Tour Confidential: Rory and Rahm, Greg Norman, Lydia Ko, OWGR tweaks
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, our team breaks down the finales on the DP World and LPGA Tours, Rory McIlroy’s comment on Greg Norman, and Jon Rahm’s take on the OWGR.
1. The DP World Tour Championship was not without star power, with Jon Rahm winning the tournament and Rory McIlroy clinching the season-long points title. Afterward, McIlroy talked of his play being as complete as it’s ever been, and Rahm noted that his effort on and around the greens, a perceived weakness this year, saved him this week. All good stuff. With both stars hitting their strides, who will have a bigger 2023?
Jack Hirsh, Assistant Editor (@JR_HIRSHey): It’s interesting because Rahm probably needs to win at a steadier clip on the PGA Tour while McIlroy, who has been doing that, needs to win a major. But it won’t matter the rest of the season if McIlroy ends his major drought, and that’s something I think he will do in 2023. McIlroy has finished in the top-8 in 12 of his past 15 worldwide events, and while that hot streak is no fluke, thinking it’s sustainable is probably foolish. I could see Rahm winning two or three times next year, but if McIlroy just wins one major, we’ll call his year “bigger.”
Dylan Dethier, Senior Writer (@dylan_dethier): By any measure, Rory McIlroy is playing the best golf of anybody in the world. I’d expect him to continue — but I’d also expect Rahm to finish next year higher than No. 5 in the world, where he currently stands. Both had big-time seasons. Both will also be hungry for major championships next year, though …
Josh Sens, Senior Writer (@joshsens): Anyone who thinks they can forecast a game this fickle is fooling themselves. That said, Rory is not only going to have the bigger season, he’s going to capture the career grand slam when he wins the Masters. Book it.
2. On the LPGA Tour, Lydia Ko held off Leona Maguire to win, for the second time, both the CME Group World Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year honor. With the women’s season now behind us, what will be your enduring memory?
Hirsh: I’m sure I’ll be echoed below (or maybe saying this will force everyone to pick something else), but this was Lydia Ko’s year. She talked about her mom joking she was better when she was a teenager, but now she’s put together her first multi-win season in her 20s and looks to head into her late 20s with a bit of a spring in her step. We really have yet to see much of a Ko-Nelly Korda rivalry, but that could be really fun if they end up trading No. 1 over the course of the next couple of years.
Dethier: Jack’s right; at the end, this became Lydia Ko’s year. I also really enjoyed Minjee Lee’s alpha play at the U.S. Women’s Open. But even if I’m swayed by recency bias or my love for a comeback story, Nelly Korda’s victory last week to reclaim her World No. 1 ranking after months of uncertainty had me all fired up.
Sens: Ko has long been the most likable player in professional golf, so watching her not only regain her form but regain it with the grace and humor she has always shown, even when her game was in the tank, was the highlight. But the bigger news might be the LPGA’s just-unveiled 2023 schedule, with a record-breaking total prize fund of more than $100 million. Talk of money in golf these days is generally obnoxious and fueled by artificial markets (see: pretty much anything related to LIV and the PGA Tour newly added player perks), but this prize boost reflects something welcome about the growth and popularity of the women’s game.
3. Earlier in the week, when asked what the PGA Tour and LIV Golf could do to possibly find peace, Rory McIlroy said: “I think Greg [Norman] needs to go. I think he just needs to exit stage left. He’s made his mark but I think now is the right time to sort of say, look, you’ve got this thing off the ground but no one is going to talk unless there’s an adult in the room that can actually try to mend fences.” Whew! But does he have a point?
Hirsh: This was something McIlroy and Rahm agreed on, and I do too. If Norman hadn’t been leading the LIV charge from almost the beginning, I think it’s pretty likely we’d be in a much different space than we are today. If Norman goes away, potentially Monahan would be open to some sort of “peace agreement,” and I think that’s ultimately what’s best for the game. Let’s face it, competition is great, but not getting to see a segment of players, some of whom are very, very, very good, play regularly against the rest of the best players in the world is not a good thing.
Dethier: If the golf world is looking for some sort of compromise, that would feel more likely under someone like Mark King, who has been rumored as Norman’s potential replacement, than it would under Norman, who has embraced his role as a disruptor and as the thorn in the PGA Tour’s side.
