Monahan’s regrets, Tiger’s optimism, golf’s rumor mill | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where our drives already go 12-15 yards shorter than we think they should. Let’s get to it!
Seven of ’em.
7. Tiger Woods fans
It was a good week for Tiger Woods optimists because, folks, Tiger Woods is one of you! He walked four days (four-and-a-half, if you count the pro-am) and his body held up at “game speed,” which appears to be the newest phrase in his distinctive lexicon. Woods began the week saying he hoped to be able to play once a month, which would optimistically mean the Genesis, the Players, the four majors and maybe 1-2 others before we’re back at next year’s Hero. At the end of the week? Wood still felt like that’s a realistic schedule. That’s an encouraging sign.
“I think that I can get into the rhythm of it. I think that having a couple of weeks off to recover, a week to build up, there’s no reason why I can’t get into that rhythm,” he said on Sunday afternoon. “It’s just a matter of getting in better shape, basically. I feel like my game’s not that far off, but I need to get in better shape.”
There are also reasons for caution, of course. Woods’ driving looked sharp all week, but the rest of his game? Some great, some weird. Woods putted into a bunker. He doinked some chips. His famously crisp iron play included some uncharacteristic misses. And he finished 20 shots off the pace. But he stiffed some, too, and he hit some clever short game shots, and he made a bunch of putts. Come 2024 we can parse out what his expectations could realistically be. For now we can appreciate the ability to have that conversation.
6. Golf’s rumor mill
I’m not sure whether this makes us winners or losers but the fact that renewed rumors and reports of Jon Rahm going to LIV sparked plenty of conversation at the Hero — but very literally nothing concrete. I’d say things were best typified by the response of Jordan Spieth, who worked his way into and out of a corner like this:
“I know there’s been some guys that have talked to [Rahm],” Spieth said. “I know he’s maybe weighing some decisions, (ed. note: this is where he caught himself) maybe not. I really don’t know, so I don’t want to insult him and say he’s weighing decisions if he already knows he’s not or he is. You know, that’s somewhat out of my control, in a way.
“Obviously I could speak probably on behalf of 200-plus PGA TOUR players in saying that we really hope that he’s continuing with us.”
Thus far Rahm’s team has not responded to requests for comment from the Monday Finish, like every other media outlet. So let’s tackle this one further when we get something concrete.
5. Aussies in Aussie
Tis the season for top pros to descend on Australia and for Aussie golf fans to celebrate their own. They got good news last week when Min Woo Lee won the Australian PGA Championship. They nearly got more good news this week when he cooked his way into the 36-hole lead at the Australian Open with a 67-64 start. He ran out of gas on the weekend, but Lee’s 12 under par finish left him in solo third, two shots outside a playoff.
What made the weekend particularly cool was that Min Woo’s sister Minjee Lee nearly won the event on the women’s side, making eight birdies (plus three bogeys and a double) in her first 14 holes to cut into the lead of defending champ Ashleigh Buhai. But Lee parred the final four holes and settled for second, the best result of her career here — if also her most bittersweet.
Karrie Webb was the last Aussie woman to win her home Open in 2014.
In all, seven Aussie women finished inside the top 10 including LPGA pros Hannah Green and Stephanie Kyriacou (T5) and rising star Gabi Ruffels (9th). Five Aussies cracked the top 10 on the men’s side including Adam Scott (T4) who made a fierce Sunday charge before he was undone by a late triple bogey. Lucas Herbert (7th), Sam Brazel (T8) and Jason Scrivener (T8) rounded out the contending contingent, while Cameron Smith finished T17.
4. LIV golfers in DP World events
Smith may not have won, but the next-best LIV pro in the Aussie Open field did: Joaquin Niemann came out on top. It’s been an up-and-down couple years for the Chilean talent, who was inside the top 20 in the world when he left for LIV in the fall of 2022. His T16-MC-T32-MC major season fell short of the lofty expectations we still have for the 25-year-old, but an eagle on the second playoff hole against Rikuya Hoshino finished off a stellar Aussie fortnight (5th, 1st) and reminded the world he still has plenty of game.
In South Africa, meanwhile, the DP World Tour played its second consecutive week — and Dean Burmester won for the second consecutive week, this time by three shots over a contingent of countrymen. He’s now up to No. 77 in the world.
