Tour Confidential: Presidents Cup mismatch, LIV recruiting, Augusta changes
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 the Presidents Cup, LIV’s recruiting tactics, changes to Augusta National’s 13th hole and more.
1. It’s officially Presidents Cup week, as the Americans take on the Internationals at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C. The U.S. has dominated the series. Any reason to think that won’t be the case again this year?
Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): Well, even Adam Scott has called his team the “heaviest underdogs ever,” with Vegas giving the Yanks a roughly 90 percent chance of prevailing. So, yeah, it looks bad on paper. Real bad. But…match play! Sports! Anything can happen, right? If the Internationals can avoid being overwhelmed by the scope of the task at hand — winning 17.5 points — and instead take each match as it comes, who knows what could happen. We’ve seen otherwise overmatched Davids with hot putters take down Goliaths before, and we’ll see it again. It’s been a weird year in golf. Perhaps the weirdness will continue. That said, yeah, it’s also quite possible the matches will be decided before we get to singles.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Sure, why not?! If we don’t think the Internationals have any chance, there’s not much point, so I’ve talked myself into +750 being an extremely intriguing number for the away team. And the course actually fits a bunch of the International squad pretty well. Quail Hollow favors big hitters and specifically guys who are good with mid- to long-irons in their, while there’s less emphasis on chipping and putting. Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Sungjae Im, Corey Conners, Taylor Pendrith, Cam Davis, Mito Pereira, etc. — these guys can all hit it where they’re looking. And this is sports! Let’s see how their best stuff stacks up.
Luke Kerr-Dineen, Game Improvement Editor (@LukeKerrDineen): Almost exactly no reason. The weaker team on paper lost more of their players than the stronger team. Sure, the U.S. won’t have Dustin Johnson, who may be the hottest player in golf right now. But the depth of their team means they won’t be losing sleep over it. Crazier things have happened, but the Internationals will need a Rocky IV-style upset to pull this one off.
2. Much of the conversation around the event will likely be about which players aren’t there, guys like Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Smith, among others. As the first team event without LIV players included, how do you anticipate that changes the mood or excitement level around it?
Bastable: The LIV factor will undoubtedly dominate the conversation early in the week, just as it has at virtually every other tournament this year. How can it not, what with the event being defined almost as much by the players who aren’t there as the ones who are. Take the International team’s absentees alone: Cameron Smith, Charl Schwartzel, Abraham Ancer, Louis Oosthuizen, Marc Leishman, and on and on. Brutal losses all. You can’t blame Capt. Immelman for feeling like he got dealt a pair of 2s vs. his opponent’s full house. By Thursday, though, the attention will inevitably shift to the competition, and it’ll be fun, as ever, to see how some of the more unheralded players respond to the pressure.
Dethier: The event’s profile gets some sort of short-term boost from the chaos and controversy around who should be included and who shouldn’t. But there’s no question it’s a less interesting team dynamic without Brooks and Bryson vying for captain’s picks and Cam Smith dropping daggers on the greens. Immelman made it explicitly clear in our conversation that pros leaving for LIV knew they’d be barred from the event. Still, it’s a clear effect of pro golf’s fractured existence.
LKD: I think the Presidents Cup should be honest about its need for a re-think after this. The lesser of the two team events already, if this continues, it simply isn’t a sustainable path forward for an event that already struggles to punch through for wider relevance. If the majority of the conversation about a tournament is about who isn’t playing, you know there’s a problem.
3. Name one U.S. and one International player who look primed for a breakout week.
Bastable: Excited to see match-play savant Kevin Kisner in action. Dude has been aching to play on a U.S. squad for years. I think he’ll embrace and rise to the moment. On the International side, fully expecting Tom Kim’s star to continue to ascend. Insanely good ball-striker, and also strikes me as a fun/jovial team-room guy.
Dethier: Pendrith has quietly returned from injury to put together a run of some of the steadiest golf of anyone. He smashes the ball and is primed for a big-time week. On the U.S. side, Patrick Cantlay is playing as well as anybody — and it seems likely he and Xander Schauffele will each play every session.
