Greetings from the shores of Maui, where my sole complaint in life is this giant cloud rudely blocking the sun. Look, covering golf has some built-in disadvantages—to name a few: four-day long competitions, an overall lack of in-arena buzz and a comparatively small fanbase—but I'd argue that no professional sport eases you into and out of the holidays quite like golf does. If you're Jon Rahm or Collin Morikawa or Scottie Scheffler or Matt Fitzpatrick (or a guy who follows those men around the world), your last event of 2022 was in the Bahamas, and your first of 2023 is on Maui. For this we remain grateful.
We're coming to you after a little winter sojourn to rest and recharge the batteries. The Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua has long felt like the beginning of the golf season because we, members of a civilized society, orient our years around the Gregorian Calendar and not some wraparound deal the PGA Tour jammed down our throats. Alas, this will be the last TOC for the foreseeable future that is not the official start to the season, as 2022-23 marks the last time the FedEx Cup and the official PGA Tour season is being contested over two different calendar years. Starting in January 2024, the Sentry—which you no longer have to win to qualify for, as anyone who got to the Tour Championship qualified for the field in addition to last year's winners—will regain its rightful place as the Grand Kicker Offer of the golf year.
This week's event is historically significant for a different reason: it's the first of the 17 "elevated" events the PGA Tour has designated in an ongoing effort to have its top talent compete against one another more often. While there's no one-size-fits-all of elevated events as far as field size and qualification methods—the U.S. Open will have 156 players, the Memorial around 120 while this week's Sentry has 39—the 17 do share one notable characteristic: money. Lots of it. There's $15 million up for grabs this week in a 39-man event, which means if every player decided to just split the pot evenly before hitting a shot, each would take home $384,615. That's LIV-level dough.
Seventeen of the top 20 in the world rankings will peg it at Kapalua's Plantation Course this week, one of the more fun tracks to play anywhere—but, apparently, not fun enough for Trent Ryan.
There's not much too much to dive into beyond the TOC this week as the golf world went noticeably quiet after a truly chaotic performance throughout 2022. Perhaps the most notable golf thing of the past couple weeks was the absurdity of watching Charlie Woods take carbon-copying his dad's mannerisms to the next level by limping exactly like him. I still can't get over how no one could walk at that PNC event, by the way. I think it's because it happened directly after arguably the best World Cup match ever, but switching over to watching Tiger and Charlie and Duval and Daly hobble around a dead-flat course in Orlando was certainly a stark experience. But I digress.
With me feeling rejuvenated and the source material still pretty light, I figured it'd be a great chance to open up the floor for some reader-generated questions that look ahead to 2023. So let's dive in.
Can Collin Morikawa have a bounce-back season this year? —Connor Ostrowski
Does Spieth win a major this year? And if so, which one? —Luke Scott
Does Rickie finish this year inside the top 50 of OWGR? —Noah Moelter
I grouped these three together because they're really all a variation of the same question, and it's the hardest one in golf to answer: Can Player X return to the standard of play Player X was at when he was at his best? It's sort of unique to our sport, too, because it feels like young guys on Hall-of-Fame trajectories fall off the map far more frequently in our sport than they do in, say, basketball. Take Justin Rose, for example, If you watch Rose on the range now, it does not look much different at all from his world No. 1 days in 2018. And it's not like he's fallen completely off the map; he's made a few cameo appearances on big-time leaderboards in recent years and he's still ranked well inside the top 100 of the world ranking. He's hitting the ball just as far as he did when he was the best player in the world, so it's hard to blame it on aging. But he has dropped two or three levels over the last half-decade. It happens to young guys, too. The Golfing Gods are a notoriously fickle bunch, and they seem to smile on certain players longer for reasons we'll never understand.
