Sophia Popov pens her own Cinderella story; plus The Dominator & Senior Phil

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.

Dustin Johnson thoroughly dominated the Northern Trust, winning by 11 shots with a record score of 30-under. This victory marks Johnson’s 22nd win on the PGA Tour and places him once again at World #1. Johnson’s career has been defined by consistency (winning in 13 consecutive seasons) and several notable misses at major championships. For much of his career, Johnson has been overshadowed by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and more lately by Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth, all of whom have more majors than DJ’s single win at the 2016 US Open. Based on his current accomplishments, Johnson is a lock for the World Golf Hall of Fame but may not even be remembered as one of the best of his generation. How do you see it?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Dustin is a bit of an enigma.  His record is very good, he’s clearly one of the most talented players of this generation, he doesn’t generate any controversy with bad temper or abuse of the rules.  Yet he doesn’t seem to get much respect from the golf world, he doesn’t seem to get much love from the fans (when there used to be fans), and despite his glamorous wife, he’s not much of a media darling.  He deserves more of everything, but he seems SO blancmange in character and intelligence that he may never show up on anyone’s radar until his playing days are over.  Then everyone will give him his due because the numbers will speak for themselves. (Separate point: shooting 30-under is obscene.  Unfortunately, it also made a mockery of an otherwise fine golf course.  And for me, scores like this are killing my interest in the pro game.)

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): DJ will be forgotten when his career is done, he’s just not a memorable character. And, if I had to guess, that won’t bother him at all. He can sure play the game though, he has loads of talent, but I’m on record as saying he’s just not Major tough, for whatever reason (drive, a brain, etc.) he makes mistakes at the wrong time and as a result, 1/22 wins is a Major. I don’t see that changing significantly over the next few years. But he’ll knock out more wins, I don’t doubt that.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame member, PGA of Canada: This what happens when a heavyweight fires on all cylinders. I didn’t watch on Thurs and Fri, but I did on the weekend. In the last 36 holes DJ missed from inside 8′ seven times and drove the ball into the junk on #18 costing him another stroke or maybe two; make them all and he shoots -40. The HoF is one ‘road’ to measure success but Memory Lane must include Majors.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Hate to say it, but no one is going to remember a bunch of regular season victories. We measure golfers by the number of majors they won and then use other victories as a secondary consideration (a tiebreaker even). Dustin’s going to need to notch at least 1 or 2 more majors just to be considered in future discussion of the best players of this current era.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): He’s an enigma.  He seems to be so inconsistent through each season, but is the most consistent when it comes to winning at least once a year.  He’ll be remembered as one of the best talents in the game, but unless he wins a couple more majors, most will see him as an underachiever, if that’s possible with over 20 wins.  He’s still got lots of time though, and I see him getting to 4 or 5 majors before he’s done.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: There is that slow-walking, no emotions, sort of good-old-boy just passing through aura about him that doesn’t resonate at all with fandom or what’s left of the golf media. When he’s using the same Spyder putter that’s in my bag, he’s other -worldly. When he’s not, he doesn’t seem to care and certainly no one else does. Sure, he’s won a lot, one biggie, but don’t think he’s inspired any kid to pick up a club.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Johnson’s consistency is remarkable, but majors are where it’s at baby! DJ’s career will be remembered more for the ones that got away than the one he landed: Pebble Beach and Whistling Straits in 2010, Royal St. George’s in 2011, Chambers Bay in 2015 and Shinnecock in 2018. Turn even one of those into a W and it totally changes the narrative; three or four moves him into a different realm altogether. Based on current stats, Johnson fits into a category with Lanny Wadkins, Davis Love III, Fred Couples, Jim Furyk and others with a single major and lots of wins – just a notch below the best of their respective generations.

At the AIG Women’s Open (formerly known as the Women’s British Open), Sophia Popov clung to the lead through some wicked weather to win at Royal Troon. At #304 on the Ladies World Golf Ranking, Popov certainly was not on anybody’s radar to contend. This is truly a Cinderella story. How would this compare to other “out-of-nowhere” wins in major championships?

Deeks: What a great story this was.  And watching Sophia get teary before her 3-inch tap-in was very emotional.  It’s one of the reasons I enjoy watching LPGA golf more than the PGA… truly anyone can win a major!  I’m sure I’m forgetting many notable examples, but some other “out of nowhere” wins that spring to mind… Brooke Henderson winning the Women’s PGA (2016)… Se Ri Pak winning the Women’s US Open (1998)… Y.E. Yang coming from behind to beat Tiger in the PGA Championship (2009)… Johnny Miller shooting 63 to win the US Open (1973)… Craig Perks winning the 2002 TPC (I know, not officially a major, but what a shock at the time)… and probably the biggest Cinderella story of the last 30 years… John Daly getting into the field at the last minute, as the ninth alternate, then winning the PGA in 1991.

Loughry: Wow was this a great story or what, Sophia played great, especially that final round to pull away from the pack. I this this one is right there with Ben Curtis, and even John Daly’s PGA Championship (getting it the day before as an alternate). Special stuff indeed. Its ridiculous that because of her ranking prior to the tournament that she is NOT in the filed for the next two Majors. Imagine, a current Major Champion not eligible for those next two Majors (ANA Inspiration and Woman’s PGA Championship). That needs to be fixed, and I hope they place her in the field.

