Phil takes aim, LIV’s major setback, $116 gambling suspension | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re recommending you dress like a three-foot putt for Halloween, just to see who gets scared. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Gambling is everywhere on the PGA Tour. Walk a practice round and you’ll see guys playing money games. Lurk by the putting green and you’ll hear ’em talking football. Listen to the chatter from the crowd and you’ll know who they’re pulling for and who they’re wishing evil upon. Think hard enough about it and you’ll come to the conclusion that the very act of turning pro is just making one big bet on yourself. So it was hardly a shocker that once the Tour started digging through its players’ sports betting histories it uncovered a few instances of guys gambling in ways that strayed outside its policies.
If you missed it, on Friday the Tour announced it had suspended two Korn Ferry Tour players, Jake Staiano and Vince India, for betting on the PGA Tour and violating the Integrity Program in the process. And to me, the biggest surprise wasn’t that they found two guys. It was that they didn’t find more. Staiano and India are suspended for three and six months, respectively. But this hardly seems like a Chicago Black Sox situation. The Tour made it clear neither pro bet on a tournament in which he was a competitor; this is the equivalent of a double-A baseball player betting on a major league game. And if you listen to Staiano’s account, this wasn’t exactly big-money business, either.
The 27-year-old Staiano joined Ryan French on his Any Given Monday podcast to explain that he’d placed four bets in total, each of them in 2021. One had been on Bryson DeChambeau to birdie a specific hole in a tournament. The other three had been on DeChambeau’s exhibition grudge match with Brooks Koepka in Las Vegas that fall. According to Staiano, the four wagers added up to $116.20. Now he’s out for three months.
For a top PGA Tour pro, skipping this three-month fall stretch would hardly be a punishment at all. But for Staiano, a guy battling to recapture his Korn Ferry Tour status, missing this stretch means missing Q-school. It means putting his dreams on hold another year.
To his credit, Staiano took full responsibility. He said the policy was clear and he recognizes he violated that policy. Still, it’s a jarring reminder that in an era where golfers earning unprecedented millions are dominating the discourse, $116.20 can change a career, too.
(You can hear the full interview with French and Staiano here. India has not yet spoken publicly about his suspension.)
Who won the week?
Celine Boutier won a nine-hole (!!) playoff over Atthaya Thitikul at the LPGA Tour’s inaugural Maybank Championship in Malaysia, charging into a share of the lead with a Sunday 64 before a lengthy duel ensued in which the pair went par-par-par-birdie-par-par-par-birdie before Boutier poured in the winning birdie putt on the 18th green to end things exactly one hole shy of the LPGA’s 10-hole playoff record. It’s Boutier’s fourth victory of her breakout season and the sixth of her career; she’s now in the lead for LPGA player of the year.
It was a strange week for the top tier of women’s professional golf, which saw its talent divided between the LPGA event in Malaysia and the Ladies European Tour Aramco event in Saudi Arabia. Alison Lee won the latter in preposterous fashion when she opened with record-shattering scores of 61-61 and finished off her 54 holes bogey-free en route to an eight-shot victory.
On the DP World Tour, Sami Valimaki bested Jorge Campillo in a playoff at the Qatar Masters, earning his first victory since 2020 and moving him into No. 7 in the Race to Dubai, putting him in position to earn one of 10 PGA Tour cards for 2024.
Australian amateur Jasper Stubbs, who lives just a mile from Royal Melbourne, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur title at his legendary home course on Sunday, earning berths in the Masters and Open Championship in the process. Stubbs rallied from six strokes back during the final round with a series of late birdies to earn his spot in a three-man playoff, where he made a spectacular birdie and then sealed things with a par one hole later.
Not first but definitely not last, either.
Two shots behind Boutier and Thitikul, Rose Zhang finished T3 at the Maybank. If you were tuning into Zhang’s professional debut back in June you’ll recall that she won that one — but it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows since then. The podium finish was her first top-30 in eight starts, which meant Zhang leaves the week without a trophy but with plenty of satisfaction.
This was also the week for DP World Tour pros to retain their cards by finishing in the top 116 (a nice round number) in the season-long standings. Scott Jamieson was the only player to move from the wrong side of the cut to the right side, jumping to No. 82 thanks to his T3 finish. Meanwhile Ross Fisher ended up the last man in thanks to a T36.
And then there was Alex Knappe, who finished T36 alongside Fisher to stay on the correct side of the bubble and admitted after the round just how emotionally trying the experience had been.
It’s status season, gang. If you’ve got it, you’re dying to keep it — but there are thousands more waiting for the chance to steal it away.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Phil Mickelson logged on again.
Just weeks after Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel revealed that his company had made a bid to invest in the PGA Tour, Endeavor’s COO Mark Shapiro made it clear that the PGA Tour had rejected their proposal.
“We’re big fans of golf, and we’ll continue to champion the PGA Tour, but we’re not going to be an investor at any level,” he told Sportico.
But that was just the beginning. An ESPN article on the subject inspired a response from Phil Mickelson, who chimed in on Twitter with his version of events.
