The evolution of Bryson DeChambeau started in Illinois

Nine years ago Bryson DeChambeau won the U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields.

 

I can’t say I really know Bryson DeChambeau, but it certainly felt like it after he won the U.S. Open on Sunday at Pinehurst in such dramatic fashion.

DeChambeau was just a kid out of Southern Methodist University when he won the U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields in 2015.  Chicago rarely gets an event of that stature, and I reported on it throughout. He followed that with two more big wins on Illinois soil.

Two years later DeChambeau, now a budding professional, won his first title on the PGA Tour at TPC Deere Run.  That tournament in downstate Silvis is well-known as an event that regularly produces first-time winners on the PGA Tour. I reported on that one, too.

Finally, last year DeChambeau won the LIV Golf League’s event at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. Not only did he win the individual title, he also captained the Crushers – the team champion – and, yes, I witnessed it all.

I wasn’t on hand in North Carolina, where he outdueled Rory McIlroy in a stirring battle for the Open title but watching the drama unfold underscored for me just how much DeChambeau has developed as a golfer.

At Olympia Fields he was so excited to win he wandered around the grounds with a big smile on his face anxious to have his picture taken and talk with most anyone who wanted to talk with him.

At TPC Deere Run he got emotional at the trophy ceremony, recalling that his idol Payne Stewart was also a winner of the event early in his pro career.  Stewart also attended SMU, and DeChambeau said that was a big reason why he went there.

He donned a Stewart-style cap in the JDC and again used his headware at Pinehurst to honor the late, great player who won the first U.S. Open played at the course in 1999.  That was a hard one to forget by me, too.  Stewart held off Phil Mickelson with a dramatic putt on the final hole, a scenario with an ending much like the DeChambeau-McIlroy battle on Sunday.

And then we come to Rich Harvest Farms, site of  LIV tournaments the last two years but not this one.  It’s moving to Bolingbrook Golf Club in September.  DeChambeau had a lot more fun in his win at Rich Harvest last year, coming from eight shots back in the final round and then edging out Anirban Lahiri, one of his teammates.  They put on a show  mugging for the cameras afterwards.

That was a big weekend but didn’t compare to a LIV event at Greenbrier in West Virginia a few weeks earlier.  DeChambeau shot 61-58 on the weekend to get a victory there.

Though DeChambeau is a two-time Open winner – he won when no spectators were allowed in pandemic times in 2020 at New York’s Winged Foot – his life hasn’t been all fun and games.  Very much a free thinker, DeChambeau made some radical swing and equipment adjustments after beefing up to increase his distance off the tee.  Many questioned his decisions but they paid off.

He also didn’t get along with Brooks Koepka, a PGA Tour rival.  They’re very different personalities. Both jumped to the controversial LIV circuit and have won major championships since making their decisions to leave the PGA Tour. Now, after last week’s win, DeChambeau has become LIV’s most popular player.

One TV commentator labeled DeChambeau “golf’s ultimate showman’’ during the Open.  That may be a stretch, but his personality is refreshing in these days of turmoil in professional golf. He should be a big hit at the LIV tournament in Nashville this week and his budding popularity might even become a factor in getting the PGA Tour and LIV to eventually make peace. Time will tell.

Bryson DeChambeau (left) had fun with Crushers’ teammate Anirban Lahiri after edging him for the title at LIV/Chicago in 2023. (Joy Sarver Photos)

 

 

 

It’d be helpful to get Nicklaus’ take on the PGA-LIV issue

OCALA, FL. – My starting point as a golf writer came at the 1968 Western Open at Olympia Fields.  Jack Nicklaus won it.

Over the next 56 years I’ve reported, commented and interviewed many people in the golf industry. Many times I’ve been asked who is the best interview in the golf world, and my response has never changed:

“It’s Jack Nicklaus.  No question about it, and no one else is even close.’’

Not that you always agree with him, but Nicklaus has a good track record for being inciteful, candid, helpful, informative and expansive.

There was somewhat of a departure from that during his annual sit-down with the media before his Memorial tournament, however. He did have one gripe.  He didn’t like having the Memorial moved to a week before the U.S. Open.

“We’re here because the tour asked us to help them out,’’ said Nicklaus. “When I played I would rarely play a week before any major championship.  So I’m asked to be part of putting on a golf tournament in a week when I would never play.’’

