Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy were among the newsmakers in a surprisingly busy golf week.
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where the season never ends, the schedule never changes and the stadiums never deflate. Let’s get to it!
Programming note: We’re simplifying the column format this week. Ten winners. Five not-winners. So far, I like it. But lemme know what you think at the bottom!
WINNERS (Pt. 1)
Who won the week?
10. Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods fans, Tiger Woods’ event, Tiger Woods’ golfing future
Tiger Woods is playing the Hero World Challenge, a golf tournament that begins next week. Next week! Look, I know it’s football season. I know the Hero ain’t exactly a major. And I know Woods has come back a few times before. But I think this time actually deserves more of our attention.
We’ve gotten hints that Tiger has been progressing in recent weeks. He hit balls at a Bridgestone photoshoot, he played The Hay at his foundation’s event, he caddied for his son Charlie in a walking three-day tournament. But we also saw some videos of him doing those things, and let’s just say his days of dusting … anyone in the 40-yard dash are over. Even given those signs of life, Tiger’s attendance at any of his traditional end-of-season starts was uncertain.
Rewinding a few months, Woods’ presence at any tournament felt unlikely. When he announced he was undergoing surgery following a weekend WD from the Masters, there was no timetable for return. For the first time in his life, he appeared to be prioritizing pain management over a return to form. Could we have already seen the end?
Nope! Here he is, just seven months later, returning again.
One other tidbit for the optimists out there: Woods is 2-for-2 in PGA Tour cuts made this season! He played the Genesis. He played the Masters. Now, after a little break for some subtalar fusion, he’ll play the Hero and, we’re assuming, the PNC Championship. There’s real potential for this year to end on a positive note for Team Tiger and his golfing future.
9. Being nice to yourself
On Sunday, at the close of this year’s LPGA season, Lilia Vu reflected on what happened a year ago.
“I remember after the last round, last hole, I just broke down in tears. I was just really hard on myself,” she said. A year later? All she’s done is win two major championships, climb to World No. 1 and, as of Sunday, officially claim the title of Rolex Player of the Year.
So what was different?
“I was definitely hard on myself this year, too, but much nicer,” Vu said. “Came in with no expectations and tried to win every tournament that I played in. Just kept my goals really small, and I think that really helped me achieve Player of the Year.”
When players are reflecting on their mindsets, it’s always tough to know which thing came first. Did a positive mindset lead to winning or did winning brighten up her mindset? But to take Vu at her word, dialing back expectations was a winning combination.
One surprising note: Vu is the first American to win Player of the Year since Stacy Lewis in 2014. Vu’s victories this year began at the Honda LPGA Thailand and continued at the first-ever Chevron Championship, the AIG Women’s Open and The Annika in early November.
Look, I’m not promising that you can become No. 1 in the world if you, too, are a bit kinder to yourself. But maybe cut yourself a little slack on this Monday morning.
8. Drinking with MJ
Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry sat down with Paul Kimmage and the second part of their Irish Independent interview was, again, a fantastic recreation of several moments from this year’s Ryder Cup. This bit included further details from McIlroy’s hatchet-burying moment with Joe LaCava in the European team room — “I hadn’t seen him at the golf course, so I went over to him. He was wearing a hat, and I took it off him and started waving it: ‘Yaaay.’ And we both had a good laugh” — and emotional scenes from the team’s victory. But one moment stood out: Upon their return to the U.S., McIlroy went to Lowry’s house for lunch, which turned into lunch and a bottle of wine and then turned into lunch, a bottle of wine and a visit from captain Luke Donald. Before long, Michael Jordan had joined the group. Said Lowry:
“I’ve met Jordan a few times, I’m a member of his golf club … but Jaysus … myself, Rory, Luke and MJ sitting around talking about the Ryder Cup (laughs) . . . not really how I envisioned the celebrations.”
That full read is here.
7. The DP World Tour Content Team
This group of individuals is very good at what they do. This week’s DP World Tour’s season finale was no different.
6. Eric Cole
He’s hardly the highest-profile rookie on this year’s PGA Tour (more on that later) but 34-year-old Eric Cole threw down an extremely impressive debut season and finished on a high note, making birdie on four of his final six holes at the RSM Classic to secure a T3 finish and his seventh top 10 of the season. Whether or not that’s enough to win Rookie of the Year is a question for the voters; what we know for sure is that Cole is exempt into every Signature Event next season and shows no signs of slowing down.
Not their week.
5. Joost Luiten’s golf-club adventure
Y’know the phrase “don’t throw good money after bad”? We saw the golf equivalent this weekend courtesy of Joost Luiten:
4. Paul Azinger, Lead Analyst
With the final day of the PGA Tour season came the news that Paul Azinger, who has occupied one of golf television’s most important chairs for the last half-decade, won’t be returning to NBC. James Colgan has more details here, but two questions remain: 1. What happened, exactly? and 2. Who’s next?
3. PGA Tour’s sponsor dilemma
Josh Carpenter of Sports Business Journal has been doing some terrific reporting — reporting that includes this filing on the PGA Tour’s future asks of sponsors. The big takeaway? Now that the PGA Tour’s purses have increased, they’re going to need sponsors to help chip in to offset that spending. On its own, that’s not a bad thing. And there is a long list of sponsors who want in on golf. But if this points to something deeper — like, say, unsustainable spending in a fractured sport with a confusing path forward that ultimately results in greater turmoil and less charitable giving — that doesn’t seem great.
