Monday Scramble: Media squabble and caddie trouble for two Tour stars

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Bryson DeChambeau scours the free-agent caddie market, Phil Mickelson takes aim at a local reporter, Cam Davis becomes the latest first-time winner, Jin Young Ko responds to life as the world No. 2 and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

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It wasn’t Bryson DeChambeau’s finest week, to put it generously.

First, he parted ways with caddie Tim Tucker, who has been on his bag full time since 2018. That’s not all that uncommon on Tour, of course, where caddie turnover happens virtually every week. But the timing of the split – the night before his title defense, with The Open, the Olympics, the playoffs and Ryder Cup all in the next few months – couldn’t have been worse and prompted questions about why their issues couldn't be resolved.

No doubt, these types of splits can be awkward and embarrassing, especially if it’s the boldfaced player who was left hanging. (There were unconfirmed reports that Tucker quit the bag, which is a more logical conclusion to what happened, based on the timing, on the eve of the tournament.) But that’s not where DeChambeau erred during this forgettable week.

On his way to missing the cut, he declined to talk to the media after each of the first two rounds, not just dodging questions about his departed caddie but ignoring his professional responsibility as A) a top Tour player; B) the defending champion; and C) a player who is literally sponsored by Rocket Mortgage. Surely they were left to wonder what they were actually paying for.

It's no industry secret that sports stars today generally view interviews as more of a necessary evil than in past generations – the new-age post-round car wash of broadcast partners doesn’t help – but many still understand the role of the assembled press and how discussing their day’s work, good and bad, is as much a part of the job requirement as playing by the rules or signing a scorecard. In time, DeChambeau will, too.

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Phil Mickelson has been the subject of plenty of unflattering stories throughout his long and distinguished career, but for some reason a new Detroit News story into an old, previously unreported event – how a shady bookie had allegedly cheated Mickelson out of $500,000 – couldn’t go unnoticed.

It wasn’t that the story was untrue; the newspaper obtained federal court records from 2007 and Mickelson’s own attorney confirmed the validity of the details. But the newly minted PGA champion threw a hissy fit at the timing of the story, saying that the News’ investigative journalist was “opportunistic” and merely out to embarrass him and, somehow by extension, the tournament. Mickelson huffed that he wouldn’t return to play in Detroit, only to walk back that statement and say that he’d once again bless the tournament with his presence if 50,000 fans signed a petition and committed to doing a random act of kindness.

It was a bizarre and inane turn to a story that, quite frankly, wouldn’t have become a national headline if Mickelson himself hadn’t given it oxygen.

Was the timing of the news dump odd? For sure.

But Lefty snapped, he wrote on Twitter, because he’d grown tired of local media members who “use famous people when they come to town to increase their own exposure” – and that the only folks these vindictive reporters truly hurt is those associated with the tournament and its charitable endeavors.

There’s a lot to unpack there, and Mickelson has every right to call out what he views as unfair coverage, but let’s start with this: A quick search of Robert Snell, the author of this alleged hit piece, shows that he’s a respected, well-connected and award-winning federal courts reporter who has been on this beat for more than a decade. In other words, he’s long past needing to increase his “own exposure” through clickbait. His work speaks for itself.

Snell hasn’t responded publicly to Mickelson’s criticism, but it’s reasonable to assume what happened here: that Snell recently got tipped off and, rather than post it on a random Tuesday in June, fleshed out the story to supplement the paper’s comprehensive coverage for Rocket Mortgage week. Tour weeks are oftentimes all-hands-on-deck efforts in local newsrooms. This was no different, albeit with a slightly more unsavory angle.

Few nationally would have noticed (or cared) that Mickelson got swindled out of all that cash more than a decade ago, but he made what appears to be a rare miscalculation by bringing life to this hyperlocal story. He created the distraction by responding, turning what was at most one question in a post-round presser into a three-day story. He harmed the tournament by threatening to boycott. And isn’t that ultimately more damaging to his image and brand than the original story?

Oh, and Mickelson tied for 74th in Detroit and said afterward how much he enjoyed the fan support in Detroit. We'll see just how much when his 2022 playing schedule comes out.

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Another PGA Tour event benefited from the longer summer hours with a second consecutive twilight playoff, this one going not eight holes but five, with Cam Davis knocking off Troy Merritt and Joaquin Niemann to capture his first Tour event at the Rocket Mortgage.

The 26-year-old Australian didn’t even look like much of a threat until he clanked his bunker shot on the 71st hole off the flagstick for an unlikely eagle. He followed it up with a dart into 18, posting 18-under 270 and watching as Niemann and Merritt failed to move past him.

Niemann hadn’t dropped a shot in 72 holes of regulation but was the hard-luck loser with a bogey on the first extra hole. Davis had a putt to win on each extra hole but failed to convert, only securing the title once Merritt missed a 6-footer for par on playoff hole No. 5.

