Mid-season surprises and duds on the PGA Tour

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The Zurich Classic of New Orleans turned into a snooze-fest on Sunday with most groups struggling to make pars and few birdies in sight. Did the PGA Tour make the wrong decision by having alternate shot on the final day and what format would you like to see for the event?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I’m afraid to say I didn’t watch any of it, so can’t offer an intelligent comment.  (Not that I ever do.)  But the team I put my money on — Bronson Burgoon and Conrad Shindler — didn’t get into the tournament, so what was the point of tuning in?

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: I agree the Sunday round lacked enthusiasm. I like the event having a different format in New Orleans which itself presents a variety of different forms of entertainment. However, I feel Sunday should be ‘shoot-out’ day and best be served by a 2 man scramble. Wouldn’t it be something if a team scored -18 for the last round?

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I didn’t mind the grind that the finale turned into. I think the event’s unique format makes its fun and appealing, so I’ll take both the good and the bad that comes with alternating shots on the final day. Plus, the winners were 22-under-par. How low did you want to see them go? 30+ under?

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Looked like friends and family showed up at the course Sunday, probably outnumbering TV viewers. That alternate shot format is just a way to learn how to say: “I’m sorry.” A couple of years ago, my partner and I shot a smooth 64 best ball in the morning, and followed up with a painful 81 alternate shot in the afternoon. The Zurich-idea foursomes and two ball works for the Solheim and Ryder Cups (that Prez thing is irrelevant) but is a stretch too far for a Tour event because there is no rooting interest in the “teams.” Fahgettaboutit. Or, as mentioned before around the table, make it a PGA / LPGA tour event and the alternate shot finale becomes interesting.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Absolutely the Tour made a mistake. Protecting par is no fun and delivers as much excitement as watching paint dry. The final round should be a race to the finish, where everybody has to keep their foot on the gas all the way. The best way to do that is to finish with a scramble. Who cares if the final score is -30? It’s not the U.S. Open.

Lydia Ko won on the LPGA Tour on Sunday for the first time in two years. Given the phenomenal start to her career, that statement sounds very strange and certainly at odds with the bright future that had been predicted for her. A lot has changed for Ko in the intervening two years. Can she recapture the dominance she once enjoyed on Tour or is that too much to ask of her?

Deeks: Hard to think we’re wondering if an athlete is washed up at age 21!  I think Lydia has as many good years ahead of her as she wants… provided she stops firing caddies and hiring new coaches every second week.  Whether or not she’ll regain her dominance is anyone’s guess. She’s a phenomenal talent, but the depth of talent on the LPGA Tour, especially among her age contemporaries, is equally strong.

Schurman: Lydia Ko is my favourite professional player to watch! Because of her physique she cannot hit 350 yard towering drives and 200 yd. iron 8 irons shots. Instead she has to rely on ‘working’ the ball into difficult pins and making the most of every ounce of skill she possesses. Her game is more the ‘old’ style that was played prior to about 1960 when Jack Nicklaus changed the face of the game followed by: graphite shafts, light weight metal heads and solid golf balls. IMO the ‘Ko’ style is more cerebral and demanding. Unfortunately, she gets side-tracked by her search for improvement. She seems to be guided/managed by someone who believes she can get better by a change in style rather than development of her skills. I don’t know how one goes about changing their attitude and/or outlook through driving range practice but Lydia was laughing and joking all through the back nine on her way to victory. Over the past few months she has been more subdued even dour at times. If this version of Lydia was to return as it was when she was one of the best players of all-time, her game will too!

Kaplan: I don’t see why not. We see career rejuvenations all the time in golf, especially on the LPGA Tour. Just a few years ago, Ko was unstoppable. Sure, she’s had a less than desirable couple of years, but she’s only 21 – which is really easy to forget given how much she has won in the past! I am still expecting great things from her.

Quinn: That 3 metal into the 18th on the playoff hole was a thing of wonder. The black shirts at PXG must be ecstatic. But like the PGA Tour, the LPGA Tour is so deep now that it’s hard to imagine Ko, or anyone, dominating.

Mumford: Ko had a great run and like a lot of players who get to a certain level, they think they need to change things to go even higher. It’s funny because Ko was still a teenager when she fizzled out. There wasn’t anyone near her really. Now however, there are lots of players who are at her level and better and any thought of dominating is going to mean going through some very good players.  This recent win is a nice statement and the second shot on the playoff hole was vintage Ko but I think the LPGA Tour is evolving like the PGA Tour, where there are maybe a dozen top echelon players but not dominant ones like Tiger, Annika or even Ko as a teenager.

It’s hard to believe but the current PGA Tour season is well past the half way point. What player has surprised you the most so far this season and which player do you think has most underperformed expectations?

Deeks: Among the under performers, I’d say Jordan Spieth has been most underwhelming to this point, but there are 3.5 majors to come (including TPC shortly), so I’ll hold my “whatever happened to Spieth” comments for a few months.  Having cheated and looked at the current PGA Tour stats, I see names like Brian Harman, Chesson Hadley, and Patton Kizzire at or near the top of the FedEx list, and the list of Top 10 finishes.  Other than their parents, I doubt that anyone would’ve put money down on those guys six months ago.  But six months does not a season make, so I’m sure we’ll see the usual cream rising to the top as the rest of the schedule unfolds.

Schurman: I doubt I will ever re-orient my thinking to accept that May 1st is 1/2 way. I thought the British Open was the mark! I am not surprised by the Top 5 players as they are each either going through the pinnacle of their careers or they are the best of our time and good enough to remain at the top for a long time. The players who are performing well this year who are a pleasant surprise are: Alex Noren, who gets better and better each year; Pat Perez, who some though would begin struggling to keep his status and Ian Poulter, who suddenly found a ‘youth drink’ of some kind. I think the biggest surprise to me is the play of Tiger Woods. I would have bet against him…….silly me, I should know better.

Kaplan: Most surprising: Well, Tiger Woods is the easy answer here, but I’m going to say Ian Poulter. The Englishman made it to the quarterfinals at the WGC-Match Play, won for the first time in his career on American soil the week after, and then almost won again two weeks later at the RBC Heritage. Did not see that coming! Most underwhelming: I expected Mackenzie Hughes to really take that next step this season after such an impressive rookie campaign last year. But the Canadian has had a rough go of it so far. 13 cuts in 15 starts, including a string of 8 straight to start the season. Yikes. Hopefully, he turns it around in the second half.

Quinn: The Tour itself is underperforming. Like me, most fans hoped that our faves would at least make a living wage toiling out there under the sunshine, given all their hard work. But it turns out that so far this season, major disappointments abound.  Rory has done nothing headline-worthy but has only made $2.1M. Hardly fair. Jason Day, working on his game, is making do with just $2.3M. Talking about hardships, didn’t we all worry about Poulter keeping his card and all, especially after having to give up the clothing logo thing? He’s barely collected $2M. (all figures in US dollars). I thought reality would make a comeback, but it has underperformed.

Mumford: There are several players (McIlroy, Spieth, Johnson) who judge their season on success in majors and are looking to add to already certain Hall of Fame credentials. Their seasons so far have been underwhelming but with three majors left, the pressure and their games will be ratcheted up for the final months. Sergio has been a major disappointment. I thought his Masters win in 2017 would release his demons and he would become a more dominant player. On the bright side, Patton Kizzire has a couple of wins as does Bubba Watson, although you couldn’t have predicted either for very different reasons. And Ian Poulter seems to have found something, which is terrific because there aren’t too many players as emotional or entertaining as Poults at full throttle.

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