Thoughts on the U.S. Ryder Cup options, Langer as a European pick (!), the state of the PGA Tour-LIV partnership and more

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

July 06, 2023

Cliff Hawkins

Rickie Fowler’s last three weeks (and Keegan Bradley’s emotional win in Hartford) reminded me why golf is the greatest sport. Where else can you have a player come back from near oblivion to claim a big victory? #askalan @david_troyan

This is nicely said. It has certainly been a rousing stretch, and don’t forget Nick Taylor’s epic walk-off at the RBC Canadian Open. All of these feel-good wins have been palate cleansers after two seasons of nonstop strife and controversy for professional golf. I’ve heard a lot of folks say the tour wars have diminished their fandom, and that is understandable. But golf remains the ultimate mind-body challenge, and the theater of Sunday afternoons is so compelling I believe the game can transcend the noise and keep sucking all of us romantics back in.

If the Ryder Cup standings ended today, who’d be your six captain picks? @ReggieFrederick (and @whheikkinen)

There are still six weeks to go, including a major championship and two FedEx Cup events, until the top six lock in their spots, so a lot of points are there for the taking. Right now the top six Americans in the standings are, in order, Scottie Scheffler, Wyndham Clark, Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay and Max Homa. The top three seem like mathematical certainties. Schauffele and Cantlay will be on the team even if they somehow fall out of the top six. Homa is an interesting case because he’s playing his worst golf in years and has continued to struggle in the majors. There is an old-school line of thinking that a Ryder Cup rookie, as Homa would be, has to play his way onto the team, not come by way of a captain’s pick. (Homa did go 4-0 in his Presidents Cup debut last year.) The players 7-13 in the points list are bunched up and there will be a lot of volatility in the coming weeks. Of that group, Rickie Fowler (12th in points) is a sure thing to get selected; he had been playing at an especially high level throughout 2023 even before his victory in Detroit. Keegan Bradley (seventh) should be a no-brainer, too, with a pair of wins over the last nine months and gritty, grindy performances in two previous Ryder Cup appearances. I would gladly spend a pick on Dustin Johnson, who went 5-0 at the last Cup and has been consistently excellent on LIV. That’s nine players. I want Sam Burns (11th), who displayed an admirable killer instinct in winning this year’s WGC-Dell Match Play Championship. I’m taking Jordan Spieth (eighth), whose putter can change a Ryder Cup and who has an 8-4-3 record in partner play. The last pick comes down to Justin Thomas (13th), a stellar Ryder Cupper who has been crappy all season; Collin Morikawa (ninth), winless in two years but starting to show signs of life; and Tony Finau (18th), a winning machine who has cooled off a bit over the last few months. At this moment, I’m taking Finau. But a lot can change down the stretch.

If the U.S. takes JT and Spieth, are they right back where they started before the task force? Merit trumped by cliques? Neither has qualified, and JT would lose to Blockie in a heads-up match right now. @Carson_OKC

Spieth hasn’t won this year, but he has been solid: 21st on the PGA Tour in strokes gained total and five top-six finishes in the last five months, including a rousing run at the Masters. He went 5-0 at last year’s Presidents Cup and has been a team leader for nearly a decade. Picking Spieth is defensible, but unless he finds some form in a hurry, taking JT would support your thesis that the fix is in. The caveat is that Thomas is a mega-talent who can put points on the board in a hurry. If class is permanent but form temporary, Capt. Zach Johnson might go with Thomas no matter what.


Patrick Smith

Settle the debate: Does Bernhard Langer anchor his putter or not? @Scott_Semaya

Only Langer’s chest hair knows definitively. But he is such a rigid, black-or-white personality, I can’t imagine Bernie would knowingly break a rule 30 times a round. I will always give him the benefit of the doubt on this.

Did Jimmy Dunne + PGA Tour approach private equity BEFORE crafting a framework with PIF? Seems like if they had, it could have given them a path forward without taking Saudi money and maintained integrity. Especially if they go that route if the PIF framework collapses. Your take? @Michaelarinewma

One of the tour’s primary motivations was to end the brutally expensive lawsuits, and that could only be done by negotiating with the Saudis. Mission accomplished. There is a school of thought that Dunne, et al would be better off not consummating the framework agreement. This whole exercise has made it clear that a for-profit model is the key to the tour’s future. You’re right that there is tons of private equity money out there; Raine Capital and Silver Lake have been sniffing around pro golf for years, and plenty of other Wall Street and Silicon Valley firms would love to buy their way into the game. If the tour walks away from the framework agreement, it could have a for-profit model without the Saudi money, but that comes with a huge risk: If the deal collapses, LIV and the tour would again be competitors. Given how willing Dunne and Monahan were to take the PIF money, there would be nothing to stop many tour stars from doing the same.

Ladies should hire local Pebble caddies to walk with them and their regular caddies during practice rounds … not many have played there and there is a lot of local knowledge to learn in just a few days … agree? @scottpetrozza

Or better yet, hire a local caddie for the week! Check out this U.S. Women’s Open podcast Matt Ginella and I did with Pebble Beach looper Kevin Price, who is caddieing for qualifier Mackenzie Hahn this week.

Should Bernhard Langer be at least considered for the Euro Ryder Cup team? The course will be long but no American will be thrilled with the prospect of losing to a 65-year-old in singles. #AskAlan @BradleySmith328

I have already been promoting Padraig Harrington. Might as well add Langer! How good would those two be in alternate shot?! Langer winning the U.S. Senior Open at 65 deserves to be remembered as an all-time accomplishment.

Is there bad blood between DJ and Gooch since Gooch left the 4 Aces? @SusanSSL

I asked Dustin if Gooch was traded or fired and with a laugh he said, “Both.” In reality, Gooch wanted to be teammates with his close friend Harold Varner III. There’s no bad blood because Johnson is a chill fellow. Now, the 4 Aces’ Pat Perez surely has spicier feelings …

Why does a document so lacking in specifics specifically address obtaining OWGR points for LIV? Is this more revealing of Yasir’s long-term plans than any talking points being thrown out there? @kylelabat

Good spot. It is also interesting because Jay Monahan, Keith Pelley and Pelley’s lieutenant Keith Waters recused themselves from the OWGR governing board’s discussions about LIV, so how exactly is NewCo supposed to advocate on LIV’s behalf? As with many other things, this will all happen in the shadows. But it certainly doesn’t make sense to grant LIV World Ranking points in the summer or fall of 2023 if the plan is to shut it down a few months later. I think it is 99 percent certain that LIV will play a full schedule in 2024 and then at the end of the season Yasir Al-Rumayyan will assess the way forward.

Regarding the proposed partnership deal, how concerned should we be at what might effectively be “state” economic sponsorship and control of elite men’s golf? Wouldn’t we be concerned if any state government (USA/UK/whoever) was potentially to have that influence? @EatandSleepGolf

This is precisely why Congress and the Department of Justice have become so engaged. As U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said, “I think it’s a really serious thing to have a foreign dictatorship in charge of a major U.S. sports league. This is a watershed moment, and I think we need to treat it as such.” I believe the July 11 hearings are just the beginning.

#AskAlan Is “golf” acceptable as a verb in the phrase “golf your ball”? As in, “to score at LACC you really have to golf your ball.” @brianjfaulkner

There is only one person on the planet who should be allowed to use the phrase “golf your ball” and that is Michael F. Bamberger. Otherwise, golf is best deployed as a noun.