Tag: PGA Tour

The PGA Tour: Changing of the Guard

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 (10 in his twenties). Let’s take a look at the first three to see where they currently stand, and consider the possibilities.

John Rahm (27 years old/No. 1 in the World Rankings)

John Rahm is currently at the top of the official World Golf Rankings, and it should really not come as a surprise. With power and precision off the tee, steely nerves and singular focus, Rahm has recorded 6 PGA Tour Wins in the span of just 4 years, including a major title (2021 US Open). Born in Barrika, Spain as ‘John Rahm Rodriguez’, he was an exceptional golfer from an early age, earning a golf scholarship to Arizona State University where he won 11 college golf tournaments before graduating in 2016 (second only to Phil Mickelson, who recorded 16 wins at ASU). He waited to turn pro until the conclusion of the 2016 US Open, having received an invitation to compete as the #1 ranked amateur in the world, and recorded a top 25 finish. The following week he finished 3rd at the Quicken Loans National Tournament, gaining an invitation to The Open at Royal Troon where he made the cut, and followed that up with a runner-up finish at the Canadian Open the very next week. Adding two top 15 finishes in the fall secured his tour card, and Rahm exploded onto the golf scene in January 2017 with a remarkable come from behind victory at the Farmers Insurance Open (Torre Pines–against a powerhouse field). He continued his success, recording four more wins between 2018 and 2020, and then took home the U.S. Open title in 2021, where he fired a final round 67 to defeat Louis Oosthuizen on the difficult South Course at Torre Pines. And with two Ryder Cups under his belt already, expect Rahm to be a pillar of the European team for many years to come. To get close to the bar set by Jack and Tiger however, Rahm will need to pick up his pace quite a bit with at least fifteen more wins and four or five major titles in the next few years. It can be done though, since he won’t turn 30 until November of 2024, giving him 3 more full seasons to beef up his record. Jack won 19 times from 1971-1973, and Tiger recorded 22 wins between 1999 and 2001. The problem is that Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy are still in their prime, along with a host of youthful superstars who also want to make their mark on the game.

Collin Morikawa (24 years old/No. 2 in the World Rankings)

When talking about young guns on the PGA Tour, Collin Morikawa jumps right to the top of the list. Known for precision iron play, Morikawa evokes images of Johnny Miller at the top of his game. When you add his accuracy off the tee and a beautiful putting stroke, the possibilities are unlimited. Morikawa was born in Los Angeles, California. Like Rahm, Morikawa started playing golf very early and proved himself to be a talent. He received a golf scholarship to play at the University of California, Berkley, where he excelled on the collegiate golf stage, winning numerous amateur championships and rising to #1 in the World Amateur Golf rankings in 2018. After graduating from college in 2019, Morikawa turned professional and immediately recorded a top 15 finish at the Canadian Open after receiving a sponsor’s exemption (a field that included Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson). The following week he made the cut at the US Open (held at Pebble Beach), closing with a final round 69. He then finished runner up at the 3M Open, recorded a top 5 at the John Deere Classic the very next week, and secured his card for the 2020 season by winning the Barracuda Championship. After making the cut in all nine of the tournaments he entered in 2019, Morikawa started the 2020 season by making the cut in his first 11 events before the season was put on hold due to COVID 19. When the season resumed, Morikawa recorded a runner up at the Charles Schwab Challenge, the 21st consecutive cut he had made from the start of his PGA career, with a chance to challenge   Tiger’s record of 25. Unfortunately, his streak ended at 22 with a missed cut two weeks later at the Travelers, but Morikawa wasted no time with what might have been, and notched a second tour win two weeks later in a playoff with Justin Thomas (the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village). The following month Morikawa won the PGA Championship, his first major, firing a final round 64 (tying Steve Elkington’s record for lowest final round at a major) and ended the season with a sixth-place finish at the Tour Championship. The 2021 season was even more spectacular, as Morikawa added two more wins, including his second major title at the Open Championship, a top 5 at the US Open, top 10 at the PGA Championship and a top 20 at the Masters. With 5 wins including 2 majors under his belt already, and six full seasons before he will turn 30, Morikawa has plenty of time to make Tiger and Jack take a serious look over their shoulder.