One interesting bit of fallout from these couple weeks? LIV’s pecking order. While the OWGR hasn’t given points to LIV competitions, independent models have continued to track LIV play. DataGolf has LIV’s top pro as Bryson DeChambeau at No. 28 and two surprising names as the top two LIV pros behind him: Niemann (No. 30) and Burmester (No. 33) before getting to Smith at No. 40. Even the TUGR, LIV’s adopted ranking system for the purpose of its qualifying tournament, has DeChambeau as the top-ranked LIV pro at No. 22, with Smith second at No. 25.
I’m not arguing that these guys have lost their game. We’ve seen them compete and win around the world! We’re working with an odd medley of samples, too. But the power rankings of top LIV guys will be an increasingly interesting thing to monitor of as golf’s murky geopolitics remain in limbo and these guys pop up in various worldwide events.
3. A South African in Australia
To complement our Aussies in Australia and a South African in South Africa we have South African pro Ashleigh Buhai, who defended her title at the Australian Open despite a birdie-free final round. Buhai held onto her lead by playing prevent defense with 15 pars and three bogeys.
Buhai held off Lee despite a partisan home crowd to earn her third worldwide win of the year and jump to No. 22 in the Rolex Rankings.
2. Justin Thomas’ local pizza place
After months of voicing his desire for a diet-forbidden slice of pizza, Justin Thomas finally relented late this summer.
“After shooting about 400 the first two days at the Open Championship, when I got to Minnesota [for the next week’s 3M Open] I got a gluten-free pizza, like, on Monday or Tuesday and I swear I could have cried, it was so good,” Thomas said at the Hero. “And honestly, I just slowly implemented dairy again the next two weeks and I didn’t feel any different, which I was shocked, to be honest. I was pleasantly surprised.”
Any regrets on the six-month nutritional overhaul?
“It wasn’t exactly during my best stretch of golf, so I would say if I had it over, I would not do it,” he said. “It’s one of those things, I don’t really give 50 percent too much. I feel like if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. I’m going to want to know how it is. If you guys hear of me doing that again, tell me to stop.”
So, yeah, some regrets. A third-place Hero finish seems like reason enough to grab a slice of pepperoni to celebrate. I might get one to match him.
1. Scottie Scheffler’s putting practice
In the days leading up to the Ryder Cup I was in complete disbelief at how much time Scottie Scheffler was spending on the practice green, much of it under the careful study of guru Phil Kenyon.
In the days leading up to last week’s Hero World Challenge I also could not believe how much time Scottie Scheffler was spending on the practice green, either, once again under Kenyon’s study, this time in a small-field offseason event in the Bahamas.
Something else has changed in the meantime, too: Scheffler put a putter from boutique brand Olson into play after it won various rounds of testing.
Our Jonathan Wall has the details on the wand here. All I’ll add is that Scheffler was sixth out of 20 players in strokes gained putting for the week, a great sign for a guy who struggled on the greens and nowhere else in a preposterously consistent 2023. His ball-striking was characteristically excellent. It’s only fitting that he finished off the year with a three-shot victory.
One more mind-blowing Scheffler ball-striking stat for the road:
Okay, not their week.
3. Monahan’s ‘merger’ regrets
In an appearance at the New York Times‘ Dealbook summit, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan relived the events of June 6th and everything after. But I thought one exchange was particularly telling was interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin challenging him on the framework agreement’s rollout. He then laid out an alternate form of messaging that would have avoided the initial “merger” messaging confusion.
“When this was first described to the public it was described as a merger,” Sorkin said. “A lot of people looked at it and thought there was a merger happening. Sports Illustrated said that all of this would have been different if the following had happened — if you had said to the players, ‘I have some surprising news and I want you all to hear it first. First, all of LIV Golf’s lawsuits have been dismissed, they cannot be brought back. Second, the Saudi Arabian government would like to give us full control over the future of LIV Golf, invest billions in our tour instead of our rival, we would of course retain full control over the PGA Tour and our business operations as well, all they want is one seat on our policy board and a minority stake in our business. Don’t worry, I haven’t committed to anything.'”
“The rollout was a failure on my part,” he said. “I’ve owned it and I continue to own it.”
He offered an optimistic vision for the future, going so far as to say that down the road players and public will see the merits of his actions leading up to June 6th. Still…
“Going back to your question, if I had come out and said it that way, yeah, I think that … if I could do it differently I was in New York City and I would have flown to Toronto and had that conversation with our players. I didn’t do it. But I think we’ve taken a lot of steps to rectify that and players understand what it is we’re doing.”