We had a fascinating discussion on this very topic with Padraig Harrington on one of the recent Fore Play episodes. Paddy basically said that if you look back at nearly golfer's career—so, not the one-named outliers like Tiger and Jack and Hogan—there's about a two-year stretch that all the great players hit their absolute peak. They'll stick around the game for much longer than the peak, and they might even win prolifically after that stretch is over, but there's definitely That Stretch. And That Stretch tends to come in the preciously short period of time when a player is in the right spot on the continuum between experience and innocence. As Harrington put it at the 2021 PGA Championship: "As you gain experience, you lose innocence. I suppose if you drew a graph, there's a crossing point of equilibrium where you have some experience and a certain amount of innocence and enthusiasm. As you get a little bit older and you get all this experience, on paper people might think you get better with experience, but as I said, you've seen a few things that you know in your game that you probably never wanted to see, so you kind of lose that little bit of, I suppose, innocence."
Spieth is a great example of this dynamic; he's won multiple times since his last major victory and hovers around the top 20 of the world rankings. He is not "slumping," by any means...he just hasn't been the same player that he was during The Stretch. And, if history is our guide, he may never reach that level again. We don't know if it's because of experience or innocence or just a physical motion he's not capable of repeating as reliably as he used to. That doesn't mean he can't win a major championship. He's been damn close to doing so in recent years. But he had a chance to win every major one year back during The Stretch. He is not the top-three player of his younger years, and if you ask me "will Player X win a major this year" the answer will be no outside of two or maybe three guys. You'll recall they only hand out four per year.
The same holds true for Rickie; he's keeping his card, he's popping up on random Sundays every now and then, but there's nowhere near the consistency of the mid 2010's stretch. But you're not asking if he's going to win a major or even a tournament; just getting back into the top 50. I'm going to say yes, assuming he returns to being an above-average putter. It's such a huge part of his identity as a player. Regarding Collin, the year wasn't as bad as he'd lead you to suggest. He posted his best-ever finish at the Masters, was right there at Riviera and he was one solid round away from winning the U.S. Open. Let's also recall that even at his best in 2020, Morikawa has never been as ruthlessly consistent on a week-to-week basis like Rahm or McIlroy. When Collin had chances in the past, he took them. That wasn't the case this year, but I'm betting he gets back in the winner's circle before the Masters.
Surprise Ryder Cup star? —JoredanMcc27
Yes, another Ryder Cup year has snuck upon us. Quail Hollow and Trevor Immelman's inspired International teams held us over admirably with a surprisingly intense and entertaining Presidents Cup, but there is simply nothing in golf like a Ryder Cup. And the European side finds at something of a crossroads. They were humiliated at Whistling Straits by a feisty young American pack that quite like the taste of blood. And in addition to all being deep into their 40s, the successful core of Casey/Westwood/Poulter/Garcia/Stenson have all departed for LIV Golf, which complicates (if not dooms) their candidacy.
Speaking of which...Here's a semi-bold prediction: no LIV players will play in the Ryder Cup. That actually bums me out, as I absolutely missed having Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith at the Presidents Cup, and I genuinely believe both events are better if they truly bring the best golfers from their respective regions together. But I'm also not oblivious to corporate entanglements and red-ass syndrome. This feud has become quite personal, and I simply can't see Ryder Cup Europe (which is owned in part by the DP World Tour, which is essentially an arm of the PGA Tour now) playing diplomacy with LIV ahead of Rome when LIV stole its Ryder Cup captain away with a fat sack of cash. Plus, none of the new core of younger European guys have gone to LIV, at least not yet, and I don't think that's a coincidence. As for the Americans, they're so deep that DJ and a healthy Bryson are probably the only two guys who'd be better than 50% of making the team even without LIV's existence. And even that might be generous.
All that said, let's make some predictions for the two sides that'll compete in Rome. In no particular order. This would be a much, much younger European side than the one at Whistling Straits.
Europe: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Matt Fitzpatrick, Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Sepp Straka, Seamus Power, Thomas Detry, Robert MacIntyre, Rasmus Hojgaard
United States: Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler, Tony Finau, Sam Burns, Will Zalatoris, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, Cameron Young, Max Homa, Sahith Theegala
To answer your question: Theegala will be the surprise Ryder Cup star because he was a nobody to golf fans this time last year. But he captured hearts at the WM Phoenix Open, kept up his strong play to get to East Lake and started the fall white-hot. He's here to stay, and he's got a self-assured swagger and easygoing nature that would translate well to team events.
