Monday Finish: Pebble Beach’s shortcut, ‘horrible rules’ and Jordan Spieth
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.
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Something you might have missed.
It was just last year that Jason Day revealed he’d been mulling the idea of an early retirement. When he spoke to reporters after a fourth-place finish at Pebble Beach in 2020, he’d been increasingly worried about the limitations of his body.
“I honestly felt like I probably — and I’ve talked to my wife about this a lot — I’m like, ‘I think I’m nearly done here,’ just because of how much pain I was in.”
Day’s results page had become increasingly littered with MCs and WDs. He had a back injury that made him miserable, regularly sending him into what he called “the worst mood ever.” He’d slipped outside the world’s top 10, then the top 25, then the top 50. He changed caddies and coaches, searching for an answer. Nearly done here.
What a difference a year makes. This week, a pain-free Day revealed a far more ambitious vision for his golfing future.
“I was hoping I was going to get to 35. The way that I’ve been feeling lately, the way that my body is feeling, the way that I’m moving, I’m moving a lot better, the stuff that I’m trying to work on my swing is helping my back out as well,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve kind of set myself a goal where I want to play to 50 now.”
Fifty! The big 5-0! Day seems to have a new lease on life. He says his work with Chris Como has helped his health. He’s adjusting to a bag of brand-new, mixed-brand golf clubs. He’s got a new beard and a new Nike flat-brim and a generally renewed vibe. And this week, after back-to-back MCs, he worked his way back into contention and finished T7. That was a little victory.
After all, when you’ve decided there are 17 years left in your playing career, the pressure on any individual event lifts. Here’s to Day taking the long view.
Who won what?
Daniel Berger won at Pebble Beach, and he won in style: On 18, Berger pured a 3-wood to the middle of the green and then dripped in an eagle putt — just the second of the week on that hole — to slam the door on his competition. Berger’s Sunday seven-under 65 was the low round in the field on Sunday, and there’s something particularly macho about shooting the score of the day to take home a title.
I got a chance to lob Berger a couple questions after his win, so I asked him whether he tries to ride the wave of nervous energy or whether he tries to chill himself out under pressure. His answer was pretty great:
“Winning a golf tournament just feels like you’re having a heart attack on every hole, really,” he said.
Berger added that he’s got a chip on his shoulder. He thinks he’s underrated. He also likes it that way.
“My goal has always been to be the No. 1 player in the world,” he said. “Some people will laugh at that and that’s fine, but that’s something that every day I wake up and I strive for.”
Also in the winner’s circle: a guy named Bryden MacPherson, who won an event called the Moonah Links PGA Classic on PGA Tour Australasia, jumping from world No. 732 to 441. Good on ya, Bryden!
Who came up just short?
The New York Post ran a particularly brutal headline to summarize Sunday afternoon’s action: “Jordan Spieth Chokes at Pebble Beach.” That’s not quite right. No, Jordan Spieth didn’t play his best golf on Sunday, nor could he maintain his two-shot 54-hole lead, he still closed with a round of two-under 70. On a day when the field’s scoring average was 70.6, that’s more than respectable.
It’s tempting to go with the “choked” storyline. But that ignores the bigger story: Spieth was just in the mix coming down the stretch at a PGA Tour event two weekends in a row. Winning the event outright would have required a six-under 66, and falling short of that standard shouldn’t mean dismissing Spieth’s game nor the fact that he finally looks like he’s playing golf. Winning shouldn’t necessarily be his focus going forward. Continuing to contend should be.
Spieth wasn’t the only notable also-ran from Pebble. Going into the week, one of the biggest storylines was the field’s lack of depth. But the favorites basically all ended up in contention. Patrick Cantlay, your new FedEx Cup points leader, finished T3. Paul Casey, fresh off winning an enormous tea kettle in Dubai, finished T5. Day was another shot back in T7.
But the day may have meant the most for the career of Maverick McNealy, who surged up the leaderboard with five birdies in his final eight holes and was a Berger par on No. 18 away from a playoff. McNealy has yet to really cut loose in an interview — I’m not sure he has it in him — but the cockiness behind the club twirl he unleashed on 18 is enough personality for now.
Pebble, Pebble, Pebble.
The host course is a storyline every week on the PGA Tour, but especially so when that host course is Pebble Beach. A few course-related observations from the week:
-The first four holes at Spyglass are quirky, weird and terrific and were really fun to see up close on Thursday and Friday.
-Some pros are taking an alternate route down No. 6 at Pebble Beach by sending their tee shots left of the left bunker, thus opting out of the challenge of splitting the tight cliffside fairway. Is that a problem or just an innovative strategy to avoid trouble? That depends on your perspective. But if tournament organizers don’t want players hitting it left, they’ll have to do something to disincentivize that behavior. Check out the cluster way left here:
-The longest drive on No. 6 belonged to Martin Trainer, who caught some extra yardage off that left cart path and bounded to 369 yards, leaving himself less than 180 on his approach. The shortest drive, meanwhile, belong to Will Gordon, whose blue dot you can spot at the beginning of the fairway. More on him later.
-Tournament organizers utilized a new tee box on No. 10 on Sunday, shortening the hole from 495 to 356 yards, sending players on the edge of a cliff and forcing them to decide just how aggressive to get with their tee shots. Spieth was one contender who pulled driver and executed the shot to perfection, setting himself up for birdie. Cantlay wasn’t a big fan of the new tee, calling it “a little gimmicky,” but most other reviews were generally positive.
