The rumor mill has been in high gear recently, with speculation that Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson may bolt from the PGA Tour to grab the huge money being thrown around by the Saudi-backed “Super Golf League.” The latest rumor spike has been fueled by the “PIF Saudi International,” held at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which was sanctioned by the Asian Golf Tour and attracted a number of the biggest names in golf, including Phil, DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Cameron Smith and Bubba Watson.
Greg Norman (with LIV Golf Investments), is the prime mover behind the Super Golf League, and also the mastermind behind the “International Series,” a group of ten new events added to the Asian Golf Tour with a massive funding infusion from LIV (and the PIF Saudi International as the first in the series). Because the Saudi International was added as a regular event on the Asian Tour, the PGA Tour did not raise an objection to players who wanted to enter–but did include a stipulation that any player entering the Saudi event would have to play in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (held at the same time), in each of the next two years in order to retain their tour card. It is clear that Norman is using the International Series, and the Saudi International specifically, as a means to showcase the Super Golf league, and entice as many PGA Tour players as he can. On the other side, the PGA Tour has stated plainly that anyone who enters a Super Golf League tournament will immediately lose their privileges to play PGA Tour events. So where do things stand right now?
Rumors are flying where offers in the neighborhood of $100 Million or more have been dangled in front of the biggest stars in golf, with a number of players categorically stating that they are not interested, some remaining cryptically mum, and quite a few dancing around on the fence. Players that have gone on record as saying absolutely not include Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, and the biggest name of all–Tiger. The mum group is headed by Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Lee Westwood (each of whom stating that they signed a Non-Disclosure-Agreement with LIV Golf Investments, thus having perfect cover to dodge uncomfortable questions). The bulk of the speculation surrounds players who are on the fence, including Phil, Bryson DeChambeau, and those who competed at the Saudi International (Xander Schauffele, Cam Smith, Pat Reed, Bubba Watson and Tony Finau). Phil has been crafting his public statements to indicate that the Super Golf League can provide “leverage” for players to get a bigger piece of the PGA Tour money pie–which ironically may itself tend to negate quite a bit of the leverage he purports to seek. On the other hand, the PGA Tour appears to have already reacted to the looming threat posed by the Super Golf League, with increased purses, higher FedEx Cup prize money, and a $50 million bonus fund that is disbursed on the basis of “PIP Standings” (Player Impact Standings—basically popularity, not directly associated with performance).
The biggest hurdle that Greg Norman and the Super Golf League will face, however, is the source of the big money that’s being waved in front of the players. “LIV Golf Investments” is backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), with Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as Chairman–the same man who, according to the CIA, ordered the assassination and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul back in 2018. One would think this is an association that few players would find appealing—but then again, it’s a lot of money…
A group of young guns is emerging on the PGA Tour, flexing their muscle and exerting a powerful influence that will change the landscape of professional golf for the next decade and more. Each is seeking to etch his name in golf history, and all have the talent to do so. Currently twelve players under the age of 30 are included among the top twenty in the World Golf Rankings, and we will take a look at them all as the 2022 tour season gets under way. Can one of these mega-talented young stars approach the seemingly unattainable records of Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods? To put it in perspective, Jack Nicklaus recorded 73 tour wins in his career (30 in his twenties), with 18 major titles (7 in his twenties).Tiger Woods has accumulated 82 wins on tour (46 in his twenties) including 15 major titles (8 in his twenties). Last time we looked at Jon Rham, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas. Here are three more dynamic young stars with an opportunity to approach, and possibly even surpass, the extremely high bar that’s been set by Jack and Tiger.
