A statement, a claim and a speech – three takeaways from the Players Championship
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.
Cam Smith won the Players Championship with a blend of exceptional ball striking and incredible putting. Apart from Smith’s victory what was the most interesting storyline from the tournament?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): To me, it was the weather, and how well the PGA Tour managed — with the help of an extra day — to get all 72 holes played. Most other non-majors would’ve called it after 36, or maybe 54 holes. But TPC is certainly more than a “non-major,” and the Tour recognizes that the tournament’s integrity requires 72 holes. So, I say, well played Jay Monahan and your incredible staff. And well played to all the players, who were severely tested for skill and fortitude through conditions that even a few Canadians would’ve skipped.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I really liked how Lahiri grinded this week, that was a good story. Especially after starting with a double on the first hole in the last round. I hope we hear more from this young man going forward, good attitude, good golf swing and game. The other would be the weather, I loved watching players adjusting to the elements instead of pristine conditions. And maybe worth mentioning was the bad break on the 16th hole with Casey’s ball rolling into an old ball mark in the middle of the fairway, or the drop Berger was trying to take. Some controversy that will have armchair rules officials v-lining for social media posts.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I had several takeaways. First is the fact that this event is the number one major. It features a great course, it is on the same course, the best field, money donated to charity (none of the others do), comes at a time in the season when I’m anxious to get playing, it is now in a 5-month rotation with the other majors and the purse is the largest. Plus, the country flag of the victor is put on permanent display. The number of players who were in contention was staggering. The subtitles in the course design are amazing. NOTE the fairway on #18 is sloped very slightly toward the water meaning a pitchout from the right rough is excruciating. Finally, and not part of the event, I loved Paul McGinley with Brandel Chamblee on the Golf Channel.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It would have to be the weather, with everything from 22 degrees and rain to 1 degree and wind. It made for challenging conditions with some of the players complaining that a 136-yard par 3 was unplayable! But it was an exciting finish on Monday with so many players in contention, each looking for their biggest career win.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Lahiri. That was an astounding performance by a really talented player. Each time during the last two rounds (ignoring, as most thinking fans did, the constant babbling by Azinger about pressure and nerves revealing that he himself may have real problems about pressure and nerves) that Lahiri needed a career shot, he pulled it off. A delight to watch and celebrate. That Smith sank so many one putts (42) and made 10 birdies in the final round is another story altogether requiring Aussie rules to explain.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I’d have to agree with Craig and Hal. Anirban Lahiri made quite a statement at the Players Championship and was the best below the fold story in quite some time. His world ranking suggested that TPC Sawgrass and the best field in pro golf would eat him alive, but he never cracked or folded and almost forced a playoff on Monday. There’s nothing not to like about this guy. I hope we see more of him on leaderboards.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan delivered his annual message at the Tour’s flagship event and took some time to emphasize that the threat from the proposed Saudi League has been dealt with and it’s time to move on. Even though a large number of American players have pledged their loyalty to the PGA Tour, do you believe that’s the end of it or is this just a lull before the next salvo from Greg Norman and his backers?
Deeks: Well, there may be another salvo but it’ll no doubt be a one-day wonder that’ll die a quick death… like those old toy rifles with a cork on a string. I think Norman did himself and the Saudis real harm with his arrogant “Surely you jest” open letter. But it was Mickelson who really killed the SGL, making any player who was ready to jump a guaranteed pariah for supporting the Saudis and taking their dirty money. Yes Jay, I agree, the subject has been dealt with, now let’s move on.
Loughry: I don’t believe this is the end of it for a second. I’ve been following this pretty closely the last two years and I don’t think we’ve seen or heard the end of this saga. It’s Norman’s move now and likely to lead to a lawsuit of some sort.
Schurman: As I’ve said before “Fasten your seat belts, this is going to be a great ride”. We are already seeing a huge increase in the purses, the suspicion that Phil has been suspended and we are yet to hear anything definite come from the Saudis about formats, prize money etc. We did hear they executed over 80 political prisoners in a mass killing last week and that Trump has offered his courses as host sites. I wondered if he would consider using their bodies to make contours in his greens; what a sales feature that would be.
Rule: It seemed to me that they were close to making a go of it this time around, so that might be the last real attempt. But the Tour can’t be complacent and obviously needs to make some changes to keep their top players happy. Maybe it’s just the kick in the ass that the Tour needed. Saying all that, I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if Norman and his backers took one more crack at it. After all, it’s only money.
Quinn: The Tour has thrown so many sponsors’ dollars at the problem that it’s hard to imagine Greg coming up with a higher bid. Until Putin retreats to his bunker, the world — let alone the golf world — has no appetite for takeovers.
Mumford: Monahan’s confidence may come back to bite him. This war is not over – the PGA Tour may have won the latest skirmish but there are more battles looming. Dozens of players are still available for Norman and there’s nothing that says the so-called PGA Tour committed players can’t change their minds once they see more details. I’d look for another salvo before the Masters that includes dates, venues and presumably some signed players. And likely one new event similar to the Saudi International that will be hard for anyone to ignore.
Tiger Woods was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last week and his remarks dealt almost entirely with family, friends and growing up in Southern California. He spoke very little about his professional career, wins or highlights. What was your reaction to Tiger’s acceptance speech?
Deeks: I thought it was a fair speech, and I admit it choked me up a couple of times. But I would’ve liked to hear a little more understanding and appreciation of the game of golf, its history and culture, and what some of the greats of the game who came before him, and during his time, have meant to him and the game. It wasn’t an egotistical speech, but a touch of humility and gratitude for the incredible opportunity that golf, and sponsors, and fans have given him, would also have been nice, if not expected. Especially after his transgressions, Tiger could still be a role model for sportsmanship and appreciation, but I don’t think he’s quite there, yet.
Loughry: I figured Tiger would deflect from glorifying himself on a night like this. He always let his clubs do the talking, and he’ll let his statistics and record do the same. I thought he got it right, he has perspective, which comes with age, experiences (both good and bad) and time. I thought it went as smooth as those things can go.
Schurman: Tiger is one of the worst public speakers of all time. He barely mentioned his new girlfriend who has to be a nice addition to his life. Even though he must have few feelings for his Ex, she is the mother of his children what a perfect opportunity to make an attempt to smooth that over. He made no mention of any of the guys who taught him except for Rudy Duran. His first reaction when Sam presented him with the award was to hold it for photos. He should have kissed her first. With all the resources available to him, he should have hired a professional writer and practiced his speech. I can tell you from personal experience standing at the podium before the empty room and delivering your speech the day before makes a world of difference.
Rule: His acceptance speech showed how much he has grown as a person in the last decade or so. In the past, all he knew what to talk about was golf, but his life has changed, and family has become his focus, which is great to see. It means he doesn’t have that killer instinct he used to have on the course, but it’s a great balance he has found. Hopefully, he still has enough fire in the belly to give it one more go on Tour.
Quinn: Have never been a fan, and while the golf media and pseudo golfers who swelled TV ratings during his run gushed over his emotional tribute to his parents (real story to be eventually told) and not mentioning his triumphs on the courses of the world, as importantly he didn’t mention the mother of his children. Enough said. For Eldrick, not enough said.
Mumford: I have to admit it was a pretty good speech and definitely not vintage Tiger. None of the step on your neck bravado that we’re used to seeing in competition. Touching that he focused on family and childhood friends, but apart from Charlie Sifford, he missed the mark regarding the people that inspired him and players and friends that supported him through thick and thin. If Tiger were planning to run for office, this would be a required piece on the agenda for burnishing the official Tiger backstory but as a Hall of Fame acceptance speech it left a lot unsaid.