Monday Finish: 87-yard drives, a caddie surprise and a laser beam 3-wood
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where scenic broadcast shots have us looking at timeshares in Hawaii — and surfing lessons, too. But first, to the golf:
THE BEST THING I SAW THIS WEEK
The greatest golf shot of 2022 to this point is unquestionably Hideki Matsuyama‘s playoff 3-wood, and it’s going to be damn hard to unseat from that position.
Do you remember a few years ago when Brandel Chamblee tried making the case that Dustin Johnson‘s 400-yard tee shot that nearly rolled in the hole was the greatest golf shot of all time? (He was obviously wrong, but) Matsuyama’s was much better. From 277 yards, he sent a laserbeam 3-wood into the stratosphere, 131 feet high, and if we believe the broadcast, he hit 177 mph ball speed off the deck with 3-wood, too. That would actually exceed his season-long average with driver (172.7 mph). Full send.
Whatever the ball speed, Matsuyama’s Srixon landed like a marble in jello and plopped to a stop less than three feet from the hole, ensuring that he wouldn’t just win the sudden-death playoff but that he would do so with an eagle 3, half the strokes required by his opponent Russell Henley, who eventually made 6.
Part of the appeal of amateur golfers watching professional golfer is that the guys at home can hit plenty of the shots they see on TV — just not quite as frequently. But then there are occasional shots so heroic you wouldn’t dream of matching them, like a 277-yard fairway wood that you planned to fly about 272 and then yank it to a dead halt.
A quick aside: Listen to the Drop Zone!
Who won the week?
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA’S SENSE OF HUMOR
Because most of what we hear from Hideki Matsuyama comes through a translator, it’s tough to know for sure. But it definitely seems as though Matsuyama, inscrutable for years, is loosening up a bit behind the mic. And while I was curious what Japanese phrase he uttered on Friday turned into translator Bob Turner saying “that’s a tough row to hoe when you’re that far back,” I was even more tickled by with the grin he elicited when asked about serving IHOP at his Masters Champion’s Dinner. And best of all came the final line of his presser:
“I’ll have my share of sake tonight and we’ll see you all in San Diego at Torrey Pines.”
Well said. And well-earned. Matsuyama has a green jacket now. He has won the Zozo, a PGA Tour event in his home country. He has won eight Tour events, climbed back into the top 10 in the world. He acknowledged his life has changed.
“It [is] because the pressure of not winning a major has been gone,” he said. That seems to be a good feeling.
THOSE TREES LEFT OF 18
If you were watching the 72nd hole of competition you likely saw Matsuyama tee his ball up in an interesting spot on 18 and then rip a high draw over the corner of the dogleg.
Why send my coworker Sean and thousands of viewers into momentary anxiety? Because the trees left of 18 are uniquely suited to making Tour pros look like morons. Every year players look to cut the corner, and every year a few of ’em hit the trees instead, doinking off to somewhere embarrassing from which they’ll hit their second shot. Last year’s crop included a ricochet shot from MJ Daffue that went just 63 yards from the tee. This year, six tee shots failed to travel 200 yards, including the following:
Stephen Jaeger: 174 yards, second round, par
Tom Hoge, 160 yards, second round, bogey
Kyle Stanley, 157 yards, final round, par
Garrett Okamura, 142 yards, second round, bogey
Jimmy Walker, 103 yards, final round, bogey
Harry Higgs, 87 yards, second round, par
You can see ’em indicated by the arrows below:
Sure, the yellow dots (eagles) are impressive, and the red dots (birdies) aren’t so bad either. But I’m much more fascinated by that blue dot nearest the tee is Higgs’ 87-yarder. It’s worth noting that both Jaeger and Hoge hit the fairway. And it’s worth noting that in golf, the irrelevant little details are often the funniest.
They get moral victories, though. And money.
RUSSELL HENLEY’S LIP-OUT
It’s actually tough to be much closer to winning without actually winning than Russell Henley was on Sunday. His bid for a winning birdie at No. 18 was hit with proper pace and was tracking on a good line before it wiggled to the right, caught an edge of the cup and just spun out on the far side, leaving a tap-in par and a playoff. That’s where he would find himself on the receiving end of Matsuyama’s 73rd-hole eagle.
“I’m really still scratching my head on how I missed that. It was really close to going in,” Henley said afterwards. “I was close to getting a win. So, tough to swallow, but Hideki played great all day and I’m happy for him.”
