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FIRE PIT COLLECTIVE/ASK ALAN

Rory's remarkable run, Phil's future in golf, a hole-in-one for the ages and more

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.

October 25, 2022
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Has LIV (to the detriment of fellow PGA Tour players) lit a fire under Rory where we may see what we expected all these years? @TBromfman

It certainly feels that way. Remember a few years ago, when McIlroy was underachieving on the golf course but professing to be content because he was in love and enjoying a nice life? That was a healthy perspective but also felt a little bit like a copout. The golf gods bestow talent like Rory’s only once or twice a generation, if that. For him to just coast along would have been a little sad—not just for the fans but especially for McIlroy, who deep down knows what he is capable of. It seemed then that Rory lacked purpose as a golfer, and he has certainly found it in this ongoing battle for golf’s soul. It’s a bummer that the Masters is still six months away but this doesn’t feel like a hot streak; rather, McIlroy has found the secret sauce, with his driver, in his wedge game and his overall approach to preparing and competing. This run feels sustainable for a good long while, which will be a thrill to watch.

#askalan What’s worse, LIV showing an entire tourney start to finish and few caring OR people caring about the CJ Cup but the PGA Tour doesn’t allow fans to watch it? @wesleywhamond

This is not a positive development for either tour, or golf in general. This whole season is a beta test for LIV. I don’t think we will be able to fully assess the product until this time next year, when they will have had an off-season to tweak everything and then played a “full” schedule with the roster and team elements more baked out. So, we’ll see if LIV can get more fans to care. But the tour’s pathetic TV presentation of a very compelling tournament is inexcusable. Why is it so hard to give golf fans what they want? Especially right now, when the PGA Tour is in an existential battle for its survival, you would think the lords of Ponte Vedra Beach would be doing everything possible to display its product in a dynamic, innovative way, not blacking out coverage, as happened to chunks of time at the CJ Cup. It’s maddening.

Doesn’t Rory’s World No. 1 designation need an asterisk? Because the communist (maybe elitist? or even fascist?) UNofficial World Golf Ranking have yet to assign points to my annual Spooky $70 Halloween Weekend Chip-off? And I’ve already mowed, so I need some good press… @ANTIFAldo

Rory himself noted the Ranking is in danger of becoming meaningless with the exclusion of so many accomplished players, though he inexplicably failed to mention the competitors in the Halloween Chip-off. But his place at the mountain top is unimpeachable because for the last six months he has been by far the game’s most dominant force week in and week out; being No. 1 is really about consistent excellence, not a couple of triumphs mixed with a bunch of middling results. Obviously, McIlroy’s failure to win a major championship weakens his case, particularly when he got blitzed at the Open by Cam Smith, who is the clear world No. 2 no matter what the computers say. There is very little meaningful golf left this year so we can all exhale and then rekindle the debate next spring.

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How awesome will Max Homa be as a dad? @procaddiecoach

This is such a cute, wholesome question. None of us are ever really prepared to be parents, you just gotta learn on the fly. I trust Homa will be an excellent dad because in the way he relates to people and lives his life he has already displayed much empathy, sensitivity and good cheer. These are key ingredients to being a good dad. Also, if the baby needs a cozy place to nap it can burrow into Homa’s arm hair.

Does Phil ever win a tournament again? @DLP1968

Oof, good one. Getting banned from the Senior Tour certainly hurts his chances. But I’ve detected more pep in Phil’s step lately. He has too much pride and ego to be an irrelevant afterthought; I think he’ll be more of a factor at LIV events next year. (Do LIV wins count?) And he’s still dangerous on a baked-out Augusta National or a fiery Open links. It seems like a different lifetime but Mickelson’s PGA Championship triumph was only 17 months ago. The guy has nine lives, so I’m never gonna say never when it comes to Phil doing the improbable.