Point well taken, and Nicklaus wasn’t treated so well by the tour with the dates the Honda Classic (now Cognizant Classic of the Palm Beaches) was given, either.  Nicklaus has a deep involvement there but, as the first event on the Florida Swing, even the PGA Tour players living in the area weren’t reluctant to skip it.

Tournament dates weren’t the major issue leading into this year’s two-week Memorial-U.S.  Open stretch, however.  The dragged out negotiations between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf League remain golf’s hottest topic but — as hard as the media members at Ohio’s Muirfield Village tried — Nicklaus wanted to stay clear of it.

“I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the day- to- day of the tour anymore,’’ he said.  “I’m 84 years old.  I haven’t played a tour event since 2005, so I’m a few years removed from that. There are a lot smarter people and a lot better people that are better versed on what’s going on than I as it relates to the problems of the game of golf.’’

Nicklaus was very much involved the last time the PGA Tour was involved in such a controversy.

“That was 1968.  I was 28 years old. Arnold (Palmer) was 38.  And Arnold and I and Gardner Dickenson, who was chairman of the board, really broke away from the PGA of America.  We didn’t have anything against the PGA of America, except that we wanted to run our own business.’’

PGA Tour-LIV is a lot different than that.

Nicklaus contacted PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan a couple months ago in preparation for a previous interview, and their conversation was short.

“I said, Jay, I’m worried a little bit about what’s going on,’ said Nicklaus.  “I said `Are you doing all right or are you not?  He said `We’re doing fine.’  I said, `That’s all I need to know.’’

Given the widespread respect Nicklaus has in the game, his views could be beneficial to bringing peace back to the men’s professional game but that’s not a topic for lengthy discussions.

About as far as he will go is to laud Tiger Woods’ involvement in the negotiations.

“Tiger’s has a lot of experience.  He’s been around long enough.  He’s not going to play a whole lot more.  He can still contribute,’’ said Nicklaus.  “It’s great that he wants to contribute and be part of it.  It’s great that the guys want him to contribute.  I’m delighted to see him on the board.’’

Beyond that, Nicklaus isn’t convinced that a merger is the answer.

“I don’t know whether it’s imperative that that happens,’’ he said.  “It would be better if they all played together more often.  I do think that, but that’s above my pay grade.  To really answer that a hundred percent I’d have to  know all the ramifications of it.’’

Nicklaus doesn’t and, apparently, no one else does either.

 

 

 

My reflections on a mind-boggling two weeks in pro golf

 

OCALA, FL. – Who would have thunk it?

There’s some developments over the last two weeks in the pro golf world that defy the imagination – at least mine. These are changing times in golf, and that’s been the case for a while – but I never would have imagined the following series of events in such a short span.

Some are sad, some strange, some noteworthy.  None are related, but all – in one way or another – are food for thought.  (I’ve  listed them in pretty much chronological order for lack of a better way to put them on display):

RORY – Here you have one of the best players win a big tournament, the Wells Fargo Championship, then file for divorce the next day – and that happened to be the day players like Rory McIlroy could start arriving for the PGA Championship, the second major of the season.

McIlroy’s timing was strange, but that’s not all.  He refused to talk about it, even though social media was smothered with speculation and opinions about the sudden turn of events.  It even spread to Amanda Balionis, the popular TV golf reporter who was reported to be McIlroy’s new love interest. She wouldn’t address the subject either.

Here you have one of the PGA Tour’s best player spokesmen and a TV personality whose job it is to explain what’s going on during tour events, and both are letting the speculation about them run wild.  Granted, it’s their own business, but still…..

SCOTTIE – The world’s best player gets arrested on his way to the second round of the PGA Championship.  To Scottie Scheffler’s credit he – unlike McIlroy – didn’t duck questions about his unfortunate experience at the gates of Quail Hollow.  In fact, he handled the episode with enviable aplomb.  Still, no way an event of this magnitude could have been on any golf follower’s radar.

GRAYSON – This is such a sad development.  Grayson Murray, a PGA Tour player, committed suicide in the middle of a tournament.  It shook up the tour, its fans and – most obviously – his friends among the players.  Webb Simpson and Peter Malnati shared their thoughts publically at that emotional time, and I commend them for doing it.  I strongly believe they were a help to many caught in the mourning process.

