Tour Confidential: Scheffler’s ascent, and Mickelson missing the Masters
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we break down the new world No. 1, the oddities of match play and the first major championship of the year.
1. Scottie Scheffler, with his win at the WGC-Match Play on Sunday and three victories overall since last month, will incredibly rise to world No. 1 on Monday. It also confirms that he is no doubt the hottest player heading into Augusta. Scheffler’s ascent was swift and unexpected. Which elements of his game have most powered his run to No. 1?
Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): His laidback nature. When players win for the first time, it’s often followed by an exhale of some sort. They might plateau for a bit once they’ve done it. But I think when certain players like Scottie are so calm in victory, so expecting that it will happen, it makes nabbing that second win easier. It’s almost like each win was a launching pad for the next one. This one could be a launching pad for a major. Side note: This guy had zero Tour wins on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday!
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: The country-boy power of his swing (and yes I know he’s a Jersey boy by birth). Just so athletic, so sound, so simple. Sort of like Dustin Johnson without some of the unusual positions.
James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): I’m always amazed by his toughness. Scheffler’s best shot of the week — a near-albatross from 250 yards out — came just seconds after Dustin Johnson cut the deficit from five down to one down in the semifinal match. The match-cementing birdie was impressive, but for him to find that level of execution in that moment was, well, special.
Tim Reilly, social media editor (@LifeOfTimReilly): Scheffler’s demeanor for a 25-year-old amazes me. Unlike fellow Texan Jordan Spieth who takes us on a rollercoaster ride with every round he plays, Scheffler remains cool, calm and collected in all circumstances. He has a presence about him well beyond his years and one that should keep him close to World No. 1 well beyond this week.
2. Kevin Kisner continued his impressive play in the Match Play, reaching the final for the third time in his past four appearances. Is there anything weekend golfers can pick up from Kisner’s play to help them in their own matches?
Zak: Kisner talked about hitting every fairway, and hitting first from the fairway. He gives his opponents something to look at. Get inside this! It definitely plays tricks on the perception of an advantage.
Bamberger: Citing Churchill, in what is purported to be the shortest graduation remarks ever given: “Never give up, never give up, never give up. Never give up.” Like Tiger, talking about what he’s proudest of in his professional career: the cut streak. Do. Not. Quit.
Colgan: Mind games! They’re real! And they’re a part of golf! Good on Kis for mastering the art and maximizing his game in the process.
Reilly: Spend time on the practice greens. Kisner can’t bomb it like his peers but he sure can roll the rock. That’s something the average golfer has a better chance of obtaining than Bryson DeChambeau distance. He’s never out of a match because there’s never a putt Kisner doesn’t look confident in making. Nothing aggravates a match play opponent more than someone who continues to find the bottom of the cup.
3. In one of the more bizarre rules incidents, Thomas Pieters was not allowed rules relief from a sprinkler head at the Match Play as red paint indicating the penalty area ran across it. But … when Bryson DeChambeau hit into the same area later in the day, he was permitted to take a drop, as officials repainted the line, in a rare admission of error. Should the mistake have been corrected mid-round?
Zak: This was the perfect tournament where a mistake in painting a hazard could have been made. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with righting a wrong, so kudos to the officials for admitting their mistake. It wouldn’t have happened in stroke play.
Bamberger: Exactly, Sean. In match-play, no reason NOT to fix it. You couldn’t in a stroke-play event, not during that day’s play.
Colgan: It helps everybody! Hurts no one! It’s good for the econom — okay, I’ve been spending too much time on TikTok. But seriously, what the Sean and Michael said is spot on.
Reilly: The only mistake would’ve been not correcting this initial wrong.
4. This week, the year’s first LPGA major, the newly named Chevron Championship, tees off at Mission Hills, for what will be the last edition of the event in the Southern California desert; next year the tournament is moving to a yet-to-be announced venue in the Houston area. Chevron has already boosted the purse from $3.1 million to $5 million and, beginning in 2023, the event is slated to move to a later spring date so it doesn’t compete with the Masters. Any downside for the relocation?
Zak: Eh, biggest downside is that the finishing stretch at Mission Hills was pretty fun. We’ll miss the Poppy’s Pond treatment, but change is okay. I’m ready for something new.
