Tour Confidential: Rickie’s return, PGA Tour-PIF questions, Langer’s longevity
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 Rickie Fowler’s comeback win, questions for the PGA Tour Policy Board meeting, Bernhard Langer’s battle with father time and more.
1. Rickie Fowler birdied the first playoff hole to win the Rocket Mortgage Classic over Collin Morikawa and Adam Hadwin. It was Fowler’s first PGA Tour win in more than four years after a couple of close calls the last few weeks. What impressed you most about the way he won? And how much does his stock rise for The Open at Royal Liverpool, a course where he’s had success before?
Jack Hirsh, assistant editor (@JR_HIRSHey): No one was really making a lot of bogeys Sunday at Detroit Golf Club, but pars might as well have been the same. Fowler didn’t make a birdie between the 7th and 18th holes and it seemed like he was starting to let this one slip away. He three-putted a par-5, he started having a two-way miss, he was pulling putts, he left his pitch on 17 almost short of the green. Those kinds of shots could have rattled a lesser player, not Fowler. His two approaches on 18 in regulation and then in the playoff after poor tee shots showed exactly how Fowler got into the top-5 in the world in the first place. I think his stock was already pretty high going into Hoylake. Now he’s got the taste of victory again.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Those two approaches into 18 were memorable stuff. But I think I was most struck by the realization that this isn’t just some fluky victory; Fowler deserved this win based on his standard of play. Sunday’s win marked his 13th top-20 finish in his last 15 starts, which means he’s been among the most consistent performers on Tour. (Sidenote: Scottie Scheffler remains on a different plane entirely.) The way he has retooled his swing, his gear and his team — and the way it has actually worked out — is remarkable. In 2014, Rory McIlroy won and Rickie Fowler finished T2. Would the same result shock anybody, given their respective form?
Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): It was impressive to see him step up on 18 in regulation and knock one stone dead. He hadn’t made a birdie the entire back nine to that point, and it looked like he was gonna come up just short once again. Instead, he dug deep and got it done. It’s hard not to like his chances heading into Royal Liverpool. He won’t be among the top tier of favorites, but he should certainly be considered in the next tier.
2. The entire 10-person PGA Tour Policy Board met on Tuesday in Detroit during the Rocket Mortgage Classic to discuss the PGA Tour-PIF deal (including Rory McIlroy, who wasn’t even in the field). The Tour released a statement saying the focus of it was to begin “a new phase of negotiations to determine if the Tour can reach a definitive agreement that is in the best of interests of our players, fans, sponsors, partners, and the game overall.” We’ve learned a lot about this merger, but there are still so many unknowns. If you were a player in that meeting, what’s your one burning question you want answered?
Hirsh: That’s easy. If I’m in the room, that means I stayed loyal to the PGA Tour when LIV came knocking. I want to know what my loyalty got me. We know LIV players who want to get back on the PGA Tour are going to have to get some sort of penalty, but that’s on them and it certainly won’t cancel out the millions they took to play for LIV. We still don’t know what the financial investment from the PIF to the PGA Tour is, but it’s likely to be significant enough to help make the players who didn’t take LIV Golf money whole.
Dethier: I’m not sure they’ll be made “whole” in the sense that they’ll be compensated for lost LIV earnings but feel fairly confident they’ll be made “rich” nonetheless. As for a question? I’d want to know every option currently on the table. Every option. I’d understand, begrudgingly, that there needed to be a tight circle on this initial framework agreement, but now I’d like to know every way it could play out to reassert myself as an important piece in a “player-run organization.” (Although at a certain point, it’s worth noting that I may end up deferring to the non-pro-golfers given their subject-matter expertise…)
Melton: My colleagues make excellent points above, but for me personally, I’d want to know what the future of the Tour (and LIV) looks like in a perfect world. Do they co-exist? Does LIV fold into the Tour? Is there a place for team golf with all the top stars? I want to know what the vision is going forward.
3. Speaking of the deal, in an interview with ESPN last week, Nick Faldo, who had previously been critical of LIV Golf, voiced his support for the proposed merger, saying “I think when the dust settles, whether it takes six months, a year, whatever, my goodness, pro golf is in an overall better position financially than we were back in the day.” Do you agree with Faldo, and do you expect other detractors to make a similar about-face in the months ahead?