When will Augusta National and other majors make their decision for LIV in the field? #askalan @radiolimamatt

They don’t have to make a decision: the majors’ criteria is already set, and they can simply choose to do nothing. For 2023, that will knock out a handful of LIV golfers based on their World Ranking slippage, but for both the U.S. and British Opens these competitors are free to go through open qualifying and try to play their way into the field. If LIV doesn’t get World Ranking points throughout next season the ’24 majors would suffer more attrition, but you gotta figure some kind of compromise will be reached before then. But the governing body behind each major championship can independently decide its own criteria. Nothing is stopping Augusta National or the USGA from, say, creating an exemption category for the top 10 players on LIV’s individual money list. Or, the majors can use each other as the yardstick for each other: if a player is top 15 or top 20 at the Masters he is invited to the PGA Championship, and the top 15 or 20 at the PGA are exempt into the U.S. Open, etc. Lotsa ways to fill out the fields with LIV players independent of the World Ranking, if that’s what the minders of each major want.

Who will take #1 from Rory? @tommy_tracker

Jeez, let the man enjoy it for a minute or two! Jon Rahm seems to bring it every week but doesn’t win quite as often as we’d like, and victories are a crucial way to rack up Ranking points. Justin Thomas’ best golf is just as explosive as Rory’s, but JT lacks the same consistency. Dustin Johnson is playing at a very, very high level but even if/when LIV is granted World Ranking points the math is working against him because the small fields limit how many points can be made available; this would/will hamstring Cam Smith, too. Matt Fitzpatrick is a sneaky threat because he has built a game tailor-made for the toughest tests, which are usually the events offering the most Ranking points. But clearly McIlroy has a lot more firepower. Talking this out, it feels like McIlroy might be sitting on the golf’s iron throne for quite a long time.

Who does your hair? @tlendman1960

Great Clips at the mall for like $17. But if they’re busy I go to the superintendent at Pebble Beach and ask him to make my hair look like 1972 U.S. Open rough.

Can you disclose your writing muse, if any? @todgerstone

The newspaper writers I read growing up had a profound effect on me: Jim Murray’s syndicated columns, Mark Purdy in the San Jose Mercury News, Ray Ratto in the San Francisco Chronicle. Murray was in a class by himself but the others also had such distinctive voices. When I was around 12 I discovered SI and those writers blew my mind: DeFord, Nack, Curpatrick, Fimrite, Wolff, Reilly. Giants! I would read the stories over and over to inculcate the rhythms of the language and the way the articles were structured. Among the authors I read in school, Vonnegut’s zaniness, Joseph Heller’s sardonic irreverence and Fitzgerald’s elegance made the biggest impression. When I was an intern at SI, at 20, I spent months doing nothing but reading old back issues and borrowing golf books from the library. That’s when I came to appreciate Jenkins, Wind, Darwin, Diaz, Bamberger, Garrity, Kindred and Callahan. I became interested in the New Journalism of the 1960s and ‘70s and devoured Talese, Wolfe, Breslin, Halberstam, Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson and sundry others. There was a time when I subscribed to around 20 magazines and I was inspired by modern practitioners like Tom Junod, Gary Smith, Chris Jones, Wright Thompson, Scott Price, Lee Jenkins and Chris Ballard. But at some point you have to filter out all these influences and find your own style. That, to me, is the muse: when the ghost of every other writer leaves your head and all you can hear is your own voice.

How did it feel to finally dunk one? @ESPN_SwingCoach

Cathartic. In the moment I didn’t even feel that much joy, just utter disbelief mixed with relief. But honestly for days afterward I was kind of floating along in a haze of bliss.

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Did you buy a round of drinks for everyone in the clubhouse after the hole-in-one? @philengle21

There was already an open bar provided by Youth on Course for those of us partaking in the 100 Hole Hike. I highly recommend making an ace when free alcohol is readily available!

Are people really calling a hole-in-one on a par-3 course or a simulator a “Shipnuck.” I’m hearing murmurs. @fakePOULTER

Look, I fully understand that me holing a sawed-off lob wedge on a 61-yard hole I had already played eight times that day invites a little scrutiny. And, yes, it would be more majestic to make an ace with a 1-iron on a 242-yard hole over water. But after a lifetime of lip-outs and balls expiring just short and tee shots clanging off the pin, I ain’t apologizing for shit.