Monday Rap: Fitzpatrick Defeats Spieth (And The USA Chants), Monahan Stays Silent on Rory and A Cult Hero Wins On The Korn Ferry Tour
Professional golfers get asked the same questions over and over and over again—especially by casual fans, who aren’t so clued in to the nitty gritty of the weekly tour grind. Who’s your least favorite guy to play with is a popular choice. So is what’s your favorite course that you’ve gotten to play?
Matt Fitzpatrick’s been golfing royalty since he won the United States Amateur as a rail-thin 18 year old a decade ago. Winning that tournament changes your life—you’re gonna sign big endorsement deals when you turn pro, you’re into major championships and you’re one phone call away from playing any golf course in the world. This is a long winded-way of saying Fitzpatrick has played so, so many truly iconic courses. And yet, when asked the question, what’s your favorite golf course that you’ve gotten to play, the answer is always the same: “apart from Augusta, it’s Harbour Town.”
That doesn’t mean it’s the “best” golf course he’s played. Perhaps it’s not the most architecturally significant nor the most challenging. But as anyone who’s played the game knows, sentimental value absolutely bumps a course up a few notches. And in that department, it’s hard to beat a course you grew up playing on vacation with your old man.
As the CBS broadcast mentioned once or twice, Fitzpatrick’s been down to Hilton Head, South Carolina countless times. His parents would take him and his younger brother, Alex, across the pond for holidays as a kid. What a dream, then, for Matthew to win the RBC Heritage with both his parents, his brother and his girlfriend on-site.
“I think I can retire now,” he said with a laugh at his winner’s press conference. Of course, now would not be the time to do that, as his second PGA Tour win has him at a career-high ranking of world No. 8.
“Yeah, this one is the one that I’ve always wanted to win. Any golf tournament, you know, other than the majors, of course, there isn’t a higher one on my list than to win this one, and that’s the truth. My family can tell you that, and my friends can tell you the same thing. This place is just a special place for me, and it means the world to have won it.”
The Brit’s got his golf courses. That much is for sure. Fitzpatrick’s first PGA Tour win came at last year’s U.S. Open at The Country Club in in Brookline, where he won that U.S. Amateur. Then came a prolonged down period, which we now know was mostly due to a nagging neck injury that hamstrung his strength and fitness regime for a few months. Now his second win has come at his ol’ stomping grounds—and he says he felt plenty of support throughout the week despite going toe-to-toe with Jordan Spieth, among the most popular golfers this side of Tiger Woods.
Which brings us to our next point. On the first playoff hole Sunday, with Fitzpatrick having already missed his birdie putt and Spieth stalking his, fans began in impromptu USA! USA! chant. Predictably, this incensed the decorous bunch on Golf Twitter.
This…this is part of the reason golf’s historically been such an easy target. We get some tipsy fans rooting for their guy, in between shots, and the first reaction from plenty of folks is how dare they!
Personally, I loved it. Golf needs much more of that energy—of fans caring about who wins and letting that person, and the person they’re not rooting for, know it. That kind of passion is celebrated in every other sport. That’s the goal. And as long as it doesn’t cross the line into being personally disrespectful or impacting the competition itself—which, of course, it did not—all it does is add juice to a sport that can use every ounce of juice it can get. Fitzpatrick still got a very warm reception after holing his final putt, so it’s not as if the Hilton Head fans spit on the grave of Bobby Jones and disrespected the spirit of golf. They simply rooted for their guy. And if this was a tournament in England, and Spieth missed a putt and Fitzpatrick had a chance to win, I’d be offended if they didn’t chant something. Fitzpatrick himself didn’t seem to mind. If anything, it helped him lock in a touch more.
“When you’re the underdog or the person that everyone is not rooting for, it’s obviously a little bit sweeter when you do win, yeah, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “But I felt like I had a lot of support out there myself. Obviously the U-S-A and the Spieth chants were louder, but I definitely had support out here, and I felt that because of my connection here. But yeah, it was very, very nice to win.”