NELLY – The best player in women’s golf had won six of her last seven tournaments, then Nelly Korda teed off in the U.S. Women’s Open.  On her third hole she put three balls in the water and took a 10. How does that happen?  Just golf, I guess.

Anyway, Korda missed the 36-hole cut at Lancaster Country Club in Pennsylvania – not surprising, given her early-round nightmare.  What was surprising is all the company she had in failing to qualify for weekend play.

Heading that list was Lexi Thompson, who – at 29 – announced her pending retirement plans before teeing off.  The others on the MC list included defending champion Allisen Corpuz; such LPGA mainstays as Rose Zhang, Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko, Patty Tavanakit, Sei Young Kim, Leona Maguire, In Gee Chun and Ariya Jutanugarn and you can add No. 1-ranked amateur Ingrid Lindblad and Lottie Woad, winner of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, to that list.

YUKA – Only 15 Americans were among the 75 players making the cut at Lancaster, but an established player did win the title.  Yuka Saso, the champion for the second time, was unusual for one thing.  While her win was no fluke, she won the title in 2021 representing the Philippines.  This time she won under the flag of Japan.  She explained that she wanted to honor the homes of both of her parents.

Saso was one of only two players to finish the 72 holes under par – the fewest in 10 years.  It’s only fitting to honor the champion but that doesn’t rule out labeling  the latest staging of arguably the biggest event in women’s golf as “The Disaster at Lancaster.’’

CADDIE-MAN – C.T. Pan may be the first player to use four caddies in the same round of any tournament, much less one as prestigious as the Canadian Open.

Pan had one of the premier bag-toters, Mike (Fluff) Cowan, on his bag to start the final round.  Cowan took a fall on the hills at the No. 3 hole, and Pan took a volunteer from the gallery to replace him.  That fan lasted one hole and another replaced him.  That one lasted through the ninth hole before Al Ridell, a nearby resident who has caddied professionally, saw what was happening on television and took over for the final nine.  Pan shot a 69 and finished in a tie for 35th place.

WHAT SHOULD we make of all this?  I guess it should go down simply as “life goes on.’’ Still, it makes me a little apprehensive about the next two weeks on the pro tours, especially with the Memorial and U.S. Open on the schedule.

 

 

Nelly Korda should be the leading story in golf this year

 

OCALA, FL. – Unfortunately all the noise impacting the men’s pro golf tours has detracted from what is a huge story in the sport overall this season. The extraordinary accomplishments of Nelly Korda haven’t received nearly the attention they’ve merited.

This week should change that. The 79th U.S. Women’s Open tees off on Thursday at Lancaster Country Club in Pennsylvania.

It was big news when Scottie Scheffler won four of five tournaments in his hot streak earlier this year.  Korda did even better, winning five in a row and six of her last seven starts heading into the Women’s Open.

Let’s put all that in historical perspective.

In the women’s game only two other players have won five LPGA tournaments in a row – Nancy Lopez in 1978 and Annika Sorenstam in 2004-05. Maybe more to the point, only three players have won six tournaments before June – Babe Zaharias in 1951, Louis Suggs in 1953 and Lorena Ochoa in 2008.

Korda has already matched that mark. Next goal is to get seven wins for the season, a mark jointly held by Zaharias, Karrie Webb in 2000 and Taiwan’s Yani Tseng in 2011. It’ll be interesting to see how many more wins Korda has in her before 2024 is over.

If you want to compare Korda’s streaks with the men, Tiger Woods won five straight in 2007-08, six in a row in 1999-2000 and seven consecutively in 2006-07. Ben Hogan won six straight in 1948.

But, if you want to go further back both the LPGA and PGA Tour have records that seem – at this point – safe even from Korda.  On the men’s side Byron Nelson won 11 in a row and 18 tournaments overall in 1945 and on the women’s Mickey Wright triumphed 13 times in 1968, along with 11 times in 1964 and 10 in both 1962 and 1963.  Golf was a different game when Nelson and Wright were in their heydays than it is for Korda now.

Korda is playing in an era where there are more tournaments, more prize money and more good players to beat. Still, she’s only 25, so there’s plenty of time for her to pile up more wins.

