In this week’s edition, we break down Justin Thomas’ tune-up for the Ryder Cup, the overhauled fall schedule and a geopolitical battle that threatens to consume professional golf.
Validation. This isn’t about Justin Thomas opening 69-67 and the notion that a solid week at Silverado Resort will somehow translate into success at the Ryder Cup in two weeks. This is about perspective.
“I don’t think it’s that important,” Thomas said when asked if he needed to have a good week at the Fortinet Championship with the Ryder Cup looming. “I put enough pressure on myself already to try to play well; I don’t need to add to it to try to propel the season or play well for the Ryder Cup or anything. I’m fortunate where I’m already on the Ryder Cup team so I don’t need to prove anything for that. I’m just going to go out here this week and just try to play as well as I can.”
Although statistically Thomas is still struggling in the areas that will be crucial at the Ryder Cup – he was 101st in strokes gained: off the tee and 150th in fairways hit after Day 1 – he doesn’t need to contend this weekend to prove U.S. captain Zach Johnson made the right choice. His performance in Rome will be the ultimate judge and jury.
A full fall. The Tour’s overhauled schedule meant that the fall, which had served as a subdued start to the season the last decade, had to evolve into something new. And how that plays out is still unknown, the earliest signs are encouraging.
Largely bereft of star power, the seven fall events will serve as a type of seeding series for next season with all manner of reasons to pay attention.
“This fall is massive. The storylines and the drama that could unfold will be great for TV. There’s jobs at stake. It’s so different than what we had before because of what the Tour is going to become,” said Ryan Palmer, who began the fall No. 155 in points. “If you win, you’re in Maui, the Masters. Guys are trying to get in that 51 to 60 for LA and Pebble and then [top] 125. That’s going to be the difference going forward. The turnover is going to be so much more going forward.”
With the switch to a calendar-year season, the PGA Tour’s fall schedule will serve as a chance for players to improve their status.
Players who failed to qualify for the BMW Championship (top 50 on the post-season points list) can play their way into the top 60 and qualify for two of the first three signature events next year and those deeper on the list will play for full (top 125) or conditional status (top 150) in ’24.
A victory in the fall also comes with a two-year Tour exemption and players will be competing for $56 million in total prize money. The new fall still has challenges, primarily football and fan apathy, but the reimagined lineup is promising.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Less access. Full disclosure: from a professional viewpoint, the Netflix documentary series “Full Swing” has been a royal pain due to the invasiveness of its camera crews throughout the season. However – again, full disclosure – the first season of the series was both entertaining and enlightening.
It’s that dichotomy that makes this week’s news that Zach Johnson will limit Netflix’s access during the Ryder Cup so curious. According to the Associated Press, Johnson spoke with his team and they decided to keep the team room private.
“It was one of those where we all gathered, I talked to every individual and laid out scenarios,” Johnson told the AP. “And they all felt like it was best to navigate that week of the tournament in a manner which the sanctity and sacredness of Team USA is preserved. We’re eliminating scenarios.”
The Netflix crews can be a bit much and Ryder Cup captains on both sides have always limited access to players during the matches, but given the intensity of this year’s bout and the possible storylines it does seem like a missed opportunity.
False narratives. Throughout the unprecedented nastiness that has consumed professional golf the last two years, Dustin Johnson has remained above the fray.
Even though he joined LIV Golf and was suspended by the Tour, he didn’t join the anti-trust lawsuit against his former employer and has taken the high ground on multiple occasions when asked about the startup league and the Tour’s hard stand. For some reason, that changed this week when Johnson told the Palm Beach Post he would have been selected to play this year’s Ryder Cup if he hadn’t joined the breakaway league.
“I would love to be a part of the team,” Johnson said. “But to be honest, I haven’t really played that well, this year. But have I played well enough to be on the team? Yeah. I didn’t have the best year. Was it good enough to make the team? I think so. If I would have been playing on [the PGA Tour], yeah, I would have made the team. Do I think I can help the U.S. team? Absolutely.”
Did DJ know the consequences of joining LIV Golf? Of course, he did. Should he be on the U.S. team? Absolutely not.
The Tour was painfully clear that anyone who joined LIV would be suspended and with only the majors to earn points to qualify for the team, DJ missed a cut, finished outside the top 40 twice and tied for 10th (U.S. Open) in the four majors. The five-time U.S. Ryder Cup player’s resume is impressive, but the U.S. side needs more than solid resumes to beat Europe.
Political posturing. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) forged ahead with his inquest of the potential definitive agreement between the Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, but this week’s hearing felt more like geopolitical saber-rattling.
The U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Blumenthal chairs, held its second hearing looking into the framework agreement, but none of the three witnesses who testified had anything to do with golf and the questions from senators centered mostly on the Kingdom’s expanding investment portfolio in the United States.
In fact, no one from the Tour was asked to testify at this week’s hearing, although Blumenthal did issue a subpoena to one of the PIF’s U.S. subsidiaries “for documents related to PIF’s takeover of American golf and other investments throughout the United States.”
The framework agreement seems to have opened a door to lawmaker scrutiny of the PIF and a geopolitical bout over sovereign immunity and commercial exceptions, and the Tour is caught in the middle.