Monday Finish: A ‘dream’ season, a brutal par-3, Ryder Cup drama begins
Welcome to the Monday Finish! Let’s get you on course.
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Sometimes it’s helpful when the golfers just tell us how to do the job.
So it was particularly worthwhile to hear Jessica Korda speak post-round on Saturday. She’d just finished her final round at the Olympics and was preparing to go out and watch her sister Nelly Korda try to seal the deal. Nelly was chasing Olympic gold, an accomplishment that would cap a season in which she had already won three times and ascended to world No. 1.
It would be easy to imagine an older sibling be jealous of her younger sister’s success, but Jessica seems anything but. To the contrary, she seems well-equipped not just to celebrate Nelly’s success and share it with her but also to put it into proper context, as she did at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
“I mean, I’m not necessarily surprised, I would just say that this is like, a dream season,” she said. “This is what you would expect out of Inbee Park. Like, this is almost legend status that you would get on just as a golfer, period, male or female. This is just a dream season to have.
“I hope that it keeps continuing, because it’s so much fun to watch. I know it’s stressful for her to play it and keep it up, but once you get it going I think you get into this rhythm and I think that’s kind of what she’s in.
“It’s tough to win out here and she makes it look easy, but those girls are good. Like, you look at the leaderboard and every week, this is how it is. So for her to be doing what she’s doing, it’s insane to me. But at the same time it’s so cool.
“This is like, total GOAT status for me, to win three times in a season, be world No. 1 and now she’s going for gold? I mean, you guys write for a living. This is exactly what you would want to write about.”
Consider it written about. The Summer of Nelly Korda rolls on.
Who won the week?
Nelly Korda won the Women’s side of the Olympic golf competition, giving up a four-shot lead on the final day and then rebounding to reclaim it with four birdies in five holes and then a run of pars to seal the deal.
Abraham Ancer broke through for his first PGA Tour victory in unbelievable fashion at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude when the two golfers in the final pairing imploded on the back nine. Ancer took full advantage, stuffing a wedge in close on the second playoff hole for a career-changing birdie.
Erik van Rooyen also claimed his maiden PGA Tour title at the Barracuda Championship, scoring 50 points in the modified Stableford system to win by five. He leapt from 139 to No. 78 in the FedEx Cup in the process, securing PGA Tour status in the process after what he called a “difficult” 18 months of golf. (And what a fist-pump!)
Jensen Castle, the No. 63 seed at the U.S. Women’s Am, took home the title over No. 53 Vivian Hou at Westchester Country Club with a 13-foot birdie on the 35th hole of the match.
Who came up just short?
At the Olympics, Japan’s Mone Inami was distressed after a 72nd-hole bogey that cost her a chance at the gold. But she was determined to take home silver in a playoff against her favorite golfer, Lydia Ko, so she steeled herself for extra holes.
“I got the word perseverance from my grandfather and I always have that in my heart,” Inami said after the round. This is the beauty of the Olympics; rather than the American Ricky Bobby (or Tiger Woods) school of thought, where second place just means first loser, Inami earned her silver medal and made it clear she’ll cherish it forever.
Ko, meanwhile, earned her second medal in as many Olympics, which exactly zero other golfers can say. And Aditi Ashok captured hearts and minds with her scrappy competitiveness, finishing fourth despite trailing the entire field in driving distance.
In Memphis, Harris English held a sizable lead but made it disappear with water-balls on each of the back-nine par-3s plus a loose bogey at the par-5 16th, leading to a closing five-over 40 that left him one shot outside a playoff.
But English still beat playing partner Bryson DeChambeau on the side. DeChambeau was just two shots back of the lead before he bogeyed 10, tripled 11 and bogeyed 15 and 18 coming home to settled T8. He declined to speak to reporters all week after his early-week comments on vaccines stirred up plenty of feedback. That means we didn’t get to hear his perspective on the slow-play warning that he and English were given on Sunday and how it affected the two of them — or didn’t.
Cameron Smith was the other golfer to just miss out on the playoff when he missed his tee shot right on 18 and then tried to play the exact shot that you, heroic reader, might talk yourself into in a similar circumstance. Instead his ball ricocheted off a tree, flew back behind Smith, over a fence and out of bounds. T5.
The two runners-up suffered cruel lip-outs that kept them from the top of the Memphis podium. Hideki Matsuyama had the best look at birdie on the first playoff hole, but his putt carried just enough speed to swing around the right edge of the cup and out the left side.
Sam Burns had the best look at birdie on the second playoff hole but his putt had enough break that it caught the right edge of the putt and horseshoed out the left side.
Ancer’s putt was so dead-center it never had the opportunity to lip out, which is why he gets the giant check.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
The FedEx Cup.
A bunch of big names are hovering around the edge of the No. 125 mark in the FedEx Cup as we approach the playoffs. While some have exemptions that will ensure they retain status in the coming years, it will still be a jolt if they were to miss postseason golf altogether. A few of those names:
No. 120 Matt Kuchar
No. 123 Adam Scott
No. 125 Rickie Fowler
No. 133 Tommy Fleetwood
No. 134 Justin Rose
The end-of-season drama around who will be around for the next season makes for a dramatic finish to this one. And while the Tour has plenty of safety nets in place for its career high achievers, this time of the year serves as a reminder that in golf, nothing is given nor certain forever.