For Davis, it continued a steady climb up the pro ranks, from an Australian Open title in 2017 to a Korn Ferry Tour win in ’18 to a steady but unspectacular run on the big Tour, culminating with this big breakthrough and status now through 2023.

“It’s still so surreal for me,” Davis said. “I’ve been in some good positions before, but to play the golf that I played coming down the stretch was just awesome.”

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Jin Young Ko apparently didn’t like surrendering her No. 1 ranking.

The top-ranked player in the world for 100 consecutive weeks dating to July 2019, Ko was bumped from the No. 1 spot two weeks ago when Nelly Korda captured the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Korda became the first American to ascend to the top of the rankings since 2014.

All Ko did a week later was shoot 16-under 268 to take the Volunteers of America Classic by one shot over Matilda Castren. It was Ko’s eighth career title, extending her personal streak of at least one win in every season since 2017.

Said Castren: "I can definitely see why she was world No. 1 for so long. It was just really special."

When asked if losing the No. 1 ranking was an added motivation, Ko admitted: “I wasn’t tired when I was No. 1, but after that one I was thinking I had a lot of pressure with the No. 1 world ranking. But I made it this week and I’m so happy.”

THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...

Lucas Herbert and caddie
Lucas Herbert and caddie

Time for Two: Lucas Herbert. The 25-year-old Aussie captured his second European Tour title, pulling away from Johannes Veerman with birdies on Nos. 15 and 17 to win the Irish Open by three shots and clinch a spot in the upcoming Open Championship. Ranked 70th in the world at the end of last year, he’d backed up significantly over the first half of the new year, playing sparingly and failing to finish inside the top 20 until the past few weeks. He’s now inside the top 60, higher than ever.

So Much for an Encore: Rory McIlroy. After a stirring performance at Torrey Pines in which he finally had a realistic chance to add to his major haul, McIlroy didn’t look sharp while playing at Mount Juliet. He shot over par in each of the weekend rounds, tied for 59th and conceded afterward that he needs to work “pretty hard” on his game before this week's Scottish Open. He was particularly disappointed with his driver – normally the biggest weapon in his arsenal – but the links courses the next two weeks should allow him to hit more 2-irons and get the ball in play.

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More at Stake: Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim. Both world-class players withdrew from the upcoming Open Championship, but not for injury reasons – they’re trying to fully prepare for next month’s Olympics, where they’ll arguably have more to gain than any other player. South Korean men are required to start a 20-month military service by the time they turn 28, but exceptions are made – including for those who medal at the Olympics. Im, 23, would have another shot at the 2024 Olympics, but this is the 26-year-old Kim’s final shot to avoid pausing his PGA Tour career. Sangmoon Bae (one top-25 in 55 starts since 2018) and Seung-yul Noh (zero top-10s in 15 starts since 2017) are recent examples of players who fulfilled their obligation to their country but couldn’t rediscover their games upon returning.

Tip of the Cap: Willie Mack III. The subject of a lengthy feature by this scribe a few months ago, Mack made his first Tour cut in his hometown event. (He tied for 71st.) Good stuff, and a good dude worth rooting for.

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It’s Still Happening ...: Hideki Matsuyama. The Masters champion was forced out of the Rocket Mortgage after testing positive for COVID-19. The positive result puts into question his eligibility for The Open, which precedes the Tokyo Olympics, which is of utmost importance to the Japanese star. The timing was terrible for a player who has continued to play well following his Masters triumph, but, of course, this whole thing could have been avoided had he been fully vaccinated by now.

Open season: College golfers. Athletes can now profit off their name, image and likeness, and though the new rules will certainly benefit the big names in football and basketball, even the top golfers might be able to earn a little extra beer money with a few sponsorship opportunities. The USGA and R&A are in the process of determining what amateurism still means in golf.

Quote of the Week: Rickie Fowler. Here’s Fowler perfectly summarizing what appears to be a wildly dissonant setup for The Open: “It seems like us as players, we’re jumping through some hurdles and dodging bullets, and they’re having 32,000 fans a day at the tournament.” Yes, it beats the alternative of having another Open canceled, but for the players it’s overly restrictive and a logistical nightmare. Get in. Get out. Move on.

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At Last, a Sunday to Remember: Bubba Watson: Here were the scores that he had posted in his last eight Sunday rounds: 74-72-73-72-73-80-76-73. That is uggglllly. Well, he bounced back with a bogey-free 64 in Detroit, shaking off his Travelers meltdown and briefly tying for the lead (despite making the cut on the number!) before ultimately running out of holes. His T-6 was his best result since the Zozo last fall.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Will Zalatoris. An old-school gem like Detroit Golf Club would seem as good of a breakthrough site as any for the young stud, but he couldn’t get clicking. After slipping inside the cut line, he finished 77th, last among those who played the weekend. He’s now finished outside the top 50 in each of his last three starts, which might mean the apocalypse is upon us. Sigh.