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 didn’t go exactly as the PGA Tour would have liked. Only one Top 10 seed made it out of the round-robin series and just 5 of the top 32 seeds. The final four featured #30, 31, 32 and 54 yet it was still great entertainment. What was your take on the tournament, and do you still think the format needs fixing?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): In my view, the final round was slow, and filled with lousy shots, so for me, it wasn’t very entertaining. And if TV ratings are the main objective for the Tour, then this one was probably a disaster. I don’t mind the format, but as we’ve seen, it can result in lesser lights floating to the top. In that respect, I do think it needs tweaking. How about giving the top 8 money winners on Tour (as of the Monday prior) a BYE into the round of final 8, and have them play matches against the other 8 who get there through match attrition? That way, you’re guaranteed to have “stars” play on the weekend, then it’s every man for himself. (Jay Monahan, let’s talk.)
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Format is OK, its as good as it can be. I think this shows the nature of match play and also how close these top players are in skill. In ONE match over 18 holes, anyone can beat anyone top 64 world ranked players or whether it’s the top 300 world ranked players. The only way to help top ranked players move on is to have a best of 3 or best of 5 matches to give higher ranked players to show their skill over more holes. But there is nothing wrong with upsets, that happens in sport, its also part of the reason why we watch. Overall, I enjoyed the Match Play, I don’t think they need to fix anything.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I like this event! It gives you a far greater insight into the player’s personalities. I wish the medal scores were better, but the course design and the wind didn’t allow it. The course has a lot of areas that were terminal i.e. a wall of boulders across the front of greens. These call for a wide berth for safety first resulting in a lot of 40 to 60 ft putts. I still think the #1 seed should be the defending champion. Another change I’d like to see is far less talk from the announcers when the players are discussing pre-shot strategy. There were many times the players were in discussion with their caddies, and we’d get to hear them ‘talked over’ by someone who played the tournament 25 years ago. Finally, why is the Consolation Match so poorly covered? Instead of showing the guys in the Final Match calculating yardages, aerial photography from drones and pictures of steel bridges couldn’t we see more of the other match?
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It’s a shame none of the top names made it through to the weekend and that’s the risk of that type of tournament. I didn’t watch much of the weekend play, I was more interested in the Punta Cana tournament to be honest, there was more drama (and a Canadian in contention right until the end, which helped). I still like watching match play golf and think the format has a place on the schedule, but it just shows that stroke play is better for tv.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Understanding this tournament means understanding match play and I’m not sure anybody in Ponte Vedra really does. Dustin Johnson may be the #1 player in the world based on all his top finishes but those are achieved in four-round marathons. Match play is a sprint and on any given day, anybody in the WGC field can beat anybody else. To expect all the top seeds to advance is ludicrous. Accept match play for what it is and revert to a single knock-out format. It may give us a Horschel – Scheffler instead of a McIlroy – Johnson, but true golf fans will be ok with that. A single knock-out would also avoid those silly matches on Day 3 of the round robin between two winless players that could have got out of town a day sooner and played like they’d already left.
During the final round of the Match Play, Billy Horschel conceded a 35-foot putt to Scottie Scheffler to let him win the hole and also made shorter concessions that perplexed the TV golf analysts. In the end, Horschel’s strategy worked but was it all that odd or did it show how little the TV guys understand about match play?
Deeks: I think the latter. But that doesn’t mean I understood Horschel’s decisions any better than the analysts did. I didn’t see the 35-foot concession, but unless Billy was in the water and out of the hole, why would you give a 35-footer that could easily turn into a 3-putt? Even I’m not that generous.
Loughry: It was fine, its always going to be the players choice, if that’s what Horschel wanted to do, then so be it. Announcers sometimes (more often than not) look for things to comment on because, quite frankly they’re trying to justify their presence. With the final day, there were just two matches happening, so not a lot of “action”, so I think the commentators felt like they had to fill the gaps of airtime with some hot air.
Schurman: I didn’t get that either. Maybe the answer is to hire UK announcers for this event. Obviously, the USA team didn’t know much about it including Faldo.
Rule: The toughest part of match play in my mind is knowing when to concede putts. I find myself hoping my opponent hits their lag putt close enough so it’s a no brainer gimme, taking the pressure off of me, since I never want to seem like a hard ass making them putt a 3-foot slider, when in reality the people I play in my matches would miss that putt 40% of the time! Sometimes players will give putts early in the round as a strategy, and then make their opponents grind over a 2-footer on 17. It’s all gamesmanship and plays into each player’s strategy.
Mumford: Brilliant! One facet of match play that only ever gets talked about during the Ryder Cup is the strategy of getting inside another player’s head. Horschel did exactly that by conceding the putt. I thought Faldo would have understood; he certainly watched Seve, who was a master strategist, do it enough times.
The Masters starts next week. Who’s your pick to win the green jacket and who might be a long-shot or sentimental favourite?
Deeks: I’m torn between Danny Willett (2017), Charl Scwartzel (2011), and Trevor Immelman (2008), any one of whom could burst out of the pack and surprise us all. (Not.) And if Herman Keiser (1946) were still with us, he’d be my dark horse. But I’ve been wrong with predictions before. I believe the last mistake I made was picking Sham to win the 1973 Kentucky Derby over an obscure entry named Secretariat. So, I’m gonna go out on a limb and pick Cameron Smith as my winner, and Sergio Garcia as my dark horse.
Loughry: I think Justin Thomas has all the tools and momentum right now to win, so he’s my lead horse right now. DJ WD’ing this week I don’t like, so I’ll pass on him. Sentimental favourite, although not a veteran, I’d love to see Spieth do it, he’s shown flashes of his old dominating self recently, I’m hoping that’s a sign.
Schurman: My picks are going to have to have a major secret improvement discovery. Neither one is playing well but I’ll choose them until one of them comes through. Rory and Patrick Cantlay. My dark horses have to be Corey Conners or Mackenzie Hughes. On the other hand, as I’ve heard on TV, “he knows how to win here,” wouldn’t it be something to see Mike Weir in contention?
Rule: Sentimental favourite is an easy one, it has to be Lee Westwood. What a story that would be, and he’s playing well, so you never know. As for my pick to win, I’m just going to throw a dart at a board and see what name I hit, because that will likely be better than my recent picks for major winners. OK, I missed the board on my first throw. Wait for it…ok, hit the board that time. I guess my money is on Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Now let’s see if he beats who I was actually going to pick…Jon Rahm.
Mumford: My pick sounds like a New Orleans law firm: Thomas Johnson Spieth and DeChambeau. Or is that Justin Dustin Jordan and Bryson? Only one pick you say? That’s so 1960’s. Ok, final answer: I’ll take Thomas to win; Spieth as my dark-horse and Lee Westwood as a sentimental favourite. Or Rory.