The Round Table: The Fall Series, Monday Night Golf and the current Big 3

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 an oh-so-short break, the PGA Tour starts up again this week with the first of its Fall Series qualifying events for players ranked 75 and above to earn exempt cards for 2024. This week’s venue is Silverado Resort in Napa, California. Max Homa will be seeking a third straight victory while Justin Thomas will be looking to validate his Ryder Cup team selection. Will you be paying attention? 

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Honestly, other than checking the leaderboard once or twice, no.  I’m still more focused on my own game, as my season winds down.  But I will certainly be riveted to the Ryder Cup.  Go Euros!!

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I will certainly watch the Ryder Cup, but I’ve had enough top-level golf for a bit. It seems every event is either a Major, a play-off, an elevated event or something else important. At some point, we will arrive at a 12 to 15 event tour which is exactly what Greg Norman proposed decades ago. I do miss some of the quirky TV shows in the Fall when the players were mic’d. Does anyone remember the top 60 players kept their ‘card’? Then along came Gary McCord and Labron Harris, two players who had a combined total of 4 victories between them but played for lengthy careers. They created the top 125 which provided a way for lesser players to earn a small living. In the past 18 months, the PGA TOUR is returning to ‘only the strong survive’. They highly reward the top 75 and allow another 50 or so to try their luck. The TOUR is becoming an exact replica of its former self but with mega purses

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Not likely, but I’ll check in on the weekend to see how it’s going.  I’m more interested in the BMW at Wentworth where the whole Euro Ryder Cup team is playing.  The fact that it’s a west coast tourney may allow me to tune in late in the evening one day, but generally this tourney doesn’t spark much interest for me.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Years ago, the PGA Tour — may it survive LIV and the U.S. lawmakers — finally raised the white flag and stopped playing anything meaningful when the NFL started playing. The Fall swing and fragmented season were also mercifully abandoned. But so too was the only compelling vestige on the calendar — Q School. Ahh, but not quite. That’s what starts this week. No, as the NFL starts up and MLB heats up, there is not time enough to care (or spend precious TV minutes) to see if JT gets his groove back.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I’ll watch some but the Fall Series doesn’t have the same drama as the old Q-school. That was riveting because the difference between success and failure often meant making a living playing golf or not. This year, the player who finished 125th on the money list made $951,627 and now he has to go out this fall and qualify. For what? The chance to make even more money? Where’s the drama? Nobody is starving, nobody is taking a second job to make ends meet. This is all about bigger homes and more Ferraris. Pretty tough to get excited about.

TGL, the new golf league started by Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Mike McCarley, has been in the news recently as it adds new high-profile franchise owners to the group. TGL will be starting play in January 2024 and features some of the biggest names in pro golf including Tiger, Rory, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and more. They will be playing head-to-head team matches in an indoor arena. What’s your level of curiosity about the new league and is it something you’re likely to watch?

Deeks: Much as I like Rory, and respect Tiger for his career, I really don’t know that the golf world needs another gimmicky startup.  This isn’t exactly a threat to the sanctity of the PGA Tour and the four majors, like the LIV Tour, but seriously?  Are golf fans begging for Arena Golf?  Not this boy.

Schurman: This is just another weak attempt to ride the coattails of a successful business. I think someone should combine all of the most popular sports into one and play for $1B per week. They could play a game on ice with skates, carrying a set of clubs, that involved the use of a football played in a baseball stadium. Maybe the Saudis would sponsor it. So far, it’s right up there with mudwrestling and arena football.

Rule: This all seems so desperate to me, just a way to compete against the LIV franchises, and it doesn’t interest to me to watch guys play golf indoors.  But maybe I’ll be proven wrong, and it will be must-watch TV.  I’m just not holding my breath.

Quinn: Will definitely record it and take a look when time allows. Very interested in the technology, in how much AI has been brought to the show (at great expense) to make it compelling (or not) after the first few swings. The teams, the ownerships, the standings — all that will have a real hard sled to get traction. Watching a simulated game on a big digital screen in your home…oh my. If this becomes a thing, like professional Pickleball, time to pull all the plugs.

