The Australians team up for the Zurich Classic win, the team format needs more adjusting, the rich get richer, Brooke Henderson stars in Hollywood and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
The person most pleased with the ending to the Zurich Classic must have been Trevor Immelman.
He’s the next International Presidents Cup captain.
Locked in a duel Sunday were the Australians (Marc Leishman/Cameron Smith) and the South Africans (Louis Oosthuizen/Charl Schwartzel), with Leishman chipping in for birdie on the 16th hole to tie it up, then the squad prevailing on the first extra hole after Oosthuizen sailed his tee shot into the water on the closing par 5.
With this performance the Aussies seem a lock to be paired together when the Presidents Cup rolls around in fall 2022 at Quail Hollow.
“We would certainly have fun there if we did,” Leishman said. “We have given Trevor something to think about anyway.”
No world-ranking points were distributed and there wasn't quite the usual FedExCup point allotment, but the Australians were each credited with a victory: This was Smith’s third Tour title (all in a playoff, including his second in this team event) and Leishman’s sixth. Smith is all the way up to No. 3 in the FedExCup standings as he continues his strong play this season, with six top-10s.
Seated next to the trophy they may not have offered the most unbiased opinions, but Leishman and Smith were asked afterward if the Zurich should undergo another format change and become 72 holes of alternate shot.
“No,” Smith said.
“No,” Leishman said.
“That’d be too stressful,” Smith added.
“I would be too worn out by Sunday night, I think,” Leishman said.
“I don’t think Leish and I would be friends after that,” Smith said.
But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen.
The best-ball rounds on Thursday and Saturday allow players to get into a flow, make birdies and shoot lower numbers, but we see that every single week on the PGA Tour. It’s slow. And it’s uninteresting (especially on a sleepy layout like TPC Louisiana).
But alternate shot? There’s no faking it. There’s room for both spectacular play (Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay combined for a record-tying eight birdies on Sunday) and disasters, with the teams of Tony Finau/Cameron Champ and Viktor Hovland/Kris Ventura plummeting out of contention with blowup rounds.
The scoring average was over par during each of the alternate-shot days and more than seven shots higher (73.225 on Friday, 72.636 on Sunday) than best ball. That’s a good thing! There’s pressure on every shot, and that makes for a compelling competition.
We wrote in this space last week how the Zurich is the perfect opportunity for the Tour to join forces with the LPGA and create a mixed team event. If that doesn’t (or can’t) become a reality, then 72 holes of alternate shot is the next best thing.
The biggest news last week – so said that all-important Google Search! – was a program the PGA Tour had tried to keep under wraps: The Player Impact Program, which will see the top-10 needle-movers earn an extra $40 million in bonus money, with the top player grabbing $8 million. The program was instituted at the beginning of the calendar year and, likely because of optics – we are still in the midst of a pandemic, after all, with businesses hurting – would have gone unpublicized if not for the Golfweek report.
The standings aren’t expected to be updated weekly for public consumption, a la the FedExCup, but by year’s end, it’s reasonable to expect those familiar names to cash in (more on that below).
Some questions you may have:
• Couldn't the $40 mil have been used in better ways, like helping out the Korn Ferry Tour? Sure. But the point of the developmental circuit is to keep guys hungry – and that wouldn’t happen with inflated purses and $300,000 winner’s checks.
• Wasn't this just an obvious response to the proposed Premier Golf League, which had promised the superstars huge deals? Of course! Even if the Tour isn't promising generational wealth like the PGL, a few million a year is still a nice thank-you gift for their loyalty.
• Do these multimillionaires really need more millions? Obviously not, but here’s a better way to think about the program: The Tour is essentially sponsoring its biggest stars, since that’s what they’d net in an endorsement deal anyway ($3-8M). They just don’t have to add a Tour logo to their polos.
• Is this much hand-wringing about nothing? You betcha. The Tour’s most popular players – those essentially powering the product on a weekly basis – are about to cash in. As they should. The most valuable commodity to superstars is time, and if the Tour can secure those single-name studs for an extra tournament commitment and/or a commercial shoot and marketing promotion, well, that’s a fine tradeoff.
The winningest Canadian in golf history keeps on winning, as Brooke Henderson earned her 10th career LPGA title with a splashy victory at the LA Open. Trailing by four shots at the start of the final round at Wilshire, Henderson chipped in for birdie on 12th hole and then hung on with a deft up-and-down from left of the 18th green to secure a one-shot victory over Jessica Korda. Henderson also overcame world No. 1 Jin Young Ko to earn her first title since June 2019.
The emotion was apparent on her face afterward, as Henderson talked about all of the hard work that she and sister/caddie Brittany have put into getting back in the winner’s circle for the first time in nearly two years. One member of the close-knit team is still missing, however: With Canada under a strict lockdown, Henderson’s father/swing coach Dave hasn’t been out on tour since the beginning of 2020. That at least partly explains why Henderson didn’t record a W in limited action last year and why she had posted just a pair of top-10s this season.
