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On a busy news week, the 2022 PGA Championship needs a new home, Harris English breaks a drought, Mike Whan leaves a massive void for the LPGA to fill, Justin Thomas apologizes and more in this 2021 debut edition of Monday Scramble:
Trump has been dumped.
What seemed inevitable became official late Sunday night when the PGA of America, in a one-sentence statement, announced that the 2022 PGA Championship will no longer be held at Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey.
That was the only reasonable outcome after the past week, which reinforced the need for golf to once again distance itself from President Trump’s toxicity.
And so the PGA has moved away from him, too, just as it did in 2015 when it canceled the Grand Slam of Golf at his course in Los Angeles following Trump's disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants. And just as the PGA Tour did when it shifted the World Golf Championship event to Mexico after struggling to find a title sponsor at Trump-owned Doral. And just as the R&A did when it failed to deliver the men’s Open Championship to Turnberry after Trump took over.
What Trump wanted most was the validation of hosting a men’s major championship, and the PGA offered a stinging rebuke by canceling its contract one year out, acknowledging that the potential damage to its brand and reputation was too great.
That embarrassment may wound Trump as much as losing the election, being banned by Twitter or, possibly, getting impeached a second time.
Harris English’s remarkable comeback is complete.
The erstwhile hotshot 20-something is now 31, hardened by years of living on the edge of PGA Tour status. What hasn’t changed, at least not all that dramatically, is that sweet, powerful swing, and the only difference now is he has a team around him (led by swing coach Justin Parsons) that helped English rediscover what made him a two-time Tour winner in the first place.
After being relegated to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals in 2019, English had a sensational campaign last year that included a few chances at a drought-busting title and ultimately a return trip to the Tour Championship, which is how he ended up at Kapalua for the 2021 lid-lifter.
English led wire to wire on Maui, shaking off an ugly bogey on the 70th hole by hitting one of the best shots of his life – a rifled 3-iron from 271 yards that settled 10 feet away for eagle on the final hole of regulation. Though the putt slid low, he made birdie on the first extra hole to defeat Joaquin Niemann and win for the first time since fall 2013.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 11, 2021
English has risen to a career-best 17th in the world ranking, but even more importantly – he’s now No. 8 in the Ryder Cup rankings. That was his main goal at the start of the year, he said U.S. captain Steve Stricker is one of his favorite people on Tour (and, hmmm, Stricks has six wildcard picks at his disposal ...), and he wants to experience an international team competition as he did while part of the stacked 2011 Walker Cup squad.
Don’t put it past him. He’s all the way back.
There are myriad ways to measure Mike Whan’s impact on the LPGA, but the most telling may be the emotional reaction from some of the tour players. In a TV interview, Christina Kim said she was distraught when Whan announced that he’d step down this year, likely in the second quarter, to pursue other opportunities. So were countless others.
— Jane Park (@TheJanePark) January 6, 2021
Thank you @LPGACommish for all you have done for the @lpga! To see how much the Tour has grown since my rookie year in 2010 is incredible & all thanks to you. Grateful for your leadership & passion to advocate for the advancement of female athletes! Best wishes in ur next chapter https://t.co/sSZ8YIuAJ9
— Amelia Lewis LPGA (@AmeliaLewisLPGA) January 6, 2021
Since arriving in 2010 he’s been a savior for the women’s tour, rescuing the circuit from the brink when it had only 24 official events and just $41 million in prize money. (In 2021, in the middle of a global pandemic, the tour is offering 34 tournaments and a record $76 million.) But more than fatter pockets for his players, Whan has also brought an infectious attitude and fighting spirit, imbuing his players with the confidence and knowledge that they should be treated not just as great women golfers but phenomenal athletes, period.
Whan's successor will be tasked with keeping sponsors happy, of course, but just as important will be maintaining the personal touch with players that he handled so adeptly.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Appropriately Contrite: Justin Thomas. Following the third round (and again after Sunday's finale) JT apologized after a hot mic caught him using a homophobic slur following a missed putt. His full answers can be found here and here, but he totally owned it and seemed genuinely horrified that he'd made such a mistake. Needless to say, he likely will be in line for a fine from the Tour for conduct unbecoming of a professional (the Tour doesn’t disclose conduct discipline). JT will be back in action next week in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour.
OK, So Now Where?: 2022 PGA. Now that Bedminster is out, we turn our attention to which venues could – or should – host the year’s second major in 2022. Southern Hills (on the books for 2030) is reportedly the frontrunner, with Liberty National also under consideration and Valhalla always an option. Selfishly, we’d love to see Riviera or Bandon Dunes get a crack at it.
Bye-Bye For Now: Turnberry. On Monday morning, the R&A joined the PGA in distancing itself from Trump, announcing that it won't return The Open to Turnberry until "we are convinced that the focus will be on the championship, the players and the course itself and we do not believe that is achievable in the current circumstances." A shame, since Turnberry is arguably the best course in the Open rota.
Stop Trying to Make This a Thing: Permanently expanded Tournament of Champions field. Because of the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, the Tour decided to allow those who reached the Tour Championship to join the 26 calendar-year winners in paradise. That's a fine idea for a one-off, and all but three of the eligible players showed up, resulting in a better-than-usual field with 29 of the top 50 in the world. But making it to Kapalua is one of the perks for winning on Tour, which is getting increasingly harder to do. Moving forward, those select few are the only players who should be there, strength of field be damned.
