Monday Scramble: Take a bow ... and a knee?

By Nick MentaSeptember 25, 2017, 3:40 pm

Justin Thomas takes the FedExCup, Xander Shauffele takes the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods takes to blogging, and Peter Malnati takes a knee in this edition of Monday Scramble.


Well, that made the Player and Rookie of the Year votes quite easy.

As a chaotic Sunday afternoon finally turned into Schauffele vs. Thomas, and it became clear that Justin had already etched his name on the FedExCup, it was hard not to root for Xander to pick up the biggest win of his career.

Sunday marked the first time since 2009 that the winner of the Tour Championship did not also walk away with the FedExCup. And as judged by Thomas and Schauffele's post-round interaction, the result was plenty fine with both of them.

Thomas put his stamp on this season by wrapping up the Jack Nicklaus Award and collecting nearly $11 million, while Schauffele capped off a whirlwind four months with a $3.5 million payday and future Rookie of the Year honors. Talk about sharing the wealth.


1. Thus ends the Season of Justin Thomas. In summation, that was five wins, his first major, a playoff victory, a round of 59, a U.S. Open round of 63, the FedExCup, and nearly $20 million in on-course earnings. In one year, he's vaulted himself from 72nd to fourth in the Official World Golf Ranking. There are three men – Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Hideki Matsuyama – still ahead of Thomas on that list, but right now, no one's stock is higher than his own.

Of course, now comes the hard part - maintaining his current level of success. 

At different points in the last four years, DJ, Jordan, Hideki, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day have all appeared as if they would never lose another tournament for the rest of their lives before revealing themselves as human again. Thomas will enter next season much as Spieth entered 2016, coming off a year he might never surpass for the rest of his career. His biggest challenge moving forward won't be any golf course or any opponent; it'll be managing his own expectations.

2. This was less a breakout season than it was a breakout four months for Schauffele, who described himself during his victory speech on Sunday as having "weaseled his way around" all year. The 23-year-old rookie was 135th in the FedExCup standings before announcing his apparent arrival with a tie for fifth at the U.S. Open. He followed that performance with his first PGA Tour win three weeks later at The Greenbrier. His rise has been so meteoric that Johnny Miller sounded as though he was channeling David Byrne at various points during the final round: And you may ask yourself, who is Xander Schauffele?

Well, he's now the first rookie in history to win the Tour Championship, the first rookie in the FedExCup era to win a playoff event, and the highest-finishing rookie in history of the season-long points race. 

3. I can't get over this putt.

No one is going to remember that come tomorrow (later this afternoon?), but Schauffele was dangerously close to missing that shortie and going to a playoff. That lip-in could have been a lip-out, it could have cost him the tournament, and it could have haunted him for a long time. Instead, he got $3.5 million and we got a new GIF:

Again, everyone wins.

4. Schauffele's victory Sunday was an impressive mix of driving and putting prowess. He finished the week first in strokes gained-off the tee (+1.15) and first in putting inside 10 feet, making 67 of 69 attempts, including that horseshoe lip-in above. Add Schauffele, at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, to the list of smaller guys – like McIlroy and Thomas – who somehow keep up with the likes of DJ and Brooks Koepka off the tee.



5. When is Paul Casey going to close on Sunday? His decision three years ago to abandon the European Tour and focus full-time on the PGA Tour was a wise one that led to a career resurgence. Once ranked a high as third in the world, Casey dropped as low as 169th in 2013. But a U.S.-focused schedule has kept Casey a top-25 player in the world for the bulk of the last three seasons. Over that time, he's racked up the most top-five finishes of any player on Tour who hasn't won, with 16. He has proven himself a borderline elite talent for 63 holes a week. 

6. Spieth put together a Sunday rally that at one point had him projected to win his second FedExCup. Instead, he settled for his second Vardon Trophy for low scoring average. Per Golf Channel Research, Spieth joins Tiger Woods as the players to win the Vardon multiple times before the age of 25. 

7. And credit to Spieth, by the way, for sowing even a tiny bit of doubt into what should have been an obvious POY race. He exits 2017 with three victories and the third leg of the career Grand Slam. Had he found a way to win at East Lake and take the FedExCup, he may have made his friend/rival Thomas sweat through the voting process. But even he'll admit things turned out as they should have.

"This was probably my worst putting week of the year, unfortunately," he said Sunday. "But what a great season it was. I'm very pleased with the way 2017 has gone. ... JT is very well-deserved winning the FedExCup this year. It is rightfully so given his season. I almost squeaked through when he really deserved it."

In addition to Player of the Year and the FedExCup, it sounds like what JT really won himself is one hell of a bar bill.

8. Are the game’s top talents coached to say, “It’s not about the money,” or are they actually ambivalent about $10 million?

On the one hand, honesty from professional athletes is refreshing and respectable, even if it’s unrelatable. McIlroy made headlines last year when he was asked about the FedExCup’s $10 million bonus and answered that, “Luckily, that amount of money doesn't sort of mean much to me anymore.” DJ echoed those comments this past week when he said the bonus wouldn’t change his life. Thomas, who took the jackpot prize, insisted before the event started that winning trophies matters more to him than winning money. At least Spieth acknowledged the rush of competing for that kind of cash, comparing wait-and-see scenarios on Sunday to a multi-million dollar bet.