Henley earned $817,500 for his heartbreak and moved to a career-best No. 40 in the world, though. Solid consolation prizes.
THE WORLD’S BEST AMATEUR
Top-ranked am Keita Nakajima received an exemption into the event and made it clear he has the game to compete when he opened 67-64 to sit on the first page of the leaderboard. He faded with a Saturday 72 but shot 67 on Sunday and finished an exceedingly respectable 41st. And then he got to enjoy the final holes of his golfing hero, Matsuyama, chasing down the lead. His plans post-round:
“I will practice then watch Hideki Matsuyama,” he said. That’s a nice Sunday. Next up: Masters prep. Nakajima is already in at Augusta.
THE RETIRED CADDIE
Tim Tucker — of Bryson DeChambeau fame — was on the bag for Canadian up-and-comer Adam Svensson this week. It went quite well; Svensson logged a career-best Tour finish of T7. Tucker is reportedly on a two-week trial; time will tell if this is a temporary thing or if he has decided the full-time looper life is calling after a few months away. So far, so good.
THE FORMER PRODIGY
The last time Haotong Li made a cut on the PGA Tour he held a two-shot lead at the 2020 PGA Championship and went viral when he stayed more than five hours after his round, hitting balls. Then he fell off the map, missing more than a dozen cuts in a row and sliding from No. 32 in the world to the edge of the top 500.
But this week he seemed every bit the player who qualified sixth for the International Presidents Cup team in 2019; he was near the lead for 36 holes and hung in there on the weekend. Needing birdie at No. 18 for any chance at a top 10, he flagged a short-iron to kick-in range to post 15 under. While that wasn’t quite good enough to earn another start next week — he finished T12 — it’s a massive step in the right direction.
Not this week.
THE TWITTER BEEFERS
I admire persistence, so I’m impressed with Grayson Murray‘s relentless ability to keep logging onto Twitter and stepping on rakes. And this weekend’s opening salvo with Kevin Na was mostly in good fun — Murray hopping on the Na-plays-slow train, Na coming back over the top with a big-time ouchie:
All good, right? But with golf beefs we can never seem to leave well enough alone, and so Murray came back with some tough-guy stuff:
And kept the jabs coming, while Na took a victory lap on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, where he crowed that even notorious Twitter dunker Brooks Koepka hit him up with praise.
Rule No. 1 of making Twitter jokes: Don’t brag about your Twitter jokes. Here’s what Na said:
“It was amazing how many players and caddies came up to me and complimented me, not on my round, about my tweet. I’ve had some big boys telling me how good it was. Even Brooks messaged me — Brooks Koepka messaged me saying how good of a tweet that was.
“Somebody mentioned oh, is this [like] the duel you had with Bryson and Brooks? First of all, [Murray’s] not even on Tour. You have to be somebody to make this worthwhile or make money out of this match. I mean, I can barely create a buzz — barely. I’m not a major-winner. I’m just a maybe above-average player on Tour. And who’s this guy? Nobody cares. That’s the sad part.”
I get it. Na logged an online W. He was excited and we appreciate his good humor and his honesty. But the updated power rankings of this beef are as follows:
No further updates necessary. We hope.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
One thing I’ve noticed about Seattle is that everyone seems to have the exact same winter threshold for what is considered “good weather.” Yes, there’s a hearty baseline of dog-walkers and determined runners who will take to the streets in cold and rain and sleet and whatever else. But when the sun appears, even if it’s only 42 degrees, the entire city seems to declare it emergency activity time and heads outdoors. That means golf courses get mobbed. But it means contagious good vibes, too. We’ve got a few sunny days in the forecast ahead. I’m fired up!
Three things to watch this week.
1. MATTHEW WOLFF’S RETURN
After a rollercoaster year, Wolff finished 2021 on a hot streak with four consecutive top-20s (including a runner-up). He’s been putting in some wild work with coach George Gankas. More good times ahead?
2. ACTION IN ABU DHABI
Collin Morikawa and Rory McIlroy headline the field in Abu Dhabi this week for the HSBC Championship, a compelling event that also includes Viktor Hovland, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and … Bearded Adam Scott.
3. THE LPGA IS BACK
It’s the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, and oh what a vacation! The LPGA season is kicking off in Orlando with most of its biggest names in attendance including Nelly Korda, Lydia Ko, Inbee Park, Danielle Kang and Michelle Wie West.
We broke down the upcoming season (plus the inside scoop on Netflix’s PGA Tour show) on the Drop Zone below. Have a listen and we’ll see you next week!