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.
Smylie Kaufman became the second relatively unknown player to win on the PGA Tour in as many weeks. Is this a function of the Fall Series having weak fields or are Grillo and Kaufman the next wave of Tour stars for years to come?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I think it’s far more likely that these two guys will fall into the bucket that includes names like Chez Reavie, Scott Piercy and Jhonattan Vegas… all guys who have won once or twice, but never achieved a higher level of performance or consistency. Mind you, any player with a first name like Smylie deserves to stand out from the crowd, if only on dentures alone.
Frank Mastroianni, Freelance Writer: I wouldn’t say Grillo is unknown. Those who follow the European Tour should be familiar with the name. He finished in the top 100 in his first year on the Euro Tour, 44th in the Race to Dubai and has had some very strong finishes in some very important tournaments (2nd at Omega Dubai, 5th at Qatar Masters, etc.). He was also in a playoff at the Puerto Rico Open on the PGA Tour. When it comes to Smylie Kaufman, it’s a different story…I had and have no clue about this guy. I personally think Grillo is the real deal but I’m not too sure about Smylie yet (a course giving up 61’s on Sunday is open to anybody winning). Apart from that, the Frys.com had some big names and Grillo still took it home.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): This is the next wave of stars showcasing their skills against weaker fields. Patton Kizzire also made his debut this week and remained only a couple strokes off the lead for the entire tournament. I doubt we are going to see this rate of consistency from these rookies when the fields start to fill with Top 50 players, but for now it is a treat to watch the young guns enjoying so much success.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): While the real stars take much deserved holidays or travel to exotic locales for even bigger bucks, the Fall Series makes do with amped up rookies and still hungry veterans. That often makes for a compelling match but doesn’t do much for promoters trying to lure TV viewers against the NFL, NHL and World Series. As for winners becoming future stars, the Fall Series is like Rookie Camp. A couple of these newcomers are bound to break through and become dominant but I couldn’t tell you if it’s going to be Smylie, Emiliano, Patton and Ollie or Curly, Larry and Moe.
Jim Kenesky, PGA (@JimKeneskyGolf): Guys really feel they can jump out to a good start during the Fall Series. It’s a combination of weak fields and hungry new members looking to get a quick edge. It’s also a time where comfortably ranked players are toying around with new equipment and techniques. So I wouldn’t read much into these guys becoming the “Next Generation”.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The old Tour promo line was: These guys are good. The wrap-around phoney season’s line should be: Who are these guys? When the guys dividing up most of the pot on Sundays (when most of America is watching the NFL, and most of Canada is watching the NHL) are named Smylie (I guess Happy Face was taken) and Kizzire, Grillo, Kaufman, Bohn, Cejka, and Na, it’s either a satellite event, a web.com tourney, or just another one no one cares about. It’s impossible to imagine these guys unseating Spieth, McIlroy, Day and pals on real courses, but they’re making some nice paydays and getting into some nice events in 2016 when the real season starts.
Lydia Ko won her 10th LPGA event on Sunday and she’s still only 18. At this pace, it looks like she could break a lot of records in the next ten years Does the LPGA have more appeal when there’s a dominant star like Ko, Annika Sorenstam or Lorena Ochoa or is it better to have a balanced field?
Kaplan: The LPGA needs a rivalry between its best players to really maximize its potential. Ko is a tremendous talent, but the LPGA is not going to cash in with her thumping fields full of players that no one has ever heard about. The PGA Tour had one of its most exciting seasons this year with Spieth and Day alternating No. 1 status back and forth going down the stretch (they are still doing it). A North American rival – like Brooke Henderson or maybe even Paige Spiranac (god-willing!!!) – would do wonders for the LPGA’s event attendance and television ratings.
Quinn: Dominant athletes bring non-fans to their sport. Just look back at the celebrities sitting ringside when Mike Tyson was Iron Mike; behind home plate when Barry Bonds head was getting all swelled up, the yahoos screaming ‘yu da man’; when Eldrick was being Tiger. But it helps if the dominant player has flair, or a personality, or at least an interesting back story. Lydia Ko is not exciting, or that engaging. Having a half dozen of her fellow South Koreans balancing the field hasn’t helped much the past few years. So if she continues to dominate it may bring the curious and casual fans to the sport. That may boost the Tour’s TV ratings and that’s what drives the sponsorship dollars in America.