Justin Thomas (28 Years old/No. 5 in the World Golf Rankings)

It may come as a surprise that Justin Thomas is still in his twenties, since he made his first appearance on the PGA tour way back in 2009. Thomas was just sixteen years old, and still in high school, when he teed it up at the Wyndham Championship, where he opened with a first round 65 and made the cut. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, he was taught the game almost as soon as he could walk by is his father, Mike Thomas, the head golf professional at Harmony Landing Country Club. In 2011, as a freshman at the University of Alabama, Thomas received the Haskins Award as the outstanding college golfer of the year, and opted to join the PGA Tour in 2013, after Alabama won the National Championship. He recorded his first tour victory in 2015 (the CIMB Classic), and added 13 more titles over the next five years, including a major (2017 PGA Championship) and the Players Championship in 2021. Known for his length off the tee, Thomas can roll it on the green as well (ranked 5th in putting in 2017 while recording 5 wins). He only has one more full year in his twenties though, so 2022 needs to be a big one for him if he wants to keep Tiger and Jack in his sights. Keep in mind that Vijay Singh won nine times in ’04, and with his power and putting stroke, Thomas can most definitely make a statement.

Stay tuned as we next look at Bryson DeChambeau (28 years old/No. 8 in the world), Jordan Spieth (28 years old/No. 15 in the world, and Patrick Cantley (29 years old/No. 4 in the world).

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PGA Tournament of Champions 2022

Kapalua Resort, Maui, HI

PGA Tour 2022

Get ready folks, because the regular PGA Tour season is getting ready to ramp up. As always, the new year begins with the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, so we can soak in the beautiful scenery and watch last year’s tournament winners battle it out on the tube. 2021 certainly provided a ton of exciting moments, and this weekend will give us a taste of what 2022 has in store. While it may seem unlikely that anything could top Phil capturing his sixth major title at the PGA Championship, the tour never fails to deliver eye popping thrills and excitement. 2021 saw Hideki Matsuyama dominate at the Masters for his first Major title and Jon Rahm overcome a stacked leader board at the U.S. Open for his first major. Collin Morikawa won the Open Championship for his second major victory, and Patrick Cantlay dropped a cherry on top by winning back-to-back playoff events to take home the FedEx Cup. And we also saw Jordan Spieth rising to the top again with his first win in almost four years. You can’t really top that, can you? Keep in mind that Mr. Woods is back, and 2022 is the “Year of the Tiger” on the Chinese calendar. I’m starting to feel the excitement building already.

The Sentry Tournament of Champions

Each year the Plantation Course at Kapalua, Hawaii hosts the Tournament Champions, and once again the field is stacked with some of the most skilled players the tour has to offer. Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, and Patrick Cantlay headline a star-studded group. Of course, we can’t forget about a few of the wild cards out there like Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Viktor Hoveland. The field consists of the 2021 tournament winners, a slender group of only 39 players. But since Phil pulled off his amazing win at the PGA last year, we also get the special treat of watching Lefty early in the year.  Kapalua is a gorgeous track, but also tough, particularly if the wind is blowing. The Tournament of Champions has always been a fun event to watch, as often you get a feel for how a player is going to look for the season ahead. Last year Harris English took home the trophy in a playoff against Joaquin Niemann, and it proved to be a prelude to an excellent season as Harris recorded 8 top 10’s and a win at the Travelers.

Kapalua Resort

Kapalua Resort offers two phenomenal tracks, the Plantation course and the Bay course. The Plantation was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw back in 1991, one of their first in an impressive group that includes Bandon Trails, Streamsong, Cliffside at Barton Creek and Ozarks National at Big Cedar Lodge. The Bay course was designed by Francis Duane and Arnold Palmer, with updates by Robin Nelson, Rodney Wright and Hale Irwin. Kapalua is a dream golf destination, with fantastic practice facilities (designed by Hale Irwin), one of the top-rated golf academies in the country, and first-class accommodations at the Ritz Carlton, Maui. And on top of all that, you’re in Hawaii—how can anything be better.

Tiger Update

In his first appearance since the accident last year, Tiger looked great at the PNC parent-child Championship in December. Given the severity of his injuries, there have been grave doubts that he would ever again compete at the highest levels of competition. But once again, Tiger continues to amaze us. With twelve-year old Charlie at his side, they finished runner up to John Daly and his son, John, Jr. Jack has always been the standard for Tiger in golf, but perhaps he can pull a page from Ben Hogan, who returned to win six times after sustaining massive injuries in a near-fatal car crash in 1949. Tiger will definitely be back in 2022, that’s for sure—the only question is when. The Masters perhaps?