Bamberger: I’m sorry to see the LPGA cut ties to Dinah Shore and Mission Hills and the fans that flocked there annually. What made it a major were those things: the Dinah heritage, the course, the fans. Now you’re starting over. Majors don’t start over. I hope it works for them and I expect Chevron will do things the right way, but you can’t buy history and loyalty and emotion. I asked Judy Rankin the other day what she calls the tournament in her mind. You can guess the answer. The Dinah. The Dinah Shore. Dinah.
Colgan: The tournament had such a rich history in its location, particularly thanks to its founding mother, Dinah Shore. I won’t miss the Blue Monster, but I’ll miss the tournament and what it represented.
Reilly: Good move to get away from the Masters, and I get where Michael is coming from in terms of relocation. You can’t just replicate history and carry over the championship’s legacy after so many years from one location to the next. But, the LPGA could use some fresh changes. The boosted purse is a start. Hopefully, the to-be-determined venue is the start to a new budding tradition … with the additional eye balls the LPGA deserves.
5. Phil Mickelson, Augusta National confirmed this week, will not be playing in the Masters. This comes on the heels of his controversial comments on the Saudi-funded league, and subsequent apology. But next up on the major calendar is the PGA Championship, of which Mickelson is the defending champion. Do you suspect Phil will play at Southern Hills, and, if he does, what are the chances he makes any public appearances before then?
Zak: I think he will play at Southern Hills. You cannot talk about that event without talking about him. He’s got another seven weeks to lick his wounds, and make another public statement or host a press conference. People will welcome him back with open arms.
Bamberger: You know, there’s a PGA dinner, too, for former champions, with the reigning champion picking the dessert course, the tab and everything else. I don’t think even the appetizer course has been selected. There’s more going on here than we know. Is Phil suspended? (Here on out is all conjecture. My guess is yes.) Can the PGA of America have in the field of the PGA Championship a player who is suspended by the PGA Tour? (Almost certainly yes.) Would it want such a player? (Likely no.) Would Phil push his way into a field where he is not wanted? (Owing to his deep ties to the PGA of America, I would say no.) Is he being considered as a potential assistant Ryder Cup captain for next year? (Not if he plays in these Saudi events.) Will he play in the Saudi events? (My guess is yes.) Did he tell Augusta that he wants to take a year off? My guess is Augusta suggested to Phil that this might be a good year to take a year off. Because Augusta is in lockstep with the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour, you know, doesn’t announce suspensions.
Colgan: There’s certainly more to the story here than we know, but as of right now, we’re being led to believe that Phil’s shadow ban is due entirely to his words with Alan Shipnuck. Don’t get me wrong, those words were inexcusable, in particularly poor taste, flat-out dumb … whatever you’d like to call them. But while the same rival league sets up camp next door, wooing plenty of players from the PGA Tour ranks, some of whom undoubtedly share Phil’s (woefully misguided) beliefs, were his comments alone really worth being publicly shunned from the majors? I think not. If I’m a betting man, we’ll see him at Southern Hills.
Reilly: I’d be shocked if Phil doesn’t play at Southern Hills. If he’s not there, then there’s far more to the Mickelson saga than we’re aware of. My guess is Phil sits down for an interview sometime between the Masters and PGA Championship to begin his reemergence. From there, he tees it up to defend his PGA Championship victory. I’m mostly intrigued to see fan reaction over how Phil might play in his eventual return.
6. The USGA announced this week that Oakland Hills, following an unfortunate clubhouse fire, will be the host for the 2034 and 2051 U.S. Opens. When the latter rolls around, which now-20-something will have won the most majors: Scheffler, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Jon Rahm … or other?
Zak: Fun question! I’ll take Rahm, who I’d guess wins a Masters and British Open. Maybe a couple of each!
Bamberger: Wow, Sean — you are bullish on the young Spaniard! I’m going to say Spieth. He has the three. By ‘51, I could see him having four.
Colgan: I see where you’re going with that, Michael. If I’m a betting man, I’ll take Morikawa, whose game seems tailor-made for major play. But I’m not sure any of the group above is getting to more than five.
Reilly: I’m with young James Colgan. Who might even hit 30 years old himself by 2051. Morikawa’s game translates so well for all conditions and I see him ultimately sitting atop this group in terms of major championships.