Weekend Wrap: Scheffler Takes The Players
The Masters champ scores another huge win. Plus, Galitsky wins the Women's Asia Pacific Am, grown men can't play fast enough, Stealth driver problems and other stuff.
If nothing else, we’re going to get a fascinating case study this April in the whole Players-Masters combo platter of (supposedly) non-compatibility.
Among other compelling tidbits from Scottie Scheffler’s 2023 Players win and stunning run over the last year: the 2022 Masters Champion has won a high-rough, accuracy-matters Players in the build-up to his Masters title defense. Typically, the two events do not share many common leaders, but given Scheffler’s play and the company he joins in holding both titles at the same time, apparently he’s going to be a defy-the-numbers guy.
The five-stroke win over Tyrrell Hatton gave Scheffler another signature win and his sixth PGA Tour title, plus ridiculous momentum headed toward Magnolia Lane and a title defense looking more plausible as Rory McIlroy struggles with is driver and Jon Rahm recuperates from a stomach bug that caused a first round WD.
All six of Scheffler’s professional victories have come in his last 27 starts
Scheffler returns to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking
Scheffler becomes the ninth player to win The Players and the Masters and third to hold both titles at the same time, joining, whoa Nellie…Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods
Pausing here to let you take that in.
I’m not sure what else to say about Scheffler’s win given that it’s so similar to 2022 efforts where he put everything together on grand stages. Right now, only a bad tee time wave seems to be the only thing in the 26-year-olds’ way.
Thailand’s Eila Galitsky Wins Women’s Asia Pacific Am
Thailand’s Eila Galitsky cruised to Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific (WAAP) championship and into multiple major championships.
Ranked 193rd in the World Amateur Golf Ranking prior to the event, Galitsky birded three of her final four holes to win by five over Korea’s Minsol Kim.
Galitsky, who holds a dual nationality of Thailand and Canada, shot a four-under-par 68 to post a 14-under-par 274.
The win secures Galitsky spots in three majors: the AIG Women's Open at Walton Heath, the Amundi Evian Championship and The Chevron Championship. The WAAP victory also gets earns her a place in the Hana Financial Group Championship, ISPS Handa Australian Open, the 120th Women's Amateur Championship and an invitation to play in the Augusta National Women's Amateur (ANWA) next month.
Also of note: Yujie Liu, a 12-year-old from China who was the youngest participant in the championship, closed with a 76 to finish in tied 32nd place at six-over total.
The (2023) Chore Of Finishing 36 On Time
With longer days ahead for Grand Slam events only bad weather will prevent finishing 36 on time. Maybe.
Already glacial pace of play has been worsening this year despite the PGA Tour rules staff’s best efforts to set up courses in a speed-friendly fashion. We know the classic culprits: a few super slow players messing it up for the rest, plenty more who do not hit a shot until they’ve worked through every conceivable option with their caddie, and a select few princes who feel entitled to only pull the trigger when they are good and ready.
Then there are the distance and agronomic influences: par-5’s and par-4’s where groups back up when most of the field can get there in one shot when it used to take two, and greens often Stimping 13 or inches more, thus making even silly little 18 inchers legitimately scary.
But this year there’s a sense the greatest culprit to the pitifully slow rounds may not be distance related as much as a collective entitlement-driven intangible effect spurred on by the LIV era where players are king.
At Riviera where I can attest to the slowing effect of the par-5 11th and 17th becoming reachable in two, those holes played into the wind for three rounds to actually reduce wait times significantly. And while the drivable 10th was still as much as a 25-28 minute affair for players waving groups up, the change in wind direction did not mean any dent was put in the five hour and twenty-minute-plus rounds.
At The Players this week where the Tour rules staff moved the 12th tee back on Thursday, this should have eliminated the drivability pace mess created since that hole was re-imagined. But even under calm, sunny conditions, play at TPC Sawgrass still bogged down throughout the course and round one did not sniff completion on Thursday.
Since its return to March in 2019, The Players has not been able to complete 36 holes on time. Weather twice played a part, while a COVID-19 prompted cancellation caused another.
A look at the March Thursday’s:
Thursday, March 14, 2019 - Play was suspended at 7:52 p.m. with one player (Anirban Lahiri) left on the course.
Thursday, March 12, 2020 - Play was suspended due to darkness at 7:40 p.m. with three players left on the course. Tournament subsequently cancelled.
Thursday, March 11, 2021 - Round was suspended due to darkness at 6:32 p.m. ET with 21 players left on the course.
Thursday, March 10, 2022 - Weather delays throughout the day. First round suspended at 6:36 p.m. ET. with 69 of 72 players in the morning wave completing play.
Thursday, March 9, 2023 - First round was suspended at 6:28 p.m. ET with 21 players yet to complete their round.
Draw a line through the weather day in 2022 and you can still see the trend going from one player not completing play, to three, to 21 and 21. It’s particularly notable this year with the calm conditions and fantastic round one scoring.
