Russell Henley conquers his demons, Collin Morikawa expands his team, Greg Norman eyes more big names and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
Russell Henley started to tear up as he made his way up the 18th fairway at Mayakoba.
It’d been five years since he last won on the PGA Tour, and he faced the usual questions about whether he would ever win again. But it went deeper than that. This was satisfying on a personal level because of all the chances he’d let slip, all of the times he’d been undone by nerves, all of the tense final rounds when he'd made poor swings or even worse decisions.
“Just so much happiness looking back at the times where I kind of choked,” he said.
It’s extraordinary to hear a player talk so openly and honestly about his past failures. It's like a violation of the elite-athlete code.
Henley had enjoyed a fine career, with three victories and $20 million in on-course earnings, but still he couldn’t help but think he could have won more. He doesn’t sleep well with the lead, his mind running through the possibilities, and it shows in his record: He was 1-for-6 in converting 54-hole leads on Tour.
Only twice in that situation had he shot in the 60s on the final day. The first was at the 2013 Sony Open, his first start as a Tour member, when he blew away the field with a Sunday 63. This Tour thing seemed easy. But then, in similar positions over the years, he put up rounds of 70-70-76-71 to blow it. That only heightened his anxiety.
“I have no idea how Tiger did this 80-something times,” Henley said.
In Mexico, Henley faced another gut-check moment. He’d staked himself to a six-shot lead, the largest of his career, and everyone expected him to win. If he “choked” again, well, that was too disturbing to even think about.
Thankfully for him, the result was never in doubt. After his first bogey of the tournament on the fifth hole Sunday, Henley ran off three in a row and coasted to a final-round 70, good enough for a four-shot victory over Brian Harman.
“It was such a tough feeling because I put in a lot of work like we all do and just choked,” Henley said after win No. 4. “So it was a lot of emotion thinking about those moments. I’m still here. I’m still fighting, and I can’t believe that I got it done.”
Collin Morikawa has apparently sought a second set of eyes for his beleaguered putting.
Golfweek reported that the 25-year-old has his hired his first putting coach, Stephen Sweeney, to help address his key weakness. In three seasons Morikawa has won two majors and been on the cusp of reaching world No. 1 despite never ranking better than 128th on the PGA Tour in strokes-gained putting.
Sweeney told Golfweek that he and Morikawa logged several hours of work in the lead-up to the World Wide Technology Championship, where Morikawa shot a second-round 63 and eventually tied for 15th. The event didn’t provide the usual strokes-gained data, but Morikawa ranked T-1 in putts per green in regulation.
That ... is extremely promising.
It’s a necessary (and probably overdue) move for Morikawa, who has squandered too many rounds of sublime ball-striking with subpar putting. Most frustrating for him was how much his performance and feel seemed to vary wildly from round to round; Sweeney said one of his goals with Morikawa was to provide a “baseline” and a higher floor.
On the Golf Channel broadcast, former Masters champion Trevor Immelman suggested that Morikawa may be struggling to live up to the impossibly high standard that he set in his early stages on Tour, when he won at a 10% clip and captured two of the first eight majors he played.
Told about the interview secondhand, Morikawa seemed to have mistaken “bar” with “ceiling,” leading to this awkward response:
Immelman later clarified his remark and said on social media that it was a “complete misunderstanding.”
In any case, it’s a window into Morikawa’s psyche and how he’s grappling with the only part of his game that, to this point, has held him back from becoming a truly dominant force. If Sweeney can soon transform Morikawa into even an average putter, phew – look out. He’s gonna get his.
In a wide-ranging exit interview with a few media outlets last week, LIV Golf commissioner Greg Norman claimed that the rival tour’s competition days were seen by more than 1 million viewers and that they were looking to add about seven new players for the 2023 season.
Despite paltry streaming numbers on YouTube (including about a 50,000-average during LIV’s big-money season finale at Doral), Norman claimed that the real total is actually significantly higher across its website and “other platforms” around the world. Without being privy to those figures it’s hard to fact-check Norman, but obviously he’s motivated to inflate those numbers publicly with the upstart league still searching for a broadcast partner entering 2023. LIV officials have said that securing that TV partnership is the No. 1 priority entering the offseason.
More interesting was Norman’s statement that LIV would likely retain about “85 to 90%” of the current roster of players. That means they’d be looking for about seven new players to join the Saudi-backed league next year.
