#AskAlan, Vol. 66
With thoughts about Rahm’s future, Big Tony’s ceiling, Gooch vs. Homa, the politicization of the OWGR and much more
By Alan Shipnuck
May 3, 2023
Would you rather have Tony Finau’s 6 wins or 1 major championship? @ZitiDoggsGolf
The knee-jerk response is one major, but I’d take the six wins. Through the years I’ve written a lot about Shaun Micheel, whose only career victory was the 2003 PGA Championship. He feared, perhaps rightfully, that folks would devalue the one major in the absence of other victories, and felt so much pressure to justify that breakthrough that it robbed the joy from the rest of his career. Six wins is a healthy total that attests to sustained excellence. In Finau’s case, the habit of winning should propel him to success in the majors, in which case he’ll have the best of both worlds.
Nah, U.S. Open qualifying is the ultimate meritocracy. Shoot the scores and you’re in, simple as that, whether you’re a plumber playing scratch or an established touring pro.
When media members and golf “fans” declare that Tiger Woods *must* retire following every physical setback or less than stellar performance, do you get as needlessly angry as I do? Why do people stink? Should we play Giannis’ postgame presser for all these individuals? #AskAlan@corrado_dan
Dan, do you need a hug? I haven’t seen many folks demanding Tiger retire—it has been more like low-grade anguish as all of us struggle to accept Woods’s golfing mortality. If Tiger wants to try to play more tournaments, the golf world will cheer for him, as always. For Woods, tournament golf was always zero-sum: You win or you have failed. This is the antithesis of Giannis’s riff. Woods’s broken body has recalibrated the golf world’s expectations, and even Tiger’s. If he wants to keep trying to climb the mountain, more power to him.
#AskAlan What do you make of Akshay Bhatia? The transition has been tougher than many might have imagined, but do you think he may have finally found the highway to relative success on the PGA Tour? @SportASmile
The kid is 21 years old! He has certainly taken an unorthodox approach, but Bhatia has proven he can win on the cut-throat Korn Ferry Tour and has already locked up his 2024 PGA Tour card with some stellar play in the big leagues. He has a tremendous work ethic and palpable talent, so I think Bhatia is going to have a long, productive career.
Is Talor Gooch the perfect emergence of LIV conundrum? He was developing a nice career on the PGA Tour with one win and now he is winning events on LIV. How do we compare what he’s doing on LIV to a guy of a similar age doing it on the PGA Tour? Max Homa as an example? @EatandSleepGolf
One of LIV’s issues is the randomness of the venues. The muni in Orlando and next week’s unknown country club in Tulsa, Okla., are not useful yardsticks. At least Sentosa was the venue for the Singapore Open from 2005 to ‘2022, and the list of winners includes Angel Cabrera, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott three times. (Runners-up: Vijay Singh, Padraig Harrington, Jordan Spieth and Ernie Els twice.) So at least one of Gooch’s recent wins came on a course with provenance. Clearly the strong Masters showing by LIV golfers went a long way toward reminding people of the talent level on that tour, but the golf world as a whole seems disinclined to put much stock in LIV wins. The World Ranking is now useless. So what to do? Data Golf’s player ranking has become my go-to, and this week Homa is 16th and Gooch is 21st, which feels right. Now more than ever the major championships are crucial in assessing how players compare. Homa’s record in the majors is putrid: Since the start of 2020 he has missed the cut in seven of 12 and finished better than 40th only once. Gooch has played eight in that stretch with a bit more success, with two top-20 finishes and only two missed cuts. The upcoming three majors will help us make sense of the Gooch-Homa divide, and much more.
Rahm is significantly better than every other player in the world. Unlike Scottie and Rory, his game has no weaknesses. Even in today’s ultra-competitive game, it’s hard to envision him not knocking off a 2017-19 Brooks-like run. With two to his name, over/under on Rahm winning 5.5 major championships? And, at their absolute peak powers, how many current players’ best game beats Finau’s? Over/under 9.5? #AskAlan@opinionsvary328
Predicting golf futures is a tricky business. On Sunday night at Valhalla in 2014, what would have been the o/u on McIlroy’s haul—8? 10? More? Jack Nicklaus said, “I think Rory has an opportunity to win 15 or 20 majors or whatever he wants to do if he wants to keep playing.” I’d take the over on Rahm, but there is a lot of golf and life between him and four more major championship victories.