The slow play topic may stand out a bit more to American baseball fans who will be watching the new pitch clock and in early spring training play are already seeing the improvement in pace.
ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reports that game times this spring have been reduced from three hours and one minute last year to two hours and thirty-six minutes this spring. This, with runs per game up, from 10.6 to 11 and a lower strikeout rate.
Other positives have already been seen. From more stolen bases and more hits thanks to eliminating “the shift,” golf will get a real life example of simple rule changes addressing the languid pace.
We’ll see if it translates to a better game once the Major League Baseball season starts. But the sharp contrast of actual progress with an increasingly slower round of professional golf will be something to monitor.
It’s not been a banner rollout for Taylormade’s latest Stealth Plus Max 4K UHD Carbon Infused 60X Twist Face $999.99 driver, with Collin Morikawa ditching his for a previous line (😱) and Rory McIlroy struggling with a new Plus model he put in the bag after round one at Riviera.
McIlroy explained the reasoning in a fascinating Players post-first round exchange with reporters. I’m copying and pasting here out of both laziness and not wanting to take anything out of context:
Q. I think the first day last week your driver was slightly off and you got it back. Is it something that you're just not cracking on with your tee shot?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, obviously I went to that new driver in Riviera, and it's just not -- yeah. Look, I wish I could use my driver from last year, but I can't just because of -- you use a driver for so long, and it starts to get a little too -- basically it just wouldn't pass the test.
These driver heads are so finicky, it's hard to get one exactly the same.
Yeah, I mean, I'm obviously trying my best, trying to get something that's as close to what I had last year. Yeah, just struggled a little bit off the tee the last couple weeks.
Q. Are you working on trying to find another driver that works?
RORY McILROY: This one is as close as it's been. Yeah, there's obviously a part of it that's the user, as well. It's quite a lot of user error in there, as well.
Q. How often are you going to test --
RORY McILROY: Well, they were testing drivers at Riviera, but I just didn't even want to take the chance. I just was not comfortable knowing that it could feel -- doesn't look good on me, doesn't look good on TaylorMade.
Q. Good story for us, though.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, but I'm not at your beck and call all the time.
Q. Just for the layman, what would it feel like? Why would a driver fail the test?
RORY McILROY: Just the COR, I guess, the trampoline effect basically. The more a club is used, the more it's hit, the more springy the face becomes.
Q. Is there more of a tendency with this club to do something one way or the other?
RORY McILROY: No, not really. Yeah, well, if anything there's not a lot of left in it, which I like. Historically my miss off the tee has been left, so it's nice to know that you're sort of taking, I guess, that side out of play.
Q. How long have you had that driver in play before --
RORY McILROY: I changed to it on Thursday night of Riviera.
Q. I mean the old driver.
RORY McILROY: Oh, basically since the week after Dubai last year, whenever that was.
McIlroy’s Shotlink numbers from last year, followed by this year suggest a strong right miss tendency but 6-7 yards of distance gain:
McIlroy missed the Players cut with rounds of 76-73.
Scottie Scheffler on another aspect of tournaments with cuts. “If we are going to have an elevated event the week before a major and there is no cut and I show up and play two awful rounds, sometimes you would rather be like, ‘Alright, just kick me out of the tournament, let me go regroup and get ready for next week.’”
Evin Priest on Jason Day’s improved play and with a made Players cut, is likely headed for a Masters appearance by being in the OWGR top 50 through March 27.
Priest also has details on Tiger Woods’ court response to ex-girlfriend Erica Herman’s claims.
LIV announced a combine contest via Twitter only to delete the reveal, writes Alex Myers.
Phil Mickelson is reminding folks on Twitter he hasn’t blocked of a proposal he brought to the Tour, reported on in October 2021 by Mark Cannizzaro.
Politico’s Michael Schaffer considers Saudi Arabia’s blunders in using golf as part of its Kingdom rebrand, including the possibility its players might have to register as foreign agents.
That’s it folks. You might hear from me sooner if I can get a few things finished. I can’t promise a robust News & Notes this week because I’m hosting the 2023 Southern California Golf Hall of Fame ceremonies at Pacific Palms in the City of Industry. This reincarnation/merging of the Southern Cal PGA and SCGA HOF’s is kicking things off by inducting former USGA President Jim Vernon, amateur great Pearl Sinn and posthumously, Max Behr, Ralph Guhdahl, Gary Adams, Shirley Spork, Jimmy DeVoe and Gene Andrews. If you’re coming, say hi and remember, I’m primarily a newsletter writer who dabbles in golf architecture, television punditry and podcasting! Emceeing, not so much.
Have a great Monday,
Re: Scheffler - Do you think there is any hangover effect as defending champ, and especially a first time defending champ? I've got to imagine all of the pre-tournament hoopla/dinner hosting for the defending champ is a lot and a big distraction. If anyone can do it it's Scottie with his mentality, but there is a good reason Faldo is the only first time champ to ever defend.
I think what Rory is saying, and I've heard this from a PING rep. The longer you use a driver and even a fairway, the looser the face becomes and apparently more springy.