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Monday Rap: Answering Your Questions About The Masters, Scottie's Dominance, The PGA Tour-Saudi Negotiations And More

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Let's get right into it…

Do you think the relative lack of star power of this years tourney winners (outside SS) has been more or less compelling than in other years?

Less. There’s obvious appeal in the Cinderella story, but part of that appeal is scarcity. The underdog doesn’t win very often; that’s why it’s compelling when he does. There’s an issue, however, when that becomes the norm. It’s a testament to just how deep the pool of talent is these days on the PGA Tour. There are more guys who tee it up with a legitimate chance of winning than ever before. That doesn’t necessarily make it a more compelling product because sports are largely driven by stars. Here’s the complete list of every winner on the PGA Tour this year:

Chris Kirk
Grayson Murray
Nick Dunlap
Mathieu Pavon
Wyndham Clark
Nick Taylor
Hideki Matsuyama
Jake Knapp
Austin Eckroat
Scottie Scheffler

Brice Garnett
Peter Malnati
Stephan Jaeger

Ten of those 14 guys were serious longshot winners/not household names when they won. We’re about 35 percent way through the PGA Tour season and Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Cantlay, Matt Fitzpatrick, Justin Thomas and Tony Finau have combined to win zero events. 

The rank-and-file have battled back this year while the Delaware 20 have, apart from Scottie, failed to close the deal. As for whether golf’s better or worse with a dominant figure—looking at you, Scottie—it depends on the figure. I’m not sure Scheffler resonates with fans the same way Spieth or Rory or did, let alone Tiger. 

Ratings are down on the PGA Tour this year. We’ve seen enough to know that is true. The causes are multiple—some within the PGA Tour’s control and some, like who wins the tournament, not in their control. I think most fans would agree it’s time for the big boys to start pulling their weight a bit more.

If Scottie’s wins a few more times on PGA this year but ends the year w/ 0 majors… does it really matter? —@PerryBurberry

There’s a good chance something very interesting, and perhaps ominous, happens in two weeks’ time. That’s when we’ll get the TV ratings for the Masters. Let’s say we’re treated to a really compelling finish and it does a huge number, directly contrasting the PGA Tour’s down ratings year and LIV Golf’s still relatively small audience. It’s a worst-case scenario for the PGA Tour, really, because that would be a clear sign that fans still care about golf…but only when there’s golf on that’s worth caring about. I’ve said this countless times but if there’s a winner over these chaotic times in golf it is the major championships, which now stand alone as the four times each year that all the world’s best play against each other. It’s entirely possible that, for many casual fans, all the talk of division and money has been such a turnoff that they only care about the majors. That’s the situation in tennis, where everything besides the majors and one or two other events is small potatoes. It’s always been that way to an extent in golf, but the gap feels like it’s widening. 

To circle back to your question…I’m not sure it does “matter”, if by matter you mean seriously alter a player’s legacy. Because majors matter evermore to a player’s resume if the narrative is that both tours are missing both guys. Which they are. Scottie has been on an incredible run since the beginning of 2023, but he needs to add major championships in this window to avoid it being somewhat lost to history. It’s a cruel reality. Rory knows it well—he’s won everything there is to win in golf since he won his last major. But he hasn’t won another major. And for an increasingly jaded public, that’s not good enough. 

Who are the Masters long-shots that are playing well right now who you could see making a Top-10 run at Augusta?Name that come to my head is Taylor Moore, but there’s definitely others. —@SolomonYoung88

T-Moore has been trending but he was playing well heading into major season last year and didn’t do much. I’m going to go with Min Woo Lee. This is absolutely recency bias as I just filmed a Side Gig video with him last week in Vegas and he is an impossibly talented player. It was the best display of driving I’ve seen from a professional golfer. 30 mph winds and he was hitting laser cuts on a string like it was a calm January afternoon in Palm Springs.

It’s been a solid if unspectacular start to his first full season as a PGA Tour member. He’s played seven times and made six cuts, but his only top-20 finish was a T2 at the Cognizant Classic. He’s been struggling with his approach play and his putting but has had a few weeks off back home in Vegas to work on it. I’m betting on his athleticism and his raw ability every time, and  his so-so recent results have made him a bit cheaper in betting markets. He’s also been very good in majors thus far with five finishes of T27 or better in his last eight major starts. He’s so long that he’ll absolutely feast on those par 5s. I like him to top 10 that week. 

I've assumed since the beginning of the year they were going to announce a merger the week of Augusta. Do you see that coming next week? —@GoForBrokeAF

I do not, but these two parties have successfully negotiated in private before. Like the framework agreement was, this process has been happening behind closed doors and very, very few people in the world know where things actually stand. It’s a lot of hearsay and reading between the lines. So let’s play along. 

Judging from Webb Simpson’s comments last week, the meeting in the Bahamas between the PGA Tour player directors and Yasir Al-Rumayyan was introductory in nature. They talked broad strokes to find a common ground on a shared vision. That sort of thing. This wasn’t a case of hammering out fine details with the lawyers crunching the numbers. It would be an incredible show of unity during golf’s biggest weeks, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. And even when the two sides do eventually (hopefully?) strike a deal there will probably still a considerable lag time before it goes into effect. We aren somehow, nearly 10 months after the framework agreement, not all that close to all the best players back on one tour. At least that's what it seems like.

