Man, how good did Maui look? And how happy did Mark Rolfing sound to be there?
The best thing is that we’re not jealous at all. Not one bit. For real. Unjealous.
The lei of the land
The proper PGA Tour season got off to a compelling start in Hawaii. Jon Rahm and Cameron Smith separated themselves from the field on Saturday at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, and they were never more than two shots apart on Sunday. Both were making putts—Rahm was second in Strokes Gained: Putting on the week and Smith was first—but in the final round, the Aussie was, unexpectedly, better off the tee than the Spaniard. Smith finished one stroke clear for his second individual PGA Tour win. Sentry Tournament of Champions Results
The theme of the week was low scoring. At the par-73 Plantation Course, Smith posted 34 under, Rahm -33, and Matt Jones, after a Sunday 61, -32. These were the three lowest scores to par in a 72-hole event in PGA Tour history (h/t, as usual, to Justin Ray). The fourth lowest is Ernie Els’s -31 performance at Kapalua in 2003; he won by eight shots.
There are several factors at play here. One is that scoring conditions were exceptionally easy this past week. The turf was soft after recent rains, lift-clean-and-place was in effect for the first two rounds, and the usual trade winds were a no-show.
Yet it would be strange to deny that the low scores are at least partly the result of ever-increasing driving distances. Take Cameron Smith. Last season, he averaged 297.9 yards off the tee, 85th on the PGA Tour. In 1999, when the TOC moved to Kapalua, that number would have been second best on tour, behind only John Daly. It’s not hard to see why PGA Tour venues are having trouble keeping up.
Over the weekend, the USGA made a couple of announcements regarding the future of the U.S. Women’s Open. First, the event will now have a presenting sponsor, ProMedica, enlarging the purse from $5.5 million in 2021 to $10 million in 2022 and $12 million by 2026. Second, a number of top American courses have agreed to be hosts: Riviera (2026), Inverness (2027), Pinehurst No. 2 (2029), Interlachen (2030), and Oakland Hills (2031 and 2042). The 2029 U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Open will be held on back-to-back weeks at Pinehurst No. 2, just as they were in 2014.
These are all promising developments. The addition of a presenting sponsor is a first for a USGA championship, but in our opinion, the boost to the purse is worth the concession. Even better is the commitment to taking the U.S. Women’s Open to premier venues. Tournaments gain prestige when they are held at prestigious courses, and it’s a good sign that the USGA appears to understand that calculus now.
The Latest from The Fried Egg
The Shotgun Start – Andy and Brendan discuss Cameron Smith’s #gainz, the debate around low scoring, telecast absurdities, the U.S. Women’s Open news, and Rickie’s latest activation. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.
This past week was the first time that PGA Tour players could not use detailed green-reading books to read putts. Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner rounded up some reactions to the new rule. Seems like things are going well so far! (No, Lavner did not talk to Bryson DeChambeau.)
Our own Meg Adkins raised the possibility of making the Tournament of Champions a joint event between the PGA and LPGA tours. We like it! Isn’t this the kind of thing that strategic alliances are for?
According to Wisconsin.Golf, 2021 Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker is recovering from inflammation around his heart, which sent him to the hospital for several weeks. It will reportedly be months before he’s able to compete on the PGA Tour or PGA Tour Champions.