Cut Line: PGA Tour leaves West Coast in need of some signature moments

Cut Line: PGA Tour leaves West Coast in need of some signature moments

In this week’s edition, we recap the West Coast swing, applaud common sense and contend that consensus, not competing interest, is the only path forward for professional golf.

Made Cut

Common sense. Whether Augusta National Golf Club intended to send a message by granting Joaquin Niemann a spot in this year’s Masters field doesn’t really matter. What matters is that common sense finally cut through the rhetoric and parochial nonsense.

Niemann, who was ranked inside the top 20 in the world when he joined LIV Golf in September 2022 but has since fallen to 81st, had become the face of professional golf’s widening divide as he plummeted in the world ranking and outside of the major championships.

The press release from Augusta National announcing Niemann’s invitation, along with Thorbjørn Olesen and Ryo Hisatsune, never mentioned “LIV Golf” but the message was clear – top players who joined the breakaway circuit are still top players.

While unification of the professional game remains a moving target, the decision to grant Niemann a spot in the year’s first major is at least a sign that common sense still has a place in golf.

Status quo. There was plenty of speculation of how the move by the PGA Tour to a signature-event model would impact events like this week’s Mexico Open.

Some considered the move to a tiered schedule a possible death sentence for those events that hadn’t been anointed with smaller fields, larger points and dramatically more FedExCup points, but this week’s stop suggests otherwise.

The Mexico Open has a world-ranking strength of field of 180, which is slightly better than last year (173), and while there is a distinct lack of star power with Tony Finau the field’s top-ranked player at 24th in the world, there is the aspirational element of players attempting to climb into those signature events.

“I struggled a bit the last few years and ending up finishing 126 last year [in FedExCup points] wasn't really ideal with all these changes. I've just got to take advantage of the chances I get,” said Henrik Norlander, who was tied for third place following a first-round 65.

The evolution of the Tour schedule will not be kind to many events but for players like Norlander, the full-field options are a much-needed opportunity.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Consensus. As professional golf inches toward an unknown future, the degree of difficulty for those tasked with creating that future has never been clearer.

Asked last week in Los Angeles his thoughts on how the game might evolve, Rory McIlroy painted a compelling picture. “It would be one tour. I think you would just create a tour for the top 80 players in the world,” he said of his “world tour” concept.

McIlroy went on to roughly outline a 24-event schedule that would include the majors and some combination of Tour and DP World Tour events in the United States and beyond. Depending on the outcome of the Tour’s ongoing negotiations with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund it’s unclear how LIV Golf might fit into that puzzle or exactly who would qualify for the “world tour.”

“Everyone's got their own interests in this game and that's what happens when you've got quite a fractured landscape at this point,” McIlroy said. “Trying to align everyone's interests and trying to convince everyone that this is the right thing to do for the game of golf as a whole, and if you can convince everyone of that, then it would be pretty simple.”

With a mountain of respect for the Northern Irishman’s optimism, nothing seems simple right now.

West Coast wrap. Seven events into the Tour’s grand signature-event experiment and the results are largely mixed.

For fans of the comeback story, the year started with Chris Kirk and Grayson Murray’s back-to-back victories in Hawaii followed by history at The American Express, which was won by then-amateur Nick Dunlap. From a story-telling perspective the West Coast swing had plenty of content as well as drama, with Nick Taylor’s playoff victory at the WM Phoenix Open providing the season’s best clutch performance.

But for those more interested in the circuit’s move to limited-field signature events, the first two months likely produced more anxiety than answers. The average world ranking of this year’s winners is 644th, although that number is greatly skewed by Dunlap’s ranking of 4,129th, with just a single top-10 winner (Wyndham Clark who was ranked 10th when he won the weather-shorted AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am).

There’s still plenty of runway for the signature events to produce, but the West Coast was well short of a proof of concept.

Missed Cut

Straw man arguments. If Augusta National’s decision to grant Niemann a spot in this year’s Masters feels like progress, Greg Norman reminded everyone on social media that there’s still room for ego and hubris.

Norman took to X (formerly Twitter) on Monday to lean into an old trope: “Laughable. LIV would have 2 players in the top 50 OWGR if you exclude recent signees!” he wrote.

While most can agree that something needs to be done to assure that the game’s best, regardless of what tour they play, gather for the major championships, this is not a world-ranking problem.

By all accounts, the ranking was abundantly clear when LIV Golf requested its events be including in the Official World Golf Ranking and despite Norman’s dogged attempts to frame a false narrative, the facts haven’t changed.

It now seems likely the ranking could have overlooked 54-hole events and limited fields; the primary problem remains LIV Golf’s team element. It was the same concerns OWGR officials had with the Tour’s Zurich Classic, a two-man team event which also does not reward ranking points.

Instead of doubling down on the world ranking, the LIV Golf CEO should spend more time trying to convince the major championships that players like Niemann need to be a part of the game’s biggest events.