Monday Rap: Wyndham Clark Breaks Through, Jay Monahan Speaks and Tiger/Joey are No More
All you can do is get the best players together as often as possible. That's been the formula for the PGA Tour this year with its new designated-event model, and it's been a rather successful one. The first of the year, in Hawaii, saw Jon Rahm begin his rampage with a major assist from Collin Morikawa. Next came the WM Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, which felt like the center of the sporting universe with the Super Bowl in town. Riviera never disappoints, and a Rahm-Max Homa showdown (with a cameo from Tiger Woods) delivered huge ratings for the Genesis Invitational. Bay Hill saw Kurt Kitayama edge Rory McIlroy in dramatic fashion, the match play was delightfully weird as always, and the RBC Heritage erased any post-Masters hangover with a Fitz-Spieth duel for the ages.
We were due, then, for a bit of a buzzkill. Which is not a shot at Wyndham Clark in the slightest—every player dreams of winning a snoozy golf tournament, for that means you're in complete control. That's an accurate description for Clark's remarkable performance this week, briefly reaching 20 under par on a major-championship caliber layout like Quail Hollow before bogeying the last for a three-under 68 and a four-shot victory over Xander Schauffele.
The 29-year-old Clark, from the beautiful but not exactly golf-hotbed state of Colorado, has always looked the part, and we're not just talking about his handsome mug. His swing is about as textbook as it gets: perfect positions, impeccable balance and easy power. He entered the week having made 15 consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour, ranks ninth in driving distance and sits 61st or better in all the key strokes gained categories. It was a classic case of all the ingredients being there but not quite having put them all together in one week. That happened in Charlotte in a huge way—he ranked first for the week in strokes gained approach and strokes gained tee-to-green and was third in strokes gained putting. Add it all up and Clark gained more than 19 shots on the field for the four rounds, which doesn't happen very often. Per Rick Gehman, it's actually only happened four other times since September 2020: Bryson DeChambeau at the 2020 U.S. Open, Jon Rahm at the 2020 Memorial (through three rounds!), Rory McIlroy at the 2022 Canadian Open and Tony Finau just a few weeks ago at the Mexico Open at Vidanta.
That a player ranked as relatively low as Clark (No. 80 coming into the week) can produce an overpowering display like that speaks to the depth of fields on the PGA Tour. He credits his newfound success with a shift in attitude. In short, he's trying to be a Happy Golfer.
"I started to read a lot of different books, some meditation, then just kind of approaching it different than before," Clark told reporters Friday, later citing The Energy Bus as the key text. "I think before I was maybe a little too focused on my score and kind of living and dying on that. Now, I'm a little more focused on making sure I get myself in the best mindset to score. So I'm more focused on that, and then hopefully the results take care of itself."
And, after his win on Sunday, he spoke of the doubt that creeps in after so many near misses.
"To be honest, when I lost in the Dominican this year, I was beginning to think that maybe I'll never win. I know that sounds crazy because I've only been out here five years, but I had a lot of chances to where I was within two or three shots either going into the back nine or starting on a Sunday and I always seem to fall short, and not only that, but seem like I fell back in positions. There was multiple texts and calls and times when I was so frustrated with people in my camp where I didn't think I would ever win and I was like, let's just stop talking about it, because I didn't want to think about it. I said maybe that's just not in the cards for me. So being in the position this time, I was like, well, we've done -- we know what not to do. I really learned from those experiences and I felt like today when I didn't have the best start early on, I just told myself to relax, I have a lot more holes, you can't win the tournament after the first few holes on a Sunday, little things where in the past I would have gotten fast and quick and already my mind's going forward."
The win netted Clark $3.6 million, because even if the final round didn't deliver the fireworks, the checks cash all the same. That's more than $3 million more than his previous biggest payday on the PGA Tour, and he's now all the way up to No. 5 in the FedEx Cup standings, into the Masters and British Open, and virtually certain to finish in the top 50 of the FedEx and qualify for next year's designated events. That, boys and girls, is why you keep pushing, even when it feels like the W might never come.
