Tour Confidential: Rory McIlroy’s win, ‘super leagues’ and the best U.S. public golf
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 Rory McIlroy’s victory, golf’s proposed super leagues, break down our Top 100 Courses You Can Play and more.
Rory! After an 18-month winless drought and long run of underwhelming Sundays, Rory McIlroy shot a closing 68 at Quail Hollow to win the Wells Fargo Championship by one shot over Abraham Ancer. How does this victory change the narrative around McIlroy as we enter the meat of the 2021 major season?
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): With the possible exception of DJ, Rory is the most outsize talent on Tour. And like DJ, he can run hot and cold. Now he’s warming up on the cusp of the PGA at Kiawah, where Rory won in a romp nine years ago. Feels like the stars are starting to align.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: I think it’s significant because the story about Rory for a long while has been can he play on Sunday. He can play on Sunday. He can play the other three days, too. So he’s good for a while here, I would think. (And I would hope.)
James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): This week showed Pete Cowen’s newest client still has what it takes to win, but the cracks of the ‘Old Rory’ were clear as day on the 72nd tee. Can Cowen get the low-heart rate version of McIlroy for 72 holes at a major this year? That’s the narrative I’m paying attention to heading forward.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): The only downside to Rory’s terrific Sunday: It immediately turns him into the favorite at the PGA Championship! I’m sure he’d rather come in under the radar.
The crowds at Quail Hollow were as big as we’ve seen at any PGA Tour event since the restart last May, which was not lost on McIlroy. “To bring the best out of myself, I need this,” he said of the fan support. What do you make of McIlroy’s dependence on the galleries to fuel him?
Sens: Rory’s not like Tiger. Not the kind of guy to put his blinders up and block the world out. He’s always seemed attuned to what’s swirling around him and sensitive to it. It’s a big part of his appeal. A strength but also at times a vulnerability.
Dethier: I’d argue Tiger also thrives with a crowd, though…
Bamberger: I think it speaks to his love of football, tennis and other games in the arena. It makes you feel like an athlete, to feed off the crowd. That’s part of Rory’s makeup.
Dethier: To his credit, McIlroy talked about feeling flat all last summer when the Tour returned fan-free. Some people criticized him and said he was using that as an excuse. But I think this is a pretty solid counter-argument.
Colgan: Crowds matter…except when they don’t. The point being: it depends on the player, and also on the scope of the moment.
Not one but two super leagues now appear to be making a run at the world’s best players. From what little we know about this new push and which players have been approached, is there reason to believe super-league golf is any more likely to become a reality than it was, say, this time last year?
Sens: The sums being tossed around are insane. But the old line from the movie Wall Street still applies —how many yachts can you water ski behind? With Monahan laying down an ultimatum that would bring a possible lifetime ban from the Tour for anyone who jumps ship, I’m guessing the biggest names will decide that they have enough yachts where they are. At least for now.
Bamberger: Well, we’re closer to the end of a pandemic, so in that sense, yes. On the other hand, the world has been turned upside down by a pandemic. Is this really the right time to try to turn the world of big-money elite professional golf upside down? I would think not.
Dethier: There’s definitely more smoke than ever. Does that mean there’s fire? Strong reporting from Josh Sens, among others, suggests that some top players are already game to jump ship. But that’s where we hit Newton’s Law of Professional Golf Leagues: The Tour that already exists usually has the best chance of continuing to exist.
Colgan: It can simultaneously be true that a super league has never been more likely and is still incredibly unlikely to come to fruition. As has always been the case, it all comes down to the question of who? If the SGL or PGL can attract a big enough pool of stars — a colossal ‘if’ given last year’s failures — there’s no reason not to believe a new professional league/tour could exist.
According to a Golf Channel report, in a meeting with players last week at Quail Hollow, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said that any defectors to a rival tour would be suspended from the PGA Tour and likely banned for life. European Tour chief Keith Pelley showed solidarity with Monahan and Co., saying in a statement, “We are aligned with the PGA Tour in opposing, in the strongest possible terms, any proposal for an alternative golf league.” Too harsh, or just a couple of commishes dutifully protecting their turf?
Sens: The latter. And clearly they recognize that their turf has some vulnerabilities. Lots and lots of golfers out there and many events, but only a small percentage that really move the needle.
Bamberger: The commissioner can say what he wishes but the courts will have the final say, I suspect. He doesn’t need to threaten 100+ players. He has to cajole 20 or so to let the whole thing slide.
Dethier: In his role, I don’t see how he could say differently. It’s already confusing enough for golf fans to tell the PGA Tour from the PGA of America or the various organizations that run major championships. The PGL would take a serious slice out of their bit of the pro golf pie.
Colgan: It’s the right tone, but I think it speaks more to the threat posed by a super league, and the weaknesses in the current structure. To borrow a comparison from another sport, the PGA Tour might be starting on the 10 yard line, but it still has to overcome a leaky offensive line.
The U.S. defeated Great Britain & Ireland 14-12 at the Walker Cup at dreamy, windy Seminole, meaning the Americans have now won seven of the last nine editions of the biennial amateur event. Would you like to see the GB&I team expand to include the rest of Europe?
Sens: Yes. I can understand the sentimental attachment to tradition, but think of all the fine amateurs we are NOT currently seeing in what broadcasters this weekend took pains to call the greatest showcase of amateur golf talent in the world. That may have been the case when the event was born. Not anymore.
Bamberger: Yes. It’s a great event but closer outcomes would make it better yet.
Dethier: For sure. The Ryder Cup for amateur golfers? I’m all the way in.
Colgan: I’ll admit, with this being my first Walker Cup in golf media, I had to pause to research why, exactly, the event didn’t include the rest of Europe to begin with. History and tradition are awesome, but a closer contest would be even better.
On Tuesday, we dropped our 2021-22 ranking of the Top 100 Courses You Can Play, which for the first time included designs in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. Dylan Dethier shared 10 key takeaways here — what most jumped out to you about our latest celebration of public golf?
Sens: That I need to get back to Canada. I love seeing Highland Links returning to our list. If there’s a prettier walk in golf, I haven’t seen it.
Bamberger: That I care more about this list than I do the others, with all those courses 99 percent of all golfers will never see. This list captures the mood of the times.
Dethier: That there’s more to a great golf course than exclusivity, difficulty and pedigree. There’s some funk on this list. There’s adventure. There’s character. And there’s plenty of fun to be had. Time to start booking tee times.
Colgan: That, for as much as I love bemoaning the hordes of public golfers nabbing tee times on Bethpage every week, those courses are still home to some of the best municipal golf in the world. Oh…and I can’t WAIT to get to Pinehurst this summer.