Monday Scramble: What we’re learning about LIV, from nonsense talk to accelerated plans
J.T. Poston goes wire to wire at the John Deere, the second LIV event generates more discussion, the strategic alliance gets more strategically aligned and more in this week’s holiday edition of Monday Scramble:
When he gets cooking, few get hotter than J.T. Poston.
Last week, he opened with 62 at the Travelers en route to a tie for second.
This week, he opened with a 62 at the John Deere Classic – and finished one position better.
Poston’s sizable lead was trimmed to a single shot on the front nine, but he steadied himself after a few miscues and held on for a comfortable three-shot victory at TPC Deere Run.
It was the second Tour title of Poston’s career, and this one served as validation.
At the 2019 Wyndham, Poston became the first player since Lee Trevino in 1974 to win a 72-hole stroke-play event without a bogey. That created a unique problem.
“I think I put a little more pressure on myself trying to get that second win and trying to be perfect again,” Poston said Sunday night. “I think it took a little while for me to realize or accept the fact that you’re never going to win another golf tournament going 72 holes without a bogey. It’s OK to make a mistake, as long as you limit them, and that was something I finally realized this year and tried not to be perfect, but just tried to be real solid.”
The 29-year-old has been real solid over the past few months. A tie for third at Harbour Town. Another top-10 at the Wells Fargo. Then the runner-up at the Travelers.
At the Deere, he wasn’t perfect, but he was close – he led the field from tee to green, giving him enough of a cushion to overcome bogeys on Nos. 5 and 6 (when his five-shot lead was trimmed to one) and coast to the wire-to-wire win.
The next step for Poston is to play better in the big events, now that he’s up to No. 58 in the world. He’ll play in his first Open next week at St. Andrews.
Week 2 of the LIV era is in the books, which means we’re learning even more about the Saudi-backed league.
• We’re learning that some of the players’ excuses for joining the rival league are absolute nonsense. Brooks Koepka said that one of the biggest draws of LIV was that he could play less and be home more. That’s not necessarily true, of course. Next year’s LIV schedule is 14 events, plus the four majors (assuming he’s eligible to play them), and maybe even a handful of Asian Tour events if he needs to keep his world ranking afloat. All of a sudden he’s looking at a normal schedule with 20-ish events ... only without the freedom that the Tour affords him. On the PGA Tour, he can play wherever he wants, and as much or as little as he wants. But with LIV, he is being told where to play and when to play, no matter how he feels, no matter the form he’s in, no matter the state of his battered body. He’s being paid handsomely (a reported $100 million signing bonus), and he better show up.
• We’re learning that these guys are paid actors. We’ll get to Talor Gooch’s hilarious post-round comments below, but Patrick Reed, Branden Grace and Pat Perez all said something similar, along the lines of: This is the greatest thing I’ve ever been a part of! Of course it is – they’re being paid gobs of money to promote a product. They’re all propagandizing in their own way, and it’s our job to call it out.
• We’re learning that this thing is ever-evolving. LIV officials have apparently been so encouraged by the progress of the startup league that they’re speeding up the timeline for their league format, from the start of 2024 to March 2023.
That’s a wise move, actually, because it will do two things:
- 1.) It will eliminate some of the confusion surrounding the team format, which through two weeks has had both a draft party and also set teams.
- 2.) And it will create a feeding frenzy later this fall. If there are only 48 available spots (and many have already been accounted for), then players considering the league will make the jump, lest they miss out on the chance for generational wealth or the Next Big Thing. As a result, the Tour will have to keep the full-court press on the biggest names deep into the fall.
And that brings us to the most important point:
• We’re learning that, right now, the competition at the LIV events might be underwhelming, but it undoubtedly has potential.
They’ve attracted 100,000 viewers for the live stream (though it’s unclear how many are bots). They’ve proved the concept. They’ve demonstrated that the majority of pros don’t care about the shady source of the funding.
Officials have focused less on the roster of “all-stars” they have accumulated to this point, and more on what they eventually will.
They’ve tantalized us not with what the product is right now, but what it could be.
For its many faults, LIV clearly has something with the team component, especially once there are captains and predetermined teams. It’s simple for fans to follow. It makes for some intriguing weekly storylines. And there could be offseason drama, with player trades and the threat of relegation for those who underperform. It’s an interesting way to inject some intrigue into otherwise mundane regular-season action.
With rumors swirling about the future of the DP World Tour, chief executive Keith Pelley decided to double down on his partnership with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.
For now, at least, that means more cohesion between the two circuits regarding a worldwide schedule, and the top 10 European tour players will earn a PGA Tour card at the end of the 2023 season.
As much as Pelley tried last week to dismiss the notion that the DP World Tour was becoming a feeder system, it certainly feels that way. Each and every year the circuit will lose its 10 best players to the PGA Tour. They’re literally funneling the best to the next level.
What went underreported, however, was what Pelley said regarding the existential threat that is LIV Golf. Unlike his Tour counterpart, who has used a Sharpie to draw a thick line in the sand, Pelley’s seems to be dotted, and written in pencil.
Here’s what he said: “I’ve been consistent that if in fact they are interested to play inside the ecosystem and not launch a rival tour that I think is detrimental to the game at large, then I personally, from the DP World’s perspective, would be open – and they know that – to having a conversation.”
That’s why Pelley said he hasn’t had a conversation with the LIV backers since July 2021. But that doesn’t mean he might not eventually answer the phone.
THIS WEEK’S AWARD WINNERS ...