Have you been using the ‘vanilla chipping’ technique? And how has that paid off for you so far? Watched the video last night going to start implementing —@Bogey Nic

Yes, big time. This question’s referring to my recent lesson with Parker McLachlin, former PGA Tour winer and now short game coach to a bunch of PGA Tour pros. We had a full session down in Arizona and worked on developing a “vanilla chip,” something that can act as a primary option and be the baseline for everything else in the short game. I’ve been working on it and having something unflashy but ultra reliable has transformed my short game. 

Which LIV golfers have the best form heading into the Masters? —@DerpDerpDonk

The easy answer is Niemann, the only guy to win twice on LIV so far this year. But Rahm has been excellent, too—unsurprisingly, he’s had a chance to win all four LIV events he’s teed it up in. Brooks Koepka hasn’t done much this year but surely we’ve learned by now not to extrapolate anything from his performance in non-major championships. DJ’s got a win under his belt this year and has plenty of past Masters success to draw from. There are something like eight LIV guys with a legitimate chance to win and make it three wins in the last five majors for LIV Golf. 

Does Tiger have any shot of playing? —@OHitzjimmy

Oh, he’ll play. I have no doubt about that. Tiger just made a scouting trip to Augusta this past weekend and if he could only play one tournament all year it’d be this one. So I have no doubt he’ll be there next Thursday. I do have doubts about whether he’ll be there next Sunday.

I was stunned that Tiger didn’t play the Players Championship. It didn’t get much attention at the time strangely but if you zoom out…last December Tiger said that he felt good enough to play once a month. We thought he’d get two, three starts in before the Masters. And even Tiger needs to play his way into shape. He played 18 times in 2018 and five times in 2019 before winning his most recent major championship.

This year…he’s got one official round plus seven holes under his belt. So the question is…why didn’t he play the players? He had plenty of time to recover from whatever influenza he had. He knows he needs to play to get in competitive shape. It’s one of a few things. He either greatly overestimated the kind of shape he was in; or he knew he couldn’t play once a month but said it to give the tour some juice, but I don’t think it’s that; or something happened with his body that we don’t know about. This is entirely plausible. 

So Tiger will be there, and he’ll probably say at his pre tournament press conference that he believes he can win, but I’m not sure I do anymore. It’s just too tough to not play at all, or one round in four months, and then come back and beat Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm. This is unfortunately, the Tiger reality we’re in. 

First trip to Augusta as a patron, best tips for a practice round first timer —@FrankieDeLuca_

That’s awesome. There’s nothing too complicated about the fan experience, which is part of what makes it great. Everything is so close and it’s so easy to move between places that you don’t really need complex planning, and I’d actually warn against it. Trying to jam everything in, to see every hole, etc etc, you don’t want to be feeling like you’re checking things off a box. Allow yourself to soak in the moment and sort of gravitate toward whatever sounds best. No one’s going to check whether you made it to this hole or got to the practice range. Get their as early as you can, stay as late as you can, and just enjoy being in American golf’s most special place. 

Okay, fine, one specific tip: the are behind 2 green is the best for viewing. You can see the approaches into 2, the tee shots on 3, approaches into 7 and tee shots on 8 from that spot, and you’re a quick walk to see the approaches on 17. Okay, one more tip: avoid the range. Because spoiler alert: It’s a flat piece of turf, and they’re all flushing it. But that happens every week.  Okay, fine, one more. Wait until the afternoon to go to the mercy tent. Everyone thinks you have to do it right away but they’re so smart that they don’t really run out of stock and the lines in the afternoon are far shorter. 

Can Scottie contend at Augusta without elite putting? —@B_Maloy_

Scottie can contend at Augusta putting terribly, because he’s done so against major-caliber fields in the past. He finished solo third at the Memorial last year despite finishing dead last in the field in putting. If he strikes the ball the way he has for the past 18 months all he has to do is putt tour-average for the week and he’s going to be difficult to beat. Historically, it’s approach play that’s most predictive of success at Augusta National. Those greens are so fast and severe that everyone’s going to struggle on them if you have to play up and down slopes; the key is being in total control of your distances and spin to keep your shots on the correct shelves and part of greens. There is no one better on the planet at that very skill than Scottie Scheffler. 

Speaking of Scottie…obviously it’s always better to win a tournament than lose it. But as far as pre-Masters prep goes, it couldn’t have gone much better for Scheffler this past week. Play good enough to win, keep the confidence sky high but not having to deal with all the extra that comes with winning and not having to answer questions about chasing four PGA Tour wins in a row, which only four men have ever accomplished. Mr. Scheffler remains the clear favorite.

Did players tend to enjoy the match play in Austin? Do you think players would be interested in leaning into more events like that as the golf landscape continues to evolve. Can get creative with how “regions” of a bracket are put together (club deals, geography, residence) —@JasonMarshall02

Some did and some didn’t, but the bigger question is: does it really matter what the players think? Rory McIlroy talked about this exact topic at the Players Championship and said the tour need to adopt a new, fan-focused outlook like other sports leagues have. 

“This is the problem with a members' organization,” he said. Things are created for the members. Then once those things are created, you've got to go sell those things to fans, sponsors, media. To me, that seems a little backwards. I think what needs to happen is you need to create things for the fans, for the sponsors, for the media, and then you have to go sell that to the players, tell them to get on board with that, because if they get on board and we're all part of the business now, if the business does better, we do better. That seems pretty simple to me.”

I know fans seemed to like the match play and the fans would be behind varying up the formats to break up the monotony of 72-hole stroke play events. That’s what should matter. Hopefully, now that Strategic Sports Group has alleviated some of the Tour’s financial pressures, the product will continue to be the northern star—not appeasing membership.

Until next week,