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.
After several fruitless years, Jordan Spieth put himself into contention to win a golf tournament with rounds of 67-67-61 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Playing in the final group for the first time in a long time, his final round 1-over 72 left him tied for 4th. Spieth is likely feeling a lot of conflicting emotions – elated that he’s back in the mix, frustrated he didn’t win the golf tournament and concerned that despite a high finish, his driving stats in particular didn’t show much sign of improvement. How do you view Spieth’s play at the WMPO and what’s the prognosis moving forward?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I was delighted and encouraged by Jordan’s result — especially the 61 — and sorry he couldn’t pull off the victory. He (and Rory) have been the freshest characters on the Tour in the last twenty years, in my opinion. But unless he figures out how to hit a straight ball with the driver, I’m afraid Jordan’s only going to give us these brief flashes of former glory, along with a lot of frustration. It boggles my mind that these guys can be so bad off the tee, chipping out of trees and rough, and still get up and down for par. But the truth is, with rounds of 65 almost mandatory to be a contender today, you’ve got to be making birdies, not pars.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: Jordan Spieth seems to be one of the most pleasant players on the tour. I am a fan of him as a person, but I would never bet on him to do anything related to golf. He shot 61 in the third round but drove his ball so far offline he should have taken his lunch when looking for it. One reason he got so far into the desert was the lack of crowds to stop his errant shots and he did it 5 or 6 times. Then he shot over par in the last round when the top 10 finishers averaged 69 or 4 strokes better. What I did see was him sinking 30 and 40-foot putts and pitching in, things he hasn’t been doing. Until he learns to drive the ball in play, he will fall victim to Lee Trevino’s saying, “Two things don’t last: dogs that chase cars and pros who putt for pars.”
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a huge Jordan Spieth fan. I respect him for what he’s accomplished, especially given how awful his driving has been over the years. But it’s always good to see someone return to form after major struggles, so it was nice to see him contend again. I didn’t expect anything from him in the fourth round given he hadn’t been in that position in a while, and his wayward driving caught up to him. Let’s be honest, at most courses, he wouldn’t have been anywhere near the lead. He hit 2 fairways in his first round and somehow shot 67. Most courses wouldn’t allow that, but you can be offline in the desert and get away with it. I think he’ll have a decent year but won’t return to any pre-2018 Spieth levels of success.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Hard to believe someone can shoot 61 and be dead last in driving stats. With nowhere to go but up, I suppose he should be excited. But until he improves his performance off the tee, I think there’s still a lot of frustration ahead of him. One thing he proved though is that it’s a lot more fun to watch a golf tournament when Jordan Spieth is in contention.
Last week, the USGA and R&A released some details on how they might reign in distance including limiting club length to 46” and changing other legal equipment specs. Rory McIlroy responded that the study was a huge waste of time and money, while Webb Simpson suggested that any distance concerns for PGA Tour players could be dealt with through course design and maintenance by adding more doglegs, narrower fairways and firmer greens. What’s your take on the latest push by the governing bodies and the reaction from the players?
Deeks: I don’t agree with Rory, I don’t agree with Simpson, and I don’t agree with the USGA/R&A. I do believe that something has to be done, and my suggestion would be uniform limits on the golf ball (i.e., keep the brand names, but ensure that each professional’s ball met the same standards as the other guys’, and limit the distance it can carry. Also, I would seriously consider Ian Poulter’s suggestion of making the face of drivers all conform to a minimum of 8.5 degrees, to prevent the effect that DeChambeau has now achieved with a 1-degree face. (Not sure if this, or a variation, was in the new proposed new specs.) More doglegs, narrower fairways and firmer greens would still benefit the bombers because they could presumably cut corners more easily and come in with higher lofted clubs. But standardizing the ball and the clubface would put everyone on a flatter playing field.
Schurman: I feel for the USGA. They were caught off-guard in 2000 with the ‘new’ Pro V1 and they never recovered. Part of their proposals includes the wording “equipment designed to meet a specification must be designed with the INTENTION of meeting that specification”. This says manufacturers must design conforming equipment otherwise they are not designing equipment with the best of intentions. In other words, thinking or creating outside the limits of the rules is forbidden. It’s a lot like ‘locking the barn door after the horse has escaped’ but at least any damage done is already accounted for in today’s designs.
Rule: I’ve always been torn on this topic. I understand the fascination for the average golf fan of seeing the guys bomb it 350 on a regular basis, but I do want them to continue playing iconic golf courses and not have them become irrelevant. I do think a rollback of the equipment for the pros only is the way to go. There is no reason to rollback the equipment for the average 18 handicap, plays-once-a-week guy or gal. Being able to hit the ball further is going to help attract people to the game, but once they get to the pro level, the rules can change, as they do in professional baseball with wooden bats.
Mumford: If I looked back at all the things I’ve written about distance over the years, I’m quite sure I’ve come down on both sides of the debate at different times. The only thing I know I’ve been consistent about is bifurcation. Don’t like it. Don’t want it. That’s still the case. In this debate, I’m probably closest to the position taken by Webb Simpson: when the PGA Tour comes to town, add some trees, tighten up the landing areas, firm up the fairways and greens; otherwise, leave the equipment alone and let them play. Course changes are least expensive and only have to affect 144 players hitting from the back tees one week a year. That doesn’t impact millions of golfers worldwide. Fans love the long ball, and it helps attract people to the game. The USGA and R&A have already drawn their line in the sand. Nothing wrong in defending it but trying to move it back is, as Rory McIlroy says, a huge waste of time and money.
Here’s this week’s prop bet: A number of top players have struggled recently to find the winner’s circle. That changed for Brooks Koepka on Sunday. In Saudi Arabia, Justin Rose and Tony Finau tied for second. In Phoenix, Xander Schauffele also tied for second, Jordan Spieth tied for fourth and Rickie Fowler and Jason Day missed the cut. Which player will be the first in that group to get his next win on the PGA Tour?
Deeks: Of all those guys, I’d most like to see Spieth and Rose win again, because I think they’re genuine guys and they’re good for golf and sportsmanship. But I fear we may not see them holding trophies again… although Spieth has a few more years than Rosie to find his game and contend again. To answer the question though, surely, it’s time for Tony Finau to sink one extra putt, or the leader ahead of him to falter on the way in and allow the guy to finally claim a victory!
Schurman: Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele are both playing very well, and either could break through at any time. Both drive the ball well and have excellent stats. However, Finau is not in either the top 100 in Strokes Gained Putting or in 4th round scoring. Ricky Fowler has played for a dozen years earning close to $40M and having a net worth of close to $20M. He might suddenly surprise a lot of people by winning something big but don’t hold your breath. Spieth, I covered above, and Rose is much like Fowler except he has won a major. Jason Day is from another era due to injuries. So, my pick is Schauffele.
Rule: I really, really want to say Tony Finau, and I do think he’ll win sometime soon. But out of this group, Justin Rose will be the next to win. He’s got the pedigree, has had downturns in his career before and has recovered, so I think he’ll get to the winners circle sooner than the others.
Mumford: I too am a Spieth fan but his performance in the desert isn’t likely to be repeated once he plays a course with trees. Schauffele and Finau have each been racking up a slew of runner-up finishes, and either could fall into the top spot by default if a leader falters on Sunday. However, neither seems to possess that extra gear to make it happen. Justin Rose does. He’s a bit streaky but he’s also won all over the world. He looks like he’s ready for another good run and likely to win before any of the others.