Battle of the bombers and a Masters invitation
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 WGC Dell Match Play at Austin Country Club featured some stellar play from all of the weekend participants, especially Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. Who or what impressed you most about the tournament?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): It’s kind of a “reverse impression” but I was surprised at how many short putts were missed by the world’s top players. It looked like my club’s annual Club Championship qualifying round, where guys miss all kinds of shorties because they’re used to generous gimmes and their nerves are tight. I know that TV does not show breaks and contours, and pins are put in very difficult positions for professional tournaments, but still, it seemed like there were nasty leprechauns protecting the holes in Austin.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It was fun watching those two in particular because of how dominant they were. Rahm was untouchable until he ran up against the world number 1! But maybe the most impressive was Bill Haas, and his 120 foot chip in for par on an extra hole earlier in the competition that kept him alive, and he rode that to a 3rd place finish.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Jon Rahm was certainly incredible once again but my biggest takeaway from the weekend is that DJ is a runaway freight train right now. The No. 1 ranked player in the world did not trail for even one hole the entire event! That’s now three in a row for the lanky South Carolinian and a career grand slam of WGC events to boot — something that even Tiger Woods has never accomplished. There is a ton of incredible talent on the PGA Tour right now, but Johnson is just golfing on another plane altogether. I think the Green Jacket is his for the taking this year, based on both his current blistering winning streak and his T6 and T4 finishes in his last two appearances at The Masters.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The two guys in the final impressed me most. DJ is just incredibly great right now and Rahm showed that he has all the potential to be a great one himself. The back nine wasn’t Stenson-Mickleson at The Open but it was terrific to see a couple of swings squeezed in between the foursomes of commercials.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Both DJ and Rahm were super impressive with every aspect of their games and I don’t believe either trailed in a match until Rahm fell behind on Sunday but the thing that impressed me most about the WGC event was Austin Country Club. It’s a typically nasty piece of Pete Dye work with holes carved into canyons, up and down some pretty severe elevations and around and across the river. I absolutely want to play it.
The Ryder Cup and the WGC Dell Match Play have proven quite conclusively that match play can be excellent television. The PGA Tour has for years resisted the idea of more match play fearing that fans will tune out if the finalists are a pair of no-names. This year the Zurich Open will feature two-man teams for match play but should the Tour add more individual match play competitions and if so how much would be appropriate?
Deeks: There is some reason to the fear that two no-names will result in turned-off televisions. Remember, what saves and boosts the Ryder Cup is that there are several matches going on at the same time, not just one, so there’s lots of action to cut away to. That, plus there’s the national pride thing. This weekend’s finishing twosome was the best it could be, after the departure of Day, McIlroy, and Spieth. Lucky WGC! But having said that, one or two more elimination-type events would be refreshing and compelling; kudos to Zurich Insurance for agreeing to the change. One idea that’s been floated for decades is a true “winner take all” tournament, which would be great, but these players are so pampered they’d never agree to it.
Rule: I love match play, but it isn’t ideal for Sunday because you only get to watch two guys and it’s really slow. Even though on a typical Sunday the US coverage usually only shows three or four guys all day! But at least there is an option to show more players, if they would just realise that some day and show golf the way it’s shown on the Euro Tour! Rant over.
Kaplan: If the Zurich Open’s new format is a hit, I don’t think we will need to add any more match play events to the schedule. Between the Ryder/Presidents Cups, the WGC-Match Play and the Zurich Open, golf fans should get their fill of the format. Although, perhaps we should consider moving the WGC-Match Play to later in the season. The WGC-Match Play is already pretty close on the heels of the WGC-Mexico Championship and only one month ahead of the Zurich Open. Two match play tournaments in such a short period of time will cause the format to lose some of its lustre. If we space them out correctly, the match play format will provide a nice change-up to the monotony of weekly stroke play on the circuit. The schedule is ripe for an overhaul anyway …
Quinn: When it works, it’s wonderful, but it doesn’t always work. The World #1 doesn’t always make the final. Let’s not forget that Tanihara-Haas could have been the final pairing up against March Madness. Adding any more match play events is really pushing televised golf’s luck.
Mumford: I’d rather watch two no-names battling it out in match play format than watch the same guys compete in a 72 hole stroke play event. The only downside to a two man match is there’s way too much time available for commercials, as we saw on Sunday. The PGA Tour could get really creative and make up some new events that use a Ryder Cup match play format with teams based on almost anything – country of origin, current city of residence or college alma mater. Having 3-4 match play events a season would be about right.
The winner of the Puerto Rico Open (D.A. Points) gets a two year exemption on the PGA Tour, invitations to the Players Championship, PGA Championship and Tournament of Champions in Hawaii yet won’t get an invitation to the Masters. Augusta extends invitations to all sorts of amateur and professional golfers who compete at levels lower than a PGA Tour opposite field event. Shouldn’t ALL PGA Tour winners be invited to the Masters?
Deeks: I’ve given this question considerable thought, just now. Yes, is my answer.
Rule: Yes, I believe he should get an invite to Augusta. There are still very good players in the opposite field events and the Masters field is already so small, that adding a couple of guys isn’t going to upset the apple cart.
Kaplan: I think it’s just silly that some PGA Tour events are more important than other PGA Tour events. Sounds like Animal Farm to me. If you win on the PGA Tour, you should get to play in the Masters. Plain and simple.
Quinn: The fact that a guy is playing in an opposite field event means that he’s outside — probably well outside — the top 64 in the rankings. With the past champs and amateurs et al, Magnolia Lane is already cluttered. As it stands, there are already enough guys in the Masters field playing like Weir.
Mumford: I’m inclined to say that a Masters invitation is warranted but I sure wouldn’t want to see any more opposite field events. In fact, I’d prefer that they do away with them altogether. In some ways, winning one of these things is a tainted victory. I know a player can only beat the field that shows up but when 64 of the world’s top players are competing elsewhere, this is definitely not the varsity squad. Yet it’s still a stronger field than many of the international tours that are well represented at Augusta so I say let the B team play and just for good measure, extend an invitation to Nick Taylor who won one of these things a few years ago and didn’t get the coveted Masters invitation.