Tour Confidential: PGA Tour power brokers, LIV Golf goals, mixed events
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.
1. The PGA Tour’s elevated events have lived up to the hype so far, with big-name winners and the stars playing well in the first three of the season. Now, following Chris Kirk’s Honda win, two more are back to back: the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship. Give us a name you’d bet on to have a big two-week stretch, and is strong play at this point of the season a good indicator of their Masters prospects? Or are we too early to look that far ahead?
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): One-hundred percent of my co-workers and maybe most of my dear readers will roll their eyes reading this because I recommend him about 60 percent of the time, but Keegan Bradley is set up for a big-time Florida Swing. He played well at these two events last year (5th at Players, T11 at Bay Hill) and should get comfy on the Florida greens. When Bradley putts reasonably well, he contends. Expect that at least once these next two weeks.
Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): Dylan is right … I did roll my eyes. Give me world No. 1 Jon Rahm. He’s been on an absolute tear so far this year, so it’s easy to assume he’ll continue that trend in Florida. And yes, this month is when Masters prep really starts to begin. If a player is in form in March, it typically bodes well for their prospects in Augusta.
Ryan Barath, Senior Equipment Editor (@RDSBarath): I could go with the obvious choice of Rory, but instead I’m going to go with another golfer from the Emerald Isle — Shane Lowry. He plays well in Florida, in the wind, and does well on tough courses. He’s now had back-to-back high finishes at the Honda the past two years, and if the good times keep rolling in Florida, I believe he will play well at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship. I still think the Masters is far enough away that a lot of players can heat up in March, so I’m not ready to make any picks.
2. Sergio Garcia told the Telegraph that he blames Rory McIlroy’s lack of maturity for severing their friendship, which deteriorated over the PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf fallout. He also said, “You can suggest things, ideas, and although they are not always followed up and acted upon, you are listened to [on LIV]. That didn’t happen on the PGA Tour. There are only two, maybe three players who the bosses listen to on that Tour.” Assuming Tiger Woods and McIlroy are the two top players Garcia was referring to, who might be the third? And how much influence do these top players have over PGA Tour execs and other golfers?
Dethier: Jon Rahm? Jordan Spieth? Justin Thomas? Harry Higgs? Hard to say exactly whom Garcia was referring to. He has a point that PGA Tour players are being listened to with increased urgency these days, and there’s no question Woods and McIlroy are front and center in that discussion. He also has a point that the Tour was slow to act to improve its product. But Garcia isn’t exactly a neutral party here. Some LIV pros have gone out of their way to say the PGA Tour was great, there are no hard feelings, and making the jump just made sense at this point in their career. Garcia has taken a more confrontational approach, so it’s no surprise that he’s been greeted with some frostiness.
Melton: If I had to guess, I’d say Jordan Spieth, but it’s impossible to know. Prior to the LIV saga, I’d have said that the top players (sans Tiger) had relatively little influence over the Tour brass. But in the wake of the disruptions over the past few years, top players seem to be wielding more power.
Barath: If I had to guess one, it would be Spieth. He’s sponsored by AT&T, also one of the tour’s biggest sponsors, and has been a standout player for years. As for sway, I think that there are only a few golfers who would have the ability to change the mind of the tour or a sponsor.
3. While the PGA Tour kicked off its Florida swing with the Honda Classic, LIV Golf opened its second year at Mayakoba, which up until last year was a former PGA Tour stop. Now with a beefed-up schedule, TV deal and one year under their belts, what do you see as the biggest Year 2 goal for LIV as it tries to gain traction?
Dethier: Viewers and sponsors, I suppose. The two are connected — if there are plenty of viewers, sponsors are presumably more likely to follow — and they have the same end result: cash flow. This week, we saw the first signs of corporate involvement, which feels like a big first step. But not all of it feels like a final product, down to the mismatched team uniforms. Still, they’ll be in plenty of households on the CW, so on PGA Tour down weeks like this one (the Honda Classic had a remarkably weak field and zero star power in the mix on Sunday), I would think some golf fans would flip over to LIV. We’ll see how many. And we’ll see whether major advertisers follow.
Melton: More legitimacy. LIV is still somewhat of a punchline in the golf world, but if they can put on some compelling tournaments, sign more big name players, and draw in new eyeballs this year, they’ll be trending in the right direction.
Barath: Traction. So far LIV has created only the slightest amount of interest outside of the golf world, and considering their TV deal constricts their distribution compared to the previous free stream on YouTube, getting casual fans to tune in is still going to be a challenge. Maybe this is a stretch analogy, but at this point, LIV is like the XFL going up against the well-established NFL. Sure you have a TV deal, and you are going to markets that want golf, but if the audience doesn’t have any clarity for what’s at stake, how do you build any long-term interest and gain traction?
4. The PGA Tour and LPGA Tour announced a new mixed-team event that will debut later this year in Florida and replace the QBE Shootout. The Grant Thornton Invitational (Dec. 4-10) will team 16 PGA Tour players and 16 LPGA Tour golfers. This will be the first annual mixed-team competition since 1999. A good addition to the schedule?
Dethier: A terrific addition to the schedule. That creates a far more interesting dynamic than the QBE, which seemed fun for players but lacked juice for golf fans. This is a fun step and something viewers have been curious about for my entire golf-viewing life.
Melton: Yes! It will be a wonderful event — especially for the LPGA. This event should introduce more casual fans to the top women’s talent, and allow them to showcase their skills alongside some of the biggest names on the men’s side. Should be a fun event to watch.
Barath: I echo my panelists, by saying that this is a format that is long overdue. I’m going to take a moment to get on my soapbox and say more representation is desperately needed in golf, especially for women. I’ve been a fan of the women’s game for a long time, but now as someone with two daughters, I want them to be able to see people like themselves on TV playing sports at a high level, just like I did when I was a kid. The second part of this is, it’s not just about little girls, but casual golf fans as a whole getting more exposure to female pros. Remember last year at the QBE, when the narrative was how everyone was ‘shocked’ by Nelly Korda’s game? It shouldn’t be a surprise that she can hit great shots — she’s one of the best players in the world. People just need to see more of it!
5. While The Honda Classic lacked some star-power, Monday’s Seminole Pro-Member just down the road certainly will not. Quick, you suddenly landed an invite to join Seminole and need a pro to play alongside you. Who in this field is your partner, and what other twosome are you picking to round out your foursome? (Click here to view the field. )
Dethier: This one’s easy: I’ll take David Novak’s spot alongside Jon Rahm, filling out the foursome with Tom Brady and Tony Finau. The World No. 1 and the GOAT in the same group is a no-brainer. I’d like Novak to still walk with us, though. Feel like he’d have a lesson or two I’d like to learn.
Melton: Gimme Harry Higgs as a playing partner. There aren’t many Tour pros more fun than Higgs, and it’s sure to be a hell of a time playing with him in a member-guest. Pair us up with Rory and Gerry McIlroy, and it’d be even better.
Barath: Tough choice, but I’m picking Adam Scott as my partner, and the reason is — he’s Adam Scott. Now if the name of the game is to pick ANY other twosome, I’m going with Patrick Rodgers and Chuck Schwab, less so for Patrick (sorry, Pat), but hopefully I could get a few investment tips from Mr. Schwab himself.