Jim Herman comes from nowhere to win the Wyndham, Tyler Strafaci takes an epic U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes, Stacy Lewis overcomes a slow weekend, Brooks Koepka plays coy and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
1. Without a top-25 finish since last summer, Jim Herman shot 61-63 on the weekend to win the Wyndham Championship by a shot over Billy Horschel.
TAKEAWAY: There was little to suggest that Herman was ready to pounce: He was 192nd in FedExCup points. Of the 212 players on Tour, he was ranked 206th in strokes gained: total. Seven days ago, he shot the worst final-round score (75) of anyone at the PGA.
And yet, Herman looked exceedingly comfortable in the position. His 16-under-par weekend matched the lowest ever by a Tour winner. He birdied three of the last six holes, then waited nervously in the scoring tent – even trying to drink from a capped water bottle!
In his last 40 events, Herman has two top-25 finishes. They both went for wins.
That’s capitalizing on the (rare) opportunity.
2. Only three players moved inside the top-125 bubble as the schedule turns to the FedExCup playoffs.
TAKEAWAY: There wasn’t any of the usual number-crunching and hand-wringing at the Wyndham without any promotion or relegation this season. Players could only improve their status for 2020-21, not lose it, and that took some of the stress out of the regular-season finale. As a result, player after player outside the top 125 said that as nice as it’d be to reach the playoffs – maybe they can get hot and add a few more millions to their bank account – it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Only three players moved inside the top 125 and into position for the playoffs: Herman, who won and moved to 54th; Zach Johnson, who jumped to 104th; and 2019 Open winner Shane Lowry, who slid inside the number at No. 122. The corresponding three who were bumped out: Fabian Gomez, Russell Knox and Charl Schwartzel.
Though points are tripled in the playoffs, the longshot scenario is even more unlikely with only three postseason events.
3. Stacy Lewis overcame a four-way playoff to take the Ladies Scottish Open for her first victory since September 2017 – and her first win since becoming a mom in late '18.
TAKEAWAY: It’s the 13th LPGA title for Lewis, and this was impressive not only for her shot-making and clutch putting down the stretch (including a 20-footer on the first extra hole) but because of the patience she showed over the weekend. Maybe it’s an acquired trait as a new parent, but Lewis didn’t get too flustered by the dreadfully slow play of her two playing partners, Azahara Munoz and Jennifer Song, who ground to a halt once they worked their way into contention. On the eve of the final round, Lewis made a point to single out her slowpoke partners, but they didn’t seem to get the message – the group was placed on the clock Sunday, though neither player, despite routinely taking more than two minutes to hit a shot, was penalized.
Lewis told her caddie on the second tee that she wouldn’t allow herself to complain and sang to herself to pass the time. (Never mind the ridiculousness of a tournament leader having to resort to such mental tricks to avoid this scourge.) Afterward, she used her winner’s news conference to agitate for slow-play change, saying that the LPGA needs to eliminate the warning when a group is out of position and an official should be able to start timing an obviously slow player.
“I think it needs to be aggressive,” she said. “It needs to change, because we’re going in the wrong direction.”
As for her game, Lewis surgically picked apart Renaissance Club by hitting 82% of the fairways and 76% of the greens. That bodes well for the 2013 Women’s British Open champ, now 35, as she heads this week to Royal Troon for the first major of the year.
4. On the biggest stage of his career, Georgia Tech fifth-year senior Tyler Strafaci two-putted for birdie on the final green to defeat SMU junior Ollie Osborne, 1 up, and capture the U.S. Amateur.
TAKEAWAY: It was a thrilling championship match: The duo combined for 25 birdies and an eagle in mostly calm conditions at Bandon Dunes. Though Osborne took a 5-up lead through 12 holes, Strafaci clawed back to make it a 1-up lead at the lunch break, then continued his fine play on the second 18.
Two shots in particular stood out: Playing in a thick fog, Strafaci drove the green with a 3-wood on the 32nd hole, leading to a 10-foot eagle.
And then his finishing kick: With the match tied on the 36th hole, he pured a 4-iron from 247 yards that settled 15 feet away. “That was the first time in my life that I actually told myself I was going to hit a winning golf shot,” he said.
Though many of amateur golf’s stars bowed out early – the 56th-ranked Strafaci was the only semifinalist ranked inside the top 390 – it was a testament to the depth of the college and amateur game that Strafaci could prevail as a worthy champion. Earlier this summer he won the North & South Amateur and the Palmetto, and now he has the biggest amateur trophy of all. Provided he remains amateur, he now has spots in the 2021 Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship, in addition to a spot on the 2021 U.S. Walker Cup team at Seminole. Georgia Tech also became the first school to produce different U.S. Am champions in back-to-back years, after Andy Ogletree (Strafaci's former roommate!) won last year at Pinehurst.
The other big winner was Bandon. Hosting a U.S. Amateur for the first time, the course shined as players attacked a layout that is likely on every true golfer's bucket list. Though it's not ideal for 72-hole stroke play because of the unpredictability of high winds and a linksy design, it was undoubtedly a hit for head-to-head match play and should be part of the U.S. Amateur rotation moving forward.
5. Playing his sixth event in a row, Brooks Koepka missed the cut at the Wyndham and fell even further (to 97th) in the FedExCup standings.
TAKEAWAY: For a man who prides himself on telling it like it is, Koepka hasn’t exactly been honest of late.
Details have been sparse about what is now being described as a lower-body injury. Despite having his left hip worked on three times during the PGA Championship, Koepka said that it wasn’t a concern. Then last week he said it wasn’t his troublesome left knee that is causing him trouble and making it harder for him to get onto his left side on the downswing.
OK, then what is it?