Do you think Tiger will actually play and complete the 4 majors in 2023? —parrishja
I'm going to say no, but that doesn't mean I don't think he can contend in one. I also think he'll plan on playing all four—in addition to his event at Riviera, the Players Championship, maybe Bay Hill and even maybier The Memorial. I just wouldn't bank on his body making it through a major championship season, which is much more condensed since the PGA's move to May. I never thought it was a good idea for Woods to play in last year's U.S. Open because he hasn't played well in Opens even before the injury; they're the most physically demanding courses in golf, and you need serious strength to muscle balls out of that rough. He'll want to play in this year's because it's in Los Angeles, but I wouldn't be surprised if Tiger starts skipping the U.S. Open regularly. He's always going to play the Masters, and the Open venues are the easiest on his body because of how flat they are, which leaves the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Tiger will wanna play at LACC, and Oak HIll will be a slog, so I say he skips the PGA…hopefully after a spirited Sunday run through Amen Corner took a lot out of him in April.
Will any LIV players return to the PGA Tour in 2023?
A great question, and one of the big remaining questions in this never-ending saga: what would the PGA Tour do if a player decided he was done with LIV Golf and wanted to get back on the PGA Tour? Does he start from scratch and have to play first stage of Q-School? Is there some sort of exemption for past winners or past card-holders? We do not have the answers because it hasn't happened before, but the PGA Tour has consistently taken the hard-line stance when it comes to matters of LIV. I remember back before the first LIV event, there was widespread belief among players and caddies that the PGA Tour would grant releases to play in the London event but wouldn't for the Oregon event because it was in the United States. Nope. The tour drew a line in the sand and has mostly kept to it.
They will, however, have to develop some sort of re-entry program, and I'd imagine that players's paths back to the PGA Tour will depend on how much they accomplished while on the PGA Tour. If Dustin Johnson wants to play again, he'll have an easier time getting back than, say, Hudson Swafford. But I actually don't think we'll see it come to fruition this year simply due to the nature of the LIV contracts. Nearly every one I've heard of is multi-year, which means they're contractually obligated to play all 14 events on tap for 2023. There were some guys on tournament-by-tournament or shorter-term deals, and those guys may well have trouble regaining whatever status they forfeited on whatever tour they played on before LIV, but in order to lure PGA Tour guys to LIV, LIV had to give them overinflated deals in both length and pay. So this first group of PGA Tour "defectors' are all likely locked in through at least 2023.
Who is outside of the top 15 in world who has best shot at winning a major this year? —Matt Farwell
You'd think plenty of guys ranked well outside world No. 15 win majors because you remember it happening a bunch of times—Phil at Kiawah, or Ben Curtis, or Lucas Glover—but majors of recent vintage have largely been dominated by the top guys. Which, of course, makes sense. Scottie was a new world No. 1 when he won The Masters. Justin Thomas was No. 9 when he won at Southern Hills, Matt Fitzpatrick was No. 17 at Brookline and Cameron Smith was No. 6 at St. Andrews. In 2021, Hideki Matsuyama (No. 25 at Augusta) and Phil Mickelson (No. 115 at Kiawah) put on for the longshots while Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa showed up for the big boys. All three majors contested in 2020 were won by top-15 players, but 2019 saw tw "outsiders" win majors in world No. 25 Gary Woodland at Pebble Beach and No. 33 Shane Lowry at Royal Portrush. All this to say—i'm not sure you realized it, but you're actually pretty spot on in predicting that there will be one guy outside the mega-elite tier who wins a major in 2023.
If forced to pick someone off the rankings right now…I could absolutely see Cameron Young get red-hot with driver at Oak HIll and win this year's PGA Championship. But I do suspect he'll be ranked inside the top 15 by then, so that's not really in the spirit of the question. Alternatively, I'll go with world No. 41 Dustin Johnson. If forced to pick a third, I'll say Tommy Fleetwood. He's still just 31, he had a sneaky solid 2022 and he plays tough courses so well. For more of a longshot, how about Keith Mitchell? The guy's driven it as well as anyone on tour for the last 5 years, which is a pre-requisite for contending in big-boy events.
