Monday Rap: Answering Your Questions On Augusta's New 13th, LIV's Present And Future, Tiger's Schedule and More
Good day, y'all. You're surely dealing with a serious case of the post-March Madness weekend Mondays, likely amplified by an upset stomach from deleting wings and beer all weekend…and, just maybe, a little golf heartbreak. Taylor Moore crashed the Jordan Spieth-Tommy Fleetwood party to win the Valspar Championship, the first PGA Tour victory for the 29-year-old who spent five years on the Korn Ferry Tour before his breakthrough. In Tucson, Danny Lee beat Louis Oosthuizen, Carlos Ortiz and Brendan Steele to win his first LIV event in just his second try after winning one PGA Tour event in 303 starts, back in 2015.
Fresh off a non-designated event week and with the Masters fast approaching, now feels like a good time to do a little Q&A/mailbag action. I'm planning to do these roughly once a quarter, and they're always good fun. So, let's get into it.
Who has been the most upsetting so far this year in the PGA and who has been the most surprising? -@MattMaza25
We'll start with the positive, since it's Monday morning and we need some good vibes in our lives. For most surprising, I'll go with Rickie Fowler. He showed well in the fall with two top-six finishes, but I'm always wary of putting too much weight into fall season performances given the gentler golf courses and weaker fields. But Rickie's absolutely kept it up in 2023 against stronger competition—he hasn't missed a cut in six starts and has four top-20 finishes. The next step is to properly contend for a trophy, which he has not done yet, but his swing looks much better than it did this time last year and a big week at this week's WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play could get him back to the Masters for the first time since 2020.
As for most upsetting, I'll go with Justin Thomas. It hasn't been anything disastrous—he's made all eight cuts this season and has six top-25 finishes—but he hasn't had a realistic chance to win anything and seems to be living in the T10-T20 range. As such, he's dropped to No. 10 in the world rankings and sits at No. 60 in the FedEx Cup. Now, there's still heaps of time to turn the season around, and a major championship victory would immediately turn this into a great year, just like his win at Southern Hills salvaged a meh 2022. But I fully expected Thomas to hang with the Rahms and Schefflers this year, and he's not on that level right now. After a buzzy first year filled with rumors and curiosity, LIV seems to have preciously little momentum, as evidenced by the reported 0.14 rating on the CW.
Will we see a LIV player jump back to the PGA Tour this year? -@SeanW926
Not this year, because LIV has its players locked up through the end of its 14-event season, which runs through Nov. 5. That's well after the Tour Championship, and the PGA Tour returns to a calendar year schedule in 2024, so that won't be a time for guys to make the switch. Plus, the PGA Tour has to figure out its LIV golfer return policy, which they have not. Plenty of guys will have their LIV contract expire and either want to go back to have no choice but to go back should LIV not re-up them. They'll then have to swallow their pride and ask for forgiveness. My read is that the PGA Tour will not, nor should they, ban players for life, as Matt Fitzpatrick called for on our show. It doesn't seem feasible and it's in no one's best interest to ban a Dustin Johnson from returning to the PGA Tour should he want to. But there has to be a severe penalty before they do return—if, for nothing else, to appease the PGA Tour members who will be pissed off that someone can leave the tour, get a massive bag of cash, and then return to the tour. It'll probably be a significant fine and a suspension of some period. The question is whether guys who wouldn't otherwise be exempt, through lifetime membership or winning a major, would be forced to re-earn their status. Someone like a Talor Gooch. I suspect they would.
Tommy- No PGA Tour wins, no singles Ryder Cup wins. A ton of talent. Lacking killer instinct? -@cgurreri
Well, when you put it that way…In all seriousness, Fleetwood has won a number of events around the world, including the Nedbank Challenge late last year. Yes, his best wins have come across the pond, but plenty of those fields were just as strong as this past week's Valspar. Still, he's been within sniffing distance of the lead far too often to have zero PGA Tour victories. As for a lack of a killer instinct, it feels a bit unfair to slap that label on someone who shot 63 in the final round of a U.S. Open and has solo seconds in two of the four majors. But yes, he badly needs to show some closing mettle.
Will LIV players wear team uniforms at Augusta as dictated by their contracts? -@JasonMarshallØ2
I think so? Look, LIV has to build equity in these team brands. They simply have to if their model is going to work. If they’re not able to sell these franchises—the 4Aces and the Fireballs and the Majesticks and the others—for nine figures, the league will almost certainly fail. And so LIV is in kind of a tough spot—as of right now, the team competition has precisely zero juice. Because it’s stroke play it’s often not close, and the first two team competitions of 2023 have been blowouts. And the vast majority of the money at events is going to the individual competition, so the team stuff just feels like a weird sideshow…and yet that’s what the business depends on. Hmmm…
But yes, you’ll likely see guys wear the same things at Augusta that they wear in LIV events. They need brand visibility, badly. Bryson, who used to be a walking billboard, now wears all Crushers gear, including his hat. Patrick Reed’s decked out in LIV Golf apparel, too. But Cameron Smith, on the other hand, still has some individual sponsorship deals, so he wears their logos in LIV events. I do believe the plan is for all players to eventually have their individual deals expire and then only wear team-issued gear, which would only have logos of companies sponsoring the entire team. It’s like a soccer jersey. As for the Masters—the team logos are commercial mark no different than a corporate deal, so can Augusta really say no to that?