Korda’s genes at least suggest she could do it, too. All the Kordas are, or were, world-class athletes. Her parents, both from Czechoslovakia, were top tennis players,  Father Petr was No. 2 in the Association of Tennis Professionals rankings in 1998 and won a Grand Slam title that year in the Australian Open. Nelly’s mother, Regina Rajchrtova, was ranked No. 26 in the world and represented Czechoslovakia in the Olympics.

Nelly’s older sister, Jessica, was successful on the LPGA Tour, too. Now 31, she dropped off the LPGA Tour a year ago after battling some lingering injuries.  She won six times on the circuit with career winnings of $7.6 million and became a mother for the first time in February.

Both Jessica and Nelly were on the U.S. Olympic team in 2020 with Nelly winning the gold medal. Their brother Sebastian has won over $5 million dollars in six seasons on the Association of Tennis Professionals circuit.

Now, though, it’s all Nelly’s show and she’ll be going after her third major title in this week’s Women’s Open. She has 14 career LPGA wins and overcame a serious injury when she developed a blood clot in her arm that shortened her season in 2021.

The U.S. Women’s Open hasn’t been kind to her, however.  She’ll make her 10th appearance this year with her best a tie for eighth in 2022 at Pine Needles, in North Carolina.

This year she’s won $2,943,708, or more than a million more than Hannah Green, who is second on the money list. In fact, Nelly has been so good that Michael Kim, a PGA Tour player, has declared that she should get a shot at playing in an event on the premier men’s circuit.  Seven women have been accorded that honor.  If Korda is interested in it, she should be an automatic No. 8.

The Women’s Open will at the least put her in the golf spotlight world-wide.  The tourney will have 26 hours of live TV coverage and Lancaster hosted one of the best previous Opens when a record 135,000 spectators showed up nine years ago.  That event turned into a battle of Koreans with then 20-year old In Gee Chun beating out Amy Yang. Chun became the fourth player to win the title in her first event.

One footnote regarding this year, though.  The 2024 U.S. Women’s Open didn’t have a record entry.  Last year 2,107 entered when the finals were at California’s Pebble Beach.  Entries this year hit 1,897.

 

Bizarre — that’s the best way to sum up the PGA Championship

Bizarre. I’d say that was the best way to sum up the 106th PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky.

No question the golf was great.  So was the drama. Xander Schauffle was 21-under-par in finally winning a major championship on Sunday. You couldn’t beat the drama, either.  Bryson DeChambeau renewed the PGA Tour vs. LIV rivalry with a final-round charge that ended with him walking off the practice range, his chances at being in a playoff doomed when Schauffle’s six-foot birdie putt dropped on the 18th green to give him a one-stroke victory.

All that was well and good.  I’m afraid, though, that this PGA Championship will be better remembered for some strange things.

They started on Monday as players started arriving at Valhalla. Out came the report that Rory McIlroy had filed for divorce from Erica Stoll, his wife of seven years.

Divorces are sad things, but McIlroy’s timing was unfathomable. Here he’s coming off a big win at the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday, then files for divorce the next day,  a few days before the next major championship – one where he had won in 2014.  A distraction, both for himself personally and for the tournament overall, was inevitable.  What was Rory thinking?

Stoll was quoted as saying, “There wouldn’t be a divorce if Rory was as faithful to me as he has been to Tiger.’’  To no one’s surprise, there was no comment from McIlroy. (Woods, incidentally, received little attention for good reason; he missed the cut after a second-round 77).

Anyway, the McIlroy scenario wasn’t the biggest news for long.  Scottie Scheffler, the world’s No. 1 player,  skipped the Wells Fargo the week before to adjust to becoming a father for the first time.  He got to Valhalla in good spirits until he drove to the course early on Friday for his second round.

An auto accident near the course led to the death of a man moments earlier, and Scheffler was arrested for an unrelated driving offense. He was slammed against the side of his car by a police officer, handcuffed, finger-printed, photographed in an orange jail shirt and put in a cell. He started his pre-round stretching there before a friendly police officer offered him a sandwich as he was being released.

Scheffler played well despite the unpleasant ordeal and – in sharp contrast to McIlroy – talked to the media for 13 minutes after his round, displaying concern for the family of the accident victim. How he regrouped to shoot 66 still amazes me. Scheffler faded in the third round, finishing in a tie for eighth.

His nightmare isn’t over, though.  Scheffler faces four charges, one a felony. His arraignment was to be on Tuesday, but it was later postponed until June 3.  Scheffler plans to play in the Charles Schwab Challenge this week in Texas.

