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Monday Morning Rap: An Educated Guess On The Player Impact Program (PIP) Winners

Ross Kinnaird. Getty Images.

Good morning, golf fans. We're going to endeavor to keep this one relatively short as my pre-World Cup nerves are making it pretty damn difficult to type sentences at the moment. Given it's the fall and smack-dab in the meaty part of football season, there seemed to be considerably less hype for this World Cup than any previous one I can remember. Then, just after Adam Svensson holed his putt to win the RSM Classic (hello, history books), something inside me clicked. The PGA Tour had completed its last tournament of 2022—and the last-ever fall event that counts toward the FedEx Cup standings, with the FEC switching back to a calendar-year schedule beginning in January—while the DP World Tour LPGA Tour had wrapped up their season-long points races and, all the sudden, it was less than 24 hours until the United States of America played its first match in the world's most popular sporting event. If you can't already tell, I'm a soccer guy. If that's a problem, deal with it. 

Back to golf. Let's recap the weekend in chronological order, which means starting at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai. 

Here comes Jon Rahm and oh, there's Rory again

With all the posturing and bickering in world golf this year, the actual on-course action has, at times, felt like a bit of an afterthought. A player's iron game regression, to cherry pick an example, doesn't quite capture the public's attention like $100 million offers and accusations of betrayal. As such, Jon Rahm's early-year struggles and failure to perform in marquee events went more or less undiscussed. Consider this: a year after finishing T8 or better in all four majors, winning his first at the U.S. Open and generally establishing himself as the world's top player, Rahmbo did not manage a single top-10 in any of the big four this year. He did, however manage to pick off a PGA Tour win in May against a weak field at the Vidanta Open in Mexico, and added another victory against less-than-stellar competition in his home nation at the Acciona Open de Espana last month. But the Spaniard saved his best stuff of the year for the very end, shooting 11 under over the weekend to win the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. 

Rahm began the day with a one-shot advantage over Matt Fitzpatrick, who was looking to cap off a life-changing year by winning the DPWTTC for the third time and the season-long points race. But Rahm birdied his first three holes to take full control of the tournament while Fitzpatrick stumbled his way to an over-par round at the worst time. Rahm's stiffest challenge came from 36-hole joint leader Tyrrell Hatton and hard-charging Alex Noren but each started too far back to chase down the steady Spaniard, who played mostly mistake-free golf to post a final-round 67 and win his third title of the year. 

Rahm's world ranking did not rise even one single place despite the victory, as he received just under 22 OWGR points for the W. That's less than half the 46 points Collin Morikawa got for beating a similar field last year, a casualty of the new world-ranking formula that greatly devalues limited-field events like Dubai, which had just 50 players. Rahm called the new formula "laughable" in his pre-tournament press conference and we're willing to bet he hasn't changed his mind after refreshing the rankings this morning. He's now finished T-4 or better in each of his past four starts and has risen all the way up to No. 2 in Data Golf's player rankings, which I consult frequently. 

A few men not named Rahm will feel particularly encouraged by Sunday's result. The first is European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald, who saw a number his potential team members populating the top of the leaderboard: Rahm, Fitzpatrick, Hatton, Noren, Tommy Fleetwood, one-half of Denmarks promising set of twins in Rasmus Hojgaard and the big-hitting Adrian Meronk of Poland. It should be noted, however, that just one American teed it up: Kurt Kitayama, who finished 42nd. The second is Rory McIlroy, whose solo fourth finish was enough to win the DPWT's season-long competition for the fourth time. For those keeping score at home: McIlroy is now the world No. 1, the reigning FedEx Cup champion and the European Number One. 

"When you get to this level it's like, 'OK, how can you make those incremental improvements to get better?," McIlroy said Sunday. "My goal has been to just become a more complete golfer and I feel like I'm on the journey to doing that. I'm as complete a golfer as I feel like I've ever been and hopefully I can continue on that path."

I wrote about the unfair lens through which we view McIlroy's career a few weeks ago, when he won the CJ Cup to return to world No. 1. And still, after he knocks off yet another impressive accomplishment, the mind immediately wanders to what he has not accomplished: namely, winning another major championship. It's not a fair way to judge a man. What's more, focusing on what you don't have over what you do is a shortcut to an unfulfilling life. Perhaps we should take a lesson from McIlroy himself—his post-round comments make clear that he focuses not on the results but on the process, for that is something he can control. He said he's on a journey to being a complete golfer, not toward winning any single tournament, and that he derives satisfaction from continuing on that journey, not from any piece of hardware. It's a long-winded way of saying he focuses on self-betterment, and that he's content so long as he feels like he's making progress toward that end. 

Lydia Ko's wins a boatload of cash, is still somehow just 25 years old

The richest prize in women's golf was up for grabs this weekend at the CME Group Tour Championship, which awards its winner $2 million. That lucre went to Lydia Ko, who held off Leona Maguire for a two-shot victory in windy conditions at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Fla. 