I actually feel pretty strongly on this one—simulator golf is not golf at all, really, and shall not be included in the same discussion as golf. It can help you stay loose in the winter, and it can definitely help you groove your golf swing, but it is not golf. How the club interacts with turf is such a vital piece of the game, particularly the short game, and the simulators just don't provide that kind of feedback. It's definitely fun to get in there and wack a few and see your numbers, but let's not try to draw any wide-ranging conclusions about your actual golf game from your simulator game.
Is LIV getting their money’s worth from the guys they paid about a billion to sign up? -@golfinside1
In a word, no. The first event of LIV’s season was won by Charles Howell III, who won three times in 609 starts on the PGA Tour. The second one was won by Danny Lee, who won once on the PGA Tour in 303 starts. That's not take anything away from those deserved victories, and while Howell III's four-shot win in Mexico was a snooze and a half, Lee's victory came by way of a four-man playoff, which is always fun. But for a league trying to create buzz, those two winners are pretty tough to swallow. The stars just aren’t showing up recently. Let’s look at the five guys LIV paid the most money, at least according to reports, and how they're faring.
Cameron Smith, $100 million
Smith got off to a nice start after jumping to LIV after he won the Open at St. Andrews, taking fifth in his first LIV event and winning his second one in Chicago. But in the four since he has just one finish in the top 20—and, keep in mind, these are 48-man fields. The “Cam Smith is the best player in the world” argument looks pretty weak right now.
Brooks Koepka, $100 million
Brooks won the final LIV individual competition last year in Saudi Arabia, but his game once again looks spotty heading into the majors. He finished 31st in Mayakoba and 29th in Tucscon, and he badly needs to show well in the majors to maintain his relevance in the top tier of professional golf.
Bryson DeChambeau, $125 million
He hasn't given the Saudis much for the $125 million guaranteed they're thought to have paid him. DeChambeau had two top 10 finishes in LIV events last year, but both tied were T-10s in a 48-man field. He then revamped his fitness and nutrition routine and insisted that he's closer to his 2018 form, when he got as high as No. 4 in the world. We're not seeing it. He took 24th in Mexico and beat just three players in Tucson.
Dustin Johnson, $150 million
DJ dominated last year to win LIV's season-long individual points race—he then didn't play a tournament for four months and returned to action in Mayakoba with a horrific 37th-place showing. He fared better this past week in Mexico with a 13th, but again, it's hard to argue he's among the best players in the world at the minute when he's played just twice since October and failed to finish in the top 10 of 48-man events. That sort of comes with the four-month-offseason, only-14-events-total territory; you fade from memory, and you don't get as many chances to play your way back into shape and contend for titles. Still, he gets a pass for last year's excellence and, of all these guys, he's the one who's delivered the most.
Phil Mickelson, $200
Phil has one finish better than T-17 in his nine LIV starts and, after hyping up his game and his fitness coming into the year, he’s got a T-27 and a T-32 to show for it. He’s a combined 9 over par in his 27 LIV rounds. As Fred Couples put it: “If you’re willing to give Phil Mickelson $200 million at age 53 to shoot 74 and 75, God bless you."
What does LIV need to accomplish for this investment to be worthwhile? —@DobbyZuko
Well that's the multi-billion dollar question, isn't it? The initial LIV murmurs were all about sportswashing—the Saudi government would use golf as a vehicle to normalize itself to the west, thus making the league a glorified PR exercise. But that narrative was always overblown; the Saudi backers viewed the PGA Tour as a vulnerable, outdated model and thought they could pounce on its inefficiencies to make a profit. As such, there was never going to be endless piles of cash for Norman and Co. to blow through, and as Alan Shipnuck's excellent on-the-ground report shows, LIV's being a lot tighter with money in this second season. There are no more chartered 747s to ride to tournaments. Teams are now responsible for players and caddies' travel budgets, not the league. Where are the teams getting that cash? As an advance from the league, according to Shipnuck. Most importantly: multiple sources say LIV tightened the screws in negotiating contracts with players this past offseason, which helps explain why they failed to secure the top-20 players they were after.
