Welcome to the Monday Finish! This is where we’ll tally the scores for the week that was and tee you up for the week to come. This week that means new learnings on Jordan Spieth, another edition of the Seminole Pro-Member, the most intriguing comeback in golf and more.
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Something you might have missed.
Now that spring has officially started, it feels like the 2021 golf season is kicking off, too. You can post scores to your handicap in cold-weather states like mine (Washington) and playing golf is beginning to feel more and more like a reasonable activity and less like a cold-weather exploration for the obsessed.
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Anyway, before we dive too far into this year I wanted to take one last peek at the numbers from last season. First, golf went way, way down as more than half of all courses closed as the pandemic hit. But when golf proved a safe outdoor form of social recreation, numbers crept back up — and then skyrocketed. Here’s where the year ended, per the National Golf Foundation website:
24.8 million — People who played golf on a golf course in 2020
12.1 million — People who played golf off-course only in 2020 (at Topgolf, for instance, or in a simulator)
501.8 million — Rounds of golf played at U.S. courses in 2020, up more than 60 million rounds over 2019
17 million — Non-golfers who are “very interested” in playing golf now, up 10% over 2019
3 million — Beginner golfers in 2020, a record number
All in all, some rosy figures! If you’ve tried to book a tee time on a warm-weather day in the last six months, these numbers make lots of sense — and they’re terrifically exciting for the game as we move into what should be another banner golf year. They’re also a good reminder to be friendly, welcoming and patient at the course. You don’t know who’s teeing it up for the first time.
You can read more about those numbers here. Now, onto the week that was!
Who won what?
Matt Jones won the Honda Classic in an absolute romp, finishing off a five-shot victory with a closing round of two-under 68. Conditions got tougher and tougher as Sunday’s final round wore on, and it showed: Of the final seven pairings, only Jones shot under par. When you’re already winning and then you shoot one of the day’s best rounds? That’s macho stuff.
The win was Jones’ second on the PGA Tour and his first since the 2014 Shell Houston Open (though he has won two Australian Opens in the meantime). The 40-year-old is ecstatic about qualifying for the Masters, but he — like another higher-profile Aussie — has big visions for his future:
“I’ve spoken to Adam Scott about this,” Jones said. “We got five really good hard years ahead of us, where we think we can do something special and I think this sets me on a path where I could.”
On the Korn Ferry Tour, Roberto Diaz held off Peter Uihlein with a final-round three-under 68 at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open. Diaz jumped out to a hot start on Sunday at Le Triomphe Golf Club, getting to four under through seven. Then he essentially ran out the clock on the rest of the field, making 10 pars and one bogey over his final 11 holes to secure the biggest victory of his life, one that should ensure a promotion back to the big Tour.
On the Symetra Tour, Riuxin Liu held off a couple of high-flying amateurs to win the Carlisle Golf Classic at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, Ariz. Liu, the Symetra’s 2018 Player of the Year, secured her fifth title on the circuit with a birdie on the second playoff hole.
Who came up just short?
Arguably the most notable runner-up of the week was in that same Symetra Tour event, where the world’s top-ranked amateur — and best current high schooler — Rose Zhang lost on the second playoff hole. Zhang, the defending champ at the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the low am at last year’s ANA Inspiration, shot 66-66 on the weekend to post 17 under.
“I think that this counts as a great debut for the Symetra Tour,” she said after her playoff loss. Uh, yeah, we’d agree. Zhang will start at Stanford in the fall.
Brandon Hagy didn’t even get into the Honda Classic’s field until Wednesday and rebounded from a Saturday 76 with a Sunday 66 to leap from T18 to solo second — on his 30th birthday, nonetheless!
Asked what he’d learned about himself, Hagy sounded encouraged. “I can handle some intense pressure, for sure,” he said. “There’s a lot of tough holes out there and there’s big stakes for sure, but I’ve been working on some good stuff and it’s nice to see some of that pan out.”
At that point he was still hoping to stay inside the event’s top five. What Hagy didn’t realize at the time is that the rest of the competition would fall behind him, leaving him to claim the runner-up check for $763,000 — and the FedEx Cup points that come with it — all on his own.
A mini course!
New details on Pebble Beach’s redesigned short course, named for Peter Hay, dropped on Monday. Pictures, namely.
Tiger Woods‘ design firm TGR was in charge of revamping the layout, which has gone from afterthought to featured amenity on the Pebble property. The nine-hole course measures 670 yards total, with holes ranging in length from 47-106 yards. Last summer, Woods talked about the course highlighting creativity and playability.