Schurman: These are always difficult. Francis Ouimet df Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in the 1913 US Open, Jack Fleck df Ben Hogan in 1955 US Open and Y. E. Yang df Tiger Woods in the 2009 PGA which are great stories but I’m going to go with Sandra Post df Kathy Whitworth in the1968 LPGA in her rookie year. Whitworth holds the title of most championships won (male or female at 88) and was at the top of her game. With par being 73, no player had shot in the 60s during the regular rounds, but Sandra shot 68 in the play-off and won by 7 strokes.

Kaplan: I’m just reading about this now for the first time. I played three rounds this weekend and only watched basketball with the limited free time I had. So, you’ll have to forgive my ignorance, but it sounds like an incredible performance! Too bad I missed it!

Rule: What a great story, and it was fun to watch, especially on a great links course with true Scottish golf weather.  Those types of conditions allow the Open Championship (men’s and women’s) to produce the highest number of unlikely winners, from Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton in back to back years on the men’s side, to Mo Martin, Hinako Shibuno last year and Popov this year on the women’s side.  But the biggest out of nowhere major winner still has to be John Daly at Crooked Stick in 1991 as the 9th and final alternate.

Quinn: After reading the back story, Popov’s is one of the all-time great Major wins — too bad that for the first time it wasn’t called by its proper name. Watched quite a bit of it, and she was inspiring. Good on her. This is the exact opposite of Ben Curtis’s win in the 2003 Open Championship. At the time, a golf writer colleague called it: “The Wasted Open.” I agreed then and it still resonates.

Mumford: Sometimes a Cinderella story is the start of a noteworthy career filled with additional majors and lots more trophies. Think of John Daly at the PGA Championship in 1991. At other times, it’s the pinnacle of a career with little to follow. Think Shaun Micheel, Ben Curtis or Rich Beem. Only time will tell what Popov makes of this spectacular accomplishment. She held her lead in the final round, fighting the elements, nerves and Royal Troon like a veteran, so maybe there’s more in the tank. Let’s hope so. She’s fun to watch, has plenty of personality on display and will be great for the LPGA.

Phi Mickelson begins his Champions Tour career this week in the Ozarks. Phil is still competitive on the regular PGA Tour and isn’t planning to be a regular on the senior circuit just yet. How do you think he’ll fare against the seniors?

Deeks: Logic and history suggest that, when he devotes his full focus on it, Phil will dominate the Senior Tour for a few years.  For all his “aw, shucks” BS, Phil is a remarkably talented player, and still very competitive with players 30 years younger than he is.  But my guess is he’ll move to the Senior Tour full-time by age 52.  Then, after 5-6 years of domination, like all the other great champs before him (Bernhard Langer notwithstanding), age and apathy will ultimately take over and Phil will do a General MacArthur (just… fade away…).

Loughry: I think Phil has a real shot at winning this week on the Champions Tour. Although, it may be a little awkward for him as they setup courses much SHORTER and that might be a little tricky for Phil to navigate as he will likely want to HIT BOMBS everywhere. It will test his patience on throttling back, which as we all know isn’t exactly Phil’s strength. I say he wins his first start out there.

Schurman: The storylines in this TOUR get better and better. Els, Furyk, Weir, Pampling, Cabrera, and now Mickelson. If only they could find a way to beat Langer.

Kaplan: That’s an interesting question. Do I expect Phil to rapidly usurp Bernhard Langer as the king of the Champions Tour? No. Not really. But I do think he could contend for, and even possibly win, a title during the few starts he makes this year. He certainly has the game for it, and the 54-hole format should certainly be a boost.

Rule: You would have to like his odds of winning regularly on the Champions Tour.  I know those guys are good, but Phil is still very competitive on the regular tour and his length gives him a serious edge on most of the guys on the senior circuit.  I don’t think he’ll play many on that tour, but when he does, expect him to be in contention every time.

Quinn: First off, who cares? Secondly, dropping in on the old folks when you miss the cut for a multi-million-dollar obscenity isn’t exactly an endorsement of the Tylenol Tour. On the off chance that he does well, they should raise the age limit for entry, drop the faux “Champions” name, and call it what it is: a Senior Tour for old multi-millionaires with no other hobbies.

Mumford: Phil is all about bright lights, headlines and the BIG SHOW. I’m not sure the clubby atmosphere on the Senior circuit will suit him; nor will a second career slogging it out week after week with anonymous grinders that barely rate a mention in their small-town newspaper. He’ll probably win a few events, then get bored with the whole thing like Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo. Maybe broadcasting will be something that keeps him connected after his game deserts him. Working in relative obscurity and chasing records set by Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino and Bernhard Langer definitely will not.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

2 thoughts on “Sophia Popov pens her own Cinderella story; plus The Dominator & Senior Phil

    1. Yup. This rule doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. She competed on the same basis as everyone else; she should be rewarded the same way too. Hope Mike Whan sees it that way and makes an immediate change. Popov will be great for the LPGA.

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