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FIRE PIT COLLECTIVE/ASK ALAN

Thoughts on Fitz' rise, Spieth's scar tissue, Rory MIA, Cantlay as a heel and more

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Ben Jared

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

April 19, 2023

Will the Zurich ever be ‘elevated’? @justapedn_cob

I hope so! It would be so fun to get more heavyweight teams. The key part of your question is “the Zurich”—that banking conglomerate has been a stalwart for the PGA Tour, and the elevated events are going to have to be spread around to keep the sponsors happy. So the answer is yes, it’s just a matter of when.

What do you make of the Daly-Duval team? Any chance to be entertaining?@gsmitter

Entertaining? Hell, yeah! Competitive? Eh, seems unlikely. If they don’t mic up that group it will be a monumental missed opportunity, with Duval’s learned thoughts mixed with Long John’s down-home musings.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: Is Matt Fitzpatrick much, much better than even the hardcore golf fans realize? @SamHick60072515

Before Fitzpatrick wonchecks notes—the U.S. Open, the answer was a resounding yes. I think the golf world has caught on to what a tenacious competitor he is and how the toughest setups favor his precise, calculating brand of golf. Even so, I understand what you’re getting at. Golf, like pretty much every sport, favors the big and strong. That the wee lad Fitzy is summiting the World Ranking is a testament to his big heart and tremendous skill set.

Is it bad that I kinda miss the non-designated Harbour Town tournament that was super chill and a nice hangover remedy from the Masters? @MidwesternGator

No, I felt that too! The elevated events impose a certain uniformity upon the tournaments, with basically the same fields and the same tour-generated hype. I guess it’s a small price to pay for a world-class slate of players, but for sure the individual events are losing a little bit of their identity along the way.

Should we all not just give Rory a break after all he has done for the Tour the last year plus? Compare his absence to a corporate job: You don’t have the right to know when someone takes personal leave. @OTownPauly

It’s true, McIlroy could have had a sick kid or a minor injury or any number of valid reasons not to show up. The problem was the lack of information and context from both McIlroy and the tour. Where your analogy breaks down is that no one buys a ticket or a corporate suite to watch an accountant tally numbers, but McIlroy’s supposedly guaranteed presence surely created a lot of excitement around Hilton Head in the run-up to the tournament. Jon Rahm’s admirable my-word-is-my-bond stance didn’t help Rory’s cause either. No doubt McIlroy has taken on a heavy burden over the last year as the spokesman for the tour, and the strain is showing. I don’t have strong feelings about McIlroy’s WD, but it wasn’t a good look for one of the architects of the new schedule to suddenly go missing.

True or false: What Rory needs most right now is to say a polite “thanks but we’re all done here” to Harry Diamond and ask nicely to indefinitely borrow Joe LaCava from TW? I feel like a senior presence on the bag would have to free him up a little, yeah? #AskAlan@luke_peacock

Rory has never wanted that—his previous caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, was not exactly an activist. Would it really change anything? Bones Mackay had all the numbers and all the angles and the confidence to speak up in any situation, but Phil Mickelson pretty much ignored everything he said and did it his way. Rory is just as headstrong, and I think he would play exactly the same way whoever is on the bag—a meddling, overbearing caddie would just be an annoyance. All that said, if McIlroy goes oh-fer the coming major championships and heads into next year a decade removed from his last Grand Slam win, maybe he will be desperate enough to shake things up, just for the sake of change. LaCava is a good call; a soothing veteran presence who would at least be a different voice in McIlroy’s head.

So with Fitzpatrick rising to give Europe a Big 4 and Zalatoris now out with injury, what’s the super early assessment of the Ryder Cup? #AskAlan@brianros1

Fitzpatrick has clearly gone to a different level, but he still has a lot to prove in the Ryder Cup: Dude is 0-5-0 in two previous appearances. I agree that him, McIlroy, Rahm and Shane Lowry gives Europe four horses. Viktor Hovland is a stud, too. But after that it gets pretty thin. Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Alex Noren provide Europe some battle-tested veterans, though since January 2021 they have combined to win only one tournament around the world. The final four spots are very much up for grabs—if I’m Luke Donald I would be leaning toward Padraig Harrington, even though he’ll be 52!