If sportswashing is the goal, it's going horribly. There's been more discussion about Saudi Arabia and its policies than there ever would've been had LIV not existed, and players have received backlash from fans (just check their mentions on social media) and sponsors alike for going. They've been vilified, fair or not. If profit is the goal, the franchise model absolutely has to work. Selling LIV's 12 four-man franchises for nine figures is absolutely vital to the financial health of the league—which is odd, because at present, the team competition feels like a distracting sideshow to the original one. That's why, according to Shipnuck, LIV is considering reallocating the weekly purses so that the team competition is worth way more than it its now, which would decrease the individual purse. That's…even more different of a proposition than the players thought they were signing up for. They are trying to make golf into a team sport, and as each week passes by, the success of that mission seems less likely.
Do you see manufacturers sign less athletes when the rollback occurs? -@cobb_daniel_
Yeah, but to be fair, they’re already signing less athletes. Equipment manufacturers have pivoted their marketing strategies to include golf media/influencers/YouTubers/content creators or whatever you wanna call this whole ecosystem. The thinking there is that these non-professional golfers don’t need to be playing well in an event for the gear to get seen, and their games most closely resemble the target consumer than, say, Jon Rahm’s does.
That’ll become even more true if the rollback happens and we have a bifurcation of the rules. Signing world No. 35 becomes even less attractive if you can’t tell the consumer hey, you can play the same ball as this guy. And guys playing the pro ball could absolutely wind up playing different drivers to match the different characteristics of that golf ball. So if they're playing a different driver, and a different ball, why pay them to try to sell different products directly to the consumer? All this to say: yes, I would assume that player sponsorship deals as a whole will decrease if and when the rollback goes into effect.
Do you find LIV interesting? I found myself watching LIV instead of PGA Today. —@derrickbleeker91
I do indeed, and I've watched portions of every tournament they've held. LIV clearly has good ideas that the PGA Tour has cherry-picked from. I also love Arlo White's commentary when he's not parroting propoganda-ey BS, and I enjoy how many golf shots the broadcast shows. It's a good product for the consumer, which makes sense—companies that spend billions without balancing their financials very often provide excellent customer experiences. That doesn't mean it's a successful business, though.
That's where I think people get my stance wrong on LIV. I don't have any moral obligations to it; the "dirty money" conversation gets really complicated, really quickly, and every person's decision-making process is colored by their own biases and experiences that we couldn't possibly understand. I also don't believe the league will succeed because of what I know about their business model, objectives and the people behind it. If that makes me a "LIV hater," so be it.
At this point should Tiger win a minor event to own the PGA Tour record outright? -@bombswbart
It's indisputable that Tiger would have a better chance if he'd tee it up in a non-designated event, but it's just not going to happen. He's going to play the majors and maybe one or two more events moving forward, best-case scenario, and those non-majors would likely be his own event at Riviera and the Players/Memorial, all designated events. But it's also not like it's easy to win a "regular" tour event—the PGA Tour is as deep as its ever been, and there are Taylor Moores everywhere ready to upset the Jordan Spieths and Tommy Fleetwoods. It's a monumental task for Woods to get to No. 82.
How awesome is 13 going to be now at Augusta? -@ctuck34
It’ll be different, that’s for sure, but I’m not sure it’ll be better. (I also feel like this is a dog-whistle rollback "gotcha" question, but I'll bite). For those unaware: Augusta National built a new tee box on the iconic par-5 13th that’ll add about 35 yards to the hole. You used to see guys hit 3-wood a bunch off that tee, because it’s much easier to draw a 3-wood than a driver, and guys would play a sweeping hook to get around the corner. Now it’ll be driver off the tee, and balls will finish on that sideslope in the fairway. It used to be a no-brainer going for it, since most guys would get there with a mid-iron, Now it’s long iron or hybrid or fairway wood, off a side slope, with water in front and right of the green. As a result, you’ll likely see more approach shots into the water but not that many more, because I suspect a bunch more guys will lay up to avoid that dicey shot. I personally liked having a reachable par 5 for everyone in the field on the back nine, because with that water bogey was very much still a possibility, but I also understand the change. The scoring average last year was 4.69—it’ll be really interesting to see what it finishes at this year.
Is the Florida swing the best swing on the tour? -@ryandamnnorman
Easiest question yet. No sir, the West Coast swing wins. Give me Torrey, Pebble, Phoenix, and Riviera over PGA National, Bay Hill, Players and Valspar every day of the week. I'm only a little bit biased.
Guess as to who will be on each Ryder Cup team? -@wadebfree
We're still six months away from Rome, and we still have all four majors ahead of us, so take these with a massive grain of salt. Still, I'll give it a try—and I'm going to assume that all players on any tour will be eligible for a captain's pick:
That was fun. We'll do it again soon.
Until next week,