Tiger’s meeting, Tour pros play Pine Valley, Saudi’s other golf strategy | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re holding a players-only meeting — but you’re invited. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Pine Valley, no warmup.
The purpose of the Monday Finish is vaguely this: I like to fill you in on a few things I thought were interesting from the past week in golf. But it’s also vitally important that I occasionally use this space to remind you that PGA Tour players are complete freaks.
Their freakishness isn’t as obvious from the outside as, say, the NFL, where you might see an offseason video of Aaron Donald squatting a midsized SUV, or something like that. The Tour doesn’t really have Aaron Donalds. The freakishness is in the relentlessness and the consistency. It’s in the details.
Enter Scottie Scheffler, who rolled up to Pine Valley with caddie Ted Scott on the Sunday before the BMW Championship. If you, like most of the field this week, have no idea where Delaware actually is (“All the same thing to me, honestly,” Jon Rahm said of the region), just know that it’s sorta close to Philadelphia. Pine Valley is in southern New Jersey, but it turns out that is sorta close to Philadelphia, too. Hence the Sunday tee time coming off a missed cut.
Pine Valley is the consensus No. 1-ranked golf course in the world. It’s also widely considered one of the toughest courses in the world. There are forced carries, sloping greens, punishing misses, endless waste areas and an unmatched brawniness to the place that’s difficult to understand given we never see much of the course. So it would be tough to roll in there and play your best.
But Scottie Scheffler is the No. 1 golfer in the world, so different rules apply. How’d his day go at Pine Valley?
“I think I shot 3-under, which was pretty good,” he said. “[Ted and I] flew straight in, went straight to the first tee. Had a sandwich in the clubhouse for like two minutes and then went straight to the first tee, so it was a little different than my usual warm-up routine for the round.”
He gave Scott seven shots, though I don’t know how the match ended up. Shooting three under without a warmup is a tall task regardless of strokes.
It wasn’t just Scheffler out there, either. Jordan Spieth was in the group behind him, playing with his caddie Michael Greller.
“Michael almost accidentally hit [Scottie] a few times,” Spieth said. He and Greller were accompanied by area legend Michael McDermott, a new Augusta National member who was rumored to serve as the heir to Jeff Knox, longtime club champion and frequent Masters marker. Their fourth was Spieth’s agent Jay Danzi.
“Why does Danzi always get to play?” one reporter asked. Spieth answered honestly.
“He’s itching for a membership there,” he said. He’s not the only one.
WHAT WE’RE SEEING
Another Saudi golf strategy is drawing far less attention.
It would have been a dream ending for any women’s golf tournament.
There was Jessica Korda, holding the final-round lead. And there was her younger sister Nelly, chasing her down with a ridiculous run of birdies. She birdied 7-8-9, then 12-13-14, then 16 for good measure. Jess couldn’t keep pace and Nelly came out on top on the back of a final-round 67. The victory was significant for the world No. 3: It was her first since last fall.
“I haven’t won this year, so it feels nice to get a win under my belt but I’m also very sad as it wasn’t the day Jess was expecting,” Nelly said. “I guess we were hoping for a bit more of a battle going down the stretch, but it’s golf and that sometimes happens.”
Had it happened within the more familiar confines of the LPGA Tour, perhaps you would have heard more about it. Instead this came at the Aramco Team Series, a Ladies European Tour event at the La Reserva Club de Sotogrande in Spain. What’s interesting — and complicating — about the new five-event team series is that it’s an LET event sponsored by Aramco and presented by the Public Investment Fund. Aramco is the Saudi Arabian national oil company and the Public Investment Fund is the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.
The LET isn’t Aramco’s only foray into sports; their logo can be found at certain Formula 1 races, often front and center. (Look no further than the F1’s Aramco United States Grand Prix, which comes to Austin, Tex. in October.) But in the golf world, the PIF is better known as the source of funding for LIV, which has been decried due to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. That’s not the only reason pros (and fans) have rejected LIV, but it’s a major talking point among its critics.
It’s interesting, then, to think of the Aramco Series as an alternate reality for the LIV-PGA Tour battle. If you go back a few years, the DP World Tour had the Saudi International and PGA Tour players received releases to go play there. Saudi money was tolerable at that level of exposure. But once LIV established itself as a full-on rival league, both the DP and PGA Tours rejected their members’ requests to play for LIV while also keeping status on their home tours. DP World Tour head Keith Pelley has talked about the possibility of Saudi money flowing in through the existing ecosystem, and Rory McIlroy has echoed those sentiments. But the idea of the PIF owning a league that would rival or outpace the existing tours was a different animal.
I’m curious, then, what would have happened if the PIF or Aramco had attempted some sort of Trojan-horse entry point into the PGA Tour. What if they’d sponsored some PGA Tour/DP World Tour big-money crossover event? It’s not as if the Tour’s sponsors all have squeaky-clean records, after all — it’s possible to imagine that a few years back the Aramco Championship could have gotten approved, given how their deep pockets could help the Tour.