The top nine for the U.S. is blue-chip: Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Cam Young, Jordan Spieth, Sam Burns, Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele. The big question is what to do with the LIV guys. Despite various misconceptions, they are eligible to play in the Ryder Cup. Dustin Johnson is a no-brainer, and so is Brooks Koepka. It helps that both live in Jupiter, Fla., and mix often with other top Americans during their off weeks. I think DJ and BK will be on Team USA, which brings a lot of firepower and presence. For the final spot, Captain Zach Johnson can choose among Tony Finau, Sahith Theegala, Kurt Kitayama and sundry others. Top to bottom, the American squad is much stronger and I expect them to win in Rome, validating a great golf mind who long ago predicted long-term U.S. dominance.

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Kevin C. Cox

Alan, don’t forget to talk a bit about Spencer Levin coming through Monday qualifying to fire a final-round 63 to win the Veritex Bank Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour. A touch of the iconoclastic in the face of a slate of carbon copy bro dudes sure feels good. @caknox1

A touch?! Levin is an all-time character. The outpouring that followed his win was touching and inspiring. What a journey that guy has been on—too good to quit but never quite able to make it in the big leagues. Maybe middle age and fatherhood will mellow out Levin just enough to let his manifold talent flourish.

Has there ever been a player of Spieth’s caliber who’s hit so many loose shots? And despite winning the Open in 2017, are the ghosts of Augusta still haunting him from his 2016 collapse? Harbour Town was his for the taking and he let it slip way.@opinionsvary328

Ummmmmmm, Phil? There is no question Spieth has a lot of scar tissue and the ’16 Masters is his Winged Foot. Mickelson needed four years to get over that debacle, while Spieth’s bounce-back came much quicker. But clearly Jordan is always going to be a cat on a hot tin roof. All the tournaments he boots away will just make it more joyous when he closes one out.

Why as a golf fan should I follow the LPGA when there is rarely an American in contention? @BobRoge321

If the PGA Championship turns into a shootout between Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy, will you watch? Great golf is great golf, I don’t see why it matters where a person grew up. Instead of dismissing all the talented players on the LPGA who have zero control over where they were born, why not invest some time in their unique and often inspiring stories? You’ll thank me later.

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Has Greg [Norman] done such a good job forcing the tour’s hand (with huge purses and incentives) that he’s essentially doomed his league from further growth since there’s a smaller incentive for any stars to leave??? @fakePOULTER

The final round at Harbour Town was the most-watched non-major golf telecast in five years. The top tour players are raking in barrels of cash and have never been more aligned. As you say, there is almost no incentive to leave, unless LIV pushes its tournament purses to $40 million or $50 million and offers more nine-figure signing bonuses, which the bean-counters at the Public Investment Fund are suddenly loathe to do. The unknown is how long the PGA Tour can sustain this outlay of cash—it’s operating at maximum capacity right now. It can weather the departure of Dell and Honda, but how many more sponsors will be priced out? That’s a huge question that will get answered this fall with the release of 2024 schedule. But as Jay Monahan told me at Kapalua, it’s now product against product in this war of attrition. Even if LIV goes on a big spending spree this offseason, how much can change? Tiger moves the needle, as do Rory and Spieth. They’re not going anywhere. Rahm makes the needle twitch, maybe JT does a tiny bit. They’re entrenched with the tour, too, and no one else really matters. Even if LIV signed Morikawa and Cantlay and Schauffele and Burns—and there’s no indication any of them want to to jump or that LIV is willing to spend the $750 million it would take to sign all of them—would that encourage any PGA Tour honks to tune in? I doubt it. The battle lines have been drawn: PGA Tour fans watch the PGA Tour, LIV loyalists follow LIV (and do a lot of trolling on Twitter). I think your thesis is correct, but don’t give Norman the credit. Give it to Monahan and Woods and McIlroy, who reshaped the tour on the fly.

PGA Tour golf is now incredibly boring from a personality perspective now that all the heels went to LIV. Who are the new and emerging heels in the current Tour? #AskAlan@the_agrippa

The problem is none of them want the job! Cantlay has serious potential, but he’s too uptight corporate. Billy Horschel has the look and some heel-like tendencies, but deep down he aches to be loved. There’s not even another decent candidate. Sad.