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The 2021 Ryder Cup

Whistling Straits, Haven WI

The 2021 Ryder Cup

Today begins the long-awaited, and highly anticipated 2021 Ryder Cup. With all the pent-up energy of waiting an extra year (postponed from 2020 due to COVID), and then being trapped inside for much of the time, you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict the crowds will be even more motivated and raucous than usual. Tournament organizers briefly considered holding the competition without fans last year, but that idea was quickly dismissed after negative comments made by a number of players, most notably Brooks Koepka (“The fans make the event”). And the fans have been particularly important for the American side. Europe has taken the Cup in seven of the last ten competitions, including four of the last five, and the three won by the American side have all come on home soil. Prior to each, the general consensus would always be that the American team should dominate because they had so much depth of talent, yet somehow the Europeans, with a couple of stars and a host of no-names, would walk away with a shocking victory. Well, this year’s battle will be no different with a powerhouse American team going up against Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, what’s his name, and who’s that guy. Just don’t take it to the bank—the European players have been ingrained with a hate-to-lose attitude that goes all the way back to Seve Ballesteros. And two of their biggest victories have come right here (Oakland Hills in ’04 and Medinah in ’12). Something tells me this is going to be a special weekend.

The History

The first Ryder Cup was played in 1927 at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts, and named in honor of English businessman and golf enthusiast, Samuel Ryder. The American team, captained by Walter Hagen, pounded the Europeans led by Ted Ray with a thumping 9 1/2 to 2 1/2 victory. Until 1977, the European team consisted of only players from Great Britain and Ireland, and the American team dominated the competition, winning 21 of the 25 Ryder Cups played. Beginning in 1979 the rules were modified, allowing players from all of continental Europe to participate in the competition, and the tide began to turn. The American team, led by Jack Nicklaus, won handily in ‘79 and ‘81, but the 1983 Ryder Cup was extremely close as the Americans pulled out a tough 14 ½-13 ½ victory. In ’85 and ’87 the American teams went down to defeat, ushering in a period of intense competition and European ascension, led by the charismatic leadership of Seve Ballesteros. Since 1985, the European team has won 11 times, the American team 5 times, and there was one draw (1989). The last quarter century of Ryder Cup competition has produced some of the most memorable moments in sports history, including the “War on the Shore” (1991) and the “Miracle at Medinah” (2012) as the European team staged an incredible comeback victory following the tragic passing of Seve Ballesteros.

The Teams

The 2021 American team is captained by Steve Stricker, and includes a powerful group of big names, including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth. Long hitting Tony Finau, a resurgent Harris English, up-and-coming Scottie Scheffler and the gritty Daniel Berger round out an incredibly deep cast of talented players. The European team, captained by 3-time major champion Padraig Harrington, will be anchored by Rory McIlroy and Jon Rham, two of the greatest players in the world. Backing them up will be seasoned veterans of Ryder Cup competition Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey. They will be joined by Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowery, a pair of solid professionals who don’t back down to anybody, as well as talented youngsters Victor Hoveland and Matthew Fitzpatrick. Tyrell Hatton and Bernd Wiesberger, two of the top players on the European tour, round out a tough European team.

The Venue

Whistling Straits, located in Haven WI, and host to three PGA Championships (2004, 2010 and 2015) will host the 2021 Ryder Cup. Home to two Pete Dye masterpieces (Irish/Straits) and opened in 1998, Whistling Straits is among the finest golf resorts in the World. The matches will be fought on the Straits course, which boasts a course rating of 77.2 and a slope of 152. Don’t miss a minute of what is sure to be some of the greatest golf you will ever see.

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The Tour Championship

East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta GA

The BMW Championship Wrap-Up

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.

The Course

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.

