Patrick Reed wins amid controversy, Davis Love III gets another captaincy, Brooks Koepka goes 0-for-3, Paul Casey hoists a 15th trophy, Tony Finau notches yet another top-5 and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
The irony, of course, is that Patrick Reed should be one of the most popular players on Tour.
A decorated college star, he forced his way onto the Tour through a series of Monday qualifiers and, despite being an average-length hitter in a power era, now has won nine times on demanding, contrasting venues like Augusta National, Bethpage Black, Kapalua, Sedgefield, Doral and, his latest conquest, Torrey Pines.
He’s gritty and determined and a tenacious competitor. He loves his country and wants nothing more than to represent the red, white and blue at the team events. In interviews, he’s accommodating, respectful and friendly.
But reputations are difficult to change, and Reed’s latest brush with the rules served only to further antagonize golf fans who view him through the prism of his questionable past.
Never mind that he followed the proper protocols while addressing his ball in the rough during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open. Never mind that he asked his playing competitors and a nearby volunteer before calling for a rules official. Never mind that TWO officials cleared him of any wrongdoing. But even though he didn’t break a rule, technically, he was seen by many as going against the “spirit” of the rules, because he picked up his ball before the official arrived and poked around in the soggy turf for an embed mark. What he was doing, only Reed knows for sure, and the on-site Tour official, Brad Fabel, didn't push back on any of Reed's claims. Officials concern themselves with the black and white of the rulebook, not some “unwritten code of conduct.”
Many were troubled by Reed’s actions and judgment, a perception that is likely colored by past issues that have thrown into question his integrity. Except that’s not how the rules work. Each is a single episode to be thoroughly examined, without bias, and in this instance, Reed could have done things differently to appear above reproach, but that doesn’t mean he cheated, or that this Farmers title is a hollow victory.
It’s just another chapter in Reed’s complicated career, one that sadly includes more than just his many on-course accomplishments.
The PGA Tour turned to a familiar face to lead the 2022 U.S. Presidents Cup team, tabbing Davis Love III for the role at Quail Hollow.
If it feels like Love has been involved in nearly every team competition over the past decade, that's because he has – this is the ninth time since 2010 that he’s been named a captain or vice captain. It’s all part of the continuity the American leadership has tried to instill since the Gleneagles meltdown in 2014.
Though Love’s appointment wasn’t an inspired choice, he’s a fine pick for next year’s matches, which likely will be another American rout. The next wave of would-be captains are two to three years away, a group that should include players like Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Woods (who served as a one-off playing captain in 2019). Johnson seems a good bet to land the 2023 Ryder Cup captaincy. Mickelson still seems committed to being a full-time player on the PGA Tour and Champions circuit. Kuchar could use more seasoning as an assistant. And Woods clearly wasn’t keen on another lead gig, at least not right now.
So Love as the 2022 captain can be seen as a bridge to the future, as long as Team USA smartly fills those assistant jobs. If upcoming U.S. leaders like Johnson, Mickelson, Woods and Kuchar – and maybe guys on the periphery, like Justin Leonard and David Duval and Bubba Watson, who all could be captains down the road – are all wearing earpieces for the ’21 Ryder Cup and ’22 Presidents Cup, then the system is working properly.
Brooks Koepka accomplished a career first last week: He’s now missed three consecutive cuts.
The timing might be coincidental, but his string of MCs also correlates to Koepka’s decision to part ways with longtime swing coach Claude Harmon III, who has overseen Koepka’s rise from a Challenge Tour player into a former world No. 1 and four-time major winner.
At this point Koepka isn’t doing anything particularly well, and he said last week that he's over his injury concerns. His trademark stoicism? That appears to be fading, too. Right now, big, bad Brooks just looks bad.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
No Worries Now: Paul Casey. The Englishman was a little miffed that he didn’t receive any Ryder Cup points for his top-10 last week at the PGA Tour’s American Express, but that shouldn’t be a point of contention anymore. With a four-shot victory at the Dubai Desert Classic, Casey won for the 15th time on the European Tour and roared into the top 15 in the world rankings. No matter where he finishes in the team standings, do you really think they’re going to leave him at home for Whistling Straits?
So We’re Doing This Again, Huh?: Tony Finau. A week after he couldn’t convert another 54-hole lead, Finau was in the mix at the Farmers until a pair of ghastly three-putts on the back nine and then a long iron that found the pond short of the green on the 72nd hole. It was another (ultimately unsatisfying) top-5 finish.