Water in Memphis.
No. 11 at TPC Southwind is one of the shorter par-3s on the PGA Tour, measuring between 150 and 160 yards. And even though water guards the green on three sides, pros usually have little trouble walking away with 3 or better. On Thursday, the hole played as the 13th-toughest. Friday it was 14th-toughest. Saturday it was 14th again.
But on Sunday, as the wind switched and the pin shifted and the stakes rose, too, the hole suddenly transformed. Through three rounds, just six balls had found the water on No. 11. In the fourth round alone, 18 balls splashed, including one each from the final group of Harris English and Bryson DeChambeau, who were 20 under and 17 under walking onto the tee and 18 under and 14 under walking off the green. Suddenly it was the toughest hole on the course.
No. 11 was fiendish on Sunday, yielding just three birdies to 65 players, bleeding them to a 3.6 scoring average, a number boosted by Si Woo Kim’s five-water-ball 13.
Announcers pointed out on the broadcast that TPC Southwind yields more balls in the water than any other course on Tour — even more than the famed watery grounds of TPC Sawgrass. So while No. 11 stole the show on Sunday, its weekly ball count of 24 was actually just fourth-highest on course. Players hit 25 balls in the water on No. 12 this week. They hit 26 in the water at the par-5 3rd. And they hit 26 more in the water at No. 18.
Luckily they get ‘em for free.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
Reflecting on reflecting.
We make Nelly Korda talk about her accomplishments plenty often, but our athletes spend their days in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture and it’s interesting to hear how they reflect on their successes — or don’t.
“You know, with sports it’s so different because you’re constantly looking ahead,” she said after winning Olympic gold. “You’re constantly looking ahead for your next event; you finish one event and next it’s like, the British or it’s the Scottish. So like it never really gets to kind of sink in, in a sense. So I think I’ll look back at the season after the season is done, but right now there’s still a lot of big events coming up — but when I do look back it’s just crazy.”
As fans, we like our favorite athletes future-oriented, never satisfied, always striving for more. But as fans we also want these athletes to enjoy their successes. Living the dream should pay off at some point, right? Here’s hoping Korda can look back and look forward in proper proportions.
RYDER CUP DRAMA
Who’s getting picked?
The U.S. Ryder Cup’s team standings have been updated, and they look…remarkably reasonable?
Six qualify automatically and six more are chosen by team captain Steve Stricker. Here’s how the standings look currently:
1. Collin Morikawa
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Bryson DeChambeau
4. Brooks Koepka
5. Justin Thomas
6. Xander Schauffele
7. Jordan Spieth
8. Harris English
9. Patrick Reed
10. Daniel Berger
11. Patrick Cantlay
12. Tony Finau
13. Webb Simpson
14. Scottie Scheffler
15. Jason Kokrak
16. Billy Horschel
17. Sam Burns
18. Phil Mickelson
19. Max Homa
20. Will Zalatoris
There’s still time for shuffling, but at the moment this feels like the sort of year where the U.S. captain could pick the top 12 and be done with it. Simpson feels like a solid, reliable teammate and Scheffler’s strong major play would lend him well to a spot, but it’s tough to argue with the group in slots 7-12, especially with English coming off three top-four finishes in four starts.
But there’s still time…
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
Last week I got the chance to play Sand Point Country Club, a fascinating course tucked into a small Seattle neighborhood that just got a David McLay-Kidd makeover. Most Seattle-area clubs fall more or less into the “bowling alley” school of design, where massive evergreens loom right of the fairway and left of the fairway and you’d better hit it in between. At Sand Point, McLay-Kidd let things breathe. He opened up views, combined fairways and made things firmer and faster for more of a ground game. It’s a short course with a ton of variety and thus far the greatest I’ve played inside the city limits.
A 15-word review: Scenic, hilly, classic, new-age, generous off the tee and precarious around the greens. Fun.
McLay-Kidd’s still got it.
Three things to watch this week.
1. Card-keeping time.
At last year’s Wyndham Championship, Jim Herman came from nowhere (he’d made just four cuts all season, plus needed four birdies in a row on Friday just to make the cut) to win, make the playoffs and re-up his Tour status in a big way. This year? We’ll be watching the bubbles at No. 125 and No. 150.
2. To the Linksland!
We’re headed to Fife for the Women’s Scottish Open, headlined by bronze medalist Lydia Ko and serving as an effective precursor to next week’s Women’s Open at Carnoustie.
3. Amateur hour.
The U.S. Amateur gets underway today in western Pennsylvania, where 312 amateurs will battle it out in two days of stroke play at Oakmont Country Club (and co-host Longue Vue Club) before cutting to the top 64 when match play begins on Wednesday. The favorite? Potentially Massachusetts native and Stanford sophomore superstar Michael Thorbjornsen, coming off dominant wins at the Mass Am and the Western Am.
We’ll see you next week!