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The BMW Championship

The BMW Championship at the Caves Valley Golf Club
BMW Championship, at the Caves Valley Golf Club MD

The Northern Trust Wrap-Up

Last week concluded The Northern Trust, the first leg in the 2021 FedEx Cup playoffs. Tropical storm Henri made Sunday a washout at Liberty National, so the final round was pushed back to Monday—and it was a big day for Tony Finau. He finally broke his five-year winless drought by outlasting 28-year-old Australian, Cameron Smith, in a hard-fought playoff that lasted four holes. Known for his prodigious length, Finau has been steadily climbing into the ranks of golf’s elite since recording 16 top 25’s in his first full year on tour back in 2015, and following that up with his first win at the Puerto Rico Open in 2016. Although he recorded 32 top 10 finishes from 2017 through 2020, that second victory eluded him. This year Tony’s been knocking even harder on the door, with 8 more top 10’s, including a runner-up at the Genesis (where he lost in a playoff with Max Homa), a 10th at the Masters and an 8th place finish at the PGA. He also recorded a solid 15th place finish at The Open Championship. With the win at the Northern Trust, Finau has vaulted all the way to number 1 in the FedEx Cup standings, 600 points ahead of Jon Rahm. He certainly has the talent, so perhaps this victory will give Tony the confidence to muscle his way all the way to the top and lift the FedEx Cup—we will sure be pulling for him.

BMW Championship

The BMW Championship at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, MD is the second leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs. The top 70 players in the standings are competing for a place among the 30 player Tour Championship field at East Lake Golf Club next week, with millions of dollars on the line, so hang on to your hat this weekend as the best players in world put the pedal to the metal. In addition to the red hot Finau, an equally blazing hot Jon Rahm will be vying to recapture the top spot. Then add two-time major champion Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Bryson Dechambeau, Hideki Matsuyama, and Justin Thomas to the mix. And don’t forget about Jordan Spieth, who’s having a spectacular year and would like nothing more than to cap it off with the FedEx Cup. And then there’s Dustin Johnson, who could more than salvage a dismal season (by Dustin Johnson standards) with two solid weeks of playing the way everyone expects him to. And perhaps Phil can pull another golden rabbit out of his hat? One thing’s for sure, this is going to be one heck of a weekend to watch golf.

The FedEx Cup

The FedEx Cup playoffs began in 2007, and was originally comprised of four tournaments. Beginning in 2018, the playoff series was shortened to three events. The playoffs are structured where throughout the tour season a player is awarded 500 points for each regular season tour win. Players are awarded 2000 points for a FedEx Cup playoff win, 550 points for a World Golf Championship, 600 points for a Major or the Players Championship, and 300 points for a tournament played alternately during a major or World Golf Event. The playoffs begin with the top 125 players competing at the Northern Trust, reducing to 70 for the BMW Championship, and finally down to 30 for the Tour Championship. Right now, Tony Finau leads the race with 3,348, with Jon Rahm on his heels at 2,763 points. Cameron Smith, Patrick Cantley, and Justin Thomas make up the 3,4, and 5 positions in the standings, with dozens of other top tier players within striking distance.

The Course

The BMW Championship is being hosted at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Maryland. Caves Valley was established in 1991, and designed by legendary course architect, Tom Fazio. Although this is the first PGA Tour event held at Caves Valley, the club has hosted a number of prestigious tournaments in the past, including the U.S. Senior Open in 2002, the LPGA Tour’s International Crown tournament in 2014, the 2017 Constellation Senior Players Championship, as well as the 1995 U.S. Mid-Amateur, and the 2007 Palmer Cup. Caves Valley carries a 76.9 USGA rating with a slope of 141 from the championship tees.

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The PGA Championship-Phil Mickelson

PGA Championship, Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort SC

Congrats, Phil!

Watching Phil Mickelson stroll up the 18th hole at Kiawah Island with a two-shot lead over Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen was almost surreal. I think many of us “Phil fanatics” kept pinching ourselves during those final moments thinking it was a dream. The idea of Phil, at fifty plus, holding off the imposing figure of Brooks Koepka to win the PGA Championship, seemed like an impossibility. Like Ali when he fought George Forman—there would be flashes of brilliance and plenty of determination, but sooner or later the big one would land. I kept thinking about the 2014 PGA Championship, 2015 Masters, and 2016 Open Championships where Phil fought his heart out, put up strong performances with great thrills, but ultimately came up just short. Not this time though, as Phil found an even deeper level of resolve to deliver a historic win for the ages, just as Mohamed Ali did back in 1974. It was a remarkable day, and most certainly the high point of Phil’s fantastic career. And do we dare get our hopes up for that elusive U.S. Open title? You bet we do!

