LIV’s dilemma, Morikawa’s win, Rory’s drink with LaCava | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re carving CRUSHERS GC into our pumpkins this week. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
A half-baked LIV take.
When Rory McIlroy spoke to the BBC at this weekend’s Formula 1 race in Austin, Tex., and declared that golf “could learn quite a bit” from the sport, it was hard not to draw the connection to LIV’s team championship happening at the same time, just 1,000 miles to his east.
After all, what is LIV doing but trying to learn from F1? That’s the entire conceit. The scoring system is similar. The leaderboard is similar. The team concept and heck, even the colors and graphics — they’re all modeled after F1.
LIV isn’t the only group tinkering with pro golf, though. Everybody has been trying to redesign and reimagine the sport including, as of these last few months, private equity firms. That’s the question that LIV has forced upon the PGA Tour (and everyone who invests time, money or emotion in the sport): should we be rethinking the entire thing?
Part of me says that yes, they were right and it all needed rethinking. The PGA Tour is not perfect and has not been perfect and fails in several places where, for instance, F1 succeeds. The Tour had too many events, which watered down each of those events. It didn’t have an offseason which meant it didn’t really have a season. As a result, season-long fan investment and comprehension was nearly impossible and the idea of the Tour was basically to become part of your Sunday afternoon routine. Let’s turn the golf on! That needed updating.
But my second thought is LIV has adopted as many of those strategies as possible but the whole thing doesn’t quite work. I’m not saying it can’t work. Maybe some of you would argue that it is working. And in fairness I haven’t been to a LIV event since last season, so I can’t really speak to the in-person experience that many attendees have praised. But as a big-picture, groundbreaking golf movement, LIV’s first full season has now come to a close and the main impression it’s left on the sports world is as a disruptor and a money fountain for four dozen golfers. (There’s no disputing that they have done quite well!) But the actual product, including this weekend’s team championship, hasn’t seemed to resonate at all.
What’s the lesson? There’s no way to go halfway into the LIV concept. To make it work you’d need all of golf’s star power bought in and you’d need its existing structures bought in, too. You’d need to merge new LIV team events with existing PGA Tour events like, say, Bay Hill, where there’s existing history and context and the winner would really mean something. You need teams to matter? Get Ian Poulter and the Majesticks to move to London. Get Bubba Watson and the Range Goats to live and play out of Tallahassee. Sign with Smash GC? Congrats — you’re moving to Cleveland, near where Jason Kokrak grew up. But I don’t see any of that happening, which leaves the somewhat hollow feeling that LIV’s first couple seasons have served as a proof of concept but leave no obvious way forward. We think and talk about it every week but it’s still not clear to me how, if the PGA Tour-LIV deal goes through, the league will exist in some reduced capacity. After all, if LIV’s format requires our complete buy-in — to the teams, to the characters, to the world it’s created — some half-in, half-out version of LIV makes even less sense than the one currently constructed.
So yeah, the PGA Tour still has lessons to learn from Formula 1. It has lessons to learn from LIV, too. It’s already made massive strides towards a more coherent season; a proper offseason means a stronger in-season. The Signature Events make big-picture sense, even though we can squabble about the details. The entire narrative seems to work a little better in identifying which events are the big ones. It’s still not F1, though. Not every event feels big enough. And at the moment I have no idea what happens next.
Who won the week?
Collin Morikawa hadn’t won since the 2021 DP World Tour Championship. Hadn’t won a PGA Tour event since the 2021 Open! But perhaps its useful to think of all those top-fives and top-10s and putting lessons and equipment tune-ups as buckets of water he was pouring into a dammed-up reservoir, filling it little by little by little. On Sunday at the Zozo Championship that dam didn’t just break — it combusted. Morikawa blew away any other final-round contenders by shooting the lowest score of the week when he got up and down for birdie at No. 18 to post 63 and a whopping six-stroke win. We’ll see if the dam remains broken in 2024.
Minjee Lee beat a stacked field in South Korea, besting Alison Lee with a six-foot birdie putt at the BMW Ladies Championship to claim the 10th title of her career.
Adrian Meronk won the DP World Tour’s Andalucia Masters, the latest reminder that he is in fact very good at golf and was unfortunate not to make this year’s European Ryder Cup team — although it’s tough to second-guess any decisions made around that dominant squad.
And the Crushers took home LIV’s team title in Miami, advancing through match play and winning a Sunday stroke-play shootout in which all four of its players’ scores counted. Led by Anirban Lahiri’s 65 and Bryson DeChambeau’s 67, the team earned $14 million, of which $8m went to the franchise itself and $1.4 to each of the four players.
There’s plenty of room between first and last.
Rookie of the Year-to-be — Eric Cole finished T2 at the Zozo; he now has a fourth, a third and a second in his last four starts. That pattern would suggest a victory is imminent for the will-be Rookie of the Year…
No. 51 — Beau Hossler is now up to No. 51 in the FedEx Cup, which would ensure him starts in the first couple Signature Events (Maybe just signature events? Are we capitalizing these? Final verdict yet to come) of 2024.