Bryson DeChambeau (28 years old/No. 9 in the World Rankings)
In addition to focus and fortitude, what separated Jack and Tiger from their contemporaries was a combination of prodigious power and uncanny putting. Bryson’s massive length has been well documented, but keep in mind that he can also roll his rock. In 2020 Bryson not only led the tour in driving distance, he also ranked 12th in putting. DeChambeau was born in Modesto California, and began looking at golf through a different lens from an early age, playing from the forward tees to perfect his wedge game and build confidence with the scoring shots in golf (100 yards and in). When he was 18, Bryson postulated that he could achieve a more repeatable swing plane (and thus consistency) if all of his clubs from 3 iron to wedge were exactly the same length, so he thumbed his nose at a hundred and fifty years of golf dogma and made the switch. And on receiving a golf scholarship to SMU in Dallas, Texas, he continued his analytical vision of the golf swing by majoring in physics (the genesis of his moniker as “The Scientist”). Bryson’s game began its meteoric rise when he won the NCAA division I individual championship in 2015, and followed that up by winning the US Amateur title in the same year, joining Jack, Tiger, Phil and Ryan Moore as the only players to achieve that distinction. Bryson turned pro following The Masters in 2016, where he finished 21st as the low amateur, and won his first PGA Tour event in 2017 at the John Deere Classic. His success continued in 2018 with three tour wins, including The Memorial at Muirfield Village. Bryson added another win in 2019, and decided it was time to power up with an intensive strength and conditioning regimen, which led to two more wins in 2020, including the U.S. Open, where his length dominated Winged Foot to capture his first major title. Once again, Bryson ignored conventional wisdom where lean muscles and flexibility were accepted as the key to generating speed and power, instead opting for massive daily protein intake, the weight room, and sheer bulk. In 2021 DeChambeau added another victory to his resume, winning Arnie’s event at Bay Hill. Eight tour wins including a major in under six years is impressive, but Bryson will need to keep the lab running on overtime to make a move on Jack and Tiger.
Jordan Spieth (28 years old/No. 15 in the World Rankings)
Like Justin Thomas, his boyhood rival, Jordan Spieth has been on the PGA Tour for so long that it’s hard to believe he’s still in his twenties. And like Thomas, Jordan made his debut on the tour scene as an amateur when he was sixteen years old (the 2010 Byron Nelson, where he popped everybody’s eyeballs with a top 20 finish). He made the cut at the Byron Nelson again in 2011, and in 2012 Jordan qualified for the US Open at the Olympic Club, where he finished 21st as the low amateur (and tying Tiger as well). Jordan turned pro in 2013, making the cut in eighteen of the twenty-three events he entered, recorded nine top 10’s including his first tour win at the John Deer Classic, and finished the year with a runner up at the Tour Championship. In 2014, Spieth failed to record a win, but made the cut in twenty-four of the twenty-seven events he entered, including a runner up at the Masters. 2015 would prove to be a break-out year for Jordan, with five wins, including two majors (The Masters and the U.S. Open), top 10 finishes in fifteen of the twenty-five tournaments he entered, and victory at the Tour Championship where he took home the FedEx Cup. He tacked on two wins in 2016, including eight top 10’s, and three more in 2017, including his third major title (The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale). 2018 through 2020, however, were lean years for Spieth, and he failed to record a win or advance to the Tour Championship (although he made the cut in 51 of the 63 tournaments he entered, with twelve top 10’s). In 2021 Jordan ended his drought with a win at the Valero Texas Open, recorded nine top ten finishes, including a runner up at Open Championship, a T3 at The Masters, and a return to the Tour Championship. Spieth currently stands with twelve wins and three major titles, and even with the three-year lull, Jordan can still put himself into position for an assault on Jack and Tiger with a big year in 2022—and he has the pedigree to do it.