Phil’s Fanatics 

Early in his career, Phil Mickelson garnered the nickname “Phil the Thrill” because he had a seemingly endless number of shots in his arsenal, and was willing pull them out of his bag at any time, regardless of risk, almost always with unlikely and eye-popping success. Since he broke out on tour in 1991, and won the Northern Telecom Open as an Amateur, everyone knew that this young lefty was going to provide us with a ton of excitement. Phil immediately captured the hearts of golf fans with his fan friendly, warm persona, along with his aggressive style of play. That style of play cost Phil quite a few tournaments, including a number of major championships, but that just endeared him to the golfing public even more. Eventually Phil’s following of loyalists became known as the “Phil fanatics.” No matter how poorly Phil might be playing, these fans never left his side. Well, the Phil fanatics were out in full force for Lefty last week at the PGA Championship. They cheered and hollered for him all week, and assembled around the 18th green to share the moment with their hero. Not since Arnie’s Army has a player generated that kind of love and excitement from golf fans—and richly deserved.

The Thrills Keep Coming

Phil’s last major victory came all the way back at the 2013 Open Championship, and there have been a number of highs and lows since then. A dry spell in 2014 and 2015 saw Mickelson drop his longtime swing coach, Butch Harman, and hire Andrew Getson. Getson revitalized Phil’s game, and their partnership resulted in 6 top 5 finishes in the 2016 season, including 3 runner-up’s—but unfortunately no victories. 2017 proved to be another winless season for Phil, now 47 years old with many believing that his days of winning on tour were behind him. But lo and behold, Phil reached into his bag of magic and surprised us all by winning the WGC Mexico Championship in 2018. It was an unbelievable victory, as he took down Justin Thomas in a thrilling playoff and proved that Lefty was not done quite yet. And then in 2019, Phil won again, capturing his fifth AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, only to struggle for the remainder of the year, failing to record a single top ten. The 2020 season proved to be another disappointment for Lefty, with only two top 5 finishes in the shortened season. And going into the PGA Championship this year, Phil hadn’t placed among the top 20 in a single event, most recently a disastrous finish at the Wells Fargo where he opened with a 64, only to follow that up with a 75 and a pair of 76’s. While most of the golf world viewed it as yet another sign that Phil was done, his fanatics (and most importantly Phil himself), saw only the brilliant 64, and continued to believe. Well, he’s done it again—shocking the world when everybody counted him out. Congratulations Phil, this was truly an epic performance. You can bet that Phil’s faithful flock will have swelled to record numbers for the Open at Torrey Pines next month, and win or lose, you know he will be giving it everything he’s got. A seventh major? Don’t count him out.  

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The Masters

Augusta National Golf Club, GA

Valero Texas Open Wrap-Up

Last week’s Valero Texas Open made for some very exciting golf to say the least. Jordan Spieth and Charley Hoffman dueled it out in the final round, both shooting 66 on Sunday. However, Spieth had already started two shots ahead of Hoffman, so it wasn’t enough for him to catch Jordan. With Spieth’s latest victory, he ended a winless drought that’s lasted nearly four years. With this victory, Spieth has vaulted up to 7th place in the FedEx Cup standings. You knew it was only a matter of time before Jordan sealed the deal with his relentless pounding on the door since the 2021 season began. There can’t be a greater confidence boost than to arrive at Augusta fresh off a hard-fought victory, so it’s a virtual lock that he will be in the mix come Sunday at the Masters.

The Masters Tournament

With the schedule change to the fall last year, it feels like only yesterday when we watched Dustin Johnson lift the 2020 trophy at Augusta National, and it feels like Christmas came early this year with the Masters back where it belongs—the best golf week of the year. With the weather warming up, flowers coming into bloom, birds chirping, the golf season starting up, and four days of watching the best players in world compete at one of the most beautiful and iconic settings in golf, you really can’t ask for a more. We missed out on that feeling last year, and it’s making 2021 all the more special. The Masters was founded in 1934 by golf legend Bobby Jones and his friend Clifford Roberts. Jones and Roberts built the course on a beautiful piece of property that had previously been a nursery, with trees and plants coming from all over the world. When they decided to host their own championship, it was originally called the “Augusta National Invitation Tournament,” and held that name until 1940, when it became “The Masters Tournament”. Since inception, The Masters has been played in the first week of April, and Bobby Jones’ immense popularity combined with the sheer beauty of the course, immediately made the event one of the most popular on tour. Masters week begins with the Champions Dinner on Tuesday evening, with all of the previous winners in attendance and the reigning champion selecting the menu. On Wednesday, players compete in the famed Par-3 contest (interestingly, no winner of the Par-3 has ever gone on to win The Masters). Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Par-3 contest will not be held this week.