Minjee’s little brother — Last week Min Woo Lee won on the Asian Tour. This week he finished T6 at the Zozo, thanks to a final-round 65. That’s not as fruitful as his sister Minjee’s win — but it’s enough to get him to a career-best No. 43 in the world.
Minjee’s playoff opponent — That would be Alison Lee, who shot a final-round 67 at the BMW Ladies Championship to ultimately finish runner-up. Lee vaulted to No. 41 in the world with the result, her best ranking since 2017. She’s back.
Home Gamers — A handful of Japanese golfers took center stage in the PGA Tour’s only Japanese event. They were led by former teen sensation Ryo Ishikawa in T4, who you’ll remember as the youngest pro to reach the top 100 in the OWGR at just age 16. That was 2008; he’s older now. (Aren’t we all!)
Ishikawa was followed closely by Kensei Hirata and Ryo Hisatune just one shot back in T6, Satoshi Kodaira just two shots behind them in T12 and Yuki Inamori two shots behind him in T16. All five earned big-time world ranking points. Good on ’em. It’s not every week the PGA Tour comes to town.
The Range Goats — LIV’s team silver medalists were led by captain Bubba Watson, who stepped up with a 67 on Sunday and ultimately finished two shots behind DeChambeau’s Crushers.
Not their week.
Four golfers will get relegated from LIV Golf this year — and three of ’em didn’t go out on a great note. While Jediah Morgan was the second-low score on Ripper GC with a round of 71, Chase Koepka (77), Sihwan Kim (79) and James Piot (80) posted the three highest scores of the day. I’m curious to see which other pros from the middle of the pack (outside the top 24 but not technically relegated) don’t get re-signed. But it’ll be interesting to see where these three settle at the end of 2024.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
1. Rory and Joe have buried the hatchet.
One of 2023’s strangest golf subplots seems to have arrived at some sort of closure, per Rory McIlroy:
“Things happen in the heat of the moment; tensions were high,” McIlroy told the BBC, referencing the pair’s Ryder Cup standoff on the 18th green on Saturday night. “Joe LaCava came into the European team room on the Sunday night and had a drink and a chat. I’ve had a great relationship with Joe over the years when he caddied for Tiger [Woods] and that wasn’t going to change.
“For me, the incident happened, I purposely didn’t want to meet anyone on the Sunday morning because I wanted what had happened to fuel me for that day. My whole focus was let’s make sure Europe win the Ryder Cup and then we will sort all the other stuff out afterwards.
“And it’s all fine.”
2. Koepka and Wolff haven’t.
In recent years I can’t quite think of one golfer so openly declaring his antipathy towards another with quite the same bluntness as Brooks Koepka towards Matthew Wolff these last couple weeks — an especially strange development given the two spent the season as teammates.
Earlier in the season Koepka said he’d “basically given up on” Wolff. Two weeks ago he reiterated that there were “only three of us” on the team, pointedly omitting Wolff.
This week? Koepka admitted he doesn’t “have much interaction with [Wolff].
“I’ve tried. I’ve spent a majority of the beginning of the year trying to help and trying to figure that out, and I think it’s past its point,” he said. “I’ve tried, I’ve been very open with it.”
Then he delivered this particularly tough bit of feedback.
“Sometimes you can’t help people that don’t want help.”
It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Wolff in LIV’s free agency. But it seems pretty clear he won’t be back with Koepka’s squad for 2024.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Something to make you mad.
It’s Q-school season, which means it’s time for dreams and for nightmares. First of all, shoutout to Williams College’s own Sam Goldenring for making it through to the second stage. Second of all, my heart sinks for James Hart du Preez, who suffered a two-stroke penalty when [gulps] his partner failed to sign his scorecard and and wound up missing by a single shot. I understand, big-picture, the need for a signature. I don’t understand why, in this case, you can’t collect that missing signature later and solve the problem without tossing penalty strokes around. Monday Q has the entire saga here.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Winter is coming.
Leaves are on the ground. That’s great. Temperatures are dropping. That’s fine. But it’s supposed to rain this afternoon, and I’m supposed to play golf this afternoon. That’s where you lose me.
This section of this column often revolves around weather, which is partly due to my own personal obsession with seasons and how they affect us and partly because in Seattle, they affect us a lot. Anyway, it’s happening. The impending arrival of Halloween means the arrival of winter. Drizzle. Darkness. Look, it’s not that bad. It’s just safe to say there won’t be any big bounces for a few months.
3 things to watch this week.
1. Morikawa on his caddie:
The PGA Tour heads to an off-week, and chances are you weren’t awake for Morikawa’s Zozo win. Here’s a cool clip from his post-win presser!
2. The Maybank Championship
An all-new LPGA Tour event kicks off this week in Kuala Lumpur, with 33 of the top 50 in the Rolex Ranking teeing it up including stars like Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko. If you’ve been dialed in on late-night/early morning golf, good news: there’s more coming your way.
3. An Ivor Robson tribute
An iconic voice. He’ll be missed.
We’ll see you next week!