In this week's Rosaforte Report: Mexico puts the "World" back in the World Golf Championships, PGA Tour rookie Sam Burns reaps the rewards of a Honda Classic top-10 (and a pairing with Tiger Woods) and an NFL star gets his groove on at Seminole.
From a European perspective, the World Golf Championships weren’t worldly enough. Other than the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, all the events were in the United States. The leaderboard for last year's inaugural WGC-Mexico Championship reflected the international nature of the event, with seven Europeans among the top 12.
This didn’t surprise former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, who pointed out that players from his continent travel to places like Singapore and India, and are more adept at playing at altitude. Mexico City also presents the same security fears Rio de Janeiro did as host for the Olympics in 2016. No coincidence: Two of the three players on the medal stand were Europeans - Justin Rose with the gold and Henrik Stenson with the silver.
Like Rio, there was some back-channel complaining about logistics and cases of food poisoning that included Rory McIlroy and Stenson. While neither is in this year’s field, the Europeans as a whole viewed Mexico City as a solid alternative to Doral in Miami. Chapultepec Golf Club wasn’t Gil Hanse’s new Blue Monster, but it produced Dustin Johnson as its champion and received favorable reviews.
“I loved it,” said Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who finished second. “I think last year when we turned up, there was a lot of us that thought it was a European-type golf course. I thought it was a lovely area, a lovely place. I had a really, really nice time all week. Great food; I love Mexican food.”
“I thought it was nice,” added Sweden's Alex Noren, who finished 55th. “I’ve been to Mexico on the Challenge Tour. The courses were similar. The golf course is really fun. It’s tough, very narrow, the ball goes forever. We stayed in a really nice area of the city. You go out to eat. There are restaurants everywhere. It was very European.”
McIlroy promised to play Mexico City with the new PGA Tour schedule in 2019, but as McGinley explained, the event is still sold out in spite of no-shows McIlroy and Jason Day. “Other than the majors, it’s hard to get all the top players at any event now,” he said. “The show goes on without them. That was proven at the Olympics.”
TIGER'S NEW BUDDY BURNS: Everybody’s new favorite golfer and Tiger Woods’ new buddy continues to live large after his breakout performance in the Honda Classic. That would be Sam Burns, the 21-year-old Tour rookie who beat Tiger by two strokes in their final-round pairing on Sunday at PGA National - after getting a laugh out of Tiger when walking down the first fairway. Wanting to break the ice, the kid tapped Woods on the shoulder and said, “It’s crazy how all these people came out to see me today.”
Burns followed that up with a spot in the Seminole Pro-Member before flying home to Louisiana for his girlfriend’s sorority party at LSU this weekend. After that it’ll be time to re-focus on his career. His top-10 at Honda (T-8) got him into the Valspar Championship, and the former college player of the year was already in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on an exemption. In the world rankings, he is one spot ahead of Woods, 388-389. The only thing the kid didn’t accomplish was asking Tiger for his cell number. Maybe next time.
FITZGERALD AT SEMINOLE: Larry Fitzgerald keeps turning up at some of the best places in golf, first winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with partner Kevin Streelman, then playing the Seminole Pro-Member on the Monday after the Honda Classic, with his buddy from Whisper Rock GC in Arizona, Jon Rahm.
The perennial Pro Bowl receiver for the Arizona Cardinals called his win with Streelman “one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.” He became a Seminole member this year and called the Donald Ross course in Juno Beach, Fla., “one of the true gems in American golf.”
I spoke with Larry on Sunday night after a practice round with Rahm, who gave his partner a bunker lesson after a tough day in the sand. They shot 63 net and tied for third place, three strokes behind Nick Watney and long-time Seminole member Sam Reeves. Nearly 84, Reeves called Fitzgerald “one of the most delightful people I’ve been around,” and “a wonderful human being who has handled himself well.”
The Pro-Member features one of the strongest fields in golf. What makes it unique is that not a dime is spent on appearance fees. The pros play just to soak up the Seminole atmosphere, history and Donald Ross layout that will host the Walker Cup in 2021. Twenty major championship winners competed, including Jack Nicklaus, who played with former USGA President Thomas O’Toole and recently crowned Honda Classic champion Justin Thomas. Some of the cooler teams included Rory and father Gerry McIlroy and Rickie Fowler with Buddy Marucci, who was his Walker Cup captain. Fowler calls his three Seminole victories with Marucci (2011-13) his three majors.