There were a few other notable things that, of course, paled in comparison to the McIlroy and Scheffler episodes.

Steve Stricker’s withdrawal before the first round was noteworthy, though understandable. The 57-year old PGA Tour Champions star had tied for seventh in the 2014 PGA at Valhalla after playing his first Ryder Cup there in 2008. Those memories had Stricker looking forward to playing Valhalla again, even though he would be in the midst of playing three major championship in three weeks and making three title defenses in five — a stretch that even Woods didn’t have to face  during his heyday.

“I’m excited to get to play the PGA Championship in the middle of all this with the young guys,’’ Stricker had said.  Only he didn’t play.  After all, three Champions Tour majors coupled with his dual role as defender and host at his own tournament just became too much. He’s in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in Michigan this week.

More footnotes:

Collin Morikawa made five straight birdies in his Saturday round to get to the top of the leaderboard but didn’t make another until final hole on Sunday.  At least, as Schauffele’s playing partner,  he got a close-up view of the champion’s exquisite final round.

Jon Rahm, who had the longest streak of the season for avoiding missed cuts, missed this time.  Rahm had gone 18 tournaments before his letdown.  Now Hideki Matsuyama has the longest streak, at 16.

Schauffele’s 21-under-par 263 was a scoring record for a major championship.  He became the 11th wire to wire winner of the PGA, the first being Kentucky native Bobby Nichols in 1964. Shauffele’s first-round 62 tied a record in major championships and Shane Lowry matched it in the third round.  Only five players have shot that number in a major, and Schauffele has done it twice.  The first came in last year’s U.S. Open.

The nicest thing about the week, though, was a break in the frequently ugly confrontations between members of the PGA and LIV circuits.  LIV member Brooks Koepke won the PGA in 2023 and DeChambeau – with three birdies in the last six holes and two in the last three — made an emotional run at another win for the Saudi-backed circuit.  Though he didn’t get it, he was popular with the gallery and showed appropriate sportsmanship afterwards.

“I gave it my best and lost to someone who played incredibly well,’’ said DeChambeau.  “I put as much effort as I possibly could into it.  Xander is well-deserving of a major championship.’’

Kind words are especially nice to hear during these turbulent times in professional golf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Butler National pro could be PGA’s player to watch

 

Andy Svoboda, the new head professional at Butler National in Oak Brook, has made a big impression since arriving on the Chicago golf scene in March, and this week he could make an even bigger one.

Svoboda is one of two Illinois PGA members to qualify for the PGA Championship, which tees off Thursday at Valhalla, in Louisville, KY.

Jeff Kellen, Svoboda’s predecessor at Butler National and the newly-named head man at North Shore in Glenview, also will be in the field as will Brad Marek, who was a stalwart growing up in Arlington Heights and won the 2005 Illinois State Amateur.

That trio will take on the world’s best touring pros, with LIV golf member Brooks Koepka the defending champion. Koepka figures to battle Rory McIlroy for the title.  Both won their last starts, with McIlroy doing it in impressive fashion on Sunday at the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina.  McIlroy also won the last PGA Champions play at Valhalla, in 2014.

Svoboda, Kellen and Marek were among 20 club professionals to qualify golf’s second major championship of the season at the PGA Professionals Championship two weeks ago in Texas. Two Chicago-connected PGA Tour members – Luke Donald and Doug Ghim – will also be in the field at Valhalla but Svoboda looms as one of the most interesting longshots.

With career winnings over $1 million on both the PGA and Korn Ferry tours before turning to the club pro ranks Svoboda has been nothing short of sensational since joining the Chicago club pro ranks.

He was second in the Professionals Championship, then followed up with another runner-up finish in last week’s Illinois PGA Match Play Championship at Bull Valley, in Woodstock. Prior to those finishes he was the medalist in a local qualifier for the U.S. Open, so his hopes to play in that major are still alive as well.

Svoboda, now 44, was edged out in the first of the Illinois PGA’s four major tournaments of the season when his birdie putt on the 18th hole hit the back of the cup and spun out.  Had he made that putt he would have forced a playoff for the title with Medinah’s Travis Johns, the tourney champion.