LKD: Breakout? Max Homa seems primed to thrive in red, white and blue. And he’s playing well. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him run the table. As for the International team? How about Joohyung Kim. It’s a big stage for the young player with bundles of talent, and I think it’ll bring the best out of him.
4. David Puig, a senior at Arizona State, made his professional debut at LIV Golf Chicago this week, finishing TK. Puig turned pro while ranked as the No. 9 amateur in the world. Will the future of both the PGA Tour and LIV come down to where these top amateurs land?
Bastable: Even for the most accomplished college stars, there’s obviously no guaranteed route to the PGA Tour, so for up-and-comers looking to make a fast buck, LIV undoubtedly is an attractive option. I’m not sure how the PGA Tour can compete with that. Puig seemed off-put by the lack of opportunities (i.e., sponsor invites) he’s been awarded to play PGA Tour events. Those invites, the Spaniard noted, more often than not land in the laps of better connected U.S. players. There’s not an easy answer here for the Tour. It can’t lower the bar for entry, even for seemingly can’t-miss college studs. The Tour’s meritocratic qualifying system makes the Tour what it is. Gotta earn it.
Dethier: To Alan’s point, there have been plenty of can’t-miss prospects who end up missing. But LIV can’t take all of ‘em under its current format. There are only 48 spots, after all. The question then becomes how LIV’s feeder structure works — and exactly how far down the depth chart they can send big-time guaranteed cash.
LKD: Not really. I’ve said this before, but I don’t think either tour’s future is at stake, at least for the next few years. What golf fans should brace for is the kind of messy reality we had in golf between the 1980s and 1990s, when half the world’s best were playing the European Tour and the other half in America. It was only the rise of Tiger Woods that consolidated professional golf stateside. With the GOAT receding from view as a player, that kind of two-pretty-strong-tours is what we’ll be returning to.
5. After much speculation and years of wondering, new photos show the addition of a new teeing ground on Augusta National’s famous par-5 13th. What are your thoughts on a lengthened 13th and how does that change the tournament?
Bastable: The change will have traditionalists wincing but c’est la vie. This is where we are with the professional game. I think in a perfect world the lengthening would make the hole 10-15 percent harder. Any more than that and 13 will lose its eagle-ability that makes it so much fun to watch. I do like that the new pushed-back tee appears to create a knee-knocking chute, a la the tee shot at 18. Good luck threading that corridor of pines with a one-shot lead on Sunday.
Dethier: I think it’s going to be awesome. Pros hitting big-time drives and then trying to flight high, soft fades off of hook lies onto that green? Yes please. I’ve watched enough Masters from the 70s, 80s and 90s to crave watching the pros take on that challenge. But that’s in a vacuum. If you zoom out, it’s problematic that golf’s most famous arena just keeps stretching, and stretching, and stretching; the distance debate can feel like golf’s version of climate change. A new-and-improved 13th hole is like a warm, sunny winter in New England. Sure, it represents an existential threat to humanity’s existence. But hey, how ‘bout that March golf?
LKD: I love it, and can’t wait to see it. From the sky, the hole is giving me Harbour Town golf. Target golf at its very finest. Pull a driver and hit a tight draw round the corner. Hit the shot or go home.
6. Breaking an etiquette rule is not a crime but can subject you to recrimination. We crafted a list of the nine worst violations, ranked from least to most severe. What’s the one etiquette blunder that drives you the most nuts on the golf course?
Bastable: My top three should also be everyone else’s top three: slow play, slow play and slow play. Absolute scourge on the game. A distant fourth: scraping up five-footers as if they’re kick-ins. Most maddeningly these self-appointed gimmes frequently come after said offender had just missed a putt from the same distance — as if they’d never miss two in a row from that range.
Dethier: You can learn a lot about someone from the way they treat their caddie. If a playing partner is rude to their looper, blames him or her for their own shortcomings, stiffs ‘em or generally treats ‘em like second-class citizens, I’ve seen what I need to see.
LKD: People stepping in my line on the green. You’re not just making the putt harder for me, you’re also just being really annoying. It’s like cutting somebody off on the road, or skipping in front of somebody in line. Or like those annoying people in airplanes who try to sneak down the aisle before it’s their row’s turn to stand up and leave. Either way, it’s rude, so don’t do it.