I know the PGA Tour prefers these guys to talk about the prestige of winning the Tour Championship and the FedExCup, but I’d really like one guy with a massive grin on his face to explode with, “$&@^ yeah, I want the money! I know exactly what I’m going to buy that I absolutely do not need, and it’s going to be great!”

Maybe the FedExCup really has achieved a kind of quan. I guess the only way to find out how the game’s wealthiest really feel would be to take the $10 million off the table. Something tells me that’s unlikely.



9. Speaking of refreshing honesty, Tiger Woods! (Did I just type that?)

Woods’ blog update this week was an unexpected and much-appreciated window into the thoughts of a guy sitting at home and experiencing life not unlike the rest of us – save for the frequent text exchanges with Rafa Nadal. The medical update he offered was straightforward and understandable and a welcome contrast to the usually annoying cycle of sourced reports that are then immediately disputed in a dizzying web of misinformation. There was the odd line that made you roll your eyes, but if the golf world got solar-eclipse Tiger and Raider-fan Tiger and mentor Tiger a little more often, everyone – including Woods himself – would be better off. Fewer state secrets and more nicknames, please. (Inky!)

10. And speaking of people speaking their minds, good job, Peter Malnati. Malnati on Sunday became the first professional golfer to openly support professional athletes who have chosen to kneel during the national anthem. 

"Those who kneel during the national anthem aren't disrespecting the heroes who sacrificed to defend the United States," he wrote. "Those who kneel are pointing out that as a nation, we are not doing a good job of upholding the values for which people sacrificed."

As you can see, it's a lengthy missive, one that directly criticizes "the current administration." He explained the impetus for his statement last night in an interview with Golf Central:

Maybe Malnati's statement will lead other pros to speak their mind on issues of injustice or inequality. Then again, Tour types tend to skew to one side of the spectrum, and most of these guys and girls, regardless of their ideology, prefer to punt when asked anything remotely political. However they feel about kneeling, I'm sure many of them are grateful the anthem isn't part of their pre-round routine. That way, they don't have to take a stand – or a knee.

11. It looks like U.S. captain Steve Stricker will be employing the much-ballyhooed pods system this week for the Presidents Cup at Liberty National. Of note, Spieth and Thomas are in separate cohorts, which doesn't necessarily preclude them from teaming this week, but such a pairing would flout standard pod protocol. Spieth will likely spend the bulk of his time playing Bucky to Captain America Patrick Reed, while Thomas pairs with his Tiger's-backyard-chipping-buddy Rickie Fowler. This is all just an excuse to remind you that pods are neither normal nor human.

12. As for the event itself, the International team record stands at 1-9-1 at in 11 tries, with their only win coming at Royal Melbourne in 1998. The 2015 installment in South Korea very nearly resulted in the competition's second halve. This desperately event needs a series of International victories, a Tom Watson captaincy, and a U.S. task force. This will be 37-year-old Adam Scott's eighth Presidents Cup appearance. He has never been a member of the winning side.

13. And, finally, the Web.com Tour Finals come to an end this week. Six-time PGA Tour winner and former East Lake-staple Hunter Mahan will start his week outside The Finals 25 at 33rd in earnings through three events. He'll need a big week to retain his full-time status on the big Tour. Of note, Sam Saunders will start the week 24th, while Zac Blair enters 26th. Other notable names currently outside the top 25 include Curtis Luck, Daniel Summerhays, Shawn Stefani, Cameron Tringale, Spencer Levin, Roberto Castro, Jon Curran, Jonathan Byrd, Ricky Barnes and Colt Knost. 

While the USGA and R&A are rewriting the Rules of Golf, let's go ahead and address what happened to Matthew Southgate on Sunday. The Englishman got hit with a four-shot penalty at the Web.com Finals' DAP Championship when a blowing leaf knocked his putt off-line.

Rule 19-1 calls for the stroke to be cancelled and replayed from the ball's original position, but Southgate tapped in instead. He was later docked two shots for playing from the wrong position and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard.

The Rules of Golf are far too complicated and contradictory. What does and doesn't fall under the purview of the "rub of the green" is confounding. There's nothing you can do about a spike mark, but flying leaves are an aggression that cannot stand, man?

Regardless of the rule itself, there is no reason Soutgate needed to be penalized twice, much like Lexi Thompson at the ANA earlier this year. What was his crime? That a rules official didn't tell him what happened before he signed his card? One infraction should mean one penalty. There shouldn't have been a second infraction or penalty.

This week's award winners ...

The very pants he was about to return: To Jason Dufner, who shot 67 on Friday and encountered a wardrobe malfunction while bending down to pick up his ball late in his round.

But he wasn't done: Two days later, after a final-round 72, a tie for 20th at East Lake, and the 30th-place finish in the FedExCup standings, Dufner ended his 2016-17 by giving away his shoes and apparently his 7-iron to young fans.

I wonder who got the pants.

How very SEC of you: Kevin Kisner needed the help of Thomas, East Lake Golf Club and neighboring Charlie Yates Golf Club, but he was able to secure himself a helicopter ride to the Georgia-Mississippi State game in nearby Athens on Saturday.

Dawgs won 31-3.

How very Nantz of you: To (who else?) Jim Nantz, who was married on the seventh green at Pebble Beach and who we now know has a miniature replica of the iconic par-3 in the backyard of his Pebble Beach home.

Of course, every time we think we’ve hit peak-Nantz, he ups the ante. It’s either the blessing we all assume or some strange, strange curse where he’s not actually in The Good Place.

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.