“Andy’s a great player and plays the game like a true gentleman,’’ said Johns. “He got an unfortunate break at the end, but I had a lot of fun competing against him.  He’s going to win a lot of these events going forward.’’

Johns has already had his share of Illinois PGA victories, winning the Match Play for the first time in 2010, the Players Championship in 2014 and the IPGA Championship in 2019.

He hadn’t been in the Match Play final since 2017 prior to his title run last week. Now he needs to win August’s Illinois Open to complete a career Grand Slam of the IPGA’s major events.

Johns got to last week’s title match by beating defending champion Chris French, of Aldeen in Rockford, in the quarterfinals and reigning IPGA Player of the Year Brian Carroll of The Hawk in St. Charles in the semifinals. French won last year after qualifying for last year’s PGA Championship.

HERE AND THERE: The men’s teams at Northwestern, Illinois and Notre Dame all wrap up their three-day NCAA regional tourneys today (WEDNESDAY, MAY 15) with hopes of qualifying for the NCAA finals May 24-29 at LaCosta in Carlsbad, CA.

Chicago State finished fifth behind champion Florida A&M in the PGA Works Collegiate Championship at Florida’s TPC Sawgrass.

The ninth Chicago District Mid Amateur begins its three-day run on Monday (MAY 20) at Elgin Country Club with Glenview’s John Ramsey the defending champion.   Qualifying for the CDGA Amateur begins the following day.

 

Australia tourney gives the LIV Tour a big boost

 

OCALA, FL. – No, I wasn’t at LIV GOLF/Adelaide. Last week’s tournament was played in Australia. This was also one of the few LIV events that I didn’t watch on television.

Still, from all I can gather, it provided an opportunity for the fledgling circuit to celebrate.

Australia Golf Digest reported a crowd of 35,000 for the final round.  The LIV Golf League announced an attendance of 94,000 for the week.  I’ve been on hand for four LIV tournaments and attendance – while not insignificant – didn’t approach those numbers.

I don’t doubt the numbers in Adelaide, though.  This is Australia, where LIV commissioner Greg Norman grew up. The tournament also had a dramatic finish.  The team competition, a staple at LIV events, was ideal.  For the first time a playoff was needed to decide the team winner and the all-Australian Rippers were in it.

That didn’t hurt attendance or crowd enthusiasm, nor did the fact that the Rippers beat the all-South African Stingers.  LIV team playoffs call for two players on each team competing with total score counting. Captain Cameron Smith and his mates – Mark Leishman, Matt Jones and Lucas Herbert – were the heroes of the day.

Said Smith:  “This week has far exceeded my vision for what was ahead.  I always knew internally that Australia would really embrace LIV with the culture, with the music, with the entertainment, with all of that goes on around it.  I always felt like this was the place it was going to make it big, and how it’s been (in the Australia events) the last couple years has been insane.’’

The show on his home turf understandably uplifted Norman, who said he was “feeling proud.’’

“With what we’ve gone through over the past 16 months, both as a league and what I’ve copped personally – the hatred – this makes it all worth while,’’ he said.

And that’s not all.

“Vindication is not the right word,’’ said Norman.  “It’s  the ignorance of others who simply don’t understand what we’re trying to do.  “I actually feel sorry for them because they now see the true value of LIV golf and want to be part of it.’’

Well, whether “they want to be part of it’’ remains to be seen, but if LIV supporters needed a boost, the happenings in Australia provided it.

The timing is good, too.  LIV has another event this week, in Singapore, and then two in the U.S., in Houston and Nashville in June. After heading overseas for July tournments in Spain and the United Kingdom the circuit concludes its regular season at the Greeenbrier, in West Virginia, Aug. 16-18.

Two season-ending tournaments – billed as the climax to the third season – follow in September. I feel especially close to this issue because I was told (or at least strongly advised) that one event is coming to the Chicago area, my long-time home base. That was nearly a month ago.

The event wasn’t to be held at Rich Harvest Farms, which hosted LIV tournaments the last two years, and I was unofficially advised that it will be held at Bolingbrook Golf Club, an Arthur Hills design in Chicago’s South suburbs.  A radio station – again unofficially – said it’ll be the individual championship and the dates will be Sept. 13-15.

As I was finishing up this piece I was advised that Bolingbrook would host a press conference on Tuesday.  Could this finally make it official?  We’ll let you know soon.