Jay Monahan speaks
I wrote and made a video last week calling for Jay Monahan to be more visible, to show his face and answer tough questions rather than let his players do the talking. I don't know if Monahan saw the video, but if he did, well, then Tuesday morning in Charlotte was pretty awkward in hindsight.
Monahan held an impromptu chat with a few reporters assembled at Quail Hollow, including myself. He answered a number of different questions about a number of different topics but, as is becoming a habit, didn't really share much of substance beyond confirming that Rory McIlroy won't receive the final $3 million of his Player Impact Program Bonus because he's now missed two designated events.
Here's a summary of the the commissioner said.
On progress for next year's schedule: "It's shaping up. I would tell you that one of the things we're working on for next year to make certain as it relates to cadence that when we look at the event, when you look at the schedule and we announce, that there's clear separation between designated events and our full-field events and we get out of the position we've been in this year where we have a few isolated weeks, and by isolated weeks, they're between designated events…I think when we do announce the schedule, it's more likely that those events will be in those (designated) positions will be in those positions on a long-term basis."
On the death of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: "I think that as it relates to '24, I don't see match play on our schedule in '24, but as a match play fan, I think we will -- match play will be a part of the PGA Tour schedule somewhere in the future."
On whether the Tour wants to have designated events outside the United States: "I think on a long-term basis that's something that we absolutely considered going into the year, it's something we'll consider going forward, no question about it."
On the decision to withhold McIlroy's $3 million: He knew the consequences of that…first of all, players should be able to make a decision not to play in event. I think that's the beauty of our model, but he knows the consequences of that based on that criteria and that's our position."
On no-cut events, and Tiger's comments at the Masters that suggested he wants his event at Riviera to have a cut: "I think our preference on where we are at this point is that all those events, the designated events would be no-cut events. But we're in the middle of figuring all this out, so you've got to consider all that input. We'll get back together with our Player Advisory Council, we'll continue to talk to players about that. I had a conversation with Tiger last week about it. So I think for the changes that we're looking to make going into next year, to have all of our top players there, for our fans to know at the beginning of the week or as soon as that event is on the calendar the players are going to be there all four years, from an on-site standpoint to a television standpoint, there's real benefit to it."
On whether the Tour has a policy in place for if and when a LIV Golfer wants back into the PGA Tour ecosystem: "No. No policy."
My read: given all the pending litigation still at play with the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, Monahan's being extremely selective with his words on that front so as not to give the courts any fresh fodder. There were a ton more answers to questions that read something like "we're considering all factors" and there really just isn't much more to report.
The end of the Tiger/Joey era
I'm embarrassed to say the thought didn't even cross my mind. When I saw Joe LaCava standing next to Patrick Cantlay's bag on Tuesday at Quail Hollow, I assumed it was a fill-in job—the type of one-week gig that LaCava has taken multiple times during Tiger Woods' myriad absences. The bigger piece of news, at least at the time, was where Cantlay's caddie Matt 'Rev' Minister was. When I asked a member of Cantlay's team where Rev was, I was given a look and told "he's at home." That said it all: clearly there had been a breakup, and I worked to confirm that Cantlay and Rev were no more. But again, I never considered what turned out to be the actually big story coming out of that pairing—that Tiger Woods and Joe LaCava are no more.
It makes sense, of course. As LaCava told me Tuesday, it wasn't like Tiger was going to be playing a full-time schedule even before this latest ankle surgery. Six events per year at maximum, but more likely in the 3-4 range. Now with this latest subtalar ankle fusion, it's almost certain that Woods will not play in the year's remaining major championships, which puts LaCava in a bit of a bind. He's a fiercely loyal person, as Justin Thomas pointed out, and he's stuck by Tiger through thick and thin. But he's also still in good physical shape, loves being out on tour and misses the rush of being in contention.
Woods had told LaCava multiple times that should a good opportunity come his way, he's absolutely welcome to take it. Now, given Woods' history with caddies—he famously iced Steve Williams after Williams talked to the media during Woods' post-scandal hiatus—I'd be scared he didn't really mean that. Sort of like when your wife tells you to "just go" out with the boys, when you know doing so will make everything worse. But LaCava and Woods have grown close, and it seems Woods meant it.
