Jordan Spieth’s near-miss, Rory McIlroy’s absence, one dangerous golf house | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re breathlessly awaiting more details from Russell Wilson’s golf-cart turnover. In the meantime…let’s ride.
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Beware the Slice House.
Let’s start with a peek behind the curtain: I’m typing this beginning section on a plane from Charleston to Seattle — which is, incredibly, a direct flight, shoutout to Alaska Airlines — coming off a multi-day bachelor party. In addition to the emotional comedown that hits after a memorable buddies trip, there’s a two-year-old sitting directly behind me who is alternating between shrieking and kicking. And because I’ve consumed my body weight in water this morning I’m desperate for a bathroom run — but the couple next to me just got snack boxes and double Bloody Marys (everyone is coping with the shrieking in their own ways) which means I can’t legally ask to get out of the row until they make solid progress.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though: I’m streaming the final few holes of the RBC! The decrease in cost and increase in effectiveness of in-flight wifi has been one of the greatest small joys of my last 12 months. Jordan Spieth is in good position. I’ll let you know by the end of the article how he ends up doing.
The real reason I mentioned this bachelor party, though, is because we booked a rental house on a golf course and the experience was an eye-opener. I’ve read plenty of horror stories about homes abutting courses; there are plenty of fascinating lawsuits from angry neighbors. But when we’d booked we had no idea that our home was just over 200 yards off the tee down the right side of a par-4. Per a USGA study, the average male golfer hits driver 215 yards. And per a GOLFTEC study, at least 60 percent of golfers battle a slice. In other words, we were in the kill zone.
On Friday morning we found a few strays from the day before. It didn’t take long before more came whizzing overhead. The first clipped a tree and came tumbling through, landing just beside a group of us. The next flew into a group of trees some 10 yards ahead. The whole thing made for terrific people-watching — we cheered a few recovery shots from our yard — but did add an element of uncertainty to the whole thing. After one ball careened off the roof and into the pool and then, just seconds later, another came through the trees and onto the deck (presumably from the same offender, quickly re-teeing) a little uneasiness joined the entertainment value.
Two quick takeaways:
1. We threw back most of the balls that came through, hoping to build up good-bounce karma for future rounds. But not once did a golfer seem to suspect that they’d gotten a favorable bounce from an outside agency, despite their ball mysteriously appearing 30 yards left of where it left their sight. Instead they just played on, no questions asked. Golf’s punishing enough that we take the lucky breaks where we can and move on.
2. If you live in this type of situation, I see you. I feel for you. And unless you put a cage over your entire house, I’m just not sure what you’re supposed to do. Golf’s slicers are many, they are powerful, and they’re coming for your sliding-glass door.
Who won the week?
It’s hardly a rags-to-riches story, but it’s a pleasant and satisfying one nonetheless: Matthew Fitzpatrick has always wanted to win at Hilton Head. He and his family used to come here “on holiday” and they’d watch golf and play golf, too. He loves the course. He loves the tournament. Other than the majors, it’s the one he wants most. And he’s said that if he could just win it he’d retire happy. After a dreamy conclusion to his Sunday — birdies at 15 and 16 and then a bold line on a flagged shot at 17, even though he missed the putt — he ultimately finished off Jordan Spieth on the third playoff hole by nearly holing a 9-iron. That’s dream stuff and, I hope, immensely satisfying for Fitzpatrick and for his family.
His post-round reaction? “I think I can retire now,” he said. We don’t think he will just yet, though.
The LPGA jetted to Hawaii where Grace Kim won the LOTTE Championship in just her third start as a rookie. The 22-year-old Australian birdied her 72nd and 73rd holes and then triumphed in a three-way playoff with a birdie on the first extra hole, the par-5 18th. She jumped up to No. 80 in the Rolex Rankings and booked herself a spot in this week’s Chevron, the first major of the season, plus a winner’s check for $300,000. Not a bad haul for a trip to Oahu.
Spencer Levin won on the Korn Ferry Tour. It was his first victory in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event (it was his 343rd try) and his first win anywhere since he played the Canadian Tour in 2008. Levin, now 38, has achieved cult-hero status from wearing his heart on his sleeve, javelining flagsticks, making bold birdies and plenty more (one collection of stories is here) but he’s looking for a different type of status, too: PGA Tour status. Levin hasn’t been on the big Tour since the 2016-17 season but the win moved him up to No. 11 on the KFT money list and in position to make his return.
“She’s almost 2. And the first thing she said is she pointed out the window and said, ‘Bird. Bird. Bird.’ So I knew it was probably good vibes,” Levin said. He made eight total against zero bogeys (while still wielding a Happy Gilmore-style putting stroke to stave off anything yippy) for a final-round 63 and a one-shot win. Good for him.