 

 

 

 

At 66 Langer is making a comeback from Achilles surgery

 

OCALA, FL. – Yes, I know that there has been some monumental golf news  the last few weeks – Nelly Korda winning five LPGA tournaments in a row and Scottie Scheffler getting four wins and a runner-up finish in his last five starts, and both winning major titles during those hot streaks.

Those are huge developments, but this is pretty significant, too.  Bernhard Langer, the winningest player in the history of PGA Tour Champions, reports that he’s on the mend from a serious injury and is even ready to set a target date for his return to competition.

Langer is 66 years old.  He won three Masters (1985, 1993) and wpjm42 times on the DP World Tour and three times on the PGA Tour in addition to his 46 Champions victories.

And then came a game of pickleball in February.

Langer took a tumble Langer and underwent surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon. One of the most fit players in golf went down with a career-threatening injury.

Last week, with help from Tour Edge – his Illinois-based club provider – Langer was ready to talk about it.

“I was at a country club in Boca Raton (FL), where I live, and I do other sports there – like ping pong and pickleball,’’ said Langer.  “This time I was playing pickleball and my opponent lobbed me.  I took a few steps back and heard a loud noise and felt pain in my leg. At first I thought I’d hit something but saw that there was nothing there.’’

He had surgery the following day while fearing what the results might bring.

“ I started to wonder what this meant.  I had no idea how long I’d be out, if I’d ever be back,’’ he said.

Those fears have subsided considerably, Langer has been practicing golf and has a goal in mind:  play in the Insperity Championship May 3-5 at The Woodlands in Texas.  It’s a tournament Langer has won four times over an 11-year span, the wins coming in 2007, 2008, 2014 and 2018.

“That’s what I’m training for,’’ he said.  “Everything has to go perfectly for me to be competing in Houston.’’

Immediately after surgery Langer’s leg was put in a heavy boot, much like skiers use.  Eventually he was switched to a less cumbersome one and was told by his medical advisors to stand up.

“At first I had a mental block,’’ said Langer. “I didn’t stand for weeks.  I’d been laying on a couch for weeks and losing muscle stretngth, which I didn’t want to do.’’

So, Langer made an effort to stand up.

“I got up with no issues,’’ he said, and his healing increased immediately.

He does upper body issues every day and has some exercises designed to strengthen his Achilles. He carries a band with him for those, which have improved his rotation.

“Other athletes have had similar injuries, and I’ve followed the story of Aaron Rodgers, the New York Jets quarterback,’’ said Langer.  “He had the same procedure as me and came back fairly quickly.  When I learned he was on the field throwing the ball after eight-nine weeks that encouraged me.  It lifted my spirits.’’

Langer had intended to make his last appearance in the Masters in April, but the surgery ruled that out. He vows it won’t end his tournament career, though.

“My goal has always been to be the best I can be,’’ he said.  “I still think I can be competitive and win on certain courses. I can be productive for a few more years.  I’ve still got some good golf in me.’’

I believe he does, too, and look forward to seeing it.  The golf world needs more players like Bernhard Langer.

 

 

LIV players made only a so-so showing at the 88th Masters

 

OCALA, Florida – The 87th Masters in 2023 was a big boost for the LIV Golf League.  This year’s 88th, not so much.

It’s inevitable, given the ongoing rivalry between LIV and the PGA Tour, that there are player comparisons any time both circuits have players in the same tournament.  A year ago, in what surprised many, LIV players had co-runner-ups Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka behind champion (and now LIV colleague) Jon Rahm in the Masters with Patrick Reed tying for fourth.

This year the only real LIV highlight was Bryson DeChambeau taking the first-round lead with a 65.  He wound up in a tie for sixth place with Cameron Smith.  That’s the best LIV could do.

So what should we make of that?

Not much, really.  It was DeChambeau’s best showing in eight Masters but he was too caught up in the moment after his low first round.

“It’s a weird thing to say,’’ he said, “but it was almost like goosebumpts – and it was early in the week, too.  It was like, whoa!, I’ve got to calm that down.  It was too quick, too early.’’

The week was by no means a total loss for LIV. The fledgling circuit only had 13 players in the field and  seven made the cut.  DeChambeau and Smith, nine strokes behind champion Scottie Scheffler, earned a return to next year’s Masters by finishing in the top 12.  Tyrrell Hatton (tie for ninth) and Reed (tie for 12th and a past champion) also figure to be in the field in 2025. Mickelson (tie 43rd) and Rahm (tie 45th) are also past champions.