“For clarity’s sake, Endeavor didn’t try to invest 2 years ago, SilverLake did,” Mickelson wrote, referring to the private equity firm with majority ownership of Endeavor. According to Mickelson, Endeavor — which already manages Tour events and is involved with selling the Tour’s commercial rights — would have been involved in the operation of a new proposed series involving team golf and top players.
“Ari and Endeavor were to run 8 elevated events and the players and SilverLake would own the new elevated events 50/50 in a separate entity. October 30, 2021 Ed Herlihy said the Tour would take a hostile view and shut this down if it’s not 100% owned by the PGA Tour,” Mickelson continued.
Sound familiar? This harkens back to a New York Post article from Feb. 2022 in which several anonymous sources talked about the proposal brought to Monahan and the Policy Board. From that Post story:
“The Tour could have ended all threat of the Saudi league had they done this,” one of the sources said. “This would be a collaborative effort. It was all worked out … until [Herlihy] shut it down in one sentence. It undermines everything the Tour has been saying about who they are — that this is owned by the players, this is run by the players. That is complete BS.”
Whether or not Mickelson was one of those original Post sources, he’s certainly sympathetic to their viewpoint and timeline of events. Back to his tweet, then:
“Then in February of 2022 SilverLake went back to Monahan and said The League was going to happen and these new elevated events could prevent players from leaving and Jay [Monahan] said ‘the players won’t go, they know what we will do to them’ so we won’t be doing this. SilverLake went back to Jay again May of 2022 and the same conversation took place. Jay and Ed had 3 opportunities to have elevated events that would be fully funded and could prevent division but their need to control everything(obnoxious greed) blinded their judgment. Let’s get the facts straight. All of this is in discovery of the civil case if it can be obtained. If not, I have it too.”
Whew! There’s more to explore from this tweet and from that timeline of events, and Mickelson is hardly an unbiased observer here. But if you’re looking to debate how the PGA Tour has handled (and how it should have handled) a looming Saudi threat, that is the critical zone. These are the decisions Monahan and the board made that will continue to be second-guessed as long as pro golf’s schism remains.
There’s a key two-word phrase Mickelson uses there — obnoxious greed — that harkens back to another story from February 2022. Mickelson sounded off at the Saudi International about the PGA Tour’s obnoxious greed in handling pros’ media rights, among other things. In the year-plus since then Mickelson has ping-ponged between scorched-earth and a gentler approach. This particular choice of words suggests he’s eager to go on the offensive again.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
Bryson’s plan gets nixed.
The Asia-Pacific Amateur brought with it appearances from Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley plus Martin Slumbers of the R&A, and during a press conference ahead of the event they were asked about the possibility that they might give LIV golfers exemptions despite the circuit not receiving world ranking points.
This had become a talking point in the LIV world in the days since the decision. Bryson DeChambeau suggested the majors take the top 12 from LIV’s 48-player fields. And in at least one report LIV claimed to be in touch with the R&A about making that happen. But both Ridley and Slumbers made it clear that’s not in the cards — not this year, at least.
Slumbers said that recent reports of LIV and the R&A collaborating on an exemption category have been “completely off the mark.”
“I would like to make it very clear that exemptions for the Open, we do not discuss them with anyone and nor would we at any point in time. I think it’s very important that you don’t lose sight of the fact that the Open is intended to be open to everybody; that you earn your place in the field, through exemptions, and that won’t change,” he said.
Ridley did point out that the Masters examines its qualifying criteria every year and left the door open for the possibility of a special exemption.
“As you’ll recall last year, there was some speculation as to whether or not we would invite LIV golfers. We stayed true to our qualification criteria. We invited everyone who was eligible,” he said. “While we do not, at this time, anticipate making a change in 2024, we do always look at [exemptions], and we will continue to do that. Our qualifications are very much dynamic, and we adjust to what we feel is in the best interest of a tournament representing the best players in the world. We’ll always look at that.”
DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Cameron Smith are the LIV golfers currently eligible for all four majors in 2024. Leading LIV money-winner Talor Gooch, by contrast, isn’t currently eligible for any.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
Rain is in the forecast, my good people. Stay optimistic out there.
3 things to watch this week.
1. A Tiger Woods-designed golf course, El Cardonal, will be featured on the PGA Tour for the first time ever when this week’s World Wide Technologies Championship heads to Cabo. Sneak peeks all look ridiculously scenic; let’s hope the broadcast transports us there.
2. Ludvig Aberg is back and he’s chasing his first PGA Tour win. The rookie enters the week as the tournament favorite in Mexico, and his last six tournaments back that up — he’s finished no worse than 14th in those half-dozen starts split between the DP World and PGA Tours.
3. Cameron Young is back in action for the first time since the FedEx Cup playoffs — and the first time since he was passed over for the Ryder Cup. El Cardonal should set up well for Young to contend, so that’s what I’d expect to see. But I’m curious if he’ll offer any thoughts on what went down in Rome, too.
We’ll see you next week!