LOS ANGELES — No one knows anything. That's the long and the short of it.
We speak, of course, of the merger. Sorry, the "new commercial entity." Whatever you want to call it, the facts don't change: only a very, very small crew of people on the planet truly know what the future of professional golf looks like, and they don't really know, either. It's a preliminary agreement for the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund to start a new for-profit enterprise. It ended litigation between the two parties but, with the feds now very much involved, is unlikely to be the headache-ender both sides hoped for.
The only thing that's clear is that everything remains unclear. That, and that everyone was kept in the dark. That includes the LIV guys.
"We didn't hear anything about it," says Brooks Koepka, who said he loves chaotic weeks because they weed out those not capable of blocking the noise.
"I think that's the one thing that shocked everybody the most. I think I ran into Rickie (Fowler) and (Justin Thomas) after watching the whole thing and I asked if they knew, and they said they didn't know, either. They were kind of learning about it. They were on the back of the range, so I probably saw them 30 minutes after the news broke."
As you'd expect, every player who stepped to the podium this week was asked about the merger. They all said a version of the same thing: I just don't know enough to have an opinion. Jon Rahm made some headlines for the following comment.
"I think it gets to a point where you want to have faith in management, and I want to have faith that this is the best thing for all of us, but it's clear that that's not the consensus," Rahm said. "I think the general feeling is that a lot of people feel a bit of betrayal from management. I understand why they had to keep it so secret. I understand we couldn't make it through a PAC meeting with more than 10 minutes after people spilling the beans right away in some article by you guys already being out there. So I get it. I get the secrecy.
"It's just not easy as a player that's been involved, like many others, to wake up one day and see this bombshell. That's why we're all in a bit of a state of limbo because we don't know what's going on and how much is finalized and how much they can talk about, either. It's a state of uncertainty that we don't love, but at the end of the day, I'm not a business expert. Some of those guys on the board and involved in this are. So I'd like to think they're going to make a better decision than I would, but I don't know."
That's a great summary of how most guys feel. It's not that they think the deal is bad on its merits or morally; it's that they put all this time and effort into steering the PGA Tour forward, and then when it was time to actually make the crucial decision, they were left in the dark.
Rahm's laughing at the rumors
Speaking of Rahm…because he takes a measured tone with PGA Tour-LIV stuff, and because he plays practice rounds with LIV golfers, he's a popular subject for out-of-nowhere rumors that he's about to sign with LIV Golf. It's nonsense, firstly because LIV has its 12 four-man teams set for this season. There's also zero reason someone would make the jump now, with so much of the future uncertain. Plus, Rahm's already made $14.75 million on-course this year, not including the FedEx Cup bonus he'll get or the Player Impact Program bonus he'll get. There's simply no reason to make the jump mid-season like this, especially when you're having one of the best seasons in PGA Tour history, right in the middle of major season.
I walked a few holes with Rahm on Wednesday. He's well aware of the LIV rumors that seem to manifest out of nowhere, and he finds it all very funny. "It's not like I've played 60 practice rounds with these guys," he said with an eye roll." He's not going to LIV. At least not anytime soon.
The USGA appears to be moving ahead with the rollback
New USGA president Fred Perpall, CEO Mike Whan and head of championships John Bodenhammer took the stage for what can only be described as a painfully lengthy press conference. They spoke for just under 30 minutes before taking questions. They heaped praise on The Los Angeles Country Club, always remembering to include that three-letter word like they play for the Buckeyes. They tried to keep the attention on the tournament, not the noise surrounding it. And they said, in so many words, that they're going to continue forward with their proposed rollback no matter how much negative feedback they get from the people it'll effect: the highest-level golfers and the companies that manufacture their equipment.
"I thought this was going to be hard, and it's going to be hard," Whan said. "I think I can speak on behalf of the R&A when I say both the R&A and the USGA believe doing nothing is a bad idea for the long-term future and health of the game. But part of doing something means you've really got to be out there and really asking for and taking direct comments, and that's what we've been doing.
"This process is really strange. I've said it a few times publicly. We don't have the ability in this process to walk around and talk to everybody individually and then come to the podium. We have to go to the podium, say what we're thinking, and then spend the six months walking around and talking to everybody individually. Even though I think you probably only get one tenor in the general. I would say that over my first two years doing this I feel like we've gotten real quality comments, and I feel like we'll dial into the right long-term solution. But I think if your question is do you think the right long-term solution is nothing, highly unlikely."
Players are loving LACC
"What a golf course," Jon Rahm said on the 16th tee, gesturing toward the rolling hills and the skyline in the distance. "This is a place you could play every day and not get tired of."
Indeed it is, and the USGA has approached the setup from a minimalist angle. I was a bit worried they'd come in and grow rough everywhere, turning it into a Bethpage or Winged Foot-like slog. They've done nothing of the sort. The fairways are wide (43 yards), there are plenty of runoffs around the greens and this place will play like it always plays, only on steroids.
"I think it's going to be one of the more exciting U.S. Opens, and the way that I've thought about it is a quote that Jeff Hall shared with a few of us in a meeting," Bodehammer said, along with many other things. "As you watch those young boys and girls, standard bearers walking around the golf course the next few days, I think they're going to be real busy changing numbers with all the birdies and bogeys that are out there, so watch for that."
He's right. There are going to be plenty of birdies out there, and the winning score could well end up in double digits. Which, of course, is fine, so long as the course identifies the best players. Phil Mickelson, who's seen a golf course or two, gave the USGA his full stamp of approval on Twitter.
"LACC is one of the best courses in the world and is setup in spectacular fashion," Mickelson wrote. "This will be an exciting US Open for both players and fans. I can't wait to get started."
I'm picking Brooks. He's not exactly a longshot, given he finished second and first in the year's first two majors, but yeah, he's my pick. I love the way he's played this year, obviously, and I love the cocky swagger he's riding now that he feels fully healthy. He spoke on Tuesday about loving chaotic weeks, and this certainly fits the bill. He wins a third U.S. Open, his second major of the year and catches both Phil Mickelson and Nick Faldo with six all time. If we're wrong, blame golf as a whole. As I said earlier, no one knows anything.