Yup…that’s sports. People root for one entity and against the other entity. One guy wins, and everyone moves on. Crowds don’t have to root for everyone equally. That would be rather boring, and the everyone’s-a-great-guy-so-let’s-just-cheer-and-be-merry stuff helped developed golf’s reputation for being so damn vanilla. That little touch of animosity only added to the atmosphere on Sunday, and anyone who tells you otherwise probably wants golf to grow and evolve only in the very narrow and staid way they see fit.
“There was a real atmosphere out there,” Fitzpatrick’s caddie, Billy Foster, told Golf Digest. That’s a guy who’s caddied for a who’s who of European greats including Seve Ballesteros, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn. It was a “real atmosphere” because the fans cared. That should be celebrated, not bemoaned.
The post-Tiger era has given us parity—but also excellence
A week after Jon Rahm became a multiple major champion in his 20s, another multiple major champion in his 20s posted his second consecutive top-four finish against a stacked field. Spieth’s runner-up at Harbour Town saw him come up just short in his bid to win the RBC Heritage for the second year, and that’s what he’ll be thinking about as he heads back to Dallas for a few weeks off.
“When you’re in a playoff, you plan on beating the guy by one,” Spieth said Sunday. “Yeah, I guess big picture it’s great, but I wish it would have ended differently.”
Still, the solo 2nd pushed Spieth back up inside the world’s top 10, where he’s surrounded by a bunch of other young multiple major champions. Here are the newest top 15, in order, along with their major tally and PGA Tour victories.
1. Jon Rahm — 2 majors/11 PGA Tour wins
2. Scottie Scheffler — 1 major/6 PGA Tour wins
3. Rory McIlroy — 4 majors/23 PGA Tour wins
4. Patrick Cantlay — 0 majors/8 PGA Tour wins
5. Xander Schauffele — 0 majors/7 PGA Tour wins
6. Cameron Smith — 1 major/6 PGA Tour wins
7. Max Homa — 0 majors/6 PGA Tour wins
8. Matt Fitzpatrick — 1 major/2 PGA Tour wins
9. Jordan Spieth — 3 majors/13 PGA Tour wins
10. Will Zalatoris — 0 majors/1 PGA Tour win
11. Viktor Hovland — 0 majors/3 PGA Tour wins
12. Sam Burns — 0 majors/5 PGA Tour wins
13. Collin Morikawa — 2 majors/5 PGA Tour wins
14. Justin Thomas — 2 majors/15 PGA Tour wins
15. Cameron Young — 0 majors/0 PGA Tour wins
Every guy bolded is between 26 (Collin Morikawa) and 33 (Rory McIlroy), and each has at least two majors and five wins. Add in 23-year-old Brooks Koepka, with his four majors and eight PGA Tour wins, and you have six players between 26 and 33 that fit that criteria. And that doesn’t include Scottie Scheffler, who just posted his 11th consecutive finish of T12 or better despite another poor putting week, and who sure looks ready to add a second major championship sooner rather than later. The takeaway here: the post-Tiger generation has produced intense parity. We think one guy is ready to break away from the pack, and then it’s a different guy. Rory McIlroy had his run. So did Jordan Spieth. Collin Morikawa was The One for a bit there. Rahm seems like he’s on his run right now, though Scottie’s right there, too. Then there’s Justin Thomas, who continues to pick off a win here and a win there.
It’s parity, but it’s also greatness. Those six already have Hall of Fame resumes, and they’re all squarely in their prime, with plenty more in the tank. The question is: who finishes with the most majors and the most PGA Tour wins, and are those two different people?
Where on earth is Jay Monahan?
