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.
Nick Taylor recorded one of the best all-time finishes, making birdie on three of his last four holes, then on both playoff holes, to win the WM Phoenix Open. It was the fourth PGA Tour win of his career and follows his incredible 72-foot eagle bomb to win the RBC Canadian Open last June. What was your take on Taylor’s play and has he elevated himself to another level on Tour?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): That was a most impressive win, and a great “Canadian” post-win interview on the 18th green. Nick seems like a terrific, modest guy. Does this elevate him to another level? No, I don’t think so, but it will certainly get him a little more respect from his peers. Only a major, or maybe a dozen more regular Tour event victories, will put him on a pedestal.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I think Taylor got a lot out of his game this week, which you generally need to win. I think he learned a little about himself and now believes he is one of the best on the Tour. He should, because he is elite, he’s a closer and he’s definitely moved up in the ranks. You don’t win four times by accident. I think this will help set him up for his best career year.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I like Nick Taylor’s game! He isn’t a “bomber”. He is more of a tactician. When asked about achieving certain goals Tiger’s response was “All I focus on is playing my best. Good scores will come of it and the other stuff will take care of itself.” Nick has had a steady climb of improvement throughout his career. He enjoyed a very sound amateur record and a steady development as a professional. Personally, he has all the ingredients to continue and around 2022 added one major contributor to his team, David Markle. Markle is a product of the Sam Young Junior Program at Shelbourne G.C. Sam had an excellent career as a player until sidelined by injuries. He turned to his business as the Owner/GM/HP at Huntington G.C. but when he devoted his time and energy to his Junior Program at Shelbourne, everything changed. David Markle is the result of one of those impacted and now Nick Taylor is a beneficiary as are we.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): What a performance! Tried checking back in occasionally after the Super Bowl had started and had almost given up on Nick a couple of times, but those birdies on 18 were so clutch. Victories in back-to-back years and four total in his career puts him in select company but I don’t see him as being in the dominant player category by any means. He is still hot and cold with a number of finishes well down the board, but when he gets in contention, he shows something that not everyone has and is showing the world he can be a clutch putter when needed.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Opening round wasn’t bad, not a Hadwin-esque 59, still pretty good, but his putting on Sunday was super, so to speak. Well, it really was amazing. He’s one of those guys when you watch him on his game who begs the question: he’s only won four? The confidence from the Canadian win and this one may just put him over the top and give him the juice to realize he can win often and win the big ones. Here’s hoping.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): That was an amazing finish and kind of balances the scales after he let the title slip away last year. Nick’s a grinder and can be an exceptional putter at times. He’ll likely never be mentioned in the same breath as the superstars of the game or featured on promo posters for upcoming events (except the RBC Canadian Open) but four wins commands respect from his peers and should give him more confidence to contend in majors. He’s definitely raised his status a rung or two in the last two years.
The Phoenix Open was plagued by bad weather, suspensions and delays plus the usual rowdy fan behaviour that this year included fights, drunks falling out of the stands and players telling fans to shut up. Presumably, the organizers will have to do something to maintain better control, but can they dial it back or do you even think they should?
Deeks: As most readers will have surmised by now, I’m a grumpy old traditionalist, so no surprise that I’ve never been a fan of the 16th hole sh*t-show at Phoenix. If you want rowdy, drunk, and thoroughly disrespectful and obnoxious fans, go to a UFC show, or maybe an evening of cockfighting. But having let the idiots out of the asylum, it’s going to be hard to put a damper on the shenanigans, unless the players band together and threaten to boycott the event in future.
Loughry: I was in the camp that one week a year a big piss-up is fun. I’m most definitely of the camp that this event needs to shore some things up. Serve booze later in the day and or slower by reducing the number of concessions available. Granted, lots will be happening in the parking lot, I hear the tailgates are virtually all night, so maybe open the lots later. It seems like something really bad has to happen before they’ll make any significant change. I wish them the best, there is a happy medium between being over the top and still having reasonable fun (I think they were there a few years ago). I can see some players potentially taking a pass on this particular week due to its nature.
Schurman: I’m all for the gaiety and frivolity as long as it stays in the stands. Let them whoop, holler and sing but keep it in the stands and on Hole #16, don’t let it grow to include any more of the course or any other courses. Cut off beer sales at the “7th inning”. Throwing articles should be strictly forbidden. Loud is OK but what began as something unique and fun has become dangerous. In the case of out-of-control drunkenness, let the sponsor, WM, take out the trash for recycling.
Rule: I have to admit, it’s gone too far for me. Maybe I’m becoming an old curmudgeon but clearly a lot of these people aren’t fans of the game and are just there for the party. I have no problem with a party atmosphere, but when people are all out brawling and falling over drunk, that’s across the line for me. It seems like they are allowing way too many fans to attend and need to cut the numbers back. It’s good that they finally put a pause on serving alcohol on the weekend to try to rein in some of the outliers that ruin the day for the rest. I’m not a huge Billy Horschel fan, but thought he was well within his rights to cuss out that fan for being loud when his playing partner was hitting his shot. Good for him for speaking out.