The Field

Since Bobby Jones remained an amateur throughout his career, The Masters field includes a large number of accomplished amateurs, including the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and runner up, as well as winners of the British Amateur, Asian Amateur, U.S. Public Links and U.S. Mid-Amateur championships. Amateurs competing in The Masters also have the opportunity to stay at the “Crow’s Nest,” located in the clubhouse above the locker room—an experience that every talented young golfer dreams about. The Masters has the smallest field of all the majors, generally between 90 and 100 players. In addition to the amateurs, the top 50 players in the world automatically qualify along with players who have won the PGA Championship, U.S. Open, or Open Championship within the last 5 years. In addition, past Masters champions receive a lifetime invitation, allowing each player to decide for himself when the time has come to withdraw from the field. The favorite this week has to be Jordan Spieth. With a host of top ten finishes in 2021, fresh off a win at the Valero last week, a Green Jacket already hanging in his locker and a white-hot putter, Jordan has to be licking his chops. As the number one ranked player in world and reigning Masters champion, Dustin Johnson should be at the top of the list as well, but he’s been struggling with the driver as of late. Perhaps the familiar surroundings and positive vibe will rouse him—Augusta has always been a friend to the big hitter. And speaking of big hitters, Bryson DeChambeau will no doubt make his presence felt this week. Also keep an eye on Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm—all power players likely to be in the mix on Sunday. One of the great things about Augusta though, length means a lot—but not everything (remember Ben Crenshaw with a pair of Green Jackets). And the Masters can be entirely unpredictable as well—maybe we’ll see an amateur making history this week (Ollie Osborne perhaps?).

Augusta National Golf Club

Augusta National was established by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts in 1933. The course was originally designed by the legendary Alistair Mackenzie, with a great deal of input from Bobby Jones. Over the years, some of the great names in golf course architecture have lent their abilities to maintain the essence of Bobby Jones’ vision and keep the course current in the face of changing equipment, including Perry Maxwell, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and Jack Nicklaus. In addition to the eighteen-hole championship course, Augusta National also includes one of the finest par 3 courses in the world.

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The Valero Texas Open

The Valero Texas Open at the TPC San Antonio, San Antonio  TX
TPC San Antonio, San Antonio TX

WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay Wrap-Up

Billy Horschel raised the trophy at the WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay last week, outlasting 64 of the best players in the world after five grueling days of head-to head nail biting competition and a tough final against the long-hitting 24-year-old youngster, Scottie Scheffler. This had to be a sweet victory for Horschel, who’s last win came back in 2018, as he dug deep to pull out match after match. Most of the players everyone expected to reach the weekend didn’t make it to the final 16, so we had a chance to see some of the lesser-known players show off their skill and tenacity—including top flight European Tour pros like Victor Perez, Robert MacIntyre, and Eric van Rooyen. Since this is a WGC event with premium points, the win moved Horschel all the way up 7th position in the FedEx Cup standings. Beating a field like this one has to be a big confidence boost, and it will be interesting to see how Billy comes out of the gate at Augusta National.

Valero Texas Open

This week begins the Valero Texas Open held on the Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio Golf Resort in San Antonio. The Championship began nearly 100 years ago, and has been hosted in the San Antonio area from the very beginning. Over the years a number of different courses have been the venue for The Texas Open, including Brackenridge Park Golf Course, Willow Springs Golf Course, Oak Hills Country Club, Pecan Valley Golf Club, Woodlake Golf Club, and La Cantera Golf Club before TPC San Antonio became the permanent host in 2010. The event was historically played in the fall series of the PGA Tour season, but was switched to May in 2009 (and later moved to April, the week before the Masters). Some of the biggest names in golf history have won this event, include Walter Hagan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Gene Littler, Arnold Palmer (who won it three years in a row), Lee Trevino, Chi-Chi Rodriguez, Ben Crenshaw, and Hale Irwin.

