Tour Confidential: Jon Rahm rallies, Collin Morikawa struggles, no commercials
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 discuss Collin Morikawa’s collapse at the Tournament of Champions, Jon Rahm’s rally, no commercials and more.
1. The PGA Tour kicked off its year at the Tournament of Champions, and we watched one of the worst collapses in recent memory. Collin Morikawa, up six to begin the final round, stumbled over his back nine, making three straight bogeys at one point, and that opened the door for Jon Rahm, who shot a 10-under 63 to win by two. We’ll start with Morikawa, and we’ll ask it simply: Where does he go from here?
Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): The practice green, for starters. You don’t need a Ph.D., in Golf Analysis to deduce where it went wrong for Morikawa Sunday: on and around the greens. This isn’t a new issue. Last season, he finished 131st in SG: Putting (and 168th from inside 10 feet) and 152nd in SG: Around-the-Green. His ball-striking remains near-peerless but seems the closer he gets to the hole, the more the struggles — and that’s a serious problem come Sunday afternoons, when the significance of every shot is magnified. This is a day he’ll want to vanquish from his memory bank as soon as possible. As Morikawa himself said, “It’s hard to look at the positives.”
Jack Hirsh, Assistant Editor (@JR_HIRSHey): It may be difficult now, but when Morikawa takes his time to reflect on this week, he’ll see he had one of his best putting performances of his career. He ended up finishing second for the week in SG: Putting, but he was leading the stat until the back nine. It’s clear the changes he’s working on with Stephen Sweeney are taking hold. I’m sure the last thing he wanted to be asked about Saturday night was the 2021 Hero, where he blew a five-shot lead after 54 holes. With how good his ball-striking normally is, he doesn’t have to putt and chip lights out, but he was putting lights out for most of the week. I think there seems to be a mental block with him winning right now. His next step could very well be working with a mental coach to get past it.
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): I thought an interview Collin did last year with Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis said a lot about his mindset. Lewis relayed some of Trevor Immelman’s comments, in which Immelman explained Morikawa was so good early in his career it would be extremely difficult to replicate that success. Immelman meant it as a compliment, but Morikawa took it as a slight. What does that mean in this context? It means he’s stubborn and expects more of himself, so he’ll be just fine. There’s no lack of drive there. And while Morikawa’s chipping and putting let him down on Sunday, he was actually pretty good in those areas the first three rounds (especially putting). A bad round and a bad three holes, but he had eight top 10s last year. He’s not going anywhere and has the game to win in bunches when things are clicking.
Josh Sens, Senior Writer (@joshsens): Not to be blase about it, but … these things happen. Even to the greatest. Chipping was a weakness last year. It looked great for much of the week. But changes take time to hardwire. This was his first tournament testing his tweaks under pressure. No doubt he can’t be happy. But if you’d listened to Hicks and Azinger’s commentary down the stretch, you would have thought Morikawa had been diagnosed with a fatal illness. He stumbled. Rahm shot a great round. Life moves on.
Hirsh: Interesting thought reading this, Josh. Do you think there is a bit of Tiger-effect here, conditioning us to forget blown leads can happen to the best?
Sens: For sure. Nobody’s nerfect. Tiger just made it look that way for a long while.
2. On to the winner. We’ve seen plenty of explosive play from Jon Rahm over the years, but what did you learn about Rahm and/or his game on this particular Sunday?
Bastable: When it comes to the debate about which player is the best when he’s at his best, in recent years Rory McIlroy has been the stock answer. Might be time to swap in Rahm’s name. When Rahmbo gets rolling, there are few golfing spectacles quite like it: an avalanche of blistered drives, nifty chips and dead-center putts.
Hirsh: Nothing I didn’t already know. Rahm has already won a number of times from behind, and we know he can take it deep. It was hard to imagine Morikawa blowing this at the beginning of the day, of course, but if anyone was going to catch him, it was going to be Rahm.
Sens: All of the above. So much firepower.. On the flip side, although he’s still plenty demonstrative out there, the fits of pique we used to see out of him are now more tempered these days. Maturity plus world-beating talent. Tough to top.
Berhow: You see that fist-pump after he finished off his Sunday 63? This was no low-key, easy-money cash grab in Hawaii to him. I’d expect a big year from him, but that shouldn’t be a surprising prediction to anyone.
3. Whose 2023 PGA Tour debut gave you even more promise for their upcoming season?
Bastable: Max Homa continues to impress. After a slow start (70-70) at the TOC, he closed 63-66 to finish at 23 under and in a tie for third. Interestingly, he said afterward that he’s been working hard on his mental game, staying in the moment, playing one shot at a time, yadda yadda, and that new mindset seemed to be useful this week after what he described as a “frustrating” first two rounds. The best golfers are as mentally unflappable as they are physically talented. If Homa puts it all together this year, watch out.
Hirsh: Bastable took my answer! Luckily I came prepared with a second and that was Will Zalatoris. Zalatoris also got off to a slow start in his return from injury, playing the first eight holes one over, but he rebounded to break 70 each day and finished with a 65 to notch a T11. Nothing fancy, but in an elite field, that’s a pretty successful return after three-plus months off. He’s going to get only better from here.
Sens: Sungjae Im. A good early bet for Augusta.
Berhow: Tom Kim, in his first trip to Hawaii and still just 20 years old, tied for fifth and shot four rounds in the 60s. This kid isn’t going anywhere.
