December is supposed to be all about winding down the year, taking some time off, maybe watching a hit-and-giggle event or two. Nothing important ever happens in December. Until it does.
Even events that didn’t warrant a lot of attention, raised a few questions that need to be answered in 2024. Such as:
How does Jay Monahan still have a job?
If you were holding your breath waiting for the big announcement from the PGA Tour and LIV Golf that was due on December 31st, you can take a breath now. In a New Year’s Eve announcement Commissioner Monahan said they’re making progress but there’s no deal yet. Speculation is that we should expect something by the Players Championship or maybe the Masters. Or maybe never.
I’ve been involved in a few business deals over the years and my experience tells me that the longer it takes to get a deal done, the less likely something will be concluded. Typically, a deal starts with both sides agreeing to a defined set of objectives and then hashing out the details. In this case, all we know about is an agreement to be agreeable and stop suing each other.
Almost daily, players are questioning Jay Monahan’s leadership and his hypocrisy when he did an about face on the Saudi issue last June. Now he has sponsors abandoning the Tour and the U.S. Senate looking into the Tour’s tax-exempt status. Charitable contributions are in jeopardy and fans are just sick and tired of the whole mess.
Perhaps Mackenzie Hughes said it best when he was interviewed prior to the Sentry Tournament of Champions Very Good Players.
“The fan just wants to watch golf,” he said. “I think you watch sports for an escape from other nonsense, but I think golf has brought a lot of nonsense onto its plate. And now you don’t get just golf, you get a lot of other stuff going on. It’s a bit of a circus.”
Meanwhile, after eight months of negotiations on his signature Framework Agreement, Monahan has nothing to show and nothing to say. He’s still hauling in his $18 million annual salary though.
To LIV or not to LIV
That is still the question. And I’m not going to rehash every battle, claim or nuance in the ongoing fight that is now supposed to be Jay’s lovefest. Poaching is still a thing. Thanks, Jon Rahm, for headlining a supposed to be non-eventful December. Despite the money denials, we know LIV Golf is really about a better work-life balance. And growing the game. Maybe world peace too.
But from this fan’s perspective, it’s crap. Shotgun starts, no cuts, loud music and an odd team format between Rangegoats and Iron Heads. I can’t watch it. Golf is supposed to have a flow to it. Start on the first hole and build to an exciting finish. Lots of anticipation. Courses are designed this way.
Maybe the PGA Tour and LIV will work out a deal, but if it includes shotgun starts, I’ll be reaching for the remote.
Golf Writers 1, PGA Tour players 0
During December, both the Golf Writers Association of America and the PGA Tour held voting for their Player of the Year Awards, which were announced this week. The writers picked Jon Rahm; the players chose Scottie Scheffler. Both players had great years and won record amounts of money, as did Viktor Hovland. Rahm won his POY award based on four victories while Scheffler won his based on two wins, a boatload of Top 5’s and statistics that haven’t been seen since Tiger was in his prime. Maybe the players like stats; maybe they stiffed Rahm cuz he jumped to LIV, but when the objective of competition is to win, it seems to me that the guy who wins the most should be your Player of the Year.
World Ranking Shenanigans
The argument against awarding LIV Golf tournaments with Official World Golf Ranking points is that they have no merit-based system for entry (qualifying), no cut and limited fields. That’s funny since the new elevated, designated, limited field, no cut, big money, signature events proposed by the Tour are similar. Yes, they have a merit based qualifying format. But how do you explain the Hero World Challenge, which is a limited 20-man field, by invitation only, with no cut that gets World Ranking points? It seems when they want to, the OWGR can hand out ranking points like frequent flyer miles. I’m not a fan of the LIV Golf format but as long as it exists the OWGR needs to figure out a way to award players points so we can see their best in real golf tournaments, especially majors.
Breaking News: we’re back to four majors
For some time now, thanks to heavy handed promotion from the PGA Tour and gradual acceptance by the media and fans, the Players Championship has been billed as the fifth major. Lots of golf writers, me included, jumped on the bandwagon, recognizing that year after year the Players had the strongest field in golf and was played on a course worthy of major status. Now however, too many elite players have gone to LIV Golf and the Players is now just a very good tournament. If and when Jay Monahan or his replacement puts a deal in place that brings Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Cam Smith, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson and many others back to Ponte Vedra, then we can have the fifth major discussion again.
Turning special into too many
The majors are special. They have history, pedigree and an annual tradition that is unrivalled by anything else. They bring the best players in the world together four times a year. Fans can’t wait. Players work their schedules around the majors. Some have acknowledged they’d be in the field even if there was no prize money.
The PGA Tour has long envied the majors, which they don’t own or control. They would like to get all of the best players together for their events too. Hence the new elevated, designated, limited field, no cut, big money, signature events and the Top 50 elite status.
Maybe it will work. It will certainly make a lot of players wealthier. But fan reaction has been mixed at best. All the talk of money, money, money has not been well received. Golf fans are not all the same. Some want to see the stars all the time, but others enjoy the grinders trying to make a cut on Friday or coming out of the pack on Sunday for a life-changing win.
They can try and create more major-like events but if you have too many, pretty soon they’re just not special anymore.
Mixed team golf is not the answer, except …
The Grant Thornton Invitational returned a mixed team game to the airwaves in December, and it was highly entertaining. Many have suggested a larger field would be one improvement they could make in 2024. I agree. Many have also suggested that the Tours should have more mixed team events but there’s no evidence to suggest that fans want to see that. The Scandinavian Mixed on the DP World Tour is not a huge draw and only gets a few A list players. Apart from the logistics of combining players from several tours, there’s just too many hurdles to get through without much payback. A better place for a mixed team event would be the Olympics. It’s hard to imagine the IOC eliminating 72-hole medal play where the U.S. men and the South Korean women have a huge advantage but if they added another 2-person team from each country that played two rounds of better ball and two rounds of alternate shot, it could be a huge success and bring more countries into contention. Probably too late for Paris in July but maybe LA in 2028.
What do they do for an encore?
You may not have seen the news this week that Landmand Golf Club in Homer, Nebraska sold out all of its 2024 tee times in a little over two and a half hours. All 11,000 of them. The Rob Collins – Tad King design is considered one of the new ‘must play’ courses in America and their marketing team did a bang-up job of developing demand. The practice is not unique as many of the top courses in Scotland and Ireland routinely sell out their inventory months in advance too but this is rare for North America. Not sure what the Landmand marketing people do now but there will be lots of people trying to learn their secrets.
What about the rollback?
Much ado about nothing in my opinion. The stats geeks can whine about lost yardage. The rest of us will just play whatever ball is available at the time and moan about our game in the usual way.
And what about Tiger?
No blog about lingering questions would be complete without some mention of Tiger Woods. Unfortunately, Tiger isn’t great at answering questions at the best of times and I’m not sure even if he wanted to that he has the answers. Like how many times will he play? Will his leg, back, knee, ankle hold up? Or how are things progressing on the Framework Agreement now that he’s on the Player Advisory Board? Or who will be caddying for him? Or can he win again?
All good questions. Just no answers yet. Happy New Year!