Goodbye, Hawaii. Hello, Palm Springs. The PGA Tour is back on the mainland to kick off the West Coast swing. There will be no amateurs. There will be no Jon Rahm. But Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and a slew of others are in the field for what should be another birdie-fest – or maybe not?
Here's everything you need – and some stuff you didn't think you needed – to know for The American Express:
All eyes on
Brooks is here. Coming off his first winless calendar year since turning pro eight years ago, Brooks Koepka is set to make his 2021 debut this week in Palm Springs.
Of course, the big question surrounding Koepka as he returns to action: How healthy is he?
Koepka revealed Tuesday that he had another – and final – platelet-rich plasma injection done about two weeks ago on his left knee, which has caused him trouble for more than a year. He added that a recent ultrasound showed “barely” any tear to his patellar tendon.
“There's scar tissue there, which is good, and there's really barely any tear now, so it's a good thing,” Koepka said, later adding, “I'm so much stronger in my legs. My knee, I'm not in pain two months now on anything, in the gym, walking around, waking up in the morning, it doesn't ache.”
Koepka tallied just four top-10s last year while failing to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs. He took nine weeks off following last summer’s Wyndham Championship, even skipping the U.S. Open, before returning to play four times. During that stretch, he had two of those top-10s, including a T-7 at the Masters.
As he begins a fresh year, Koepka’s goals remain simple: “A couple wins and a couple majors.”
“I don't really put too much emphasis on last year,” Koepka said. “My confidence is still high. I've seen so much better results, so much better in my practice sessions now that I'm healthy. … Everything's fine. I feel good, there should be no excuses now.”
What else we’re talking about
No amateurs. It’ll be a weird feel this week in the Coachella Valley, but not just because spectators won’t be permitted. The longtime pro-am format was also canceled, and as a result La Quinta Country Club was dropped from the rota, leaving just the Stadium and Nicklaus Tournament courses at PGA West to be used this week.
It’s the first time in the event’s 62-year history that amateurs won’t compete alongside the pros for the entire tournament. Back in 2010, the second round was washed out and the amateurs had their week reduced from 90 holes to 72 holes.
Without the amateurs in the fold, does that mean the Tour beefs up Pete Dye’s Stadium Course? We’ll have to wait and see.
No Rahm. Jon Rahm began the week as a heavy favorite to win for the second time at PGA West. But on Monday, Rahm withdrew. At the time, the world No. 2 did not provide a reason, but a day later his manager, Jeff Koski, told Golf Channel that Rahm had tweaked a muscle but wasn’t expected to miss any more events.
Rahm then clarified things later on Colt Knost’s radio show on SiriusXM: “Truth is, I hurt myself in the gym on Friday. I’m taking time off now trying to be smart. I could play right now but I don’t want to make it worse.”
New kid on the block. John Augenstein is making his pro debut this week after leaving Vanderbilt midway through his fifth season. The 2019 U.S. Amateur runner-up, who tied for 55th at last fall’s Masters, bypassed a second Walker Cup this May and a shot at a Korn Ferry Tour card via PGA Tour University for the chance to get seven sponsor exemptions this season.
Augenstein is hopeful he can reach that number, as he arguably has the most star power among the crop of amateurs that will be turning pro this year. He certainly looked the part after he showed up in Palm Springs rocking a Wilson hat and Oakley sunglasses (no wonder they called him “Flash” back in Nashville).
“I think that the main thing is just continue doing what I'm doing,” he said Tuesday. “My golf's been good enough to get me here and I think that if you're good enough to be here, then you're good enough to be successful here, and so I just want to keep controlling what I can control.”
Augenstein has a lot of familiarity around him. He has worked with instructor Matt Killen for the last decade and recently added former Vanderbilt All-American Hunter Stewart as a stats guy. He also will use J.B. Holmes’ caddie, Brandon Parsons, for the foreseeable future.
“I'm going to be going full time with him for hopefully a really long time,” said Augenstein, an Owensboro, Kentucky, native.
Phil Mickelson contends. Mickelson owns two wins, a second and a third among six top-10s in 17 career starts at The American Express, so this shouldn’t be huge surprise, right? Well, considering Mickelson has missed two of his past three cuts in Palm Springs and hasn’t cracked the top 40 since Memphis last summer, he’s deservedly not among the favorites entering the week. But don’t count out Lefty, who still notched three top-3s last year, including two early in the year. He’s got instructor Andrew Getson on the bag this week as his brother and usual caddie, Tim Mickelson, recently got married, but I’m still high on a surprise performance from the bomb-hitting, coffee-drinking veteran.
Arnold Palmer won and didn’t collect the largest check? Yes, that actually happened. The year was 1960, and Palmer earned $12,000 for winning the inaugural Palm Springs Golf Classic, which at the time was played over five rounds on four different courses, including the final-round host Thunderbird Country Club in Ranch Mirage, California.
According to the Desert Sun, the original purse of $100,000 shrunk to $70,000 because some television money never came through, but tournament organizers still decided to move forward with a $50,000 hole-in-one prize.
Enter Joe Campbell, who tied for 24th on the leaderboard but also aced the par-3 fifth hole at Tamarisk Country Club to leave town with $50,572.
Did you know?
Really useful trivia. At 18 years old, Joohyung “Tom” Kim already owns four professional victories. Only recently, though, has he started playing PGA Tour events, and he makes his fifth career Tour start this week at PGA West.
But why Tom? Kim, now ranked No. 154 in the world, explained last fall in the Dominican Republic that his nickname was inspired by his favorite cartoon growing up.
“Actually, it was Thomas,” he said. “I got it from Thomas the Train when I was young. As I grew older, some people started calling me Tom and I thought it was just shorter and more simple. I think by the time I was 11 I just went by Tom. My brother even calls me Tom. It was kind of natural. And my family calls me Tom as well, my friends call me Tom, so it kind of just came natural to me. It was that kind of name.”