The entire interview was an interesting peek into Monahan’s mindset then and now; he also delved into the factors that led to his medical leave and why he thinks he’s still the man for the job.
2. Zalatoris’ broomstick debut
It’s harsh to put Willy Z. in this category; this week’s big success was having him back! Like Woods, any healthy completion of four rounds was going to mark some sort of victory.
But when Zalatoris showed up rocking a broomstick putter we all wondered if he’d suddenly look different on the greens. As he said, long putts haven’t been an issue but on shorties he had a tendency to get a little bit … wiggly.
It’s safe to say the new putter will take some getting used to. In Thursday’s opening round Zalatoris lost six strokes to the field on the greens and shot 81, the day’s highest score by five.
Over the next three days the putter improved, though it was still a bit of a rollercoaster ride; it’s safe to say Zalatoris was knocking the rust off in playing his first competitive rounds since before the Masters. His 81-68-79-71 was a display of unevenness that left him in last by nine strokes but hopefully serves as a stepping stone for the 2024 season.
1. Guys who say they hit it 300
There’s a school of thought that if you ask men how tall they are, nobody will say 5-foot-11; if you’re that close you just round up to six feet. I’ve got a similar belief about amateurs who hit it a long way — anybody who’s ever hit a drive 300 yards will just say they hit it 300.
What about now? What if the alleged rollback comes to pass? What if you suddenly made every 5’11” fella 5’9″ instead? And what if your big-hitting buddy’s 275-yard drives start going 260?
I’ll save my full thoughts on the rollback for another deep dive; it’s clear from the passionate reactions to the announcement (and the reactions to the reactions, and the reactions to the reactions to the reactions…) that people feel very strongly about this and I appreciate that. But as someone whose doctor recently told me I was 5’11.75″, I want you to know that I feel you. It’ll take some time to adjust our self-images. But we’ll endure.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
This time of year it feels like we’ve got two options: cold and clear or moderately less cold and drizzly. This week we’re leaning hard into the latter — there’s something called an “atmospheric river” coming to town, which sounds decidedly wet. Sigh. Memories of the Bahamas are fading fast.
3 things to watch this week.
1. A legit LPGA/PGA Tour crossover
This week’s Grant Thornton Invitational represents something genuinely new, different and intriguing in the golf world: a PGA/LPGA Tour crossover event featuring two-player teams going head to head. Longtime golf fans among you will point to past iterations of mixed team events, but in my time covering the sport there’s been nothing like it — particularly featuring some of the top players in the game like we can expect this week.
The teams are also especially fun. Joel Dahmen playing with World No. 1 Lilia Vu is fun. Rising star Ludvig Aberg playing with established star and fellow Swede Madelene Sagstrom is fun. Aussie Jason Day with Kiwi Lydia Ko! Canadians Corey Conners and Brooke Henderson! The mononymous Rickie and Lexi! Finau and Korda! Top to bottom, it’s an especially fun list of teams — all the way down to Sahith Theegala and Rose Zhang. Worth your curiosity.
2. Q-School Szn
For the first time in years, the PGA Tour’s Q-school system is providing direct access to the top circuit for a handful of pros. And for the first time in world history LIV Golf is holding a Q-school of its own — and a handful of interesting names (Jason Dufner, anybody?) have signed up.
The LPGA Tour’s 108-hole Q-Series marathon is nearing its conclusion, too, with plenty of new faces plus familiar names like Mina Harigae in contention for coveted cards.
And then there’s the Champions Tour’s Q-School, which will conclude next week with familiar names like John Smoltz (yeah, the pitcher!) and Hosung Choi in the mix.
For the offseason, there’s an awful lot going on to determine next season’s shape.
We’re launching a new series called Breakthrough about the most important people in golf and the moments in their lives that catapulted them to the top. Their breakthrough moments, if you will. First up? Jason Day! The former World No. 1 took us from his brawling teenage days in Queensland all the way to his stint at the top of the game — and through his mindset now that he’s trying to get back there.
You can subscribe to our YouTube channel to make sure you catch this when it drops Tuesday afternoon.
We’ll see you next week!
Dylan (cautiously) welcomes your comments at email@example.com.