“Everyone who plays this golf course is going to enjoy the playability of it,” Woods said at the time. “Golfers will have the choice to play nearly any club off most tees and around the greens, which will make them think and channel their creativity. It will also play differently from day to day depending on the tee and hole locations and wind direction. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I can’t wait to play it.”
The signature hole will no doubt be No. 2, named “Seven,” which will serve as an exact replica of the iconic 7th on the big course. Besides the cliffs, of course.
You can read more about Peter Hay via our Sean Zak here.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Spieth’s secret struggle.
Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner pulled back the curtain on Jordan Spieth’s long road back to the top in a feature you should check out here. The lede is particularly memorable; a despondent Spieth didn’t touch a club for four weeks last December as he plotted the way forward.
“I was sitting back and saying that I need to consider what the plan is going forward, because I’m not going to do any more seasons like I’ve just had the last few,” Spieth told Lavner.
There’s another intriguing detail in there, too: Spieth says he suffered a bone chip in his left hand, probably from lifting, in 2018. He didn’t want to get surgery, but Lavner suggests that Spieth made modifications to his grip to avoid pain. That seems like an awfully big deal and coincides with his performance drop-off.
There was some curiosity about a Spieth wrist injury when he taped up his wrist at the 2018 Ryder Cup, but we never got much confirmation from Spieth’s end about the extent or nature of the injury.
The article, when combined with his recent results, paints an optimistic picture for Spieth’s future. It’s worth reading for his thoughts on struggle, maturation and perspective (and basketball!). And it’s worth rooting for Spieth to contend this week at the Match Play. What better place to confirm his comeback than Texas?
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
Golf’s fifth major is back.
It was Davis Love III who called the Seminole Pro-Member the “first major of the year.” A quick glance at Monday’s tee sheet will show you why: This field is stacked.
For years, Seminole’s Pro-Member has been held the day after the Honda. But in an awkward turn of events the field for the club event has far outstripped the field of the Honda itself, particularly this year, when the Honda featured just six of the world’s top 50 players. The Pro-Member features six of the world’s top 20.
So who’s there? One particularly high-wattage pairing features Dustin Johnson partnered with club president Jimmy Dunne III; those two are playing with Rory McIlroy and his father Gerry. A quick scan of the sheet reveals the other headliners, including Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Cantlay, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson.
There are leaders of sport, too, including Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, PGA CEO Seth Waugh, NBC Sports bigwig Pete Bevacqua, Fox Sports producer Mark Loomis and former Walker Cup captains Spider Miller and Buddy Marucci. Then there’s a whole host of big-business types, led by Dunne, one of golf’s biggest powerbrokers, and judging by the rest of the field we’re guessing that yes, Patrick Rodgers‘ partner is the Chuck Schwab.
Things traditionally kick off at Seminole Sunday evening with a cocktail party and dinner at the club, while some of its attendees are still at PGA National. The format is a two-man best ball, with both gross and net divisions.
Past champs include not just names like Fowler and McIlroy but also Hogan, Nelson, Nicklaus and Palmer. The current Pro-Member has its roots in a big-money Calcutta that started in 1937 before the USGA cracked down on events like it in 1961. The current format has been around for 17 years. There’s no TV coverage, of course, nor FedEx Cup points, nor any formally announced purse. But there’s plenty of intrigue nonetheless.
WHAT WE’RE SEEING
We’re hoping the black and white makes it look worse than it is.
Brooks Koepka posted several shots of him rehabbing an injured knee with the caption, “Only 1 way to go from here.” Maybe it’s the crutches and the black-and-white, but that’s not necessarily an encouraging update.
Brooks-whisperer Eamon Lynch of Golfweek corresponded with Koepka and learned that he’d undergone surgery in California March 16 and is now undergoing rehab. What does that mean for the Masters?
“Whatever my body says, I’m going to listen,” he told Lynch. You can read the rest of that report here.
Three things to watch this week.
1. Michelle Wie West. It’s Comeback Season, and no comeback is more intriguing than that of Wie West, who is returning to LPGA play for the first time since June 2019 at this week’s Kia Classic at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif.
Better yet, she’ll follow this week’s event with a major championship appearance at next week’s ANA Inspiration. Having guaranteed back-to-back starts seems like a winning plan because it takes any pressure off an all-or-nothing week. Let’s see this comeback last!
2. March Match Madness. Check out the groupings for this week’s WGC-Match Play below:
3. DJ’s form. Dustin Johnson holds a healthy lead as world No. 1, but the reigning Masters champ has just one start left before his title defense, and he’s put up pedestrian T54-T48 finishes his last two starts. Does he have to play well this week to play well at Augusta National? No. But it’ll be intriguing to see how the Masters favorite looks just a couple of weeks before his Champions Dinner.
We’ll see you next week!