Life is officially really good on the PGA Tour. But you still have to earn it
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Remember this time a year ago? When all the talk in pro golf was about the riches that could be gained by playing elsewhere? We’ve come a long way since then. Patrick Rodgers banked $335,000 Sunday for finishing in a six-way tie for 14th. He was later spotted at the Phoenix Airport sneaking in an update on the Super Bowl as he prepped for a commercial flight.
A lot of money was handed out this weekend at the WM Phoenix Open, the first full-field “designated” event. It doesn’t mean everyone will be flying private — Brandon Wu, Cameron Young and Danny Lee were all on the first American Airlines jet to LAX — but it does mean that the riches promised to exist elsewhere are rather apparent here, too.
There was the winner’s cut of the $20 million purse that went to Scottie Scheffler — a cool $3.6 million. He earned it. There was also the race for second, and its payout of $2.18 million, which landed in the lap of Canadian Nick Taylor. Consider that man for a moment, the 223rd-ranked player in the world entering Sunday.
Taylor is best known for his 2020 victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he triumphed over Phil Mickelson about a month before Covid-19 took hold across the world. A silver lining of the pandemic shutdown was Taylor’s win guaranteed his Tour status through 2023, a year longer than normal. He earned $1.404 million back in Feb. of 2020, now comfortably the second-most money he’s ever won in an event.
The 34-year-old spends half the year in Scottsdale and the other half back in British Columbia, where he’s from. He once spent 20 weeks as the top-ranked amateur on the planet, but as a pro, it hasn’t been as easy. Three times in his life he has been ranked 100th in the world, but never 99th or better. On Monday, he’ll wake up as the 73rd-ranked player in the world, and by the time we reach the FedEx Cup Playoffs, his magical week in Phoenix might become an afterthought. But when you look around the pro golf world, it’s all about players like Nick Taylor.
Their sheer existence impacts the World Golf Ranking in ways top pros struggle to understand. It is more difficult to beat a field of 130 Nick Taylors than it is to beat a field of 30 Tony Finaus. Every data scientist would tell you so, because that field of 130 Nick Taylors will include a handful of the Nick Taylors we saw at TPC Scottsdale. The kind who gain strokes in every aspect of the game, all over the course. That version of Taylor can go toe-to-toe with Scheffler, new world No. 1, and Jon Rahm, a certified One of One. This week’s event having great ranking value is simple: you don’t know when Nick Taylor is going to play his best. If it’s this week, good luck!
Taylor had an idea it was coming together. There was the T7 in Hawaii a month ago and then T20 last week. He started to feel himself when a couple putts dropped Thursday. Then he played a stretch of 45 holes with just one bogey and found himself tied for the lead with six holes to play. That Scheffler triumphed is to some an example of his brilliance. His putt fell in. Taylor’s lipped out. Scheffler couldn’t believe it.
On one hand, it may seem like the future of the PGA Tour will construct a distinct line between the Taylors and the Schefflers. Not everyone wants 130-player fields week-in and week-out. It remains unclear who (or how many) will qualify for designated events next season, when the Tour schedule could look very different. Future 223rd-ranked players may not have a spot. Taylor was not one of the chosen few invited to the Delaware meeting with Tiger Woods in August, nor is he bound to rank in the final standings of the PIP. But a finish like Taylor’s is quietly part of what Tour commish Jay Monahan relishes during the battle against LIV Golf.
“The PGA Tour is a meritocracy,” Monahan said back in August. “It gives every player the opportunity to rise to the top. If established players fail to earn a spot, someone else who is hungry and talented is right there to take their place.”
Taylor was that guy this week. It might push him to greater heights than ever before, here in his 10th season. The irony of pro golf is that it also might not. Most players make 90% of their money in 10% of their events, and they know it better than anyone. Taylor’s Sunday haul was 2.6 times his on-course earnings from the entire 2022 season.
In the finishing moments of Sunday’s final round, just as all of America was ready to flip on The Big Game, Taylor had to make double bogey to ensure all those juicy riches of a solo second. He made birdie instead, and was soon greeted with a hug from his young son, Charlie and a kiss from his wife, Andie. His Canadian brethren Mackenzie Hughes, Adam Hadwin and Corey Conners all made a point to be there, too. They made the walk to scoring together, where Taylor’s in-laws waited.
Meredith Scheffler, Scottie’s affable wife, came through as hugs were being passed around. She was swept up in the moment and didn’t know what else to do, so she said “I’m sorry” to Andie that her husband was the winning husband. The concept of Tour wives apologizing to other Tour wives is quite funny, especially when everyone just made multiple millions of dollars. It’s a good problem to have. After a group-chuckle at the idea, Andie finally said aloud what everyone was feeling: “I wouldn’t be.”
No one had to feel sorry Sunday evening. It didn’t go Taylor’s way in the win column, but it did pretty much everywhere else. That means more than it ever has before.