Cantlay called LaCava shortly after splitting with Rev, which happened the Tuesday after the Zurich Classic, and offered him a very lucrative job as his full-time caddie. Cantlay has been an ATM in PGA Tour events, and purses on tour have skyrocketed since Woods' days as a full-time playing professional. Despite not having a win this season, Cantlay has already made over $6 million in earnings in just 12 starts. Assuming the standard caddie pay—a weekly fee plus 8% of earnings, or 10% of a win—that's serious coin that LaCava can rack up before he calls it a career. Woods told LaCava "you'd be crazy not to take it, go win some tournaments and go have a great time." The only surprise is that Cantlay didn't talk to Woods before making the overture to his caddie, which is usually standard practice on tour. Cantlay was once repped by Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, but went a different direction with management a few years ago. Whether that played any part in his reasoning is unclear.
Plenty on social media viewed the news as a eulogy of sorts for Woods career; if he's letting his caddie walk, surely he's done playing. But that's not the case. LaCava went out of his way to say that Woods is not retiring, and all indications are that this most recent surgery was done with a return to golf in mind. As for who might be on Woods' bag if and when he does return: it won't be LaCava, who confirmed that he's all-in with Cantlay and will caddie for him as long as Cantlay wants him to caddie. The Vegas favorite, if such odds existed, would be for the job to fall to Rob McNamara, Woods' longtime best friend/business partner/golf second-set-of-eyes.
Cantlay finished T21 in his first week with LaCava on the bag.
—Thailand won the fourth edition of The International Crown at TPC Harding Park, a cool event on the LPGA Tour that features eight four-player teams that feature the top four players from a specific country. The victorious Thai side: Ariya Jutanugarn, Moriya Jutanugarn, Atthaya Thitikul and Patty Tavatanakit. They beat Australia in the final. The U.S. team of Nelly Korda, Danielle Kang, Lexi Thompson and Lilia Vu finished third, beating Sweden in the consolation match.
—Adrian Meronk's win at the Italian Open was as timely as timely can get. The big Pole is on the fringe of Ryder Cup contention, so winning the last event at the host course—Marco Simone Golf Club outside Rome—could well push him over the edge in a few month's time. Luke Donald, the European captain, was in the field and took to Twitter to congratulate Meronk, who is now the reigning champion at the Irish Open, Italian Open and Australian Open. Those are pretty cool trophies to have. Old, proud tournaments. And how about this shirt choice from his father. Message, sent.
—Meronk moved up to No. 46 in the rankings with his win. Also in the top 50 now: Rickie Fowler, who posted his eighth top-20 finish in his last nine starts on the PGA Tour. His T14 at Quail Hollow saw him jump three spots to No. 50, and he's back inside that magic number for the first time in 2.5 years. He hasn't seriously contended for a title this year, but all those solid finishes suggest it's coming.
—After using his one-time designated-event skip to not play Quail Hollow, Scottie Scheffler headlines the field at this week's AT&T Byron Nelson. Fellow Texas residents Jordan Spieth and Tom Kim are also in the field in what is, amazingly, the last PGA Tour event before yet another major championship.
—LIV Golf is back this week after its successful Oceanic fortnight in Australia and Singapore. Now they're in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at Cedar Ridge Country Club in what amounts to a quasi homegame for LIV's Oklahoma/Oklahoma State alums: Talor Gooch, Charles Howell III, Matt Wolff, Abraham Ancer, Eugenio Chacarra.
—Rory McIlroy is officially slumping. He said in Charlotte that his WD from the Heritage was just him needing a break after a really taxing 12 months of being the PGA Tour's de-facto spokesman. He was happy to be back in action at Quail Hollow but didn't look right, following up an opening-round 68 with three meh rounds to finish T50. His last three stroke-play finishes: missed cut at the Players, missed cut at the Masters and a T50 at Quail Hollow. His next start will come at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, where he is a member.
Until next week,