Quinn: Back in the day when the Thunderbirds charity group redefined Tour fun and set an incredibly high bar for fund raising, the Greatest Show on Grass was just that. And damn that 16th hole was fun — betting on which caddie would get to the green first was a multi-thousand-dollar howler each group and the loopers loved it — and admission prices didn’t mean you had to sell the condo in Cabo to cover Sunday. Sadly, like so much of America that is now either inexplicable or indefensible, the Show has gone over the top. In the U.S. of A. there are now fights at MLB games, NFL games, Walmarts, fast food joints, and of course the almost weekly gunplay horror stories. The yahoos have descended on golf and sadly for the remaining fans with a modicum of decency and decorum, the Greatest and most enjoyable Show on Grass has to be reigned in. Too bad, really too bad.
Mumford: Unless the organizers are complete knuckleheads, I expect we’ll see a few changes next year that tone down the rowdiness but only to a degree. The “Greatest Show on Grass” is identified by boisterous fan behaviour, huge crowds and LOUD, and anything else wouldn’t be the WM Phoenix Open. Players that can’t handle it will stay away but it’s a tremendously fun week and unique on a Tour that’s desperate for something different. After all the handwringing and cries for decorum, critics should remember that the WMPO delivers exciting finishes year after year.
Last week the PGA Tour announced some details on a player equity program that will see some 200 players share in a $1.5 billion pool with the top players getting the lion’s share. This money comes from the Strategic Sports Group investment and is intended to keep players from jumping to LIV Golf. Is player equity a good use of these funds and does this make sense on any level?
Deeks: I recognize that this kind of had to happen to prevent more defections. But I can’t help being appalled at the kind of money these guys are going to be “earning” for doing something that, in the scheme of things, adds basically zero value to, well, the scheme of things. No, I’m not “just jealous.” I just think that this kind of money could be used for about a million other, more worthwhile endeavours.
Loughry: In all of this, I seriously wonder how any of this benefits the fan? The athletes are important, don’t get me wrong, but I look at the rise of the NFL (even the WWE) over the past 20 years, everything they do is to enhance their product by engaging the fan. That could be rules changes, broadcasting, scripting, and as a by-product the money came. I then compare this to the environment we’re in now with men’s professional golf and wonder the same thing. Without the fans, the money doesn’t matter, because the product will fail as its value decreases and the money disappears. A few players seem to understand this, but the majority do not. Paying players more money only benefits the players, not the charities, not the fans, not the overall experience or ecosystem of men’s professional golf.
Schurman: What a mess! Thank you, Jay Monahan! All he had to do was pick up the phone and ask Greg Norman if there was a way to mutual agreement. The payment money should never be given as an equalizer. It should be engineered so the owners of the TOUR (The Players) receive an ROI as an owner. Every time JM does something he burns down another building. This ridiculous ‘tit for tat’ has caused such division, people who know nothing about the integral, inner working of tournament golf are forming opinions about players, tournaments and the game that might last for a long time. The PGA TOUR provided an excellent income, a great pension and other perks as well as a nice lifestyle for their members. They donated $Bs to charity and had a positive influence on hundreds of young people. Now we have players telling fans to “shut up”, sponsors priced out of the game, people who originally criticized the players for taking ‘blood’ money supporting increased purses and gambling becoming the main source of outside funding. Way to go Jay! If you wanted to have an impact on the game, you sure have!
Rule: It seems to me that golf is creeping more towards a contract type sport, similar to the team sports model, where you have to bid for free agents and lock them up on multi year contracts. LIV has forced the PGA Tour’s hand in this sense, and perhaps it’s not a bad thing, although there still needs to be money for the fringe players trying to eke out a living playing the game they love. So, it’s a fine line, but if they have the money to spend, it’s probably the only way to compete with LIV at this time for some of the top players.
Quinn: The SSG ain’t a charity, it ain’t a non-profit. The Group is looking for a tidy return on the billions invested so there are going to be a lot of details and strings attached to this sharing of their equity. Probably need a pal with an MBA and an insider who will only speak ‘off the record’ to find out what’s really going on with this deal. Doesn’t make sense to civilians at this stage, but it does to the Group or else they wouldn’t have done it.
Mumford: Player equity is PIP on steroids and looks like an over-reaction. No doubt player retention is critical for fans, sponsors and broadcast partners but I was reminded this weekend when Dustin Johnson won in Las Vegas how soon we forget about those players that jumped to LIV. They’re easily replaced by the likes of Ludvig Aberg, Eric Cole and Nick Dunlap on our TV and digital screens. LIV doesn’t have a viable product and I’m doubtful they ever will. They want access to American audiences and a seat at the table. Better to use the new money to shore up weak events, improve fan engagement and emphasize the tradition and legacy that LIV will never have.