Patrick Cantley (29 Years old/No. 4 in the World Golf Rankings)
Injury has robbed Patrick Cantlay of the opportunity to build his professional golf legacy in his twenties, but he has set the stage to show the world what he can do in his thirties. Born in Long Beach, California, Cantley received a golf scholarship to UCLA, and was awarded the Haskins Award as outstanding college golfer in the country as a freshman in 2011 (and also the Jack Nicklaus Division I Player of the Year award presented by the Golf Coaches Association of America). Cantley holds the record for the most consecutive weeks as the number one amateur in the World Golf Rankings (54), holds the record for lowest score (60) ever recorded by an amateur in a PGA tournament (2011 Travelers Championship), and was the low amateur at the 2011 US Open where he tied for 21st. As the golf world looked on with great anticipation, Cantley turned pro in 2012 following the US Open, and made the cut in six of the seven tournaments he entered. But the train derailed in May of 2013, at The Colonial Invitational (now the Charles Schwab Challenge), where Cantley suffered a severe back injury (fracture of the L5 vertebrae) and was forced to withdraw, subsequently missing the bulk of the season. The back injury continued to plague him through 2014, where he could only tee it up six times, and then he missed the entirety of the 2015 and 2016 seasons. In 2017 Cantlay began his comeback, making the cut in all thirteen of the events he entered, recording a runner up at the Valspar that helped him gain entrance to the FedEx Cup playoffs, where three consecutive top 10’s got him to the Tour Championship. In the Fall of the 2017/2018 wrap around season, Patrick notched his first tour win at the Shriners, and made the cut in twenty-one of the twenty-three tournaments he entered, including seven top 10’s and another trip to the Tour Championship. In 2019 he added another win (The Memorial), making the cut in eighteen of twenty-one events he entered and nine top 10 finishes. In 2021 Cantlay fulfilled the promise of his superlative amateur career, as he won four times, including another win at the Memorial, wins at The BMW and Tour Championship, and ultimately becoming the FedEx Cup Champion. Patrick will be a force to be reckoned with at the majors in 2022, and the adversity he’s overcome make you believe that anything is possible. One thing is for sure, we will be pulling for him.
Stay tuned as we next look at Victor Hoveland (24 years old/No. 3 in the world), Xander Schauffele (28 years old/No. 10 in the world, and Cameron Smith (28 years old/No. 10 in the world)
Last week concluded the BMW Championship, the final event leading up to the Tour Championship this weekend—and what a way to head into the final week of the PGA season. The back nine battle on Sunday between Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau was every bit as thrilling as “The Duel in Sun” between Jack and Tom Watson at Turnberry back in ’77, or the epic struggle between Phil and Henrik Stenson in the final round of the 2016 Open Championship. Cantlay and DeChambeau began the day tied for the lead, and it ended the same way as they each fired sizzling rounds of 66 and went to a playoff. Bryson ramped up the pressure throughout with titanic bombs off the tee, while Cantlay countered with steely discipline and tremendous nerve, making clutch putt after clutch putt. On the par 5 sixteenth, DeChambeau took a one-shot lead after making birdie, and on the par 3 seventeenth it looked like Cantlay was finished when his tee shot found the water. But he refused to quit, getting up and down from a hundred yards by canning yet another huge putt to stay within a shot after Bryson hit a poor chip and failed to convert his putt for par. On the eighteenth, Cantlay dug deep yet again, knocking in a twenty-foot birdie putt to force a playoff. It took six holes of pressure packed thrills, but Patrick finally prevailed. With the win, Cantlay sits atop the FedEx Cup standings, just ahead of Tony Finau. It would seem too much to ask for another finish like this one, but with the cast of heavyweights who will be teeing it up at East Lake, anything can happen.
The Tour Championship
Today marks the first round of the season ending Tour Championship at famed East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia. The tournament was founded in 1987, and was originally played in November. However, in 2007 with the establishment of the FedEx Cup, the tournament was moved up to September. The field includes the top 30 players in the FedEx Cup points standings, and because of a format change adopted in 2019, Patrick Cantlay will start the tournament at -10, based on finishing first in the FedEx Cup point standings. Tony Finau, at second, will be starting at -8, while Bryson DeChambeau, sitting at number 3, will start at -7 and so on down to the last five players in the standings who will start at even par. Historically, the Tour Championship was structured such that a player could win the Tour Championship, but not win the FedEx Cup. The change in format now means that the winner of the Tour Championship will also take home the FedEx Cup (along with the $15 million that comes with it). With such a fantastic lead-up to the main event, it appears the PGA Tour season is headed for a final weekend of pure excitement—so don’t miss a minute.
East Lake Golf Club was founded in 1908, originally designed by Tom Bendelow, and remodeled by Donald Ross in 1913. The course was later updated by George Cobb and most recently by Reese Jones in 1994. In addition to the Tour Championship, the home course of the legendary Bobby Jones has hosted many prestigious championships over the years, including the 1950 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the 1963 Ryder Cup and the 2001 U.S. Amateur. With a USGA course rating of 76.2 and slope rating of 144, East Lake is a fitting test to crown the FedEx Cup champion each year.