Sens: A Camp David-style meeting definitely seems more likely without Norman in the mix. But coming to the table is not the same as leaving with a compromise. With or without Norman, the same sticky issues remain.
4. Also earlier in the week, in response to the DP World Tour Championship receiving fewer world ranking points than the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic, Jon Rahm said: “The fact that the RSM doesn’t have any of the top 20 in the world has more points than this event [DP World Tour Championship] where we have seven of the top 20 is laughable. The fact that Wentworth [BMW PGA Championship] had less points than Napa [Fortinet Championship], having players in the top 10 in the world is laughable.” Whew! But does he have a point?
Hirsh: Adam Svensson got more points for winning this week than Rahm got for winning the finale on the world’s second-biggest tour? Yeah … that makes sense.
Dethier: Yeah, it seems like Rahm does have a point. While the changes seem generally sensible and like an improvement, they’re not perfect. And based on the viewpoints of some people smarter than me, it seems like the OWGR erred in their handling of smaller fields. While we’ve seen that the OWGR doesn’t like to rush to make changes (cc: Greg Norman), I’m hoping they can re-evaluate some of these; my understanding is that Rahm should be getting more points for winning a small-field event than he actually received.
Sens: The rankings may be imperfect (that’s what happens when you try to quantify what can’t ultimately be quantified without some margin of error), but with the recent improvements, they’re not “laughable.” This isn’t just about the top players in the field. It’s about the entirety of the field. I’ll defer to the stat master Mark Broadie on this one. As he pointed out in the press this week, the winner of the DP championship had to beat 49 players, 34 of whom ranked in the top 200. The winner of the RSM had to beat 155 players, 68 of whom ranked in the top 200. By Broadie’s math, the second challenge is tougher. That’s enough for me.
5. On the PGA Tour, Golfweek reported that Honda, the longest-running title sponsor on the PGA Tour, will no longer support the once-popular Honda Classic, which is currently played at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The 2023 edition of the tournament in February will be Honda’s last, ending a 42-year run. The news comes on the heels of the PGA Tour’s recent decision to designate 13 tournaments on the 2023 schedule as “elevated events” — meaning the purse size of each will swell to $20 million. Is the Honda move a cause for concern, or just a blip?
Hirsh: This became a pretty hot event about 10 years ago when seemingly every pro was moving to nearby Jupiter, but moving the Players back to March has really hurt it. It was always going to be tough to make this one an elevated event, even on a rotating basis, and I don’t blame Honda for wanting to move on, seeing as though there was no path to elevated status. That being said, I don’t think the Tour will have trouble selling a new sponsor. It’s one thing when you have a legacy sponsor who wants to be treated like everyone else, and a completely different thing when you have someone come in from the outside with the full expectation of what will happen.
Dethier: If some events are going to be elevated events, that means other events are … not elevated. Time will tell if this is a harbinger of things to come, but let’s not overreact to one sponsor turning over. In years past, the Honda Classic was home to battles between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Getting sandwiched in between bigger events was never going to end well for a sponsor with high expectations.
Sens: I do think it’s a sign of more to come. But not a great cause for concern. Just further recognition of the fact that a small number of events attract the lion’s share of interest. In that sense, you could see it as a healthy adjustment in the market, with non-elevated events having to strike up relationships with those who are content with the smaller exposure that those events provide.
6. ‘Tis the season for giving thanks. For which golf development or storyline were you most thankful in 2022?
Hirsh: The golf development I am most thankful for in 2022 was GOLF’s decision to hire Jack Hirsh this summer. Great move, if I don’t say so myself.
Dethier: Happy to have you, Hirsh, as long as you stay away from the third person. While I’m uneasy about the division of the men’s professional game, I’m thankful the PGA Tour has re-evaluated its product. I think 2023 has plenty to get excited about.
Sens: Like a lot of fans, I think, I was turned off by a lot of what went down in professional golf this year. I’m much more thankful for what I’ve seen in the recreational game. Lots of rejuvenated munis around the country, for instance, propelled in part by the Covid boom but also by a growing awareness that golf can contribute to the greater public good. Glen Golf Park in Madison, Wisconsin is a good example— a revitalized muni that doubles as a public park, with concerts and other events that anyone can attend. It’s a great example of how golf courses can be stitched into the fabric of everyday civic life. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game where one profits at the expense of the other.