The Round Table: Is there a game within the game at Augusta?

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.

As always, there are a number of compelling storylines about the year’s first major. From Justin Thomas breaking up with caddie Bones Mackay to Ludvig Aberg playing in his first major to Tiger Woods abstaining from sex to prep for Augusta, each story adds colour to the Masters but isn’t likely to factor into the final outcome. In your mind, what’s the most compelling story around this year’s tournament?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I didn’t have one until you mentioned Tiger abstaining from sex. (Frankly, that never worked for me.)  But one thing I will be looking at is, how will a whole other year of playing essentially non-competitive golf on the LIV Tour affect the competitiveness of the LIV Tour players.  Hopefully, negatively.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: Don’t count Aberg out too quickly. This might be his first Masters, but he is the ‘real’ deal. Bones Mackay isn’t the problem with Thomas. He is 6th in Strokes Gained Approach to the Green and 174th in Putting. He is 171st in Strokes Gained from 30 yards. Also, he has played the TOUR for 10 years and won nearly $60M. Might be past the “Best Before” date. I haven’t heard of a new GF for Tiger. Given his record maybe he doesn’t have one so giving up sex shouldn’t be difficult. The story of the Masters is with the turmoil in the world of professional golf but starting on the 10th tee on Sunday…. it will be pure golf, just like the old days.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I can’t think of one compelling storyline this year but there are plenty of good storylines, including watching Scottie and how he handles the pressure of being the clear favourite.  So many struggle in that role, and with his putting woes, it will be interesting to see how he fares with all eyes on him.  That and the LIV storyline, with Rahm, DJ, Brooks and others leading a healthy charge for the break-away league.  This could be a dominant major for the LIV guys, and if it is, that will become the big story again.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It’ll happen Monday morning when the TV ratings come out. The Tour’s lifeblood has long been US TV revenue, and that fan base has been sharply devalued by the influx of Saudi oil millions. The ratings will be compelling reading in Ponte Vedra and Riyadh.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): PGA Tour vs LIV Golf is the story. That will play out on the course, but it’s also playing out in boardrooms, on TV and among sponsors and fans. Last year at the Masters, LIV had three players in the Top 5, maybe proving the World Rankings aren’t worth squat; this year they have the defending Masters champion, the defending PGA Champion and 11 others hungry to prove they can still play. It won’t show on the scoreboard like a Ryder Cup, but there’s definitely an Us vs Them feel to this Masters.

Much of the talk about the Masters is centered around the PGA Tour vs LIV Golf. Last year, Jon Rahm won while LIVvers Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson finished T2. Then Rahm himself was poached. Part of Rahm’s rationalization for the move was that as a Masters champ he had a lifetime pass to Augusta and would be exempt in the other majors for five years. Should the PGA Tour be concerned that a current member might use a green jacket to become a jumper too.

Deeks: I suppose it should concern them a little.  I’d hate to see it happen again.  It would’ve been better, in my view, if Augusta had banned the LIV players in the first place. I continue to be angry and appalled at all the players who bolted to the LIV Tour.

Schurman: Nobody, including the PGA TOUR, can afford to lose a marketable product. As is evidenced by the number of great young players we are seeing currently, they don’t draw like the top 10 stars, so it’s vital for the Tour to hang onto their top talent.

Rule: Absolutely.  Especially with the indication that the players will eventually all play together again, one way or another.  Why not take the money while you can, and still play the important events.  It would be hard to pass up for many…even Rory.

Quinn: Rahm’s five year ticket to the Majors isn’t punched for every jacket winner, so if a relative newcomer wins it and defects it will be good riddance. After all the disingenuous recent bleating from LIVers, any jumper would have had to be tone deaf to everything Watson and Nicklaus said this week.

Mumford: I wonder if Rahm jumped thinking he could cash a big cheque and then shortly thereafter be back on the PGA Tour when the Framework Agreement kicked in. Now it looks like it could be years before there’s any final settlement of that, if at all. Americans see this thing one way and international players and administrators see it quite differently. I’d be concerned that some of the European and Asian players might be tempted to jump, especially if they had a lifetime pass to Augusta and a 5-year ticket to the majors.

Nelly Korda is on a hot streak, winning her last four consecutive tournaments. American audiences and American consumers love nothing more than a home-grown superstar. They haven’t really had a dominant U.S. player as the face of the LPGA in a long time. Is Nelly the next one?

Deeks: I’d say she already is, and how fortunate for the LPGA.  Nelly’s great!  That said, I’m actually astounded how little the LPGA has featured Brooke Henderson in their marketing and TV promos, especially before Nelly started to separate herself from the pack.  Brooke is incredibly photogenic, articulate (in a fairly shallow way), popular, approachable, and a superstar on that Tour.  But I rarely see her face on TV, unless she’s on the leaderboard, and even then only when she makes an incredible shot or putt.  Even if I wasn’t Canadian, I’d still be a huge fan.

Schurman: Korda has played on the LPGA TOUR for seven years, won 11 times and reached number one in the world standings. Where have you been?

Rule: What a run she’s on, I really wish it got more attention.  She has a chance to be the clear dominant player on tour for a while, given her age, skillset and strong mental game.  She is winning in all formats and all types of courses; it would be great to see a dominant player on the LPGA.  And for it to be an American only adds to the marketing potential for a tour still struggling to get the eyes it deserves.

Quinn: Certainly women’s golf fans in the US are hoping it’ll be Korda time for a long while. Thanks to Caitlin Clark, women’s sport has never had a higher profile south of the border and Korda is positioned to keep that momentum flowing. Here’s hoping she can do it.

Mumford: The Americans haven’t had a bona fide face of the LPGA since Nancy Lopez back in the 80s. They’ve had a gaggle of very good players that could contend from week to week and occasionally win majors but were always overshadowed by one superstar. Now Nelly is emerging as that superstar. She’s the whole package and barring injury could be the one to beat for quite a while.

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

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