Tour Confidential: Koepka shines, Watson says goodbye and the best majors of the last decade
Check in every Sunday night 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 Brooks Koepka’s big Sunday (and Rory McIlroy’s rough outing), the new PGA Tour schedule, Tom Watson’s farewell, the best majors of the past decade and more.
1. Sunday’s star-studded final pairing at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational didn’t live up to the hype, although half of it did. Brooks Koepka shot 65 and won his first WGC by three as Rory stumbled to a 71. McIlroy, who led by one after 54 holes, was coming off a major disappointment at the Open Championship while Koepka was trying to prove he can be a factor in non-majors too. Who was a win on Sunday more important for?
Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@Dylan_Dethier): In some weird way, a lights-out performance from McIlroy on Sunday may have been a strike against him — people would use it as further proof that he can play everywhere except the majors. Instead, I think Sunday reiterated a basic truth about McIlroy: The guy doesn’t play well when he’s pressing. Koepka, on the other hand, cemented his status as Golf King and undisputed No. 1.
Josh Sens, contributor (@JoshSens): That’s an interesting take, and it seems right: a bit of a lose-lose for Rory in that regard. But I’ll pile on anyway and say that it still felt like the bigger moment for McIlroy. It wasn’t a major, of course, but beating big bad Brooks in the final pairing would have registered as something more than just another ho-hum non-major win.
Jonathan Wall, equipment editor (@jonathanrwall): I’m with Dylan here. I think we would’ve been talking a lot about McIlroy’s ability to rise to the occasion in a non-major, which is insane considering the strong season he’s put together. In the end, we’re talking about something that was known all along: King Koepka is really good at golf.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Dylan is a smart young man, but that’s crazy! He’s a professional golfer — his job is to shoot low scores, and when you shoot them on Sunday, that’s even better. As for who needed the win more, I’d say Rory, on account of Koepka winning a major this year and playing so well in the others and being the consensus best player in the game before this week began and now even more so.
2. Justin Rose recently said the new schedule is “too condensed,” and this past week Open champ Shane Lowry and Tiger Woods skipped the big-money grab WGC-FedEx St. Jude. Next week is also the finale of the inaugural Wyndham Rewards, where the top 10 in the season-long points race split a $10 million bonus (including $2 million to the leader, which Koepka already locked up). Yet Paul Casey was the only top-10 player in the FedEx Cup standings who committed to the Wyndham Championship as players gear up for the following week’s start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Is golf’s new schedule unintentionally leaving other tour stops in the dust?
Dethier: Overall, I like the new schedule. Some events will always get left in the dust, and it’s clear the FedEx Cup isn’t going anywhere, so it makes lots of sense to get it in before football. But this WGC-Memphis felt squeezed in. I’d love to see it come halfway between the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. Then Wyndham could be a palate cleanser pre-playoffs and we’d avoid this Memphis post-major malaise.
Sens: More than leaving tournaments in the dust, what the new schedule has done is leave a lot of fans with a sense of early summer doldrums. It’s a refrain I’ve been hearing from a lot of my most hardcore Tour-following friends. Wait, the biggies are over already? Nothing else to look forward to? What’s left of the season is a lot of fat purses, and fat purses alone don’t make for compelling sport. Shane Lowry could have been playing for no money at all and his win would still be a zillion times more thrilling than a zillion Wyndham Rewards. That the players themselves barely seem excited tells you everything you need to know.
Wall: I think the lack of interest in these money-grab events further confirms golf fans care more about the product than the figure these guys are playing for each week. As Justin Rose said recently, major titles are the only thing that matters — not WGCs with no cuts and FedEx Cup events. I’m a fan of spreading out the majors, but I still believe there are far too many events on the Tour schedule. You can literally find golf on television every week, which waters down the product. I realize these guys are playing golf for a living and sponsors are the lifeblood of the Tour, but would it kill Tour brass to throw a couple off weeks on the schedule? Clearly, the big names aren’t all that interested in chasing the cash. Heck, highlight the Korn Ferry Tour — Nike Tour, Web.com, whatever you want to call it — on weeks when the big Tour isn’t in session. It’s worth consideration to keep players fresh and fan interest up during the summer when the events all seem to run together.
Bamberger: I think the major schedule will be good for golf but it will take some time to get used to it. The PGA will be a better event in May than in August. One a month for four months was sort of a lot to process, but this was our first time doing it. The WGC events and the FedEx events, they do nothing to stir the blood, really — Hartford and Colonial and Honda and Tampa, among others, are just as likely to breakout into something exciting and memorable.
3. One week after saying he doesn’t practice for non-majors, Koepka showed up less than an hour before his tee time with McIlory on Sunday in Memphis (but explained why afterwards). Is this Koepka being unprofessional, or simply doing what he thinks is best for him? And should the PGA Tour feel slighted by any of his actions?