Playing coy about an injury has never made sense in golf. It’s not football or basketball or baseball or even tennis, in which an ailment can be exploited by the opponent. No one will view it as an excuse; it’s simply an explanation for his occasionally erratic play. If he wants to stop being asked about his health, then answer what’s wrong – truthfully.
His critical comments about Dustin Johnson also took on a new life last week when Koepka once again said that the media had “overplayed” their friendship. Funny, because it didn’t seem as though the media was overplaying it when Koepka and Johnson appeared in social media pictures together. Or when Koepka said in 2015 that they “hang out a lot when we’re at home.” Or in 2018, when he slammed a published report about their Ryder Cup altercation by saying, “He’s one of my best friends. I love the kid to death.”
It’s clear there was a falling out between two of the best players in the world, and that’s fine if he wants to keep the details private. He just might want to own it.
WHAT ELSE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT ...
Tiger Woods said he’s been “gearing up” for a busy fall stretch, and he’ll put his brittle body to the test starting this week at The Northern Trust.
By committing to the first playoff event, Woods is hoping to play four of the next five weeks (which would be five times in a seven-week span). Now 49th in the FedExCup standings, Woods needs a high finish this week to ensure his spot among the top 30 and earn a trip back to East Lake for the Tour Championship. It’s possible that he could skip the second playoff event (at Olympia Fields) if he’s high enough in the standings after the first of three postseason tournaments.
If not, Woods is committed to being out there nearly every week through the U.S. Open on Sept. 17, the busiest stretch he’s had since the playoffs two years ago. He’s admitted since then how much of a toll that summer and fall took on his body, so it’ll be interesting to see how much he can handle. After complaining about back stiffness at Riviera in February and again last month at Muirfield Village (despite 95-degree temperatures), the state of his body is very much a day-to-day proposition.
One of the most talked-about moments of the week came during the Round of 16 matches at the U.S. Amateur.
Tied on the 18th hole in his match against Strafaci (the eventual champion), Segundo Oliva Pinto was eyeing up his fourth shot when his caddie entered the greenside bunker and clearly tested the surface of the sand. Just like that, his dream was over – the penalty was a loss of hole, and in this case, a loss of the match.
Oliva Pinto was stunned. Strafaci was upset, not wanting to win like that.
On-course mics picked him up telling the USGA rules official that he didn’t touch the sand, when video cameras, both in real time and during high-definition, slow-motion replays, clearly showed otherwise.
It was a crushing way for Oliva Pinto to lose, but he handled the defeat with class and said he harbored no ill will toward his caddie. For that, he deserves to be applauded, because not only did his caddie make a boneheaded decision that cost him the match, but then he lied about it, too. Tough look.
Now THAT'S how you close out a senior major.
Leading by one as he headed to the 12th tee, Jerry Kelly’s 5-iron from 177 yards out found the bottom of the cup for an ace to move three shots in front in what was a brutally difficult week at Firestone. A few more pars, and he was four clear.
So comfortable was Kelly’s margin that he could afford a double bogey on the 72nd hole and still win by two over Scott Parel – the only two players who finished the week under par at the Senior Players.
It was Kelly’s seventh senior victory (at least one in each of his four years on tour) and first major.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Encore Performance: Sam Horsfield. If you thought the Englishman’s breakthrough was the first of many, well, you didn’t have to wait long for European Tour title No. 2 – he won the Celtic Classic for his second W in three weeks.
Well Done: Thomas Bjorn. The 2018 Ryder Cup captain took four days to walk from Wentworth to Wales – roughly 130 miles – helping raise funds for UNICEF and the Golf Foundation. During his journey he took more than 265,000 steps and burned 31,462 calories.
That’s Gonna Sting: Si Woo Kim bettor. Some fool threw down $500K for Kim to win with +125 odds. And how’d Kim play in the final round? He hit a wild slice into the junk on No. 6, leading to a lost ball and a double, and went out in 38. That’s how you flush half a mil, real quick.
Now It’s Just Getting Awkward: Phil Mickelson and Nick Faldo. After Mickelson appeared to audition for a future broadcasting role at the PGA (an hourlong sitdown that included a few cringe-worthy moments with the man currently in the CBS analyst chair), both men continued their jabs a week later. Is Faldo feeling threatened? Is Mickelson hastening his exit? Stay tuned next week!
That Could Have Proved Costly: U.S. Amateur final. Midway through the back nine of the championship final, with the match tightening, a thick marine layer canvassed Bandon Dunes and made visibility such an issue that, after impact, Strafaci was turning his head to listen to the thud of his ball hitting the green. Two up on 16 tee, flying blind, USGA rules officials nearby, Strafaci played two of his worst holes of the championship match, and you couldn’t help but wonder if he regretted forging ahead if he wasn’t totally comfortable with his sight lines because of the fog. Fortunately, it didn’t matter – he hit the shot of the championship on the 36th hole.
You Smelt It, You Dealt It: Charlie Rymer. When we saw this headline, a thought immediately popped in: That HAD to have been our former Golf Channel colleague. And sure enough ...
Best of the Rest: Stephan Jaeger. He won his fifth career Korn Ferry Tour title Sunday in Boise and afterward claimed, “I’m coming for you, Jason!” a reference to Jason Gore, who holds the all-time KFT wins record with seven. Wouldn't you rather just stick on the big tour?
Care to Move Along?: Aman Gupta. There's gamesmanship, and then there's this. The Oklahoma State player blew up social media over the weekend with this blatant breach of etiquette while standing behind the line of his opponent. Kevin Kisner described it thusly:
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Rose. Coming off a ninth-place finish at the PGA – his third top-15 of the restart – the Englishman finally seemed to be rounding back in form. Then he came to Sedgefield, where he opened with 73 to eliminate any chance of making the cut. Sigh.