Tour Confidential: Hideki Matsuyama’s jaw-dropper, Netflix, funky courses
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 Hideki Matsuyama’s jaw-dropping shot to win the Sony Open, the PGA Tour’s upcoming Netflix series, funky courses and more.
1. Netflix revealed some of its plans for its upcoming behind-the-scenes series involving the PGA Tour, including the 23 participants. Among them are Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Max Homa, Joel Dahmen and Harry Higgs. Which player do you think will make for the most compelling viewing?
Nick Piastowski, senior editor (@nickpia): I apologize, but I have to go with three: Joel Dahmen and Harry Higgs, with a dark horse pick of DJ. Dahmen and Higgs are two of the most personable players on Tour, won’t shy from the exposure and most likely will offer more than a few lighter moments. (Just this week, Dahmen’s caddie, Geno Bonnalie, recorded himself standing in line to buy his man a hot dog ahead of the first round of the Sony.). As for Dustin Johnson, it could be really great, or it could be really not. But DJ being DJ should be … something.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): Gimme the funny. The quirky. The lesser known. In short, the order of interest here seems to be pretty much the inverse of where these guys sit in the world rankings.
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler should be intriguing, mainly because those guys got so famous so fast it’s always seemed to me like we saw only the corporate version on Tour. I want to see the other side of them, if they let us in. But I also agree with what Nick said — fringe golf fans will watch and know about Spieth and Rickie and Brooks and so on, but this is a chance for those fans to learn more about guys like Higgs, Dahmen and Homa, who are sure to pick up a ton of new fans through this series.
Tim Reilly, Director of Social (@LifeofTimReilly): For a man of few words to the press, Dustin Johnson has brought us a great deal of joy with his brevity during press conferences. There’s a lot of intrigue around DJ off the course. Frankly, there’s a lot of intrigue around DJ and his fiancee, Paulina Gretzky, off the course. If we’re given ANY insight into their wedding planning and the wedding itself, that’s the most compelling reality TV they can bring us. I fully expect Joel Dahmen and his caddie, Geno Bonnalie, to become the breakout stars, though.
2. As part of the Netflix series, a Tour spokesman also said: “We do not have editorial control. We will be involved to the extent that Netflix and the producers have the access they need to film at our events. We want them to make a great show, and we all agree the documentary needs to be as authentic as possible.” In addition, the show will have access to all four majors. “For the first time ever, the PGA Tour and the governing bodies that conduct men’s major championships — Augusta National Golf Club, the PGA of America, the USGA and The R&A — will provide entry into the sport’s biggest events,” the show announced in a release. With that creative freedom, what little-exposed part of Tour life do you hope comes to light?
Piastowski: It has to be whatever we can get out of Augusta National, right? Outside of what the majority of us see on TV and on the grounds every April, there is so little we know of the Masters host. Do we get access to the Champions Dinner? Do we get access into the clubhouse? What about the locker room? On and on. Feed our Augusta appetite!
Sens: Can’t disagree with Nick here. In theory anyway. So long as it truly is something new and revealing, and not too stage-managed. How about Higgs and Dahmen take us on a guided tour of Augusta’s best fishing holes? In terms of Tour life itself, the less golfy the better. Can DJ fix a broken sink? Does Higgs have a Chia Pet collection? Surprise us. Otherwise, this has the potential to be really boring.
Berhow: Good timing, as anything behind the scenes at Augusta would be great, but don’t forget we are going to the best Open Championship venue of all this year in St. Andrews. Lots to like there. Beyond that, I’m interested in their casual golf rounds with buddies (can they shoot 62 in their sleep?), family life (DJ the dad!) and what it’s like to basically be a Tour player going into a place like Target and buying home essentials. Give me it all!
Reilly: I want to see as much behind-the-scenes action from practice round money games. I think we’ll get the most insight into what these guys are really like in those moments.
3. Hideki Matsuyama trailed Russell Henley by five at the turn on Sunday of the Sony Open, but Matsuyama played the back nine in five-under to shoot 63 and force a playoff. Then came the shot of the week (and since it’s just January, the year): a towering 3-wood from 277 yards out on the first playoff hole to set up a kick-in eagle and his eighth career PGA Tour victory. Where does it rank among the most awe-inspiring shots in recent memory?
Berhow: I’m going to fail miserably to give it proper context in a ranking, but to hit a 3-wood that far, with that kind of ball speed and to have it land that softly on a green is something my own game is not familiar with. With apologies to this tournament, I don’t think we’ll be talking about this shot years from now or anything, but man, that was fun to watch.
Sens: Don’t want to sound jaded here, but nowadays on Tour, shots like that aren’t ridiculously outlandish, not for someone of Hideki’s gifts playing modern equipment. I’m not sure exactly how to rank it, but when you weigh the magnitude of the event and the probabilities of the shot itself, I’d say Rahm’s putt on 18 last year at Torrey was probably tougher. And don’t even get me started on Corey Pavin’s 4-wood to 18 at Shinnecock. But I’m dating myself.
Piastowski: The shot was so, so good. Don’t forget what Matsuyama’s opponent in the playoff, Russell Henley, did with his third shot, from about 150 yards closer — he airmailed it over the green. In recent memory — I’m thinking the past two or so years — Collin Morikawa driving the green on the 16th at Harding at the 2020 PGA is tops, and Rahm’s putt that Sens mentioned is No. 2. But Matsuyama’s shot is definitely in the conversation.
Reilly: We’re talking about a shot at the Sony Open, right?! I mean, it was a great shot. I’d be talking about it for the rest of my life if I hit it. Matsuyama is one of the best ball-strikers in the world, and this shot was a reminder of that. But when I think about all-time great shots, I think about those that happened in majors and marquee events. I can’t put this in that conversation. I’ll enjoy watching the replay at Sony Opens for years to come. Hell of a shot!