Sean Zak outlined the history of the long-forgotten tee box and showed with the image below just how much more likely guys were to make birdie (red dots) vs. par (blue dots) if they were aggressive off the tee. That outlier beyond the green? That’s Will Gordon again. He was the only one to get it to the green and actually rolled his monster tee ball over the back.
-Pebble Beach’s back-nine par-5s are things of beauty. While No. 2 and No. 6 each played to a scoring average below 4.5 for the week, No. 14 actually played over par, which is a big-time rarity for any par-5 anywhere on Tour. But even more notable is No. 18, which is often held up as an example of short par-5s losing relevance in the age of the modern bomber. At a softened Pebble Beach in February, the wind bites a little harder and this hole kept its teeth, averaging 4.94 for the week.
-In fact only one tee shot all week traveled over 300 yards on No. 18. That drive was hit by — you guessed it! — Will Gordon. He was a one-man outlier this week.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
We’ve got our eyes on you.
The PGA Tour social media account! The Tour’s social channels have taken criticism in recent years for presenting an over-sanitized version of tournament golf. One high-profile moment came when they released a video of Jon Rahm and his caddie talking over a pivotal bunker shot at the 2019 Players — and then deleted it several hours later.
But the Tour deserves credit for a more transparent social media strategy in 2021. They released uncut videos from controversial drops taken by Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy at Torrey Pines. They had fun with Francesco Molinari topping his tee shot on Saturday at Pebble. And they posted video of Nate Lashley’s unfortunate four-putt on No. 16, a pivotal moment in the tournament. Because the Tour holds all social media rights to tournament video action (and polices others who may violate those rights), this is a positive step towards more viewers seeing what they want to see.
Who wore what?
The cold weather provided plenty of opportunity for pros to show off a variety of layering strategies, but one that I couldn’t quite get down with was Russell Knox’s beanie-over-hat combination.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good golf beanie. But what’s the point of wearing the hat underneath? It wasn’t raining. The sun couldn’t have been that bright. The beanie covers up any logos you’d be able to see. I don’t get it!
Knox is generally a smart dresser and looked sharp in various Vineyard Vines outerwear, but once I started thinking about the double-hat dilemma on Saturday I couldn’t think of anything else.
They sure can hurt!
Knox didn’t just violate the rules of fashion; he ran afoul of the Rules of Golf, too. After his ball moved slightly on the first fairway on Sunday as he addressed it, Knox called in a rules official, who initially determined he’d done nothing wrong — but later reversed that position, adding a penalty stroke as Knox played No. 5.
Knox didn’t mince words after his round. “It’s just one of those horrible rules which every one of us is against,” he said. “So it’s just one of those things that got me on edge all day, to be honest, starting that way. On No. 5 I got told they looked at it and I had to add a shot and right after a full horseshoe [at No. 4] and a downhill dead bunker shot [at no. 5]. So it was like a triple whammy on No. 5.”
Knox is running for chairman of the Tour’s Player Advisory Council. It sounds like there’s at least one rule he’d be interested in reaching out to golf’s governing bodies to address.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
The inside scoop on one awkward pairing.
In talking to the media, PGA Tour players are generally nice to each other, nearly always extend each other the benefit of the doubt and almost never use the word “cheater.” That’s what made it such a big deal when fan favorite Joel Dahmen called out playing partner Sung Kang at the Quicken Loans in 2018 for taking what he strongly believed was an incorrect drop.
The two haven’t interacted particularly often since then, but they reunited as playing partners in Sunday’s final round at Pebble — a grouping that immediately caught Dahmen’s attention.
After Sunday’s round, Dahmen’s caddie Geno Bonnalie recounted Kang’s words to Dahmen as they stood on their opening tee shot:
“My friends told me I should push you off a cliff.”
Joke? Half-joke? Tough to say; I wasn’t there. Keep in mind, though, that this took place on the new 10th tee, set very literally on the edge of a cliff. Bonnalie added that Dahmen laughed, and that “it was all good,” but I didn’t exactly get the impression these two will be splitting a summer house anytime soon.
Dahmen shot even-par 72, while Kang bogeyed his 17th and 18th holes to post 73. I reached out to Dahmen for a comment on the result and he responded with three words and three exclamation points over text:
“Ball don’t lie!!!”
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
A winter storm dropped nearly a foot of snow on our little Seattle neighborhood this weekend, which is literally unheard of. The streets turned to glorious mayhem. Sleds! Skis! Snowboards! I even saw a snowmobile heading through downtown Queen Anne. The city’s golf courses opened up for snow recreation. For those lucky enough to not have to try to drive anywhere, morale was decidedly high.
Three things to check out this week.
1. What does Spieth do next?
It’s currently the most compelling question in golf.
2. The Return of the King.
Dustin Johnson was scheduled to be back this past week, making his first full-field PGA Tour start since his win at the Masters. Since then, he has the same number of last-second pre-tournament WDs (two) as starts. He’s clearly in form. But how will he play?
3. Riviera Country Club!
There’s no secret what makes Pebble Beach such a spectacular Tour stop; a couple aerial views of 6-7-8 Sunday afternoon are reason enough to turn on the golf and gawk at the views. But what Riviera lacks in cliffs it makes up for in cleverness, nuance and the sort of drama befitting the old-school Hollywood vibes that still surround the tournament. Yeah, it stinks Tiger Woods isn’t playing. But there’s a reason pros generally vote Riv among their top few favorite courses on Tour. There’s plenty to be psyched about this week.