Tiger Woods’ broken silence, Rickie Fowler’s coaching change, Cantlay’s defenders | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where our 4th of July party just shifted from red, white and blue to orange, orange and — you guessed it — orange. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Tiger Woods speaks! (on Twitter)
Over the weekend the golf conversation in the internet’s defective public square, Twitter, took a turn when user desertdufferLLG began posting screenshots from a series of legal documents. Some of the more intriguing bits involved the PGA Tour’s discussions around (and blueprint for the acquisition of) the DP World Tour, Saudi involvement in professional golf and talking points drafted by the Tour for key figures in its operations, including Tiger Woods.
In other words, the story had a little bit of everything.
There was also the story behind the story, which is an enthusiastic golf-fan-slash-lawyer beating establishment media to the documents. As it turned out, the documents weren’t leaked; they were released last week as a part of a 357-page document dump from lawyer Larry Klayman‘s lawsuit against the PGA Tour. Desertduffer was eager to point to the fact that he had noticed them first as a collective failure of the establishment. I guess having a byline on this website makes me a part of the “establishment,” and I’ll readily admit there’s plenty of stuff we get beaten to, especially now that our top doc-diver Sean Zak has set sail to England for a fortnight or two. But if media-bashing is your thing desertduffer expanded on those thoughts in a victory-lap manifesto here in what is a mix of cutting analysis and gleeful disparagements — although I think he overrates the quality of the media center lunch buffet.
What’s the point? The point is, as golf coverage has ventured further into defection rumors, lawsuits and geopolitics, news has come from — or been first reported by — less traditional sources with greater frequency. This began with LIV-related rumors (people had varying levels of insight into the question of “is X Player going to LIV?!”) and has continued. Lawyers seem disproportionately represented among the ranks of hardcore golf fans, which means there are people who spend significant time thinking (and tweeting) about golf who are better equipped to handle a court document search than traditional golf media types. That’s not to say you should be eschewing establishment media for a sea of anonymous blue-check Twitter accounts, which range from excellent and insightful to trollish and terrible. But it does mean that the desert duffer was the one to draw Tiger Woods‘ first public comments in months.
We’ll save a deeper dive into the rest of the documents, like the PGA Tour’s plans for the DP World Tour, for later this week (July 4th seems like too rude a time to discuss an American takeover of a beloved European establishment). Let’s focus, for the moment, on that reaction from the world’s most famous player.
Woods has been curiously mum since the announcement of a new proposed relationship between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi Public Investment Fund last month. Because he’s been recovering from surgery, he hasn’t played any tournaments nor made any public appearances, so he hasn’t answered questions on the subject. But he hasn’t released any statements, either, leaving fans to wonder where he stands on the matter.
Hadn’t released any statements, that is until a 35-word Twitter missive on Sunday evening:
“In response to the talking points memo released this weekend, I have never seen this document until today, and I did not attend the players meeting for which it was prepared at the 2022 Travelers.”
It would be foolish to read too far into this but it would be even more foolish not to read a little bit into it. The memo Woods is referring to is a list of talking points for a hypothetical Woods appearance at last year’s Travelers Championship. In those notes, Woods’ lines included praise for commissioner Jay Monahan and encouragement for Tour pros to stand up against LIV and to “tell the Saudis to go f— themselves.” They also included Woods invoking the hypothetical future career of his son, Charlie.
Woods claims he never saw these notes and he didn’t attend that meeting, at least not in person. It’s not clear whether they were ever presented to him in any form, whether this was an early draft later abandoned, whether these had anything in common with the message he delivered at the later Delaware meeting or what. It’s also not clear which part of the document Woods is objecting to in his tweet. Was it the invocation of his son’s name and future? The hard stand against the Saudis that hasn’t aged well now that the two have shared business interests? Or perhaps just the idea that the Tour would put words in his mouth at all? For now, all we know is that Woods is objecting to its contents in some way. As the Tour tries to get him on board with its vision for the future, this makes for some awkward timing.
Who won the week?
Rickie Fowler won on the PGA Tour for the first time in nearly four and a half years, ending the drought thanks to back-to-back stellar approach shots into Detroit Golf Club’s 18th green in regulation and then on the first hole of a playoff. Those birdies led to this moment of relief and release:
Bernhard Langer didn’t just win the U.S. Senior Open — he broke the career wins record on the PGA Tour Champions in the process, passing Hale Irwin with his 46th win. He also reset his own record as the oldest winner in the circuit’s history at 65 years, 10 months and five days. Langer built his lead as large as seven strokes on the back nine before bogeying 16-17-18 at scenic SentryWorld, ultimately earning a two-shot victory.
Talor Gooch won LIV Golf’s event at Valderrama. The win was notable because it was the first LIV event since the PIF-Tour agreement was first announced. It was notable because it was Gooch’s third on LIV this season, the most of any player. And it was notable because it started a conversation about Gooch’s potential Ryder Cup candidacy, a candidacy that’s particularly interesting because it would rely solely on Gooch’s play on LIV and because he’s been relatively outspoken in the war of words vs. his former circuit.
Collin Morikawa logged his best result since a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the first event of 2023, with his playoff loss to Fowler. That T2 was very nearly his first win in 23 months, with his winning putt on the 72nd hole curling just wide of its mark and his approach shot in the playoff sailing just a yard long of perfection. He enthusiastically greeted Fowler once his birdie putt went in but admitted he drew some extra motivation from the moment, too.
“Look, I’m in this little lull and this hopefully is just that boost to just get me out of it. Felt really, really good this week and that’s kind of — that feeling that he had on 18 right there on the playoff is just, that’s what you want. Winning’s everything.”
And almost winning is the next best thing.