4. The Tournament of Champions was the PGA Tour’s first of 17 designated events for the 2022-23 season, which the Tour created to aid its fight versus LIV Golf and ensure its superstars would all be playing the same big tournaments, with even bigger purses to boot. But the Tour’s most vocal spokesperson in its battle versus LIV, Rory McIlroy, was absent. Players are allowed to skip one of the 17 events without having it affect their PIP bonus money and McIlroy has played in the TOC just one time in his career, but still, do you have any issue with the World No. 1 passing on the first elevated event?
Hirsh: This really caught me off guard. Rory doesn’t have a Tiger-like draw, but the ratings for this event will certainly take a hit without him (not to mention it going up against NFL Week 18). Can’t imagine he’ll miss any more, but missing the first isn’t a great look. However, he surely has many different responsibilities that could have meant a flight to Hawaii was simply too big of an ask. Will be interesting to hear him talk about it at his next start.
Bastable: Would it have been nice to have McIlroy in Maui to kick off ’23? Sure. But I also don’t pretend to know the complexities of his schedule. Players are permitted one absence precisely for that reason: getting to and being properly prepared and rested for all 17 events — especially for a European player in a Ryder Cup year, where DP World starts will also be required — takes calculation. So, no, I’m not offended that he took the week off. We’ll be seeing plenty more of him soon. Also, Kapalua always feels kinda like a warm-up act, even with a loaded field. Not sure how much Rory’s presence changes that.
Sens: Agree, Alan. It’s a limited-field, low-key event. The winner shoots deep in the double digits. Not to dismiss the event. It’s good fun. And a great herald of the coming season. But the whole vibe of the week is swaying palms and flower-patterned shirts. And Maui was plenty scenic, even without Rory, who is fair-skinned anyway and should probably stay out of the sun.
Berhow: Actions speak louder than words is how that one saying goes, but I don’t think that applies here because you could argue McIlroy has done plenty already. The PGA Tour has been lucky he’s been such a strong leader/promoter/backer over the past year. He’s got some big travel ahead with Dubai on his schedule at the end of January, but I also don’t think we should be hard on him for skipping this one. He hasn’t played it much before, he doesn’t need the paycheck and, plus, they are allowed to skip one. Any of you out there leaving your vacation days unused?
5. The final hour of Sunday’s Golf Channel broadcast was commercial-free (thanks to a Callaway sponsorship), which was a first for PGA Tour primetime broadcasts on NBC properties. Golf fans raved about it, and while it might not become the norm, how much would you pay as a TV-watcher to end every PGA Tour broadcast with a commercial-free hour?
Hirsh: It’s cool and I hope it happens at more events, but I’m not paying to avoid 18 minutes of commercials for one hour of a broadcast once a week.
Bastable: With Hulu+, Netflix and Amazon Prime already on my pile of monthly bills, not sure I can afford another commercial-free option! The uninterrupted TOC coverage was undoubtedly a treat — especially with the dreamy ocean views — but I likely wouldn’t buck up for it. The World Cup did get me thinking, though: How does soccer coverage go sans ads for 50- or 60-minute stretches?
Sens: With banner ads, Alan. And a global audience that dwarfs golf. At least, I assume that’s how they do it. With the possible exception of the Super Bowl, every event is better without commercials. But I’m also not willing to pay extra. That’s why the pause and fast-forward buttons exist.
Berhow: Hmmmm … not sure I would pay extra — those commercials are key times to get things done around the house so I can sit for the action — but I could see a price set at $5.99 a month or so, right? For commercial-free golf and maybe some cool on-air offerings (interviews, angles, etc.) the other broadcast might not show, I could see some golf sickos get into that.
6. Through our course-rating process for 2022-23, our expert panelists identified the best golf courses in every state, which we unveiled on GOLF.com last week. What’s your favorite (and the most underrated) golfing state in the U.S.?
Hirsh: Surprise, surprise, but I’m going with my previous home state of Oregon. Take away Bandon Dunes, and the state still has a ton of elite tracks. From well-known spots like Eugene Country Club, Waverly, Columbia Edgewater, Sunriver, Pronghorn and Pumpkin Ridge, to more hidden gems, like Silvies Ranch, Tokatee and my former home club of Bend Golf Club. Oh, and then you add back in Bandon with its five top-100 courses.
Bastable: New Jersey (full disclosure: where I live!) is home to the perennial world No. 1, in Pine Valley, but I’d argue it’s other offerings are somewhat underappreciated. The top 10 is loaded with the likes of Somerset Hills, Plainfield, Ridgewood, Baltusrol and one of my personal faves: Essex County.
Sens: A recent return trip to my childhood home of Massachusetts reminded me how much great golf there is back there. We all saw how cool The Country Club looked last summer. But there’s plenty of great public-access stuff as well. Terrific munis like George Wright and Franklin Park in the Boston area. Head to western Mass, and you’ve got spots like Crumpin Fox and Taconic. Of course, if you’ve got some strings to pull, by all means pull them to see the exclusive spots: Myopia, Essex, Eastward Ho’, Boston Golf Club, and, right nearby and not as well known, Black Rock.
Berhow: It’s hard to argue with areas like N.Y. and N.J. when considering the best, especially when it comes to private clubs, but let’s give a little love to the Midwest as underappreciated, especially Minnesota (where I am) and Wisconsin. Call me a homer (because I am), but Minnesota has a great mix of private courses, and a really, really strong roster of public options. Wisconsin’s public courses are even better, at least the batch of high-end ones (Sand Valley, Kohler, etc.), but it also has super affordable spots like Lawsonia and Troy Burne, which locals rave about. Is it freezing here most of the time? Yes. Is the golf worth the wait in the spring? Definitely.