2. LIV’s scheduling team
Another thing that doesn’t seem great: Arguably your league’s most valuable asset chirping your league in the comment section of your league’s official social media pages. But Brooks Koepka appears to be frustrated with a lack of communication to the point where he’s trolling LIV on Instagram.
That seems like a tough scene for a league with an uncertain future. Speaking of which…
1. TGL Down!
A realist might point out that the sudden one-year postponement of the TGL following the collapse of its stadium is … not a great scene, either. An optimist might point out that the delay is actually good for the league long-term, and that it’ll be huge for the league to have an extra year to craft the vision rather than trotting out a half-baked product. But it’s hard to resist the instinct to sit back and chuckle at the whole thing, marveling at the ways in which golf’s leagues continue to step on larger rakes with every passing week, undermining themselves in the process.
WINNERS (Pt. 2)
Back to the good stuff, then.
5. LIV’s free agency…?
Okay, I added the question mark because I’m not all the way sold on this, but there is some intrigue, intentional and unintentional, that comes with the free agency situation over at LIV. Take Koepka’s team specifically: He’s barking at LIV in comments sections. His brother just got ejected from the league for poor play. And now we know that Matthew Wolff, a player with whom he’s been openly feuding, is once again on Smash GC for 2024. What on earth happens next?
4. PGA Tour fall drama
I don’t think the ratings will tell a particularly rosy story for the PGA Tour’s fall season, but from my perspective it couldn’t have worked out much better. If the Tour had hand-picked its winners it couldn’t have done much better. Sahith Theegala breaking through at the Fortinet. Luke List in a chaotic scene at the Sanderson. Tom Kim and Collin Morikawa providing certified star power in Las Vegas and Japan. Emotional victories in Mexico and Bermuda, with Erik van Rooyen and Camilo Villegas tapping into moments and feelings that extend far beyond the course. And Ludvig Aberg throttling the field at the RSM Classic, threatening to send the hype train off the tracks in the process.
And those are just the guys who played. There were benefits to the absences, too. DP World Tour guys got to support their home circuit. Justin Thomas and Max Homa trekked to South Africa for a cool opportunity at the Nedbank. And we got some much-needed space from the drudgery of week-in, week-out PGA Tour golf. The return Sentry week will be welcome. Let us miss PGA Tour golf for a moment so we’re excited when it’s back!
3. Canceling plans
Ah, the joy of canceled plans. Rory McIlroy announced this week that he was ditching the PGA Tour’s board, a move likely set in motion back in June, when he was publicly hung out to dry by Tour leadership. Then came Monday’s postponement of the TGL. McIlroy is shedding obligations left and right.
Two serious notes: First, McIlroy and Charley Hoffman will be replaced for 2024 by Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott, each of whom has been doing significant behind-the-scenes work in recent months to help shape the Tour’s future. Patrick Cantlay has also been reappointed through 2026. Given Tiger Woods was also added to the board this year, it’s clear there’s an infusion of stars who are serious about doing the work in that position. Second, there really is nothing better than the unexpected joy of canceled obligations.
Delete that Zoom app from your phone, Rory! Kick those feet up!
2. The LPGA’s big-money finale
Amy Yang took down the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples and won the $2 million first-place check that came with it. That’s some serious money — and next year it’ll be even more serious.
First, to Yang: This was her fifth LPGA Tour victory but her first on American soil in 16 years in pro golf. And, in an incredible reminder of the LPGA’s youth movement, Yang is the season’s oldest LPGA winner at 34 years old. Yang’s reception on the 18th green made her popularity amongst her peers very clear. It’s safe to say the money hasn’t yet changed her; Yang’s next scheduled plan is to caddie for good pal Jennifer Song in Q-School.
To the money, then: The CME Group announced earlier in the week that it’ll pay out $11 million next season, including $4 million to the winner. CEO Terry Duffy said that he was “trying to be a catalyst for women’s golf.” Mission accomplished there, along with an impressive turnaround from some awkward sponsor-LPGA relations at last year’s season finale.
1. The Scandinavian Surge
Nicolai Hojgaard won the DP World Tour Championship, holding off a loaded field that included Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland (T2) as well as Jon Rahm (T5), Tyrrell Hatton (T11), Tom Kim (T15), Shane Lowry (T18) and Rory McIlroy (T22).
Ludvig Aberg won the RSM Classic, shooting a preposterous 61-61 on the weekend to overpower the field and claim his first PGA Tour win by four shots.
While there’s some geographic and cultural debate about what constitutes “Scandinavia,” there seems to be some agreement that Denmark, Sweden and Norway are at its core. Hojgaard is from Denmark and he’s 22. Aberg is from Sweden and he’s 23. Hovland is from Norway and, at the ripe age of 26, can make the case as the hottest player in the world.
This week represented something significant in men’s professional golf. After many years of hype, the Nordic trio has officially arrived on the scene. We’ll have much more to say on the subject in the coming months, but for now we’ll just say this: who says golf isn’t a cold-weather sport?!
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
Whenever I play Chambers Bay I try to get the last tee time of the day. The hope is to finish in the sunset on the epic back nine. In the heart of summer it’s tough to tee off late enough; there’s so much light that it seems to never set. This afternoon, on the other hand, we’re teeing off at noon and it’ll likely be pitch-black coming up 18. Sigh.
We’ll see you next week!
Dylan (cautiously) welcomes your comments at email@example.com.