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Willy Z's Back, Cantlay's Logo-less and More From The PGA Tour's 'First Day of School' at Kapalua

Tracy Wilcox. Getty Images.

The Sentry Tournament of Champions always brings with it a First Day of School feel. It's the first tournament of the calendar year, and nearly every guy turns up to Maui fresh off a couple-week break. The end of 2022 also means the end of calendar-year endorsement deals, so there's a splash of curiosity mixed in with that island breeze around Kapalua: Oohhh, he's lost a few pounds! Is that a new logo on his bag?

Here, then, are a few notes and nuggets I picked up from hanging around the boys during this, the first of 17 Elevated Events on this new-look PGA Tour schedule. 

Jon Rahm wants to be a fly on the wall at the Champions Dinner, too. Rahm was in good spirits as he addressed media for the first time in 2023—he's been on Maui for the last week or so with his growing family, which now includes two young sons. He was asked a bunch of pretty straightforward questions, including about LIV Golf, which he believes will indeed attract a few more players (but not him) to make the switch over in the coming months. But his most interesting answer came from an open-ended query into what he's most curious about in this coming year.

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"One thing I keep going back to, and it's probably only funny to me, but I think the Masters Champions. Dinner's going to be a little tense compared to how it's been in the past. So I keep thinking about it because I wish I could be there and just be able to see how things work out. Too bad the U.S. Open doesn't have one of those."

Rahm's referring, of course, to Augusta National's announcement a few weeks ago that it will not prevent qualified LIV golfers from playing in the Masters. That means Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods will break bread together in April for the first time in a long time. Phil and Sergio and the gang will also be hanging around old-timers like Fred Couples, who have absolutely eviscerated LIV and those who've joined over the past year. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that room on that Tuesday evening. 

Tom Kim's not messing around with his career. The 20-year-old catapulted to stardom toward the latter half of 2022 by winning twice before his U.S. legal-drinking birthday—he's the only player other than Tiger Woods to do that—and putting forth an electric showing at the Presidents Cup. He went from totally-off-the-radar to top-20 player in the world in just a month or so, and he's been forced to re-evaluate his career and his goals on the fly. And he's done a fantastic job of getting everything buttoned up in such a short period of time. 

Kim began working with Rickie Fowler's old caddie, Joe Skovron, toward the end of last summer. He has since set up a home base in Dallas and begun working with Cameron McCormick, who teaches Jordan Spieth and Daniel Berger. And he's now got a head-to-toe Nike apparel deal, to go along with the Audemars Piguet logo on his right sleeve. Still just 20 years old, he's clearly taking his career seriously. 

Patrick Cantlay doesn't read the LIV rumors about himself, but he understands why they're there. It's because he's been relatively neutral on the topic, while a number of other top players have gone out of their way to vocally support the PGA Tour. (Or, in more extreme cases, get in verbal catfights with LIV's CEO). They've said they play for trophies, not for money, and that the PGA Tour is the only place they've every wanted to play. Cantlay sees things differently. 

"I think it's because I haven't been too vocal one way or the other. So I think that's probably where it is. Guys, for the most part, seem like they're pretty polarized on this issue, and I view it as it's been a competition for top talent, like any other business. But I have no plans to do that as of now, which has been my stance for, you know, basically since the whole time."

As of now. Cantlay's no dumbie, and he clearly views this whole thing dispassionately. He's got stoic tendencies, and the stoic/business-first approach to this would be to play the middle and maximize your own leverage while keeping your options open. That seems to be what he's doing. 

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Cantlay also noted that he no longer has an apparel deal with Hugo Boss and said he's in the market for a new sponsor. More to come, I'm sure.

Willy Z's back from injury. Zalatoris will make his first start this week since he withdrew from the BMW Championship in August with a back injury. He described the injury as "more of a motor pattern than anything," which I think means it was the result of a movement pattern that put strain on his body and nothing structurally damaged. I asked him for clarification. 

"I basically am trying to get more, be a little bit more centered as opposed to having kind of ball forward with more spine tilt at address. So I'm trying to get more centered over it and work more around my right side, so more of a turn as opposed to kind of a lateral shift, because like I said, when my right hip gets high and the spine tilts back, you're now all of a sudden creating all that stress on your back."

Zalatoris said he's back to 100 percent and his speed numbers are the same, despite him temporarily playing a shorter driver for added control with his new anti-pain move. He's optimistic he'll put on a few miles per hour when he switches back to the 46-incher he'd been using pre-injury. 

We've got an update on the Scott Stallings-Masters invite saga. This story went viral over the holiday, and for good reason: how can Augusta National, with all its resources and connections, send an invite to the wrong Scott Stallings?

It involves a pretty wild coincidence. Stallings told me that the invite was, for some reason, sent to his old management company (which is now defunct) in Georgia, a state where he's never lived. By pure chance, the "other" Scott Stallings, whose wife is also named Jennifer, happens to own a condo that's adjacent to the building the management company used to run out of. That's one helluva coincidence. Stallings said he's been in touch with the other Scott and that he's invited him to come down to the Masters to watch a practice round this year. A happy ending to a fun story. 

New equipment is everywhere. The stuff won't hit shelves immediately, but Kapalua's always the time the equipment manufacturers first get their new product into hands of the pros. All the Callaway guys are rocking Paradym-branded gear, a nod to their new driver, and the TaylorMade staffers here—Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa and Chad Ramey—are all expected to game the Stealth 2 driver and fairway woods in some capacity. 

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Time for a Mai Tai.