Jon Rahm remains a winner given he still has that green coat from the Masters he won last week. He got extra credit for keeping his commitment to the RBC Heritage and playing to a T15. He got extra-extra credit for sticking around after his round and joining the CBS broadcast, where he brought smarts, insight, playfulness and personality to a couple segments including a strange Patrick Cantlay chip shot. He also brought the best out of the CBS crew, including this year’s popular addition to the booth, Trevor Immelman. But Immelman freely admitted he was relieved Rahm doesn’t want his job.
And the Designated Events model was reinforced as a winner by the way it elevated this particular event on a distinctly different style of course. Harbour Town has produced a wide variety of winners, but by the end of the weekend it was a large group of thoroughbreds competing for the top spot. Getting those names together on top of the leaderboard is the best thing the PGA Tour can do. I’m still unsure about the anti-climax of a tournament the week after the Masters but perhaps there’s something to be said for building on existing momentum?
If you’re not first you can still be second — or third!
Jordan Spieth played well enough to win. It’s actually tough to get much closer to winning than Spieth did, given his birdie putt on the first playoff hole was, like, basically in until wiggling just far enough right to miss. Spieth lost his hat and his putter and eventually lost to Fitzpatrick’s heroics. But he’s playing as well as he’s played in years, logging five top-six finishes in eight starts and jumping to No. 9 in the world. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him in front of good pal Justin Thomas in the World Ranking, but JT is down at No. 14, no doubt with some extra motivation to get climbing.
Yu Liu and Yu Jin Sung finished tied at 12 under alongside Grace Kim but fell to T2 when she birdied the first playoff hole. Still, it was the best LPGA result of Sung’s career and matched one other T2 for Liu.
“It was a bit unexpected, to be honest,” Liu said after her closing 64. “I felt [like] I overachieved today. if I knew starting off the day I knew I would end up in a playoff, I would be definitely very happy.” Sounds like she’s leaving happy. That’s almost-winner stuff.
Rory McIlroy skipped the RBC after a surprising missed cut at the Masters, possibly forgoing $3 million and inviting plenty of scrutiny in the process. I’m not particularly interested in passing judgment on McIlroy’s decision until we hear from him, but his absence was strange in the context of the last year. He’s the one who popularized the Tom Brady metaphor, where he knew if he turned on the Tampa Bay Bucs game, Brady would be playing. And McIlroy is media-savvy enough to know that he’d get crushed from some corners for no-showing Hilton Head. The fact that he did so anyway suggests he really didn’t feel like he could play.
Christina Kim made her first LPGA start of 2023 and it went incredibly well for about 59 holes; she’d reached nine under par for the event and would have finished T6 if she’d played even-par golf the rest of the way. Instead she made five bogeys and a triple for a disappointing 78. While she took plenty of positives from the week — and her T31 finish is better than any result from 2022 — there’s no doubt some heartbreak mixed in there, too.
Russell Wilson opened himself up to an internet’s-worth of jokes about turnovers, Arrowhead and his “let’s ride” catchphrase. The embarrassment of flipping a golf cart was probably enough before any of the rest of that, but here we are. Not a winner.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
The 50-50-50 days.
I’ve been trying to dial in a theory on a specific type of early-spring Seattle day, and I think I’ve hit it: there are a fair number of days that are forecast for about a 50-50 chance that it’ll hit 50 degrees. If the drizzle hangs in and we never hit 50, it’s not great activities weather. But if the clouds burn off, the sun starts rocking and that temperature climbs over 50? People take to the streets. Walking. Running. Hiking. Eating. Drinking. Spreading good vibes. And yes, playing golf. We’re looking at a bunch of 50-50-50 days coming up. Wish us luck.
3 things to watch this week.
1. Major Szn
After a half-century in the Coachella Valley, this week’s Chevron (formerly the Dinah Shore and the ANA) begins a new era in Houston at Carlton Woods. The good news? According to the tournament director it’ll still be safe for the winner to make the jump into the pond adjacent No. 18.
2. Zurich’s Defending Champs
Patrick Cantlay has been in the spotlight the last two weeks for some good reasons — he contended at both Augusta National and Hilton Head — but has also been catching heat for how long he spends over the ball. His playing partner Xander Schauffele is coming off top-10s at those two events, too. They’re No. 4 and No. 5 in the world. And they’re the defending champs. Can anyone beat ’em in New Orleans?
3. LIV Down Undah
LIV Golf’s trek to Australia promises a proper party. This is expected to be a big week for LIV’s in-person experience, having sold plenty of tickets to a golf-starved region that seems ready to get rowdy. How will that translate to TV viewers and international buzz? We’ll see how it goes down this weekend.