Rory McIlroy’s withdrawal from this week’s RBC Heritage felt like a bit of a Moment. The face of the PGA Tour over the last year, who’s given countless interviews to discuss the intricacies of the professional golf schism, pulled out of a designated event right after a bitterly disappointing missed cut at the Masters. That’s a problem, because McIlroy already skipped the season-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions, and guys are only allowed to miss one designated event if they’re to collect their full Player Impact Program money. As such, McIlroy will not collect the final 25% of the bonus he earned for finishing second in the PIP, which amounts to $3 million.
The optics weren’t great; McIlroy knows the rules because, as a member of the PGA Tour policy board, McIlroy helped make the rules. If this scenario happened in another league—a star player opting out of a key component of the league’s structure—you’d expect the commissioner to be front-and-center, to issue a statement and remove any ambiguity as to how the league will react. Only that didn’t happen this week—the tour didn’t release any official information on McIlroy’s punishment/fine, leaving it to media to sort through the details. And, per PGA tour rules, commissioner Jay Monahan has the authority to step in and rule that extenuating circumstances caused McIlroy’s withdrawal, which would allow him to collect the rest of his money. We don’t think that’s happening. But we don’t know.
That’s because Jay Monahan seems rather hesitant to speak in public. Like, ever. He’s left it to players to answer tough questions about the PGA Tour, LIV Golf and everything in between. And the players are beginning to notice his absence from the public eye. He seems to only take the microphone when he has a script full of bullet-points in front of him.
“I imagined he’d communicate (the McIlroy decision) to the membership,” Schauffele told SI.com’s Alex Miceli. “It’s a lot of money. It’s a big deal. A lot of people want to know what’s going on.” Miceli also got this telling quote from Rickie Fowler: “I think that’s a big thing that’s been talked about for the last year, is having more transparency and just good communication between players the tour,” Fowler said. “I think that includes you (the media) as well. And ultimately, the more transparency and the more everyone’s on the same page, the better.”
Reading between the lines, the players are sick of Monahan’s silence. He’s been noticeably absent over the last 12 months as his tour’s been under fire more than ever before. I don’t remember exactly where I heard it, but I learned on some podcast that Eli Manning would always be available to media after losses but would let the other guys get their screen time after wins. It’s in hard times that true leaders emerge to answer tough questions. Monahan, in this department, has dropped the ball.
A hugely popular winner on the Korn Ferry Tour
Speaking generally, Korn Ferry Tour players can be broken down into three groups. You have the up-and-comers, the guys 26ish and younger whose careers are on a firmly upward trajectory. It’s only a matter of time until they get their PGA Tour cards. Then there are the career grinders, the 30-somethings that oscillate between the PGA Tour and the KFT or the KFT and mini tours. And then there are the blasts from the pasts, the names that ring a bell from early 2010s Golf Channel, who won’t give up the dream because of career arc’s like Spencer Levin’s.
Levin has a bit of a cult-like following in the die-hardest golf fan circles, mostly because he has a fiery temper and he smokes cigarettes, and golf fans enjoy tantrums and have a weird obsession with golfers who smoke cigarettes. (He also made some headlines earlier this year for going with the Happy Gilmore putting style, which he still uses). Levin first popped onto our screens back in 2004 when he took low amateur at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock with a highly impressive T14, then posed for a picture alongside runner-up Phil Mickelson rocking a popped-up collar and a visor. The picture’s kind of iconic.
Levin would go on to have a pretty solid but distinctly unspectacular career on the PGA Tour, making 244 starts and $8.2 million over about 15 years. He’d then faded from relevance and, still more than a decade off being PGA Tour Champions eligible, found himself in golf purgatory—especially when he bogeyed his final hole in KFT Q-School last fall to miss out on guaranteed starts. So he’s been back on the Monday qualifier grind, playing some for PGA Tour events and some for KFT events on weeks like this one, where the PGA Tour event had no Monday option.
Levin played his way into this week’s Veritex Bank Championship in Texas through the Monday qualifier then won the tournament, an eight-under 63 proving good enough to overcome a six-shot deficit for a one-shot lead.