The last time Adam Hadwin was in a PGA Tour playoff, he left with some bruised ribs but a whole bunch more Instagram followers. This time? Nothing but positives.
“I’m stoked, I’m through the roof right now,” he said. He played his way into extra holes, made two good swings in the playoff and nearly holed his putt. That was enough proof for him.
“You know, I can take nothing but positives away from this week,” he concluded.
And Monday qualifier Peter Kuest finished in a three-way tie for fourth, relevant because he needed a two-way tie for fourth to secure Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour. So yeah, he came up short — but not by much. As a result he needs just a solo 76th at this week’s John Deere Classic to earn his status. That’s impressive work for a guy with limited status on the Korn Ferry Tour who may well turn three Monday Qs plus a sponsor exemption into a Tour card.
Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly may not have won their home Open, but the pair of Wisconsinites did the next best thing, earning the silver and bronze medals by finishing two and three shots back of Langer, respectively, at SentryWorld.
Bryson DeChambeau logged his highest LIV finish yet, too, finishing one shot behind Gooch — and two shots ahead of Brooks Koepka. Koepka seems like a lock to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team. I’m curious what the other two will have to do to become a serious piece of the conversation.
Not their week.
Justin Thomas shot a second-round 69 but that wasn’t enough to recover from his first-round 76 as he missed the cut by four, his third MC in four starts. Tony Finau finished on the wrong side of the cut line in his title defense, too, shooting one under for two days. He’s in need of a late surge to make the U.S. team, too. Ludvig Aberg played his way into contention with 23 holes to play before stumbling through his final five holes on Saturday and stalling out with even par on Sunday. He ended up T40, having led the field in strokes gained off the tee but finishing just 80th (of 84) in strokes gained on approach.
Meanwhile, a whole bunch of dudes at the U.S. Senior Open struggled with SentryWorld’s brawniness; the event logged a boatload of rounds in the 80s and even a couple scores over 90. The USGA still has some teeth! (Shoutout Takashi Kanemoto, who made the cut going 82-67.)
It all comes back to Butch.
Plenty of guys who are hoping to recapture some bygone greatness chase swing changes. Not all of ’em pull it off. But to Fowler’s credit, he took a look in the mirror at the end of last season and decided to make big changes: new caddie, new clubs, new golf swing.
We reference Butch Harmon in this column with some frequency because he has some sort of Midas Touch; it’s remarkable how often guys have experienced success in the immediate aftermath of going to see him. I’m still not sure whether that’s his eye for swing tweaks, his clarity in information delivery, his authoritative presence or something else. But credit to Rickie Fowler for recognizing the guy he should turn to in order to complete his comeback.
“He’s the best golf coach out there,” Fowler said during his winner’s press conference Sunday. “He does a great job with players, taking what they have and ultimately making them the best that they can be with who they are and how they swing and making what they do well that much better and bring up the weaknesses.”
Now that his player is back in the winner’s circle, we know this one meant more to Butch than most of the wins he’s been a part of — because he said so.
“This one meant more to me, personally, than a lot of the majors I’ve won with different guys just because I know how far down Rickie was,” Harmon said on Gravy and the Sleeze on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio. “And to watch him come back, it was a joy to watch.”
WHAT WE’RE SEEING
Player unification of a different sort.
I can’t remember seeing a social media post quite like the one Adam Scott made on Instagram this week, which included a thumbnail image of a Golfweek article paired with white text over a black screen, accompanied by the caption “Serious times require serious perspective.”
Strange Photoshop job aside, the post was notable because its contents consisted of Scott sticking up for Patrick Cantlay, who’d been accused of staging an “artless coup” by columnist Eamon Lynch. (Cantlay, who barely uses social media, was unlikely to challenge the article on his own.) It was also notable because it was reposted by Rickie Fowler and shared by other high-profile Tour members including Justin Thomas and Max Homa.
It’s no secret that Cantlay — who is in his first year on the PGA Tour’s Policy Board — likes hunting for truths and answers. And Scott, who’s serving as chairman of the Player Advisory Council, seems to support whatever he’s currently pursuing. His reference to the “about-face” by Tour management suggests that, for the second consecutive year, top Tour pros are banding together. It’s just that this time the players seem understandably more skeptical of the Tour’s leadership.
Mostly I wanted to highlight this moment because it feels important but will probably make more sense in hindsight, once we see how everything has played out.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
There’s a lot to like ’round these parts right about now. Mid-70s every day. Bluebird every afternoon. Golf courses firming up in all the right ways. Puget Sound beckoning. July is a good time to live in the Pacific Northwest.
3 things to watch this week.
1. Golf’s top women at Pebble Beach.
LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan has talked about needing events to feel big. One way to accomplish that goal is to play in one of the more iconic cathedrals in sport. When the U.S. Women’s Open tees off this Thursday at Pebble Beach, plenty of eyeballs will be watching, tuning in to see how they fare.
2. Russell Henley and Denny McCarthy.
That would be tournament favorites Russell Henley and Denny McCarthy, with an out-of-form Cameron Young and newly-minted pro Ludvig Aberg nipping at their heels in the sportsbooks. Nah, there’s not much star power at the John Deere Classic. But the weeks without star power have wound up delivering plenty of drama nonetheless. So it’ll be a good week to check out the action from the Midwest before primetime viewing from the cliffs of 17 mile drive. And of course, there will also be…
3. LIV London, Vol. II
Last year LIV’s event at Centurion marked the beginning of the brand-new venture. This year? LIV is certainly far more established, although I’m not sure we’re any closer to having clarity about its future. Regardless, several of the circuit’s highest-profile characters are products of the U.K., and it’ll be interesting to see turnout and reception as the tournament makes its return to the same venue.
4. (Bonus) Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
There’s just nothing else quite like it.
See you next week!