LIV is distinctly different in several ways. If it succeeds, it will kneecap the PGA Tour and permanently change the landscape of professional golf. There is also a difference between a sponsor paying for naming rights to a tournament versus pros playing for that sponsor’s self-owned tour, particularly when that sponsor is the Saudi government.
I’m not here to tell you how to feel about all of this. We can save that for a future Monday Finish. But this weekend’s Korda duel, which featured two of the game’s best-known stars going head-to-head, reminded us that none of this is simple.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
Tiger’s meeting seems to be working.
Based off conversations I have had plus intrepid reporting from No Laying Up and Fire Pit, Tiger Woods’ arrival in Delaware this week was significant. On Tuesday night Woods and what was believed to be 22 other pros met at the Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware. The meeting was restricted to players only; it was just this small group plus a consultant who walked players through a series of proposals for the Tour’s future.
“I’ve heard Tiger is the new commissioner, right? That’s what everyone has been saying,” joked Patrick Cantlay ahead of the meeting. (He wound up having a good week.)
No Laying Up reported the following players in attendance, in order of their world ranking at the time: Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Will Zalatoris, Viktor Hovland, Matt Fitzpatrick, Sam Burns, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau, Billy Horschel, Cameron Young, Joaquin Niemann, Max Homa, Shane Lowry, Tyrrell Hatton, Kevin Kisner, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Woods.
It’s a hugely important group. Fourteen of the top 15 players in the world (Cameron Smith wasn’t there) plus a bunch of other heavyweights and, of course, Woods. McIlroy called him the clear alpha in the room. Thomas explained the importance of his presence:
“Yeah, that’s huge. I think if someone like him is passionate about it, no offense to all of us, but that’s really all that matters. If he’s not behind something, then one, it’s probably not a good idea in terms of the betterment of the game, but two, it’s just not going to work. He needs to be behind something.”
Xander Schauffele summarized the general good vibes coming out of it: “It was a really nice meeting. It was great. It was exciting. It was new. It was fresh. Coming up with other adjectives here, yeah, I am very hopeful with what’s to come, I should say.”
Let’s read between the lines here. Some of those pros — think Scott and Fowler — have openly mused about LIV’s perks, and several others on that list have been rumored to leave. But the word on the ground was that, following some back and forth, every player in attendance agreed on a proposal to bring to top Tour brass.
Some PGA Tour fans have been bracing for a mass exodus for LIV at the season’s end. What all of this means is that won’t be happening; there are only a few big-name pros who might make the leap and I think it’s distinctly possible that just one additional pro from the top 30 leaves ahead of the 2023 season.
Top PGA Tour players have rallied together in an attempt to take ownership over their league and find ways to increase entertainment value and profitability. There will be a longer offseason and a more obvious hierarchy on Tour, with a number of events (maybe 12-15) that feature the game’s top players up against each other, which means we’ll know when the *actual* marquee events are. This plan sounds like it’s working. At least, for now.
The court rulings are having an effect, too. The current reality is that LIV pros are almost certain to be barred from the PGA Tour until at least 2024, which has significant implications for world rankings and major championship eligibility. That spooked some pros who initially expected they’d be able to play both while the leagues legislated their differences.
This is also a good week for the Tour. This is when they hand out all their cash, after all. It should be the week they control the narrative. LIV will get its own volley in ahead of its next event, when it debuts new players and hands out buckets of its own cash.
And on and on it goes.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
I went to San Francisco last weekend to see some family and flew out of a different airport: Paine Field in Everett, just north of the city. It was a 35-minute drive which is about eight minutes longer than it takes to get to SeaTac. But when I got there I was flabbergasted. We parked right out front. Checked in in about two minutes. Settled into a comfy chair in a brand-new terminal that felt more like the lobby of a trendy boutique hotel than it did like an airport.
What an experience! I’ve never flown private but this felt like it. I’m a longtime lover of small airports but had never experienced this level of luxury nor convenience. I’m already regretting typing this just because I don’t want the secret to get out. But shoutout to the good people at Paine Field, the good people at Alaska Airlines and shoutout to small airports everywhere.
3 things to watch this week.
1. Who wins the FedEx Cup?
We’ve grown numb to big numbers, but it’s still eye-popping to remember that the winner of this week’s event scores $18 million. Eighteen million dollars! That’s a preposterous amount of money. And while second place still gets $6.5 mil, we could be looking at putts down the stretch that are worth eight figures. Yowza.
2. What will Jay say?
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan addresses the media on Tuesday. I expect there will be a number of questions on a number of topics. How forthcoming will he be on future schedule changes and on discussions he has had with Tour pros? Given the legal action underway, I’d expect Monahan to speak cautiously, but I’m eager to hear him nonetheless.
3. Who will drop the furthest?
The interesting thing about this week’s format is that you can fall all the way to the bottom of the standings. Jon Rahm pointed this out last week: if the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl and lose, they still finish second. If Cantlay (currently No. 2) plays terribly this week he could finish 30th.
The good news? He’d still win last-place money, which comes out to a cool $500,000.
We’ll see you next week!