Tone-Deaf Much?: Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player. Twenty-four hours after pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol in an insurrection that killed five people, including a Capitol Police officer, Sorenstam and Player arrived at the White House to receive their Presidential Medal of Freedom in a private event that was closed to the press. Probably for the best, since they were roundly skewered anyway for their participation given the circumstances. Good luck explaining away that one.
When You Forget to Practice Your Putting: Hideki Matsuyama. According to stats guru Justin Ray, Hideki’s dreadful first three rounds at Kapalua included a -10.36 strokes gained on the greens, the second-worst total since ShotLink started tracking in 2005. We’d like to chalk this up to a bad week, but Matsuyama has never been better than 78th in putting. At this point just try something new – maybe the armlock method that’s resurrected so many careers?
Beware: Hot mics! JT wasn’t the only player last week for whom the TV announcers had to apologize. Also providing some colorful, R-rated commentary was Patrick Cantlay berating himself and Jon Rahm bemoaning the number of spike marks around the hole (though they now can be tapped down without penalty, so what’s the big deal?). Without fans to provide the ambient noise, this stuff is bound to pop up – and normally, it's just harmless fun.
When You’re Not Quite Mainstream Yet: Bryson DeChambeau. Sad to say the nerds who compete on "Jeopardy!" aren’t familiar with the reigning U.S. Open champ, who might be the most-talked about player in golf (non-Tiger division) but apparently hasn’t quite garnered worldwide attention. To his credit, Big Bryson took the snub well:
— Bryson DeChambeau (@b_dechambeau) January 8, 2021
The Irony of Ironies: Team Tiger criticism of the “Tiger” documentary. We still haven’t watched the doc – it’s on our to-do list this week! – but before Part 1 aired, Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, released a statement, saying in part that it’s “just another unauthorized and salacious outsider attempt to paint an incomplete portrait of one of the greatest athletes of all time.” Incomplete, of course, because Tiger and those around him declined to participate ...
Drought-Busters!: The 2020-21 Tour season. That’s now five players who won this season after going six or more years since their last victories, with English joining Stewart Cink, Brian Gay, Martin Laird and Robert Streb. English said it’s easy to doubt that you’ll ever reach that pinnacle again, but when you do? It’s that much sweeter.
Might Want a Do-Over: Joaquin Niemann. Rather than readying for a playoff on the range, he was spotted hanging out at a picnic table with his mentor, Sergio Garcia, and a few WAGs. Yes, hitting a slinging hook off a severe downhill lie isn’t the easiest shot to practice. And, sure, he’s plenty limber at 22. But wouldn’t you at least want to stay competitively locked in, just in (the very likely) case of overtime?
No Trouble ... Yet: Jon Rahm. The biggest equipment free agent of the season, Rahm (T-7) broke in his new Callaway sticks and ranked 12th out of 42 players in the strokes gained: tee to green category. Worth monitoring: He lost strokes to the field with his approach shots, which has long been one of his only areas needing improvement. It's reasonable to expect that a player of Rahm's stature wouldn't make the leap without exhaustive testing, but how he plays with the new clubs will be a major storyline in 2021.
#BecauseFlorida: Honda Classic fans. Despite surging COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the Honda, scheduled for March 18-21, became the first event in the Florida swing to announce its plans to bring back fans. Though no attendance numbers were announced, tournament officials plan to “reimagine” the Bear Trap around the 17th hole, with three sections with limited seating in socially distanced blocks of two and four seats.
5 THOUGHTS FROM WATCHING BRYSON THIS WEEK
1.) Like usual, Bryson DeChambeau led the field off the tee, gaining more than six and a half shots on the field. The rest of his game, however, cost him 1.259 strokes to the field, resulting in a tie for seventh in his first event since the Masters.
2.) When last we saw DeChambeau, he said he hoped to soon implement a 48-inch driver, the longest allowed under the Rules of Golf. Apparently, it still wasn’t ready for the wide-open fairways at Kapalua. Even though the course checked in at nearly 7,600 yards, DeChambeau said he was hitting it “too far” off the tee and that the longer shaft “didn’t really fit the model.” If not here, then where? There aren’t THAT many courses he can let fly on Tour with reckless abandon.
3.) During his offseason speed training, Bryson said he pushed himself to the brink of blacking out, just like his workout buddy, World Long Drive champion Kyle Berkshire. DeChambeau is going harder than ever in an attempt to consistently touch 205-210 mph ball speed, a journey he said should take another year to 18 months. But to us that final stage seems unnecessary – he’s ALREADY at a huge advantage off the tee with his current distance gains. Why not maintain this edge and work on his wedge play, which can be an even greater difference-maker from where he’s hitting it?
4.) To that point: At Kapalua, Bryson's swing speed with the driver, on the two measured holes, was in the 134-135 mph range. That's more than TWENTY mph faster than the Tour average (113).
5.) Here’s another way to think of Bryson’s body transformation. About a year ago he told me he wore a medium shirt. This polo, when you zoom in closely, is an XL. That’s two shirt sizes in about a year. Respect.