The Field

Often the field is a little weaker the week before a major championship, with players wanting to rest a bit and sharpen particular aspects of their game, but The Valero has attracted quite a few big names, including a hard charging Jordan Spieth (final 16 at the Match Play), Tony Finau, Matt Kuchar (3rd place at the Match Play), Rickie Fowler, Gary Woodland, and Phil Mickelson. Be sure to tune in this Thursday and catch some great golf as we head into Masters week.

TPC San Antonio

TPC San Antonio is a fabulous golf resort situated in the Cibolo Canyons in San Antonio, Texas. Established in 2010, and partnered with the JW Marriot San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, the golf courses are owned and operated by PGA Tour Golf Course Properties. The facilities consist of two eighteen-hole courses; The Canyons (a Pete Dye layout where the Valero is played) and The Oaks (designed by Greg Norman and Sergio Garcia.) Texas is known for nasty wind, but Pete Dye laid out the Canyons to be very playable with quality golf shots, and the course conditions are immaculate, so players will still have the opportunity to go low. The Canyons was designed to promote aggressive play, so get ready for fireworks and excitement as we head into the weekend. The USGA course rating is 76.6 with a slope of 145 on the Canyons and 74.5/139 for the Oaks. And if you are thinking about a southwestern golf get-away, you can’t go wrong at the JW Marriot San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa—first class quality all the way.

TPC San Antonio received a GolfDay Rating of 100.

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The Honda Classic

PGA National Resort and Spa, Palm Beach Gardens FL

The Players Championship Wrap-up

Last week concluded The Players Championship, and it was quite a wild ride to say the least. At the end of the week, Justin Thomas emerged as the victor. Thomas had been rather quiet the first two days of the championship, but on Saturday he fired a blistering 64 which left him only three shots off the pace set by tournament leader, Lee Westwood. On Sunday, Thomas continued his solid play, shooting a comfortable 68, and finishing one shot ahead of Westwood. This was Thomas’ first win of the season and it kicked him all the way up to second place in the FedEx Cup standings. The Players almost felt like a replay of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, as Bryson DeChambeau was in the mix again on Sunday, going off in the final pairing in back-to-back weeks with Lee Westwood. I think it’s a safe bet that Bryson will be lifting the championship trophy on quite a few Sundays in 2021 with the way he’s playing. And how about Lee Westwood, suddenly making putts to go along with the pure ball-striking that has been his trade mark for so many years. You won’t find a classier guy on tour, and it’s impossible not to pull for him (which it looks like we can do every week these days).

The Honda Classic

The Honda Classic is set to kick off this week in south Florida, with thrilling golf and a nail-biting finish pretty much guaranteed. Last year, seven players finished within three shots of eventual winner, Sungjae Im. In 2019, six players finished within three shots of winner Keith Mitchell, and in 2018 it came down to a playoff between Luke List and eventual winner, Justin Thomas. The event was originally played at Inverrary Country Club, and was known as “Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic”. Honda became the tournament sponsor in 1982, and from ‘84 through ‘91 the championship was held at Eagle Trace Golf Club in Coral Springs. After 1991, the tournament was hosted at a number of venues, including The Club at Weston Hills, Heron Bay Golf Club, and The Country Club at Mirasol, before finally settling at the Champion Course at PGA National Resort and Spa in 2007. When Jack remodeled the Champion Course in 1990, he created the treacherous three-hole stretch on the back nine that has become known as the “Bear Trap,” which over the years has provided some of the biggest thrills in golf (while guaranteeing that a player will have to hit more than a few extraordinary shots under pressure to take home the trophy).

The Field

Following the Players Championship, a number of big names will be taking the week off–but the field will still be plenty strong with past champion Sungjae Im, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Ricky Fowler, Daniel Berger, Jim Furyk, and the red-hot Lee Westwood all teeing it up. Another player to keep a close eye on this week is the young Joaquin Niemann, who had consecutive runner- up finishes earlier in the year at the Tournament of Champions and Sony Open. Past Champions at the Honda include Jack Nicklaus (twice), Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin, Johnny Miller, Fred Couples, Mark O’Meara, Curtis Strange, Tom Kite, Tom Weiskopf, and Vijay Singh.