Mastroianni: I follow the LPGA as much as any other tour because I think the players are crazy talented. The same way Tiger, Rory or Spieth drive viewership on the PGA, I think having someone as dominant as Ko does the same for the LPGA. It would probably be even more beneficial if they can get a couple players consistently vying for top spot. With that said, if I have to be brutally honest (and as much as I would like for it not to be the case), having one or a couple of dominant players still won’t raise the LPGA’s appeal as much as having the more visually appealing players at the top of the leaderboard every week.
Mumford: Forget the balanced field – the LPGA has more appeal when there’s a dominant player. It would really help if she was great looking and had a vibrant personality too. In fact, maybe she doesn’t even have to be that dominant as a player. Anna Kournikova was the most recognized face of women’s tennis for years and never won a tournament. Hard core LPGA fans will watch whoever is playing but to attract a broader audience the Tour needs a cast of characters – some hotties, a couple of bad girls and a hero type – and they need to promote them that way too. Enough with the bland all-encompassing ‘these girls can play’ approach.
Kenesky: The LPGA Tour is quite exciting to watch as many of the girls are so passionate for the game and their country. It’s a true International Tour and when one player like Ko dominates, it becomes fun to watch. However, one thing that stands out with the LPGA Tour to me is that the top players are competing nearly every week. When viewers tune in, they’re seeing the same cast of players. Whereas, the PGA Tour is very deep and many players will break for 4 weeks at a time. When the top players compete and contend, it seems to make things a little more appealing.
Deeks: For occasional or fair-weather fans, having one dominant star is preferred, but real golf fans don’t care so much as long as a few stand out and contend week-in, week-out. Either way, the LPGA is dying for a PR star to be the dominant player, and frankly no one since Nancy Lopez has filled that bill. Lydia Ko may be very nice and popular with fellow players, and she certainly has incredible talent, but she sure doesn’t ignite much fan interest. Let’s hope Our Miss Brooke turns out to be the golf and PR star the women’s tour is looking for.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were recently ranked number 1 and 2 on Forbes list of Most Valuable Player Brands. Amongst the current crop of top players on Tour, who would be most likely to build the most valuable brand over the next ten years?
Deeks: As long as he continues to dominate ON the golf course, and avoids a DUI charge or worse OFF the golf course, Jordan Spieth could be a billionaire before he turns 28.
Kaplan: Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, and Rory McIlroy are the three most popular players on the tour right now and I would expect their brands to be the most valuable over the next couple of decades. However, my under-the-radar pick for the future is Bryson DeChambeau. Mark my words: the former SMU star is going to rip through the Web.com tour and then burst onto the PGA Tour scene like a firecracker! DeChambeau is going to be a superstar on the circuit and I predict that his brand will be one of the most lucrative among golfers by 2025.
Quinn: If he continues to play anywhere close to the standard he set this year, Jordan Spieth will be corporate America’s darling for as long as he wants to count his take in tens of millions. The kid is an ad man’s dream — smart, articulate, photogenic, and genuine — and he happens to be the leading candidate in the all-important ‘Least likely to go wing nut off the course” category. That’s a heck of a combination.
Kenesky: Rickie Fowler. There’s no weakness to his marketability in my mind. Once he starts winning majors, his popularity will dramatically rise to new heights.
Mastroianni: Obvious answer: Jordan Spieth. People slurp this guy’s Kool-Aid as badly as they do Tiger’s. Less obvious answer: Hideki Matsuyama. Remember Ryo Ishikawa? He did absolutely nothing outside the Japan Tour and was one of the biggest things going over there with “rock star” treatment and all. Hideki might have a different personality and be a lot more reserved, but if he starts racking up the wins like he has the ability to do, I see this as something they’ll jump all over on the other side of the Pacific where, at the moment, there is a lot less competition in terms of the number of top players on the PGA Tour.
Mumford: There’s no shortage of star power these days but to create truly lasting and valuable brands, a player’s Q score has to rise above the rest. Spieth, Day and McIlroy will likely make gazillions but I’d pick Rickie Fowler as the player whose brand will outshine them all.