Dethier: There was nothing unprofessional about the flattening Koepka put on the rest of the field Sunday. Winning takes care of everything! If he’d been hitting range balls at a different course and walked straight out of the car, that’d be one thing. But in this case, no gripes whatsoever.
Sens: No reason for anyone to feel slighted. Just intimidated. Talk about a cock-of-the-loft move by Koepka.
Wall: At first I thought he was kidding when he said practice wasn’t part of his schedule during non-major weeks. Now I think he’s serious. I don’t think anyone has a problem with him showing up less than an hour before his tee time. It just goes to show he does a lot of his work away from prying eyes.
Bamberger: Fred Couples did about the same. I credit anyone who is thinking for himself or herself. I am guessing if Koepka thought he’d shoot lower scores by practicing more before a regular Tour event round, he would. Or maybe he thinks he’s preserving himself for majors, which sounds kind of nutty but who knows? I like that he has his own methods.
4. Five-time Open winner (and three-time Senior Open winner) Tom Watson officially played in his last Senior Open on Sunday. “I just don’t have enough tools in the toolbox to really compete successfully,” Watson said on Saturday, announcing the decision. What will Watson’s lasting legacy be to the Open Championship?
Dethier: For my generation, his legacy will be contending as a 59-year-old a decade ago at Turnberry. Consider that Bernhard Langer just became the oldest major winner ever at age 62 — and that’s on the CHAMPIONS TOUR! Watson’s ‘09 Open was quite literally an unforgettable showing.
Sens: That was epic, no doubt. But for sepia-toned legacy, it will always be the Duel in the Sun, beating the greatest of his generation head to head. I think the average golf fan would be hard-pressed to tick off any of his other major wins. That’s the one that’s imprinted in our minds.
Wall: It has to be the Duel in the Sun — and I wasn’t even born when Watson and Big Jack traded haymakers in the summer of ‘77 at Turnberry. I’ve seen enough highlights to understand the gravity of the moment. The week solidified Watson’s place as a big-game hunter who could go toe-to-toe with the best on the planet.
Bamberger: Watson at Carnoustie in ‘75 was one of the things that made me fall in love with golf in general, with seaside golf in particular and with Watson’s approach to the game most particularly. Watson’s legacy to the Open is that Americans can play links golf, if they can hit irons on the face and putt slow greens well. His legacy is that if you want to be considered one of the all-time greats, you have to play Opens annually, contend in some of them and win at least one. Watson is one of the all-time greats. Mickelson, Norman, O’Meara, Price are in there, too.
5. Brandel Chamblee shot 76-74 and missed the cut at the Senior British Open in what was the second straight year he qualified for the event. Does his ability to play into these championships do anything for his reputation and credibility as an analyst in the eyes of fans or pros? Should it?
Dethier: I think it should. That’s impressive as hell, the ability to walk out of the broadcast booth and take down the full-timers. I use this job all the time as an excuse for the steady decline of my own game — Brandel just seems to be getting better and better.
Sens: I think it does sway public opinion for the reason Dylan lays out. On the flip side, the idea that you have to be a dominant player to be a respected analyst has always struck me as silly. Great skill on the course doesn’t necessarily make for great insightfulness in the booth. Just as a major-less career doesn’t mean you don’t have insightful things to say.
Wall: I’m not really sure qualifying for a senior major is going to up his credibility. In my opinion, Brandel was already one of the best analysts in the sport. I think it’s great he can still tee it up and be competitive, but we flip on Golf Channel to catch his inferno takes. Whether he’s still playing or not, I’m still going to tune in and listen to what he has to say.
Bamberger: Better to play your way in than not, of course, but no. He’s playing a short course against a less-than-stellar field. Brandel’s stock-in-trade is the intelligence he applies to thinking about and talking about the golf swing, and it really doesn’t matter what he shoots in Senior Open 18-hole qualifiers to do that.
6. GOLF.com ranked the best (and most forgettable) majors of the last decade, with Jimmy Walker’s 2016 PGA victory coming in at No. 40 and Tiger’s 2019 Masters triumph as No. 1. Agree or disagree?
Dethier: I feel for Jimmy Walker, but I can tell you essentially nothing about the 2016 PGA off the top of my head, so that feels like the correct choice. And as much as I loved me some 2015 Chambers Bay, Woods’ 2019 win may be the most incredible sports comeback ever. Kudos to GOLF.com for getting this one right!
Sens: Unless I’m forgetting something even more forgettable, it seems exactly right.
Wall: Tiger at the 2019 Masters is far and away the best of the last decade. No debate there. As for Walker at the 2016 PGA being the worst, I’d probably vote for Martin Kaymer at the 2014 U.S. Open. No one put up a fight and Kaymer ran away with the thing. He was six ahead after 36 holes! His 271 was the second-lowest total score in a U.S. Open, but I honestly can’t tell you anything about that week. Love Pinehurst, but that one was a complete snoozer. At least Walker had some pursuers on Sunday.
Bamberger: I actually agree. Wall makes a good point about Kaymer, but that at least was mastery of a difficult course.