Rory McIlroy, Max Homa, Tom Kim and the rest of the big winners of the men’s fall season
Save for the highly anticipated reappearance of Tiger Woods in the coming few weeks in a trio of events, the truly notable, compelling and consequential golf is over for 2022.
How time flies when you’re having … well, a total upheaval in the sport. No, we’re not going to venture into those weeds. Expending further keyboard energy on the battle between the PGA Tour/DP World Tour and the LIV Golf Series is to throw a snowball at an avalanche.
Our focus these last few weeks was on the golf course. Well, mostly. The fall produced an interesting mix of success stories in the men’s game. Some of the winners were obvious, some less so. Here are eight notable autumn achievers deserving of attention.
The outspoken point man in defending the PGA Tour/DP World Tour against the controversial Saudi-back LIV circuit, McIlroy would have been forgiven for a letdown after winning his third FedEx Cup title in August with his come-from-behind victory over then-No. 1 Scottie Scheffler at East Lake. Instead, the Northern Irishman went about overtaking Scheffler again, this time in the Official World Golf Ranking, by successfully defending his title in the CJ Cup in late October. It marked the ninth time McIlroy claimed OWGR No. 1; only Tiger Woods and Greg Norman (11 apiece) have done it more often. As if that was not enough, when McIlroy finished fourth at the DP World Tour Championship, he locked up the season-long DP World Tour title for the fourth time while joining Henrik Stenson in winning the season title on both major tours. Next mountain to climb? Augusta.
Nobody had more fun at the Presidents Cup than Tom Kim, whose energy helped the underdog International team put a scare into the American side at Quail Hollow.
The 20-year-old South Korean already was a sensation when he won the Wyndham Championship in August—after starting the tournament with a quadruple bogey—to make the FedEx Cup Playoffs and subsequently become a wildcard pick by Presidents Cup captain Trevor Immelman. Kim rose up to become the emotional leader for the underdog International team with a series of big shots and demonstrative reactions during their Saturday surge at Quail Hollow that made the heavily favored Americans work for their 12th win in 14 Presidents Cup matches. Two weeks after that, he outdueled World No. 4 Patrick Cantlay at the Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas. Kim didn’t make a bogey all week in becoming the second-youngest two-time winner in PGA Tour history.
The tournament on Hilton Head Island that saw Arnold Palmer win the inaugural edition in 1969 is likely to welcome its best ever field in 2023 now that RBC has ponied up for elevated status by offering a $20 million purse. The event, parked right behind the Masters, traditionally has attracted a decent field, given its proximity to Augusta, Ga., but nothing like it did decades ago when the list of winners, in order, starting in 1981 was Bill Rogers, Tom Watson, Fuzzy Zoeller, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Fuzzy Zoeller, Davis Love III, Greg Norman and Payne Stewart. Until Jordan Spieth’s victory last year, a past Masters champion hadn’t won at Harbour Town Golf Links since Zoeller in 1986. The year before, Bernhard Langer won it the week after taking the first of his two green jackets.
Dustin Johnson banked more than $35 million in eight starts on the LIV Golf circuit in 2022, including a victory in Boston in September.
Chris Trotman/LIV Golf
Johnson easily was the best player that LIV Golf snagged before luring Open champion Cam Smith, who was No. 2 in the world at the time he signed on to the Saudi-backed series in September, and DJ proved that by winning LIV’s season-long points title in October after just six events. The payoff was an additional $18 million for the two-time major champion. Granted, Johnson got a head start on his most serious competition when joined LIV at its debut event in London in exchange for a reported $125 million or so up front. His total performance earnings on the year, which included success for his 4Aces team, exceeded $35 million. “It’s pretty good,” he said in his own understated manner. “You add up the numbers, and it was great. I played good [but] … I didn’t play my best, it could always be better, but that’s golf.” The only downside: DJ has tumbled to 38th in the World Ranking since LIV events aren’t offering points.
There might not be a PGA Tour golfer more upset that the fall season is ending than Seamus Power, who finsihed Win/T-3/T-5 in his final three starts to jump to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup points list entering the offseason.
The 35-year-old Irishman has been the definition of a journeyman on the PGA Tour since first earning a card in 2017 but needing to earn it back three times in his first four seasons. A breakthrough win came in 2021, but this fall has seen his most consistent stretch of play. He played in six of the nine fall events, missing just one cut. In his final three starts he went Win (Bermuda), T-3 (Mayakoba) and T-5 (RSM) to end the fall season atop the FedEx Cup points list, all but assuring him a shot a getting into the FedEx Cup playoffs and the opportunity to qualify for the tour’s elevated events in 2023. The $1.8 million he banked already this season is more than he’s earned in any season except the 2021-22.
After regaining his PGA Tour card by winning the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship during the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, Lingmerth started the 2022-23 season with three straight missed cuts. But the resilient Swede, who has battled a series of injuries in recent years, posted three finishes of 11th or better in his last four starts, including T-10 Sunday at the RSM Classic. Lingmerth, 35, already has surpassed his combined earnings of $418,069 on the KFT and PGA Tour last season by pocketing $571,250. Interestingly, he’s done it ranking no better than 147th in any primary strokes-gained category. But he’ll begin 2023 38th on the FedEx Cup points list, so he’s made significant inroads to keeping his card.
It's safe to say Max Homa enjoyed his first experience in a team competition as a pro, going 4-0-0 in his Presidents Cup debut at Quail Hollow in September.
Successful defense of his title at the Fortinet Championship—albeit with an assist from Danny Willett—was only part of Homa’s enjoyable fall, capped in October by becoming a father. The following week, he made his Presidents Cup debut at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., site of his first career PGA Tour title. Impressively, he went 4-0-0, capped by rallying from 3 down to beat the aforementioned Tom Kim in singles. He also delivered one of the more memorable quotes of the week after he sank the winning putt in Friday’s final four-ball match with partner Billy Horschel, saying: “I was telling my wife, when we talk about things money can't buy, money cannot buy that feeling. And that was something that I will remember forever, and I will tell anybody who ever wants to hear about it how that felt.” Anyone who follows golf knew what he was getting at.
PGA Tour Rookies
Ben Griffin nearly won in just his eight start as a PGA Tour member in Bermuda after giving up the game to become a mortgage loan officer.
Taylor Montgomery had three top-10 finishes, tied for most on the tour this fall, while Ben Griffin provided the best feel-good story by nearly winning the Butterfield Bermuda Championship some 18 months after he had left the game and was working as a loan officer for a mortgage company. But regardless of performance, every rookie had to feel like a winner. Each received a $500,000 stipend at the start of the season that is theirs regardless of performance, a benefit introduced for the first time. That should make the holidays a little brighter until they can get back on the course in January.