Make Good: Kamaiu Johnson. Last year we were the first to fully tell the inspirational story of Johnson, an eighth-grade dropout who over the past few years has been homeless while trying to fulfill his dream of playing on the PGA Tour. At last, the Advocates Pro Golf Association tour player had earned an invitation into a PGA Tour event ... only for that debut last week to be spoiled by a positive COVID-19 test. But in that dark moment emerged two tournaments who saw the light – first Pebble and then Honda, offering Johnson spots in their upcoming events. Hope he makes the most of ’em.
Time for Even More Outrage!: Saudi International. If you can muster any more furor after last weekend’s rules debacle, remember that the European Tour is holding its collective nose and heading this week to Saudi Arabia, where a mega-field, including Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, has assembled.
Early Candidate for Round of the Year: Viktor Hovland’s 65. Young Hov’s second round on Torrey South was nearly nine shots better than the field average (9.68) during a day of wind, cold and even hail. It’s the third-best round on the South since tracking began in 2004.
Respect Your Elders: K.J. Choi. On Day 1 of the Farmers, the 50-year-old Choi fired a 66 and ended up making the cut (and tying for 69th), despite ranking last in the field in driving distance by seven yards. Baller.
Think of the Children!: Sergio Garcia. Maybe it’s just the angle, but we bet these kids along the rope line didn’t expect Garcia to buzz their tower with one of his drives. A little, “Yo, incoming!” would have been nice, no?
This Could Get Fun!: Ryder Cup points race. The top 6 in the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings earn an automatic spot on the team, and Patrick Reed just moved into the No. 6 slot with his win at the Farmers. That’s even more interesting considering his, shall we say, strained relationship with some on the American side, including Brooks Koepka, who has criticized Reed’s rule-breaking in the past, and now Xander Schauffele, who after the final round said that “obviously the talk among the boys isn’t great, I guess, but he’s protected by the Tour and that’s all that matters, I guess.”
Fodder for Later: Schauffele. No doubt we’ll use his tie for second at the 2021 Farmers to justify picking him – again – for the U.S. Open, despite his prior record at Torrey being dismal, especially for a San Diego native (four MCs, no finish better than 25th).
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Harris English. Torrey has been one of his kindest landing spots, and there was little reason to think that would end this year with English riding high off the Kapalua win. Instead, he imploded with an opening 79 and missed the cut by a mile – just his second early exit since June. Sigh.
TOP 5 MOMENTS THAT RILE UP GOLF TWITTER
Seems Saturday was a bad day to have a birthday party for my 3-year-old golden retriever.
Baking her a cake, frolicking in the park and searing her some skirt steak, I initially missed nearly all of the bedlam surrounding Reed’s rules controversy, which meant I later spent far too long scrolling through my Twitter timeline to piece together exactly what had happened until I could see the footage for myself and pore over the player/official transcripts.
Somehow, social media was even more of a toxic wasteland than usual, which got us thinking: What are the top 5 moments that whip up Golf Twitter into a frenzy?
Something like this:
1.) Tiger Woods, when he’s in contention. This is a no-brainer. The lows he endured from 2014-17 seemed only to make his highs feel even higher. Even though it’s been a quiet year-plus, every Tiger charge feels special – perhaps because we don’t know how many more we’ll see.
2.) Patrick Reed, when he’s calling over a rules official. They’re five words guaranteed to perk up a golf fan's ears: “Patrick Reed needs a ruling.” As last weekend proved yet again.
3.) Rory McIlroy, when he’s in full flight. The Chosen One of Golf Twitter, Rory surging into the mix – or speeding off to a runaway victory – typically generates one of two reactions on social media: 1.) He’s the most talented player on the planet, so how does this guy ever lose?!; and 2.) THIS year is the year that Rory wins that elusive fifth major! On the course, in the interview room, he’s built a reservoir of goodwill.
4.) Bryson DeChambeau, when he just can’t help himself. Bryson is unapologetically himself, which is to say he’s fascinating to some (including this scribe!), annoying to many and downright loathsome to a sad few. But you can be sure that whenever he does anything – hammer a drive; challenge an official or cameraman; offer a pseudoscience explanation – someone, somewhere, will be saying something.
5.) Brooks Koepka, when he’s ready-aim-shooting a rival. He’s a tough one to figure out, because fans either love or hate his too-cool-for-school persona. When he’s winning and ripping his opponents, it’s either: This guy is a stone-cold killer! ... or ... Little wonder his Q Score is so low. It also depends on his intended target. Bryson and Brandel are easy fodder, but DJ, apparently, not so much.