golf in women’s golf, and I think that if you speak to any of the Ladies European Tour players, they are extremely grateful for this opportunity, and I think that’s what Aramco is trying to do. They are trying to grow the women’s game, and I support that fully.”
If the Saudi goal for the Aramco Series is penetrating the women’s game, there’s no question: That’s already happened.
NOT-WINNER: JORDAN SPIETH’S EGO
Jordan Spieth and Scottie Scheffler showed off their pickleball skills in a mid-week competition against former NBA star Dirk Nowitzki and tennis star John Isner. But at what cost?! Spieth emerged without physical injury, but he did sustain a sucker-punch from Isner in the form of dredging up devastating Masters memories.
After a passing reference to Scottie Scheffler four-putting No. 18 this year, Isner dropped the hammer on Spieth and the tragic end to his 2016 Masters, which included an 8 at No. 12.
“You hit about 18 balls on hole No. 12 that one year,” Isner quipped.
“…that’s true,” Spieth replied, no doubt through gritted teeth. Sean (below) is right: we don’t talk about that! The grief is still too near.
It’s also worth noting that Isner has made just one slam semifinal in his career. You need at least a couple titles before you can savage Spieth like this.
WINNER: THE CJ CUP
We’ve established by now that it’s football season, and your participation in weekend golf-watching is wholly optional and only good for extra credit. But how ’bout the field at this week’s CJ Cup! This isn’t one of the Tour’s new Elevated Events but may as well be with its field; Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sungjae Im, Viktor Hovland, Cameron Young, Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth, Max Homa, Sam Burns, Tom Kim, Hideki Matsuyama — the gang’s pretty much all headed to Congaree. We’re not complaining.
NOT-WINNER: PHIL’S SEMANTICS
I’ve already spent too much internet ink on this topic but Phil Mickelson was asked in Saudi Arabia about his past comments regarding Saudi Arabia, to which Mickelson replied that he had not actually given the interview in question. This was a classic Mickelson deflection, arguing a technicality. It also basically worked — while Mickelson has never denied (and, in fact, even apologized for) making the now infamous “scary m—-f—–s” comments, the discussion became about off-the-record vs. on-the-record. In the end, Mickelson clarified to SI’s Bob Harig that Shipnuck “obviously took a conversation differently and we’re going to have to agree to disagree.”
We broke that down more on this week’s Drop Zone podcast:
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
I’m going on vacation this week! In other words, I’m taking a break from this lovely — if smoky — corner of the world and will return to Monday Finish HQ well-rested to type the next Monday Finish in two week’s time.
Three things to watch this week.
In order: Tiger Woods throwing a baseball, Fred Couples hitting your golf game, me hitting an enormous shank.
We’ll see you in two weeks!
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