Those discussions are currently ongoing, but a few high-profile names continue to be bandied about publicly. The Guardian reported two weeks ago that Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, both ranked inside the top 6 in the world, remain primary targets, presumably in a package deal because of their close friendship. Of the top players, Cantlay in particular has left open his future options, but it’s unclear whether his stance has changed over the past month-plus.
“It’s an ever-evolving calculation, right?” Cantlay told reporters at the Presidents Cup. “Because if 20 of the top 24 guys here this week go out and play the other tour, then it makes it way more likely that I’m going to want to go to the other tour. So to say that I would never, ever play on that tour – I don’t think that’s truthful.”
Stay tuned – LIV has said it hopes to finalize its roster of 48 players (plus 12 alternates) before the end of the calendar year.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Closing In: Bernhard Langer. Just when it seemed like the 65-year-old was starting to fade, he turned in another vintage performance. He beat his age in the second round (63) and followed it up with another special Sunday to rout the field at the TimberTech Championship, winning by six for his TENTH consecutive multi-win season on the senior circuit. This was important historically, too: Langer moved within one of Hale Irwin’s all-time mark of 45 PGA Tour Champions titles as the boys head into this week's season finale. What an incredible figure in the game.
Works 60% the Time, Every Time: Scottie Scheffler. With a chance to return to world No. 1 with a solo top-2 finish, Scheffler’s rally came up just short with a final-round 62 that gave him joint third. Still, it was a much-needed hot week on the greens after returning to his gamer that he’d benched a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes, a timeout session is all the putter needs to get right. Scottie also headlines the field this week in Houston.
Anotha One: Gemma Dryburgh. The 29-year-old Scot became the latest first-time winner on the LPGA, a 65-65 weekend launching her to a runaway victory at the Toto Japan Classic. Dryburgh, who had managed only three top-10s since joining the tour in 2018, is the 11th first-time winner this season, tying the record for the most all time. She was also the 25th different winner this season; the tour record is 26. Parity – it’s so in right now.
Damn Good Dawgs: Georgia alums. Sure, it was a great Saturday for this Bulldog, watching UGA run top-ranked Tennessee out of Sanford Stadium in another Game of the Century, but it was an even better Sunday for former Dawgs Henley and Harman, who went 1-2 at Mayakoba. Apparently, it’s not as rare an occurrence as you’d think: Patrick Reed and Henrik Norlander, former teammates at Augusta State, secured the top two spots at the 2021 Farmers.
But When …?: Rory McIlroy. The world No. 1 once again called for peace talks between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, telling Golf & Turismo last week that the fracturing at the top level does neither side any good. Problem is, with the tours currently embroiled in an antitrust lawsuit, he said: “I don’t when this can happen, certainly not tomorrow, but of course we will have to find an agreement.” As we’ve mentioned in this space many times, it’s hard to see a resolution with Norman at the helm of the rival circuit. There’s too much animosity and bitterness there.
Delayed: Will Zalatoris. Recovering from two herniated disks in his back, Zalatoris was hoping to make a rehab start at next month’s Hero World Challenge but tournament organizers said that his return date has been pushed back. Shane Lowry will take Zalatoris’ spot in the field.
Not All Aces Are the Same: Christian Clark. The SMU freshman posted a video of his hole-in-one at Cypress Point’s famed 16th hole. Amazing not just because of the difficulty of the shot, but that somehow the cameras were also rolling at the time. If this were us, we’d head straight to the clubhouse and never play again. The ultimate walkoff.
Still Hot: Seamus Power. The winner in Bermuda kept rolling in Mexico, shooting four consecutive rounds of 68 or better to tie for third. Another top-3 finish lifted him to the top of the FedExCup standings with only, uh, 10 more months to go.
RIP: Jon DeChambeau. It’s been a difficult few years for the father of the eight-time PGA Tour winner, who has battled diabetes and a series of medical complications. Through it all, though, he provided plenty of inspiration and was still able to be on-hand for a couple of his son’s most stirring accomplishments. All the best to Bryson and his family.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Billy Horschel. After laying out an ambitious list of goals in a pre-tournament press conference – a Ryder Cup berth, a No. 1 ranking, a major championship, the, uh, career Grand Slam – Horschel didn’t make up much ground in any of those areas at Mayakoba. He’d racked up three straight top-10s worldwide (and had proven to be a good fit recently in Mexico) but he failed to get anything going, mustering just a 7-under total on the resort course that left him outside the top 50. Sigh.