4. Kevin Kisner, on this week’s Subpar podcast, dished on his feeling of again not being selected to play for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. “I don’t know. I didn’t give a s—,” he said. “It’s too political for me, I didn’t really care, and I don’t really get caught up in that s—. I love [Steve] Stricker to death, but he didn’t pick me this year, which I get — I didn’t play worth a s— in the playoff.” What say you? Is the selection process too “political?” And, if so, any way to remedy that?
Piastowski: Oh, like any hiring process, it is a little. Every captain has a different personality and their own thoughts behind their picks, and that certainly makes the selections less than scientific, for sure. That being said, it’s not like Stricker, or any captain, would leave off someone who clearly should be there for something petty. They want to win. Should Kisner have made the team? Yeah, I think so. Why wouldn’t you take a match-play wizard? That being said, six of the picks were automatic (and based on performance) this year, and the six wild cards appeared to be strongly based on recent form. And clearly it worked. But for conversation sake, I’ll toss this out there — why not take the pool of “at-large” players to the course and let them settle it there? There’s no way it would happen, but a play-in event would be pretty great.
Sens: No doubt it can get political. But with good reason. On top of the cold, hard stats, you’re picking based on who you like, who you think will get along. Chemistry. Has any of it ever resulted in a grave injustice? Only if you think a golf exhibition qualifies as a grave matter. If you want to get rid of any politics, go strictly by the rankings. But then you lose all the joy of second-guessing the captain, and where’s the fun in that?
Berhow: The selection process surrounding the captain could get political, I guess, but you could say that about anything in which one person is chosen by a small group to lead a slightly larger group. As for when it comes to players, it’s hard to say since there’s more that goes into putting a team together than the top 12 players in a ranking. There will always be tough decisions and second-guessing of snubs, but I can’t recall an egregious omission from either of the teams in the past several years.
Reilly: What isn’t political in the world these days? Captains are trying to put together the best team without sacrificing team chemistry. It’s as simple as that. Kisner is a tremendous match play competitor. He did a hell of a job as a member of the ’17 Presidents Cup. I think 2018 was his year to be part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. This year, there was no arguing with the team assembled. Right or wrong, Kisner’s Ryder Cup window may have closed with the level of young American talent that seemingly all gets along.
5. Tom Watson, Augusta National announced this week, will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as an honorary starter at this year’s Masters. Did the green coats make the right pick? If not, who should have gotten the nod?
Piastowski: That’s a good call. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a rotating third spot — perhaps as a nod to an anniversary of winning — but Tom Watson works well for me.
Sens: Makes perfect sense. Especially since the only guy not in the field who’s got more wins will be announcing the event.
Berhow: Great pick. Well deserved. Will be a nice addition to their Thursday morning press conference, too.
Reilly: It’s time to start introducing new faces as part of that tradition. It’s always sad watching legendary figures age, but it won’t be long until we see other new faces join Watson as honorary starters.
6. The first PGA Tour swing of 2021 — the Hawaiian one! — is in the books. What’s your biggest takeaway as we head back to the mainland for the West Coast swing?
Piastowski: Jon Rahm is gonna win a whole bunch of tournaments this year. And Hideki Matsuyama might successfully defend at Augusta.
Sens: Agreed, Nick. I’ve got Rahm to win multiple majors this year, and I’m sticking to it.
Reilly: That golf needs a longer offseason. Maybe I’m just too caught up in the NFL playoffs, but it doesn’t feel like I should be watching golf again yet. I’d love for the season to wait until the bye week before the Super Bowl. That would be a great week to be front and center in the sports world. I need more time to miss the action.
Berhow: That when Hideki can putt, and pair it with his unreal ball-striking, it’s almost unfair. Also that these guys are really good and can and will eat up any course that might allow it. Lastly, I need to visit Hawaii.
7. Our Alan Bastable dished on what he called “America’s funkiest golf facility,” writing that Edgefield Golf Course in Oregon has 32 holes and a pub in the pro shop, among other quirks. What’s the quirkiest course you’ve visited?
Piastowski: Whew, I’ve been to a few. But I’ll go with a course I played about a decade ago in central Nebraska. You paid whatever you thought was right and put your money in a mailbox. If you wanted a cart, there were three with keys in them. There was zero cell service in the area. And zero noise — I was the only player on the entire nine-hole course that day, and I counted only one car passing by on the nearby highway in my 90 minutes there. And the course was called “Augusta Wind.” So very quirky.
Sens: I’ll go with the Nullarbor Links, the world’s longest golf course, stretching around 800 miles through the Australian Outback. It took me a week to play it, driving from one lonely roadhouse outpost to the next, roughly one hole per town. At one of the stops, a kangaroo hopped out of the brush and accepted a big slug of beer, straight out of the bottle, from an Aussie guy I was with. It was like Kangaroo Dundee or something.
Berhow: Easy. I played a Beatles-themed golf course last summer, complete with a yellow submarine in the pond on 18. The best part? It’s a terrific value, and I’ll be back again in 2022.
Reilly: Shelter Island’s “Goat Hill” nine-hole course. Michael Bamberger describes the experience playing Goat Hill better than I ever could, and I recommend reading his takeaways here. This except summarizes my own experience, too: “I hit about the best opening tee-shot of my golfing life. When I got out there, I was amazed to see my drive was almost hole-high. I hit a beautiful pitch right at the flagstick, only to discover that the flagstick marked not the hole’s location but the direction of the hole. I still had another 60 or so yards to go.” If you ever find yourself on Shelter Island, wedged between the forks off Long Island’s East End, play Goat Hill.