The Round Table: why can’t Rory win a major?

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.

On Sunday Wyndham Clark managed to hold off Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler and Rickie Fowler at LA CC North to capture the U.S. Open. This was the first time the golf course hosted the U.S. Open and player reaction was mixed. What was your take on the course and the way it was set up for a major championship?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): It’s hard to get a sense of the “totality” of the layout from television coverage.  I know there was grumbling from the players (there always is) about unfairness, bad spectator vantage points, and shortage of spectators… but to me, that golf course looked spectacular, and very tough!  It reminded me of top British heathland courses, like Sunningdale and West Hill, of which I’m a big fan.  I suspect we’ll never see LACC used for a US Open again because of the criticism, so I’m glad we/I had a chance to see it before the gates close again.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Well, it sure took a verbal beating, but only 18 guys were under par and only one in double digits in Clark. I wouldn’t say they exactly beat the course up. I think they did a goof job on setup. I would have liked to see the fairways narrowed a little bit. Some errant drives still ended up in descent good spots, even short grass at times. I know that’s part luck, but if it was rough, it would provide more of a penalty for a poor shot. And to me, that’s more like typical US Open golf. Overall, I think they provided a fair but stiff test over the 4 days.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I love all 5 of the Majors. On Thursday, a few things didn’t go as planned so I joined the telecast late only to discover there were two scores of 62. I thought this was supposed to be a difficult course worthy of the US Open. As a result, I didn’t watch on Friday but when I became aware of the 2nd round scores, I did watch on Sat and Sun. I want to see championship golf, not a shootout.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Unfortunately, I was out of the country without any access to tv to watch the tournament so I can only go by what I was reading on social media, and it was certainly mixed.  It seemed like the course grew some teeth as it dried out and played tough on the weekend, which was needed.  It’s certainly a quirky course and that seemed to rub some guys the wrong way, but I kind of like the look and feel of the place.  However, the biggest disappointment with LACC was the lack of crowd on the property.  From the highlights I saw, it didn’t feel like a major championship atmosphere.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The set up was okay; it was the layout that was the problem. The consensus among the players — spoken and implied — was that there are too many blind shots. That all the tee shots on #3 — save a handful of bad pushes — ended up in the same trough was just silly. But #3 provided a classic demonstration of a pet peeve. A sand-filled divot hole is by definition “Ground Under Repair” to everyone not in charge of the rules of golf. Fix the rule, and get rid of ‘penalty area,’ ‘hole location,’ and Azinger at the same time. The LACC restored bunkers and barrancas are brilliant.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I enjoy quirky courses and LACC certainly qualifies with blind shots, barrancas and wonderful shaggy haired bunkers. Maybe the players weren’t so enamored with it, but some figured it out. The setup yielded relatively few low scores on the final two days and a winning score that is acceptable for most U.S. Opens. Too bad they won’t be back until 2039 but I’ll let my grandkids know.

Rory McIlroy came close in yet another major on Sunday, only to fall a stroke short of forcing a playoff with Clark. It’s nine years since he won his last major, an incredible streak for such a talented player. Is Rory snake-bit or is there a flaw in his game that needs to be addressed?

Deeks: The only flaw I saw in Rory’s game was bad luck.  Yes, he left a few approach shots too far away for a reasonable chance at making the putt, but he played better than the rest of the field, but one.  And Wyndham Clark sank SO many missable putts (6-10 footers) over the last two days!  I thought it was an epic Open, I give Clark huge credit for nerves and stamina (and inspiration), but I’m just so sorry that Rory made one shot too many.

Loughry: I don’t know what to pinpoint it on exactly, but he seems to lack execution when it most matters. I don’t think that’s nerves, its different each time. A short putt, or a poor wedge at seemingly an inopportune time, and that tends to be the difference. If anything, I’d like to see him really tighten up his wedge game, he hits so many of them, if he could shore up his proximity to the hole, he’ll make more putts. Hitting a wedge to outside 20 feet at their level shouldn’t happen with any kind of significant frequency, but he seems to do that more than most when it matters. I do hope he recaptures his brilliance at Royal Liverpool next month.

Schurman: Rory is the best driver in the world. His distance is at the top and he hits a lot of fairways, but his GIR is only around 150th. His proximity to the hole is also weak. This results in far too many putts in the 3-putt range and too many that are difficult to convert into birdies. In watching him play, it appears as though his putting is suspect but that is only because he is too far out of position on the greens. He also plays aggressively to too many ‘tucked’ pins. Consequently, he finds himself buried in short-sided bunkers and/or with near-impossible pitches that he often bogies on holes he should be making a birdie.