The LPGA is a better product when the hard-charging Henderson is gunning for titles.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Another Youngster to Watch: Garrick Higgo. The sweet-swinging left-hander just won his fifth pro event – and he’s still just 21. The South African ran it up at the inaugural Gran Canaria Lopesan Open, closing with 63 and finishing at 25 under par as he claimed his second career European Tour title. He’s all the way up to 65th in the world ranking.
Resurfaced: Tiger Woods. In the first photo he’s posted since his horrific car crash, Tiger appeared on crutches and with an air cast on his lower right leg – and also a smile, after what must have been a trying few months. If we’re looking for silver linings here, it doesn’t appear as though he suffered any major injuries besides his right leg.
Best Sports: Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith. Few if any teams had more fun in New Orleans than the All-Aussie squad of Leishman and Smith, especially with the latter sporting a gnarly mullet over the past few months. Big Leish showed up with the perfect prop – the only shame was that he didn’t play with it on.
Heater Alert: Peter Uihlein. After winning two weeks ago on the Korn Ferry Tour, the former No. 1-ranked amateur kept rolling at the Zurich, partnering with Richy Werenski to shoot a final-round 67 and surge up the leaderboard, eventually finishing in third place.
Don’t Stop Believing ...: Tyson Alexander. A pro for a dozen years, Alexander had every reason to wonder if his time would ever come as he sat outside the top 500 in the world ranking and didn’t have a top-50 in his last nine starts. But that didn’t stop him from going 65-64 on the weekend to capture the Korn Ferry Tour’s Veritex Bank Championship, moving him all the way up the points list to No. 31 – and now giving him a shot to earn that long-awaited promotion to the big tour. Good stuff.
... But You May Want to Stop Trying: Tony Romo. It was cool that he wanted to test himself against guys who have been doing this their entire lives, but the results are pretty clear now: At the KFT event Romo finished last among those who finished two rounds – by six shots – after recording scores of 77-76, which means he’s now 0-for-6 in trying to make the cut on the PGA and Korn Ferry tours ... and he hasn’t come particularly close, either. No matter what the sponsors say, no one is paying to watch him play golf, so perhaps it’s time for Romo to find another way to support the game he clearly loves so much.
Still Ballin’: Angela Stanford. The 43-year-old notched her 100th career top-10 finish, sharing fifth place (four shots back) at the LA Open. At an age when most of the LPGA greats have focused on other passions, it’s inspiring to see Stanford still mixing it up with the kids.
Not Too Shabby: Valspar field. Though there was some concern that the later date might hurt the Tampa-area field, that doesn’t appear to be the case – four of the top 10 players in the world will tee it up, including the top two in Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, and Phil Mickelson was a late addition as he tries to improve his world ranking to avoid needing a special exemption (or a sectional qualifier) to play in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
Will Someone Else Step Up ... Ever?: Kent State. For the 22nd consecutive time – as long as the tournament has been held – the Golden Flashes, ranked 13th in the country, won the Mid-American Women’s Conference Championship, crushing the field by 36 shots. It’s believed to be the longest streak in NCAA Division I.
UNOFFICIAL LIST OF TOUR'S TOP 10 NEEDLE-MOVERS
The rich are about to get richer with this Player Impact Program, which will take into account metrics like Google Search, Q rating and nebulous social-media influencing. Final results won’t be known until the end of the year (and won’t be made public anyway), but here’s how we think the top 10 needle-movers will pan out:
1.) Tiger Woods: Meet the new king, same as the old king, even when he doesn’t hit a competitive shot in 2021.
2.) Bryson DeChambeau: He wins and he’s a polarizing personality (that’s helpful!). Big Bryson gets people talking.
3.) Jordan Spieth: Few have played better this year, he’s a media darling and, besides, he should have a pretty good idea of how to boost his clout via the MVP Index – his father, Shawn, co-founded the company.
4.) Phil Mickelson: Rarely competitive these days, but Phil the Thrill retains his popularity and still does enough zany things throughout the year to crack the top 5.
5.) Rory McIlroy: Wisely begged off social media a few years ago, but his press conferences are still appointment viewing and fan interest remains high.
6.) Brooks Koepka: The king of social-media trolling, he’ll make a late second-half charge in 2021.
7.) Rickie Fowler: In the midst of a swing change, he unfortunately doesn’t appear much on the broadcast these days, but no one is seen more during the commercials. He’s a fan and sponsor favorite, and that isn’t changing anytime soon.
8.) Patrick Reed: Considering what went down at Torrey Pines, he’ll put to test the theory that any publicity is good publicity.
9.) Justin Thomas: Apologized profusely for his hot-mic slip-up earlier this year, but his Instagram game is strong and if you’re voted PGA Tour Player of the Year, well, that’ll help too.
10.) Dustin Johnson: The world No. 1 isn’t going to go out of his way to promote himself (his fiancée can for him), but he is still a big draw on Tour.
Interested to see: How much Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama’s global appeal factors into this; if the Tour’s IT team can figure out how a Google search of “Adam Scott” can first bring up the Wikipedia page of the golfer, not the actor; whether social-media stars (and 2021 Tour winners) Max Homa and Joel Dahmen can go mainstream enough to factor in; and if studs like Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa – top 6 players in the world, all of them – can boost their profiles and officially become a Tour-approved needle-mover.