Best versus best, I’d take the following over Finau: Rahm, McIlroy, Cam Smith, Scottie Scheffler, Dustin Johnson, Koepka, Justin Thomas and Matt Fitzpatrick. In the emeritus division, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa. That’s 11, but very stout company.
Question – Why should I care about LIV with their no-cut, 54-hole, shotgun start, millions of dollars of guaranteed money traveling circus? All LIV is is a series of high-stakes exhibition “tournaments.” @TimWhitcomb4
This is America—nobody is going to make you care if you don’t want to! But if you are open to counter-arguments, I would suggest that 54 holes vs. 72 isn’t a big deal. An extra round gives the best player more opportunity to separate himself, but 54 holes has a certain urgency and demands three good scores with little room for error. I prefer events to have a cut but even the PGA Tour is moving away from that model at its biggest tournaments, and who does or doesn’t make a cut is almost always immaterial to who wins, which is what matters. Yes, the shotgun feels a little hokey, but it makes for a much better spectating/TV/streaming experience, with all the players on the course at the same time in one compressed window of time. The PGA Tour is already guaranteeing money to its top players this year with the $500,000 stipend and $100 million PIP slush fund, to say nothing of the no-cut Tour Championship and Tournament of Champions. Next year, nine of the 12 elevated events won’t have a cut, which means…more guaranteed money for the players. So the LIV and Tour products are becoming increasingly similar. Also, the Ryder Cup by definition is a goodwill exhibition and we all seem to care about that. In closing, do remember that you don’t have to pick sides—it’s actually possible to watch and enjoy both LIV and the Tour.
Why pretend the PGA Championship is a “major,” other than we decided there have to be four of them? #AskAlan P.S. I know why it used to be a major. It used to be match play; it used to be the players’ own championship; it used to have the toughest field. None of those are true anymore. @HenriDeMarsay
Well, every major is a social construct. When Gene Sarazen prevailed at the second Masters, in 1935, it’s not like folks pounded him on the back and said, “Congrats on winning a major, old boy.” That took time and a collective consciousness. The PGA Championship has an incredible history and some spectacular (and, admittedly, a few so-so) venues. It has the most recognizable trophy in the sport, if that counts for anything. In the LIV era, it will have one of the two or three best fields of the year. You may not be fan of the PGA but it is a perfectly acceptable major.
Not yet. The OWGR had a set of pre-established criteria, and the governing board is following it to the letter. July will be one year since LIV put in its application. If after that long review period the OWGR is still denying LIV points, it will be a very bad look. I’ve spoken to folks on the governing board and in their mind the primary issue is that LIV doesn’t meet the average field size of 75. But the ranking itself will automatically penalize LIV, based on the revised algorithm—announced in August 2021, before LIV had launched—that favors full fields over smaller one. As for protecting the Tour, the governing board made a huge p.r. blunder by not forcing Tour commissioner Jay Monahan or Euro Tour CEO Keith Pelley or Pelley’s lieutenant Keith Waters to recuse themselves sooner. (They waited until December 2022, after having already participated in two board meetings.) But the fact is, the major championships control the OWGR, representing four of the seven seats on the governing board. (Chairman Peter Dawson does not have a vote.)
Now, after the recusals, Augusta National, the PGA of America, the R & A and the USGA have the only votes on LIV’s future. While they have traditionally been aligned with the old-guard tours, the majors are inherently selfish and want what’s best for their respective tournaments. That means finding a way to get all of the best players there, without squabbles, controversy and potential legal challenges. A more inclusive OWGR is the only thing that makes sense. Anti-LIV folks can get hung up on specific wording in the moldy criteria of the OWGR bylaws, but these are unprecedented times and a little flexibility is the best path forward…especially for the OWGR, which will render itself obsolete if it doesn’t follow its mission to rank all professional golfers.
In 1994, Alan wrote his first cover story for Sports Illustrated as a 21 year-old intern, and in the ensuing quarter-century he typed two dozen more. He is the author of eight books, including best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees; The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger); and Phil. Shipnuck has won 13 first-place awards in the annual Golf Writers Association of America writing contest, breaking the record of Dan Jenkins, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Alan lives in Carmel, Cal.