Hirsh: Once the initial shock of the merger wore off, it sure seems like most people — save Tom Watson — are starting to warm to the idea of the merger. Ultimately, if it goes through (which is still a big if), it will reunite a fractured game which is objectively good for it. I still think I don’t know enough about what this is going to look like to say I agree or disagree with Faldo, but I’m not as opposed as I used to be. I’m just assuming “back in the day” doesn’t actually mean Faldo’s years on Tour…
Dethier: Compared to Faldo’s day? Uhh, yeah. A lot of things could go wrong financially and that would remain true. For instance, at last week’s U.S. Open Wyndham Clark passed Greg Norman on the PGA Tour’s all-time money list. Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm have each made more money on the PGA Tour this season than Faldo made in his career on the European and PGA Tours — combined. So yeah, the financials were already eye-popping when compared with the Tour of two decades past. An influx of new capital would only further that trend.
Melton: In a financial sense, yes the Tour is in a better place than ever. In a reputational sense, though? The stock has definitely taken a hit in the last few months. I definitely expect former detractors to follow suit in the months ahead — especially when the checks start coming in.
4. Berhnard Langer won the U.S. Senior Open by two shots over Steve Stricker. Langer not only breaks his own record for oldest winner on the PGA Tour Champions (65 years, 10 months) but also, with his 46th senior tour victory, he breaks Hale Irwin’s record for most wins all-time on the over-50 circuit. Are you surprised he’s been able to keep winning events well into his 60s?
Hirsh: Langer’s longevity is insane. There’s really no other word for it. He was already in the Hall-of-Fame after winning two majors. And he has, without a doubt, become better since turning 50. There are obviously things he can’t do as well anymore (he didn’t hit a single chip shot at SentryWorld all week) but he’s adapted his game to continue to succeed. At this point, he doesn’t surprise me anymore. I’m spoiled into expecting it. I don’t think it’s crazy to think he could still be winning at 70.
Dethier: Yes, I’m surprised, because nobody’s done it. You’d think a U.S. Open at a long, difficult course with thick rough and high scores might favor a (relatively) young basher, but no — Langer ruled again. Respect.
Melton: All of us are at the mercy of Father Time, but Langer appears to be exempt in that regard. He’s the Tiger Woods of the Champions Tour, and he continues to raise the standard. I doubt this is the last time we see Langer win out there.
5. The latest edition of The Match featured NBA stars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson vs. NFL stars Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, with the latter winning 3 and 2 in Las Vegas. How would you grade the eighth edition? And, for just the second time without the event featuring a pro golfer, does that format work?
Hirsh: Nope. I really don’t have much interest in watching guys who aren’t that good at golf play golf. We don’t watch celebrities play flag-football games, do we? Do you know anyone who actually watches the NBA All-Star celeb game? I tuned in for a hole and a half and realized I wasn’t paying attention.
Dethier: Oh man, I’m on the other end of the spectrum. I’ll watch basically any version of the Match because you can learn so much about somebody by watching them play golf, and these are fundamentally interesting people! I may be an outlier in that regard, though. Klay Thompson looked uncomfy and Steph Curry didn’t do enough to make up for his struggling partner. A blowout is never quite as fun. But the Mahomes/Kelce duo is a blast to watch on any green field, this one included.
Melton: I can’t lie, I didn’t watch a single shot. I’ve never been much of a fan of The Match franchise, and subbing in pro golfers for pro basketball and football players did little to change that.
6. The U.S. Women’s Open begins Thursday at iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links. What’s the storyline golf fans need to know about?
Hirsh: This tournament is huge for the equality of the game and for more reasons than you might think. Yes, playing a U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble is a move that culminates a really nice movement of getting more women’s events at these legendary courses (see: Baltusrol, Muirfield, Congressional, Olympic, etc.). It also will be the first women’s event EVER to have Shotlink. That’s crazy that the women’s game has never had access to that level of data (or really any level of data) and it’s about time.
Dethier: There aren’t many golf courses that non-golfers are familiar with, but Pebble Beach is one of ‘em. You’ve played it on your Xbox! You’ve seen it in your Tiger Woods highlights! You’ve googled how much it’d cost you to play there yourself! The LPGA has been chasing venues that make its events feel big. Pebble Beach as venue does that.
Melton: That many of the players in the field have never even played Pebble before this week. The men visit the course each year, but for the ladies, this is a brand new experience. It’s easy to get caught up in the grandeur of the property, and early in the week, the same will be true for the pros. It’ll be pretty cool to see them compete there for the very first time.