With the win, Ko also locked up the LPGA Tour's player of the year award, which is determined wholly by points and no subject to a vote. The $2 million winner's check brought her season total up to $4.3 million, just shy of Lorena Ochoa's single-season record from 2007. Shoutout to Ochoa for still holding an earnings title 15 years later given all the purse increases in recent years. 

"There was a lot of things on the line today," Ko told reporters after the round. "I really wanted to play the best golf I can. I knew it would be a tough battle, especially with how tough the conditions were."

It's Ko's second time winning the tour championship—the first came as a 17-year-old in 2014, which was two full years after she won his first LPGA event as a 15-year-old amateur. Yeah, she's been around awhile, which makes it nearly impossible to believe she's still just 25 years old. Because her career path has been anything but linear—she won just one LPGA event between July 2016 and April 21—it's easy to lose sight of just how much she has accomplished in the last decade. Some of her records:

—the youngest player to ever win an LPGA event
—the only amateur to win two LPGA events
—the youngest woman to win a major championship
—the youngest woman to win two major championships
—the lowest final-round score in a major championship, 61, man or woman
—the youngest player to reach world No. 1, man or woman

With the CME victory, she now has three wins on the year and 19 for her career…and she's still give months short of her 26th birthday. The CME also marked her last start as a single woman, as she's set to marry boyfriend Chung Jun during the offseason. Jun, per LPGA oracle Beth Ann Nichols, is hardly a golf lifer: 

"Chung played tennis in high school and took up golf during the pandemic,' Nichols wrote in Golfweek. "He admits having to Google Ko’s career in those early stages of their relationship. Their favorite thing to do together is play golf. He carries his bag; she uses a push cart. They play Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida, where Ko has a home, and around California."

Jun's relative ignorance to Ko's stardom has brought her a sense of peace, for she now has an identity and a life outside of tournament golf—and the tournament golf ecosystem has worn on her, surely. She has maintained that she will not play past the age of 30 and will not chase accomplishments if she feels it's time to hang it up. She moved to within two points of qualifying for the Hall of Fame (like its player of the year, the LPGA determines its Hall of Fame based on points) with her victory Sunday, which gives her a great chance to equal Inbee Park by becoming the youngest Hall of Fame qualifier at age 26. At this rate, she won't have anything left to accomplish by the time she hits 30. Enjoy her while she's here. 

Adam Svensson sends the Fall Series out 

For the third consecutive week, the PGA Tour held an event that felt like a total and complete afterthought in the larger sports universe. Part of that is just the nature of the beast—golf is not as popular as football, or basketball, or baseball. Part of it is the time of year; directly competing with football for eyeballs is a fool's errand, which is why Rory McIlroy answered a question about what the future fall golf season should look like with a one-word answer: "football." Part of it is also the dearth of top-name players in the mix: after Tony Finau's withdrawal, there was not a single top-25 player in the field at the RSM Classic. 

Still, the year's final official PGA Tour event offered a full slate of FedEx Cup points, 37 world ranking points, nearly $1.5 million and a Masters invite to the winner. Adam Svensson earned it all with an excellent putting performance, good for a two-shot victory over Brian Harman, a Gerogia boy through-and-through who was trying to win in his home state, and Sahith Theegala, who now has three top-six finishes in the fall as he chases that ever-elusive first PGA Tour victory. 

“It’s been a dream of mine since I was 10 years old, 8 years old,” Svensson said after the win, per the PGA Tour's Kevin Prise, who penned a nice feature on the Canadian. “I don’t think money really does anything. It’s the feeling of coming down the stretch and winning … you just can’t beat it.”

The RSM's a sneaky great tournament to win—particularly if you're Svensson, whose previous best finish on the big tour was a solo sixth. He's got status locked up through 2025. He's into the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the Players Championship and the Masters for the first time. And he now gets a month-plus break to stuff his face with Turkey (or not, given his country of birth) and enjoy the holidays while basking in the afterglow of the best professional week of his life. 

The second PIP standings are coming out soon, and we've been trying to piece together the winners

You might remember how the last Player Impact Program list reveal went. Essentially, Phil Mickelson tried to pull a STOP THE COUNT by declaring victory in December, only for the PGA Tour to quickly deny that and note that the entire year is factored into the list, and that there was still date to input before determine a winner. You also might recall Tiger Woods' eventual victory and subsequent troll job of Mickelson. 

The Tour is changing things up this year—because players need to play in certain events to receive their full bonus, and because these players like to lay out their schedules before the new year, the tour plans to inform PIP winners this week. A reminder that the overall bonus pool, which was $40 million in its first year, has been upped to $100 million, and that 20 players will receive bonuses, up from 10. This year's winner will get $10 million, up from $8 million, and the list of 20 carries extra significance this year, as those are the 20 that will play in each of the PGA Tour's elevated events next year, which will feature limited fields, $20 million purses and no cuts.

There's no neat way to state this, so I'm going to go Full Barstool and just explain: I've been canvassing my contacts to try to piece together the top 10 in the list. I'm combining a number of different conversations and tidbits here to give you these 12 names, 10 of which I have been told are in the top 10. 

