LIV rumors, coaching changes, Tiger and Rory team up
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re seeking to become an Elevated Column™ for the 2023 season. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
What’s up with LIV?
It’s Monday, which means — like every other Monday for the past six months — LIV rumors are swirling. So how do we decide which ones to believe?
If you’re saying to yourself, that’s your job, dumba—, I’d generally tend to agree. But these are new frontiers and muddied waters — the truth isn’t always clear. The ways in which the golf world has handled X-player-to-LIV rumors has been a nerdy-but-intriguing subplot of LIV’s arrival. The golf information landscape hasn’t always handled the rumor-mill stress test with grace.
It definitely hasn’t all been bad. One silver lining from these last few months has been the shifting flavor and origin of our golf news. While that has included some cringeworthy golf puns from political beat reporters entering the LIV fray, it has also meant some healthy scrutiny from nontraditional sources. The New Yorker had a terrific big-picture piece on LIV in late October, for instance. On the other end of the spectrum, a startup golf blog called Handicap 54 reported that this week’s PGA Tour host at Mayakoba is likely to become a LIV host next year. That same blog was all over the departure of Valderrama from the DP World Tour schedule, which seems all but confirmed with the release of the tour’s latest schedule. While I write for a “traditional” golf media outlet and have dipped my toes in this year’s breaking-news thing, news (and rumors) have come from all over the media world. When the info is right, that’s a cool thing.
It makes sense that the creation of a new league opens the door for new media, and golf was particularly ripe for disruption. As a sport, golf has never had much all-caps BREAKING NEWS. There have been big-time, one-off news events, things like Tiger Woods‘ car crash or Tour pros facing secret suspensions. But without teams or free agency (both intriguing concepts LIV is attempting to introduce), there hasn’t been a need for the sport to develop its own Adrian Wojnarowski or Adam Schefter. The PGA Tour’s biggest moves used to be golfers swapping equipment manufacturers and tournaments switching venues. Those announcements came in the form of carefully orchestrated rollouts. LIV has been a brave new world without obvious go-tos.
But there are several aspects to reporting on LIV defections that make it tricky business. For one thing, players and businesspeople connected to LIV are heavily incentivized to make it seem like top players are close to joining when, in fact, they aren’t. And unlike team sports, where there are regulated schedules and predictable points of media access, golf’s access to players can be sporadic and, if they choose, practically nonexistent. That makes it easy for rumors to swirl, and swirl they did; it was just a few months ago that the rumor mill forced pros like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa to issue statements clarifying their intentions to remain on the PGA Tour.
Even with a statement, though, it’s impossible to completely disprove a rumor. Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau released statements in February ensuring their commitment to the PGA Tour, only to become two of LIV’s earliest signees. Henrik Stenson knew that his commitment to become the European Ryder Cup captain meant he was bound to the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, but he soon walked that back, too. Brooks Koepka gave a strange denial at the U.S. Open just days before he committed to LIV. Even when players have addressed the issue specifically, their word hasn’t been foolproof.
LIV is also not a now-or-never decision, which makes it even harder to fully deny. Joining is a concrete action. But not joining still leaves the option, at some later date, to reverse course. Someone can write that X player is “considering” LIV and they’re probably not wrong, because every player has considered LIV. And saying that a player is going to join LIV is a bit like someone saying Player Y is going to win a major. Even if it doesn’t happen, it’s impossible to truly prove that person wrong until Player Y’s career has ended.
This brave new world has led to players issuing statements denying rumors spread by sketchy or unknown sources. Think back to September, when Jon Rahm’s name was swirling as a potential LIV signee. A Twitter account with a few hundred followers called “LIV Golf Insider” “confirmed” that Rahm to LIV was a “go.” The tweet misspelled “John” Rahm’s name and a quick browse of the associated account would cast doubt on its legitimacy, but it circulated far enough that Rahm ended up responding.
Undeterred by that incident, “LIV Golf Insider” was back at it this weekend, tweeting “confirmation” that Xander Schauffele would be joining LIV. Other accounts were undeterred, too, reacting and retweeting liberally. Of course, most people knew better, but that didn’t stop blogs like GolfMagic and EssentiallySports from propping up the account as a source worth taking seriously.
Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay have been popular names tossed about in recent weeks; the Guardian went so far as to cite their names in connection with “speculation in Miami” — though the report provided little additional details. (People ran with it anyway.) But I’ve spoken with both Schauffele (here) and Cantlay (here) about this exact topic in recent weeks. To date, everything I know suggests these are just rumors. Neither has sworn off LIV forever, but they’ve also been transparent about the process. I don’t believe either is on the brink of LIV defection.
Things do change, of course. When I talked to Joaquin Niemann in June, he walked me through the reasons he wasn’t interested in joining LIV. Come August, he agonized over the decision and ultimately left. People will remain curious about who will follow in his footsteps. Just remember that when it comes to the internet, just about anybody can type just about any combination of words they want to.
Here’s one bit of what Cantlay said on the matter:
“It’s an ever-evolving calculation, right?” he says. “Because if 20 of the 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.”
Keep your head on a swivel, golf fans. At least The Monday Finish is a trustworthy space.
Who won the week?
Russell Henley cooked his way to a four-shot win at Mayakoba, zipping out to a 63-63-65 start and coasting home with a final-round 70 for his first victory in five years — despite ample opportunities.
“I’ve just choked, you know. The nerves have gotten to me and I’ve made bad mistakes, bad mental mistakes and just haven’t gotten it done on Sunday,” he said, reflecting post-win. “I don’t think I would have done it unless I had failed so many times.”
Gemma Dryburgh also won by four, earning her first LPGA title at the Toto Classic in Japan. The Scottish golfer began the final round down a shot but fired a closing seven-under 65 to slam the door.
“It is overwhelming, to be honest,” she said. “It’s been a dream of mine for a long time and a lot of hard work has gone into this and it means so much as it is a life-changing win.”
’round and ’round it goes.
Lydia Ko and Sean Foley
Interesting note via Chantel McCabe via SiriusXM: the reason for the split between Lydia Ko and Sean Foley had to do with “logistical reasons” that include her moving from Orlando, making in-person instruction more difficult.
Morikawa’s putting search
Collin Morikawa has enlisted some help on the greens. After years of streaky (and below-average) putting, Morikawa reached out to short-game guru Stephen Sweeney. The Irish coach has an impressive client list that includes players across the PGA Tour and LIV including Shane Lowry, Sebastian Munoz, Joaquin Niemann, Carlos Ortiz, Mito Pereira and Aaron Wise. Golfweek has more details here.
WHO’S NO. 1?
I’m intrigued by the races at the top of both the men’s and women’s games as we reach the end of the year. While Rory McIlroy (9.43 avg. pts) owns the top spot on the men’s side, Scottie Scheffler (9.18) is on his heels and could take over World No. 1 with a win at this week’s Houston Open.
On the women’s side, teenager Atthaya Thitikul is atop the Rolex Rankings, but it’s a tight spread from her position (6.98 avg. pts) to No. 2 Jin Young Ko (6.93) to No. 3 Lydia Ko (6.85) to No. 4 Nelly Korda (6.7) to No. 5 Minjee Lee (6.45). With two events left on the schedule — the Pelican Women’s Championship followed by the CME Group Tour Championship — there’s plenty to play for.
THE MATCH IS BACK
Tiger and Rory vs. Justin and Jordan.
The latest iteration of The Match series (I think we’re on the seventh edition now?) is getting back to basics by delivering four of the world’s most exciting golfers facing off under the lights at Pelican Country Club outside of Tampa. We’re getting Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy against Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth at 6 p.m. on Dec. 10. The brilliance is in the scheduling; the event comes on a Saturday with very little football (just Army vs. Navy), leaving plenty of potential viewers. The Match initially capitalized on a viewership vacuum on Black Friday and is now doing so again on a football-free December Saturday.
It’s clear, between this and the TMRW investment, that PGA Tour pros are open to supplemental non-PGA Tour events. That’s good for existing fans and potential outside eyeballs, too. And the fact that this will benefit Hurricane Ian’s relief efforts makes it a feel-good watch.
We’ll see you next week!
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