Will LIV earn world ranking points by the end of 2023? —Rbvalenti
You have to think so, right? If that second-rate tour based in Mexico got its points—albeit, after an extended delay, and the majority of their events have cuts—then logic would suggest that LIV will eventually get its, so long as it satisfies the criteria laid out by OWGR. Which you have to think they're doing; not having world ranking points might be LIV's biggest obstacle, so not having an entire team dedicated to the single purpose of acquiring those points would be professional malpractice. If the OWGR is to continue existing as the pre-eminent ranking in world golf, it's going to need an answer to the LIV Problem beyond kicking the can down the road. I think the OWGR will eventually give LIV ranking points, but there will be far fewer points available than at PGA Tour events. While the old OWGR formula doled out an event's points based largely on how many top players were in the field regardless of field size, the new OWGR formula has greatly devalued limited-field events and incorporates the strength of the entire field, not just the strength of the top players. It would thus be much more difficult for a LIV player to reach world No. 1 than for a PGA Tour player. That, by the way, is not an unprecedented dynamic in sport. It's harder for a soccer player in the French Ligue 1 to be considered the best in the world simply because he's not playing in England, Spain or Germany. That choice to play in France could well impact that player's legacy when his career is finished, but it's a choice he's entitled to make.
What's the most difficult thing you have had to overcome since joining Barstool? —Cody Scheler
The comment section. I know it's never gonna be pretty, and yet I still slip every now and then and peak. Beyond that, I've never had so much creative freedom in my life. There's really no one telling me what to do on a daily basis or even from a content perspective; they hire you because they believe in you and they trust you to figure it out, but then it's up to you to perform. No one's holding your hand giving you advice. You throw shit at the wall, and you see what works.
Up and comers? —jdrobless
Gonna use this to plug our guy Alistair Docherty, the first professional golfer with a Barstool Golf endorsement deal. Alistair and Riggs became boys in Scottsdale—pretty sure Alistair was caddying in the area to fund his playing dreams—and Alistair just squeaked through Q-School to get eight guaranteed Korn Ferry Tour starts this year. That can be a career-changing break if the 28-year-old can play well enough in those early events to cement status and jumpstart his pursuit of the PGA Tour. Alistair will be wearing our stuff in competition at all his professional events this year, and we will pay him to do so, and he's going to give us a true insider's look into the grind of trying to make the PGA Tour. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter and favorite him on your PGA Tour app (go to the Korn Ferry Tour section). Do it now.
I only just saw his swing for the first time a few months ago and I couldn't have been more impressed with his move. Going to be a ton of fun following him this year.
Who do you have winning this year's 4 majors? —Aaroncd
It really is the silliest question. I tend to change my mind about who's going to win a major championship multiple times during the week of the tournament. Golf is the hardest sport to handicap due to the sheer variance baked into a sport with 150 players that's played outside all at different times of the day. There's also the whole each-course-being-different thing. We have no idea how Los Angeles Country Club will play for the U.S. Open. A week of heavy rain would make Royal Liverpool an entirely different test than a post-dry spring Hoylake. So, to answer your question, I have absolutely zero idea, but here goes nothing…
Masters: Justin Thomas
PGA Championship: Rory McIlroy
U.S. Open: Tony Finau
British Open: Tommy Fleetwood
Bucket List Courses? —Matt Coursen
Where to begin? The entire nation of Ireland. (I've done a Scotland and Northern Ireland Trip, but never been to Ireland, and the only course I've ever played in England is Royal St. George's). I played Pinehurst No. 2 in the spring of 2022, which was one I'd been trying to get to for a while. Chambers Bay is pretty high up there. There are a bunch of old tracks in the Northeast that I'd love to knock off before moving back to California. Would love to get up to Massachusetts for a trip. But I'd say that my No. 1 Want to Play in 2023 is The Creek Club on Long Island.
Does a "Fixed" Frankie put a serious challenge to DeeRap as top Fore Play golfer? —Andy La Branche
Frankie has improved tremendously and continues his upward trajectory with no end in sight. It would not surprise me if one day he becomes a better golfer than I am. But that day is not today. You'll just have to watch our upcoming Travel Series at Big Cedar Lodge and decide for yourself.
I quite enjoyed this—getting to mix it up with the fellas and talk some golf. Let's do this more often in 2023.
Until next week,