Mumford: Methinks I’m not the target audience. I enjoy the full scope of golf played outdoors over four days. Perhaps a younger, more techno-oriented, less patient fan base needs the immediacy of an arena and a faster resolution to the competition for their Monday night entertainment. Good luck to them. I’ll be curling.

Historically speaking, men’s professional golf has been dominated by groups of three players for the last 80 years. We’re looking at Hogan, Snead and Nelson (40s and 50s,) Nicklaus, Palmer and Player (60s to late 70s), Faldo, Ballesteros and Norman (late 70s to mid 90s) and Woods, Mickelson and Singh from the mid 90s until 2013. Obviously, there were others who had great records and perhaps should have been part of the conversation but for whatever reason never rose to be one of the Big 3 of their time. Of all the great players competing now, which three will history record as the dominant players of the post-Tiger era (2013 to 2030)?

Deeks: The Big Three up to this point would have to be McIlroy, Spieth, and hmmm, maybe Koepka… although, as you say, there were/are others who may finish this decade by putting their own stamp on the era, like Scheffler, Rahm, Hovland.  The field of top players has probably never been so broad as it is now.  But I still go back to that magnificent time when Fred Funk, Duffy Waldorf, and Scott Gump ruled the fairways, in, uh, I forget…

Schurman: I doubt we will see a “Big 3” again. Previously, young players developed through their teen years doing other things and having part-time jobs until they were about 20. Then they struggled for a year or two as they gained enough skills to win. Today, as soon as a kid in a crib cries, his or her parent hands them a golf club in the hope they are the next Tiger. Thousands of kids are aimed down the path of golf and assumed riches. But more than that for parents, golf is not a contact sport, so the threat of a debilitating injury doesn’t exist, and golf requires a lot of educational travel, so it has great appeal. However, by the time one of them stars on the TOUR at age 24 to 30, they have played competitive golf every day for over 20 years, and they have multi-generational wealth. Once a young family enters the picture things change again. My point, they lose their ambition at an early age and their career begins a slow slide downwards at about age 27 to 30 just when Hogan, Snead, Nicklaus, Faldo etc. were starting to go up.

Rule: Such a tough question to answer because every so often a player will look dominant and then fall off the face of the earth (see Thomas, Justin).  And there’s still seven years in this range!  Is it too soon for Charlie Woods?  OK, back to reality.  It’s just so hard to stay at the top consistently.  Jon Rahm and Rory have the games to be consistent near the top so I think those are two of the names that will remain strong for the rest of this decade.  Scottie Scheffler is so damn consistent with his ball-striking and remains the top player in the world despite well below average putting stats.  If he could ever become average with the flat-stick, you’d have to say he’ll have a good long run given he’s only 27.  There you go, I picked the current Top 3 in the world.  Way to go out on a limb Rule!

Quinn: Billy Casper would love this question. Seems that back in golf’s triumvirate days, the supporting cast never had what it takes for lead roles. But because of the money attracting more and better athletes, because of the level of competition at amateur and collegiate levels around the world, that’s all changed. The chances of a trio or even a twosome dominating the current game is hard to imagine. And, given the current rewards, harder to imagine any group at the top staying around long enough to get a page in history (if books are still going to be written).

Mumford: About seven years ago we asked if McIlroy, Spieth and Jason Day were the next Big 3. That was before Koepka, Rahm, Sheffler and Thomas, who now all have impressive records with many victories and multiple majors. The list goes even deeper but to me, the idea of a Big 3 includes more than just numbers. There’s an intangible quality to each member of our historical trios that gives them an edge. Certainly, some of it is hindsight, but I don’t think you would have gotten much of an argument about any of them when they were at their peak. It’s part arrogance and part charisma – swagger with a smile. It says, “I’m the guy to beat and you know I’m the guy to beat.” And it carries off the course too. Fans just seem to know that’s ‘the guy’. Nicklaus and Woods obviously. Palmer, Ballesteros and Norman had it in spades. Koepka and Rahm have it. I think Hovland too. McIlroy struggles with it. Spieth had it and maybe he can get it back. Who’s the Big 3 in this era? Ask me again in seven years.

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

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