“It’s the only thing I’ve ever done,” Levin said after the round. “I know somewhere in me, I can still play like we talked about earlier. I just don’t really know how to do anything else, so I got a lot better chance making money doing this than anything else. So I just figured something good was gonna happen, and thankfully today did.”
The win is Levin’s first in a PGA Tour sanctioned event and comes 18 years after he turned professional. Financially, it gets him $180,000 but, far more importantly, moves him up to 11th on the Korn Ferry Tour’s season-long points list. The top 30 from that list at the end of the season earn PGA Tour cards, which means there’s a great chance we’ll see this scrappy dude from Sacramento back on the big tour. Though, it should be noted, he has quite smoking.
—Jon Rahm trudged on over from Augusta National to Harbour Town to honor his commitment to play in the Heritage. After a meh opening round 72 he bounced back with three consecutive rounds in the 60s for a very solid T15 finish. He then hung around to provide some excellent commentary for the CBS broadcast booth. In related news, Rahm’s stock is at an all-time high. Everyone loves a winner, of course, and that’s especially too when you win the biggest and most-watched golf tournament in the world. But he pairs that golfing excellence, and the sheer passion with which he plays the game, with a calm but also warm demeanor off the course. He’s quickly emerging as a public consensus fan favorite in that Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy tier.
—Speaking of Spieth…he’s always chirping constantly to caddie Michael Greller, but one line stood above the rest as far as comedic value. It came on the second playoff hole, the par-3 17th, and the two were debating club selection. Right before addressing the ball, he asked Greller if he thought the wind would impact its flight. “Yep, the flag’s moving.”
An awkward pause, before Spieth weighed in: “I mean, it’s not. That’s why I’m asking you.”
—Another week, another round of slow-play ruminations. Part of the reason Patrick Cantlay gets as much flak as he does is because he’s very good, and so his slow play is front and center on broadcasts almost weekly. He’s far from the only slow one. But he is absolutely one of the slowest, and both Fitzpatrick and Spieth looked positively peeved by how long it took him to navigate a tricky situation at the 14th, when his ball came to rest wedged between a wooden plank and a wooden railing.
“I just needed to make sure I was totally committed to what I decided to do there,” Cantlay said after the round. “I wasn’t decided until the end…”
No! No, no, no. You needed to make that decision within the 45 seconds you are allotted to hit a shot. But Cantlay knows that the PGA Tour ignores its own pace-of-play policy every single day, so the only thing he’s concerned about is waiting until his mind is 100% made up. But that’s not how golf works; making a decision when you’re not totally sure is part of the game’s challenge. The fault here, as I’ve said repeatedly, is not with the players, who are just doing whatever they can to shoot a lower score. It’s with the tour for letting guys play however slowly they want. Colt Knost, the CBS announcer who played in the final ground of the 2012 RBC Heritage, noted on just how slow things have gotten in the last decade.
—This is the celebration of a man who knows he’s about to make $360,000 for four days’ worth of caddying.
—LIV Golf has reached its long-awaited Adelaide event, and this one should feel much bigger than the stateside events they’ve had. The Australian ties to LIV run deep, from frontman Greg Norman to marquee signing Cameron Smith, and they’ve been looking forward to this event specifically as far more fans are expected to turn out. There’s even an encircled par-3 similar, although on a much smaller scale, to what the WM Phoenix Open does with its 16th. After a very strong showing from its players at the Masters, it’s an important week for LIV to build some positive momentum from its own events, which have mostly been disappointing this year.
—Fitzpatrick will play in this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans alongside his little brother, Alex, a former All-American at Wake Forest who has been grinding on the Challenge Tour. A win in the team event would indeed get Alex his PGA Tour card, and what an all-time big-bro move that would be from Matthew. As for any thought that he’d want to take next week off after the Masters-Heritage stretch, he says it’s actually had the opposite impact: “I’m even more excited to go now,” he said.
Until next week,