PGA National Resort and Spa

PGA National Resort and Spa was established in 1980, and consists of five 18-hole courses, three of which (including the Champion Course), were originally designed by Tom Fazio, one of the great modern course architects. Jack Nicklaus lifted the Champion Course to even greater heights with the changes he made in 1990, with Arnie and Ed Seay adding their touch to this wonderful golf venue with the “The Palmer Course.” Karl Litten, a highly respected architect who often flies under the radar, designed the ‘The Estates Course.” In addition to the Honda, PGA National has been the site of many high-profile championships over the years, including the 1983 Ryder Cup, 1987 PGA Championship, and the Senior PGA Championship from 1982 through 2000. If you are planning a golf vacation, PGA National is a perfect choice. With five great courses and terrific accommodations, you will find an experience that will last a lifetime. And don’t forget to tune in for the Honda this week, you are guaranteed to see some great golf and big-time excitement come Sunday.

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The Players

TPC at Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach FL

The Arnold Palmer Invitational Wrap-Up

The Arnold Palmer Invitational concluded last week, with reigning U.S. Open Champion Bryson DeChambeau narrowly defeating a 47-year-old Lee Westwood. The final round offered plenty of excitement as Westwood, whose last tour win came at the St. Jude Classic back in 2010, fought tooth and nail with DeChambeau right down to final hole, only to lose by a single shot. Both men put on gutsy performances with everchanging gusty winds that made each shot a potential disaster. Jordan Spieth was once again in the mix on Sunday, continuing his run of solid play, but faltered on the back nine with bogeys on three of the last four holes. Still, he posted his third top five finish in his last four events (the other being a T15) and keeps knocking on the door in pursuit of his first win since the Open Championship in 2017 at Royal Birkdale. On a side note, Saturday’s round included a curious incident as tour veteran, Justin Rose, who started the day tied with Spieth and within four shots of the lead, suddenly walked off the course after making a nine on the par 4 third hole, leaving Jordan to play on alone. Rose later cited a back flare up as the reason he withdrew from the field mid-round. With DeChambeau’s victory, he catapulted to the top of the FedEx Cup standings, and heads to the Players Championship brimming with confidence.

The Players Championship

The Players Championship is one of the premier events on the PGA tour, often referred to as the “fifth major”. The Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass is an incredibly difficult test of golf, requiring not only power and precision, but a great deal of patience as well. Since the PGA Championship was moved from August to May, The Players will once again take place in March, the position it held in the tour schedule until 2007, when it was moved to May. Prior to 1982, when the TPC at Sawgrass became the permanent home, The Players was held at a number of different venues, including the Atlanta Country Club, Colonial Country Club, Inverrary Country Club, and Sawgrass Country Club. Some of the most memorable moments in golf history have occurred at The Players, including Gary Koch’s famous faux pas, “Better than most!” as Tiger Woods sank one of the greatest putts of all time on the Island Green 17th hole, Fred Couples raising his fist in celebration after making a lengthy eagle putt on the sixteenth hole en route to his second Players championship, and Fuzzy Zoeller famously wiping Greg Norman’s forehead with his towel following Norman’s victory with a record  score of -24. The Players is a very special event, and it takes a special player to win it. I can’t wait to see what is in store for us this year.

The Field

As always, the field for the Players will be the strongest and deepest on tour, with the possible exception of the major championships. In addition to the Arnold Palmer Invitational champion, Bryson DeChambeau, the field will include Rory McIlroy (reigning Players champion), Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantley. While the eventual winner will no doubt be among the leaders in total driving, he will also be the player who keeps his cool when things get dicey—as they always do at some point on this Pete Dye masterpiece.

TPC at Sawgrass

The Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass, (TPC at Sawgrass for short) is located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida near Jacksonville. Established in 1980, the magnificent facility features two 18-hole Pete Dye layouts (the Stadium Course and the Valley Course) as well as one of the finest practice facilities in the country. TPC at Sawgrass is also the headquarters of the PGA Tour. The Stadium course was designed by legendary architect Pete Dye, with his wife Alice, a fine architect in her own right. Modifications were later made by PGA Tour architect Steve Wezloff. The Valley course was designed by Pete Dye along with Jerry Pate and Bobby Weed in 1987. The Stadium course carries a rating of 76.4 with a slope rating of 155. The inspiration for TPC Sawgrass began with Deane Beaman, long time Commissioner of the PGA Tour, who wanted to create a bold and distinctive venue for The Players Championship that would stand the test of time. The TPC at Sawgrass is open to the public and partnered with the Sawgrass Marriot Golf Resort & Spa. When you prepare your golf destination bucket list, be sure to list it right at the top.

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