Rule: I wouldn’t say he’s snake-bitten.  He has been close but hasn’t exactly thrown away the tournaments.  He’ll win one soon enough, you can’t be around the lead that often and not win eventually.  It’s great to see him playing so consistently well, he just needs a hot (or luke warm even) putter on Sunday one of these weeks.  I like his chances at Royal Liverpool, site of his only Open Championship win.

Quinn: Looks like McIlroy, and Scheffler, have been taking putting lessons from Corey Connors. Not a good idea. Despite better wedge play, Rory didn’t give himself many close looks. Still, if he’d putted in LA like he did in his so-called prime, he’d have won it easily. Of course, if Scheffler had putted anything like he did getting to #1, it wouldn’t even have been close.

Mumford: No, Greg Norman was snake-bit when others made lucky shots to steal major victories. Rory is just messed up. The stats show that Rory is almost always at or near the top in driving, but his numbers fall off as he gets closer to the green. He just doesn’t hit it as close to the hole as he should. No explanation on why he misses so many short putts, but he’s done that pretty much his whole career. Technically, his swing is flawless, and his equipment is first rate, so that just leaves his mental game as suspect. Lack of confidence, anxiety, bad mojo? If he ever figures it out, he could still chase Tiger-like numbers.

There’s not a lot of detail yet about the PGA Tour merger with the Saudi Public Investment Fund but the crux of the deal seems to be that power will shift from the players to a corporate group that will control everything including the money. Seems like a far cry from the origins of the Tour and why they broke away from the PGA of America in the first place. Is this a good thing or maybe even a necessary thing in today’s world of professional sports?

Deeks: Probably a necessary thing given all the issues that need to be addressed on an ongoing basis, but I’m sure the players will still play an active and important role in policy making.  I still also believe that the Saudi presence in the new “merger” will be minimal and cosmetic.

Loughry: I think this is a terrible direction for men’s professional golf. If this is where its going, if I were the players, I’d be forming a union asap, formally or informally. The players are the talent and make the Tour, not the other way around. If you ask any professional athlete if they’d like to own a piece of the league they play in, the answer will always be yes. It also further cements their commitment to the product (and themselves). If the players choose to walk (and hold ground, create their own Tour), then this new entity will absolutely fail.

Schurman: The PGA TOUR revenue is made from several sources and assets all owned by the players. IF the Saudis take control of the prize money and the actual tour, will they continue to donate large amounts of money to charity? Will every purse increase or just a select few? What will become of the TPC courses, the PGA TOUR retail outlets, the ownership of the Asian tour, Latin/American Tour, Canadian Tour and the Champions Tour? What will become of the PGA TOUR Pension Fund and the cash reserves owned by the TOUR (Reputedly $700M to 1B)? Apparently, the new company will file for profitable status instead of the current non-profitable status. So far Jay M can’t pass the ‘smell’ test will the merger pass the SEC’s monopoly test?

Rule: It sure seems like this deal is moving the players further away from what they were fighting for, so I don’t completely understand it.  I wonder if this will lead to another breakaway tour in not too long.  It’s hard to comment on it when we don’t know many of the details and how it will play out, I just hope the deal ends up being in everyone’s best interest, and least relatively.

Quinn: Looks like this secret deal won’t pass the US government’s smell test — Congressional hearings could start in a few weeks — and so will die an unnatural self-inflicted death. Senior citizen Tom Watson’s open letter raises all the questions the Gen Now players have a right to have answered — the Tour and the PIF can’t reply, at least candidly and honestly — and so this may be the catalyst for a Players’ Tour 2.0. It’s not going back to the same old Tour, LIV isn’t surviving, and fans may finally acknowledge that they are well and truly over this type of game.

Mumford: Here’s a guy (Jimmy Dunne) that lost friends and co-workers in the 9/11 disaster and railed incessantly against the ‘evil Saudis’. Here’s another guy (Jay Monahan) who advised his players to have nothing to do with the Saudis when LIV Golf came along. Now the two of them plus PGA Tour board member Ed Herlihy concoct a secret deal with the Saudis to essentially take over men’s professional golf and give themselves all the power positions and no doubt plenty of cash. The players should reject the deal, fire Dunne, Monahan and Herlihy and start fresh.

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

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