Getting Ugly: “The Sour 16.” Ryder Cup heroes Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter are leading the charge by suing the DP World Tour in the wake of their sanctions for joining the LIV Tour. It’s a nasty chapter for what had been a fruitful relationship, for both parties. Reports from across the pond suggest that European members are furious toward the 16 – that if they want to go play the LIV circuit, OK, that’s fine, go, it’s a personal choice. But to then turn around and sue the circuit that gave them a platform to launch their careers and make untold millions, just so they can play the requisite four events and stay in good standing for the Ryder Cup? Nah, that’s poor form.
One Month’s Work: Branden Grace. The Portland title was by far the most profitable of his career – the largest check he’d ever cashed was $1.1 million, for winning the 2017 Nedbank. This one was worth $4 million. Through two LIV events he has earned $6.6 million on the course – more than half of what he’d earned in his entire career on the PGA Tour ($12.2M) – in addition to whatever signing bonus he received for jumping ship. For a player who only once in his career reached the top 10 in the world, sheesh, that’s a hefty haul.
Welcome Back: Q-School. Dreamers, unite – the top five finishers at 2023 Q-School will earn a Tour card for the following season, just like in the pre-wraparound schedule days. It’s part of a new-look fall that will begin next year, with 30 Korn Ferry Tour regular-season graduates (instead of 25) but no KFT Finals. Yeah, we’re all for that – it never made sense that a single good result in a weak, end-of-season tournament should bail out guys who either couldn’t keep their Tour card or earn a minor-league promotion. This should create more churn at the back end, and that’s a good thing.
The Weak Link: Phil Mickelson. With LIV continuing to stockpile top-100 players, it won’t be long until the 51-year-old Mickelson becomes the worst player in the league. His post-hiatus play has been so putrid that guys must be hoping to avoid landing on his four-man team, knowing that they’ll essentially be a three-ball competing for the weekly team prizes. He lost the first LIV event by 17 shots. In Portland, he was 23 shots back. And this is across just 54 holes! Mickelson got what he wanted – to disrupt the professional landscape, and to pocket a nine-figure paycheck in the process – but it’s still a sad end to a legendary career.
Next Up: Paul Casey. During the final round in Portland, LIV officials announced that they had signed Casey, the world No. 27, and that he’s expected to play in the third event, scheduled for July 29-31 at Trump Bedminster. It’s an unsurprising move for Casey, given his age (44), prior appearances in Saudi Arabia, and the fact that four of his 2021 Ryder Cup teammates are also members of the rebel circuit (with more rumored to be arriving soon). A dodgy back has kept him out of the year’s first three majors, which raises the question: Did he have to pass a physical in order to officially sign?
Well, He Did Warn Us …: Talor Gooch. A few weeks ago, the one-time PGA Tour winner told us that he was too dumb to understand that he might be participating in Saudi sportswashing. But he showed on Saturday that his thickheadedness might extend beyond geopolitics, as in the wake of the team victory he compared the fan atmosphere at the LIV Portland event to a – wait for it – Ryder or Presidents Cup, of which he has never (and will never) be a part. “Can’t imagine there’s a whole hell of a lot of difference,” he said, and even Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed had to stifle a laugh. It’s almost like they’re reading from the same script!
A Real One: Chris Gotterup. The Haskins Award winner has looked plenty comfortable on Tour. In just his fourth start since turning pro following a magical final season at Oklahoma, Gotterup has made three consecutive cuts and found himself in contention throughout the Deere, where a final-round 66 vaulted him into a tie for fourth. That not only earned him a spot in the Barbasol, but it gave him enough points to clinch a spot in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, where another 25 Tour cards will be up for grabs. His putting remains a liability at times, but the dude finished second tee to green on a course he hadn’t seen before this week. He’s so, so legit.
Respect the Hustle: Sahith Theegala. A week after the Travelers heartbreak, when he double-bogeyed the 72nd hole to lose, it would have been easy for the 24-year-old rookie to just mail it in. And it looked like he had, making the turn at the Deere on Friday five shots off the projected cut line. Then he showed his professionalism, coming home in 30 to make the cut, then backing it up with another 65 on Saturday. He finished in a respectable tie for 16th. It’s that type of grind that makes Theegala the realest of deals.
Stay Hot, Son: Denny McCarthy. It was a disappointing Sunday, but the tie for sixth at the Deere was his third top-10 in his past four starts. He’s becoming known for more than just his perfect putting stroke, and that maiden victory is coming. Soon.
Sneak Peek: Adare Manor. The 2027 Ryder Cup host will also stage the 36-hole J.P. MacManus Pro-Am, which begins Monday in Ireland. Among the star-studded names in the field are Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler. Most of those big names are headed onto the Scottish Open; others, like Koepka and Johnson, will have to find other ways to occupy their time since they’ve been banned from playing (barring a court injunction); and then there’s Woods, who will have five days to recover and refocus before the start of Open week, when he’ll look to win for the third time at St. Andrews. The Pro-Am will mark his first appearance anywhere since his withdrawal before the final round of the PGA Championship on May 21.
Memorable First: Adrian Meronk. Knocking on the door for years, the 29-year-old had six top-10s this year before his emphatic finish at the Irish Open, which included two birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to win by three shots. Meronk became the first DP World Tour winner from Poland, and he will move ever closer (64th) to the all-important top 50 in the world.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Webb Simpson. It’s been a frustrating year for Simpson, who has battled an injured neck and failed to put it all together in his return. His T-13 at the Travelers was his best result of the year, but instead of building on that form against a less-than-inspiring field, he exited early after putting together measly rounds of 71-70. He’s plummeted from No. 27 in the world to his current spot of 63rd. Sigh.