Koepka, who defends his PGA title in May, was no threat at this year’s Masters, finishing in a tie with Rahm. Two-time winner Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia – also past champions – missed the cut  with Johnson the only glaring disappointment. Sad say my official pre-Masters pick to win, Johnson, shot a most uncharacteristic 78-79. Poland’s up-and-coming Adrian  Meronk was the other LIV MC.

LIV moves on to Adelaide in Australia, which should be uplifting for Smith.  The Rippers captain expects huge support with his all-Australian team and is predicting “a magical week.’’ The tourney is April 26-28.

The PGA Tour moves on to the RBC Heritage Classic in Hilton Head, S.C., this week.  I can’t imagine this being an uplifting week golf-wise for Scheffler, with his wife expecting their first child any day. He shared lodging with friend Sam Burns at the Masters. Burns’ wife was also expecting their first child.  Burns  shot 80-73 and went home. Both top players face the same distractions this week.

Granted, waiting out the birth of a child – especially the first one – isn’t easy but Scheffler and Burns are both on this week’s entry list with the Heritage having a limited field with no cut, a purse increased to $20 million and  more FedEx Cup points available.

A few other post-Masters thoughts:

The Tiger Woods’ spotlight seems to always shine, merited or not.  He was dead last among the Masters finishers this time, but his performance wasn’t without merit.  He made the cut for the 24th consecutive time, a record as his streak surpassed that of both Fred Couples and Gary Player.

Similarly impressive, in my book, was Vijay Singh making the cut at age 61. The oldest is Couples, who broke Bernhard Langers’ record when he played all 72 holes in 2020 at age 63.  Langer had planned to make 2024 his last Masters but couldn’t compete after injuring his Achilles playing pickleball.

LIV-PGA issues won’t go away, and the status of negotiations remain a secret. Latest “development’’ is a London newspaper reporting that Rory McIlroy, one of the loudest of LIV critics, may be on the brink of changing tours after being offered $850 million. I he doesn’t take it the next LIV target is Viktor Hovland.  I’ll believe it when I see it.

 

 

Rahm still winless on LIV Tour but remains a Masters threat

 

Greg Norman, executive director of the LIV Tour, jokes with Jon Rahm. (Joy Sarver Photos)

 

MIAMI, FL. – Last year’s Masters was the first tournament where PGA Tour players competed against those who defected to the LIV Golf League.  The LIV guys got the better of that one.

Four current LIV players finished  one -two-three and a tie for fourth.   That spoke well for the Saudi-financed circuit that is now in its third season. Spain’s Jon Rahm will defend his Masters title this week at Georgia’s Augusta National. He won last year when he was still a PGA Tour member.

Rahm hasn’t won an individual title as a LIV member, but team he captains – Legion XIII – won its second title in five starts on Sunday on the rugged Blue Monster course at Trump Doral and Rahm contributed several key putts to that victory. At least that’s some momentum to take into this week’s Masters.

Knowing a four-stroke lead was slipping away in a tight team battle with Bubba Watson’s RangeGoats, Rahm touched more on a clutch putt he rolled in down the stretch rather than dwell on his individual play.

“I was just trying to two-putt,’’ Rahm said, “and the putt just kept going.  We won by one stroke, so obviously that putt meant more than I had thought it would.’’

It also doesn’t hurt that Rahm has been solid, despite not winning by himself.  He’s the only LIV player to finish in the top 10 of all five tournaments of 2024. He tied for fourth Sunday, three strokes behind South African Dean Burmester and Spain’s Sergio Garcia.

Former president Donald Trump, LIV executive director Greg Norman and Trump’s son Eric enjoy the action around the first tee during the final round at Trump Doral.

Burmester took the individual title in a two-hole playoff, the third loss in extra holes  for the winless Garcia in LIV play. Burmester and Garcia played the regulation 54 holes in 11-under-par 205. Both failed to par the final holes, necessitating their playoff.

Now the focus is solely on the Masters.

If LIV shows as well at this year’s Masters it’ll likely be because of the players who weren’t  so impressive

Sergio Garcia (left) and Dean Burmester matched shots in a tense two-hole playoff.