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, Matt FItzpatrick, Max Homa, Will Zalatoris, Xander Schauffele. 

Keep in mind that a full half of the 10 original winners have left for LIV: Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Bryson DeChambeau and Bubba Watson. Plenty of the guys listed above are benefitting from their departures: Morikawa, for example, finished 11th in the PIP last year despite winning a major, the Race to Dubai and finishing the year as world No. 1. 

If we assume that those 12 names above are in the top 20, and I am virtually certain that they are, that leaves eight spots for the following guys: 

Viktor Hovland, Sam Burns, Tom Kim, Cameron Young, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Cantlay, Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Kevin Kisner, Tyrrell Hatton, Rickie Fowler, Mito Pereira, Sahith Theegala, Billy Horschel. 

My final educated guesses as to the 20 PIP winners and, thus, the 20 you'll see at all the elevated events: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, Matt Fitzpatrick, Max Homa, Will Zalatoris, Xander Schauffele, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Cantlay, Hideki Matsuyama, Shane Lowry, Tom Kim, Cameron Young, Tommy Fleetwood and Rickie Fowler. 

They no-showed?!

CME is, per Wikipedia, an "American global markets company." They're also the bankroller for women's golf's richest tournament, which we discussed earlier. As part of their agreement to bankroll this tournament, the CME execs want some things in return: mainly, the opportunity to hang out with and talk to some of the best golfers in the world. They also want to be able to bring their clients around these players. It's part of the gig. Toward that end, the CME folks organized a dinner with players during Tuesday of tournament week. Problem is…they didn't show. 

Per The Fried Egg, 11 players committed to attending the dinner—but did so with the understanding that Serena Williams would be attending and speaking. Williams eventually dropped out, and so did the players. Like, all of them. Not a single player showed. 

“It’s an embarrassment to a company of my size and an embarrassment to me personally,” CME's CEO, Terry Duffy, told Beth Ann Nichols at Golfweek. “I am exceptionally disappointed with the leadership of the LPGA,” he continued. “They better get their act together because they’re going to lose people like me over stuff like this.”

Major, major yikes. I'm often asked why some of these financial services companies, which aren't really consumer facing, choose to spend all this money to sponsor golfers or golf tournaments. This is a big reason why: if they can keep executives and clients happy, and those executives stay put and the clients re-up their deals, the sponsorships more than pay for themselves. The model breaks down if the players don't show up to an event and the CEO's actively embarassed. Woof. 

Elsewhere…

—Xander Schauffele addressed rumors that he might sign with LIV Golf on the No Laying Up podcast. He essentially said that it's entertaining to see speculation appear out of nowhere, that he's entered into PGA Tour events next year and that so long as Tiger and Rory are staying put, so is he. 

—This week's DP World Tour broadcast featured a live in-round interview with Jon Rahm, on Sunday, as he held the lead. This, coupled with the World Series interviews with players right after they hit home runs, in addition to LIV's in-round interviews, has me wondering how this isn't a thing during PGA Tour events. 

—On the merchandise front…we at Fore Play have cooked up an unreal drop for Black Friday/Cyber Monday, including stuff from some of the best brands on the market: like hoodies from Mack Weldon and hats from Melin. We've also got gold from our friends at Peter Millar and Rhoback, and these extra-classy leather goods that make a perfect holiday gift.

—Patrick Reed's lawsuit against a number of golf media entities including the Golf Channel, Shane Bacon, Damon Hack and Eamon Lynch, which seeks $750 million in damages (lol), has been dismissed. Reed will have until Dec. 16 to file an updated complaint. Reed also sued different golf media folks for $250 million in a separate suit filed a few weeks ago. Odds are that one gets tossed, too. 

—My pal Trent Ryan failed to break 90 in his 11th on-camera attempt at doing so. He and Frankie are headed to Georgia this week so Trent can see famed instructor John Tillery and, for Frankie's sake, end this quest sooner rather than later. 

—Akshay Bhatia, who eschewed college golf to turn pro at 17, Monday qualified into the RSM Classic last week. Bhatia made waves for winning a Korn Ferry event last week with his girlfriend on the bag, who did not know anything about golf, and she was looping for him again when he qualified. This kid, who is still just 20, has some serious Moxie:

He finished 45th.

—I want to personally take back a take I offered a few months ago, when I suggested that the Fore Play crew could kill a bear. After seeing this video, I realize how silly that statement was. Credit to me for moving off an incorrect stance when presented with new information. 

—We have transitioned to indoor golf/simulator szn here on the East Coast, and while playing golf inside is still better than not playing golf at all, please appreciate if you live in a place that allows you to play outside year round. Fingers crossed, with my upcoming move, this will be the last winter during which I must travel to play outside. 

—There is no PGA Tour, LIV Tour, DP World Tour, Korn Ferry Tour, PGA Tour Champions or LPGA Tour event this week. Focus on football. Or family. But probably football. 

—We're going to do two more Monday Morning Raps before a little holiday break leading into the new season. Just getting that out there. 

Until next week,

Dan