Rory’s position, Dunlap’s decision, 5 crucial golf reminders | Monday Finish

Why’d Rory McIlroy’s weekend matter? What’s next for Nick Dunlap? What did Lydia Ko learn? The Monday Finish has you covered.

The post Rory’s position, Dunlap’s decision, 5 crucial golf reminders | Monday Finish appeared first on Golf.

Why’d Rory McIlroy’s weekend matter? What’s next for Nick Dunlap? What did Lydia Ko learn? The Monday Finish has you covered.

The post Rory’s position, Dunlap’s decision, 5 crucial golf reminders | Monday Finish appeared first on Golf.

Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we had nightmares about the end to the Chiefs-Bills game; if there’s a group that knows the pain of hitting a big slice at the biggest moment of your day, it’s golfers. Let’s get to the news!

The LPGA Tour returned to action. The PGA Tour came back to the mainland. The DP World Tour held its first full-field event. And we got some reminders of why we care about this stuff to begin with. It’s Reminder Week. Here are five big ones.


1. Top college kids are ridiculously good at golf

Look, we’ve known this. We’ve seen evidence of it. We’ve seen the college tournament scores. We’ve had PGA Tour rookies winning and we’ve had amateurs in contention on the weekend. We’ve heard about swing speed numbers going up and ball speed numbers going up and about just how dialed in golfers are getting thanks to technology and training and coaching and the intersection of those three. But this weekend a sophomore from Alabama shot 29 under par for four rounds and held off two U.S. Ryder Cuppers plus a whole boatload of other full-time touring professionals and blew the collective minds of golf fans still conditioned to think that surely some pro experience is necessary.

Nick Dunlap‘s win at the American Express marked the first victory by an amateur on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson in Tucson 33 years ago. It looked unlikely at the beginning of the week, when he went off at 450-1 odds. It looked far likelier on Saturday evening, when he held a three-shot lead after signing for a preposterous third-round 12-under-par 60. It looked unlikely again when he blocked (shanked…?) his tee shot on the 7th hole on Sunday into the water, giving up his lead in the process. But then he bounced back with a birdie at No. 8 and didn’t make a mistake the rest of the way, adding birdies at 14 and 16 (plus a double bogey from co-leader Sam Burns at 17) and a clutch up-and-down from the side of the 18th green to cement the historic win.

As an amateur, Dunlap didn’t collect the $1.5 million winner’s check. (That went to the winner of the pro division, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who made in the neighborhood of $1 million with an 18th-hole birdie.) But Dunlap’s career opportunities changed right away. He’s in the Masters no matter what. He has PGA Tour status locked up through 2026 no matter what. And if he decides to turn pro he’ll get into the Tour’s Signature Events the rest of the year, too, a slate of tournaments that promise the game’s biggest non-major stages β€” plus big-time guaranteed money. (Speaking of which: a LIV offer is sure to be lobbed his way, should he be interested.)

I felt delighted for Dunlap as I watched him revel in the victory on Sunday afternoon. This is his dream, after all, realized faster than he ever imagined. But then I felt something else, too: a bit of sadness for him. The promises of status and money and Signature Events β€” it’s all likely too tantalizing to turn down. His life has changed overnight. There’s no going backwards from here. This is likely dumb and overly sentimental but I wonder if there’s part of him that isn’t yet ready to say goodbye to bus rides with his teammates, no matter how hard they’re pulling for the guy on their screen.

I felt glad, then, to see that midday Monday he’d pulled out of this week’s Farmers. Go home. Talk to your people. Celebrate with ’em. Revel in this moment. Figure out what’s next. You won’t ever have another week like this one.

2. The PGA Tour can still produce moments β€” and create stars

The LIV vs. PGA Tour era has empowered individual players and emphasized their value, and I’m all good with that. But somewhere in this new world of pros negotiating their specific values and signing guaranteed contracts we’ve probably overcorrected; I’d argue we’re overrating individuals and underrating the game’s biggest institutions, namely the majors and the PGA Tour.

I’m not here to beat my chest about how great a tournament the American Express is. If anything, I’d argue the opposite; I’m not a huge fan of the three-course setup nor the pro-am format, and it lacks the gravity of the West Coast events that follow. But despite all of that, and despite the fact that it was running up against the end of one massive NFL game and the start of another, it still felt like Nick Dunlap produced a significant moment. A star moment. The world was aware of what he was doing because of decades and decades of building the context around what it means to win a PGA Tour event.

There are holes in this argument. Not all PGA Tour events are created equal, particularly in the age of opposite-field events (much weaker fields) and, now, Signature Events (much stronger fields) and at some point we’ll need to make better sense of how to measure one type of Tour win against another. Dunlap’s win was a reminder of the virtues of full-field events, too, where Cinderellas can become champions. But after a relatively quiet fall β€” and despite the Tour’s imperfections β€” Sunday was a reminder that it’s still the place for golf fans to turn in the waning hours of their weekend, looking for something that matters.

3. Lydia Ko is still ridiculously good at golf

When Lydia Ko won the Saudi Ladies’ International, her first event of the 2023 season, it boosted her to a familiar spot: World No. 1. It also marked her third victory in four starts dating back to the CME Group Tour Championship and the BMW Ladies Championship at the end of 2022. It also seemed to set her up for a banner 2023.

But that’s not really what happened. Instead Ko struggled uncharacteristically throughout the season, at one point going 16 consecutive LPGA starts without a top-30 finish. She showed some spark in a couple late-season finishes but didn’t even qualify to defend her Tour Championship title. She fell outside the top 10 in the world. Golf was mystifying and frustrating, even for a golfer whose career has her on the brink of the Hall of Fame.

Asked this week what she’d learned about herself throughout the year, Ko was characteristically honest.

“I cry a lot, would be something that I learned. I’m like, man, I got to get the faucet to stop crying. My mom says that, too: ‘You cry a lot,’” she said on Sunday, remembering. “I think I was so impacted just by the results and I think that’s what led me to a few months of struggling, feeling like I’m walking on quicksand.

“But having one under-par round and then backing it up with another under-par round the next day, those small things really mattered. Y’know, I think taking small wins is an important thing when we’re out there.”

All of that, she said, made this week sweeter. Ko played steady golf all week in a variety of conditions at the LPGA’s opener, the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, to build a two-shot lead entering Sunday’s final round. A two-under 70 on Sunday maintained that margin over runner-up Alexa Pano and sent her back to the winner’s circle, a place she insists she wasn’t sure she’d return.

“I won last year my first event and kind of went sideways very quickly, so I won’t get too cocky,” she said in her winner’s interview. For someone with Ko’s humility, that doesn’t seem like a serious risk. Now she can appreciate some small wins, knowing she’s got a big one in her pocket.

4. Rory McIlroy is a winner

Of course Rory McIlroy‘s a winner. We should know that. But we just need reminders of his chasing and closing ability every few months to help counter the constant undercurrent of major-drought chatter that inevitably accompanies his name.

In 2023, McIlroy won twice β€” once at the Dubai Desert Classic on the DP World Tour and once at the Genesis Scottish Open, a cosanctioned PGA Tour/DP World Tour event, where he hit one of the best shots of his career to set up a triumphant winning moment on the 18th green. But he also did a lot of almost-winning, finishing second at Bay Hill and the U.S. Open and third at the WGC-Match Play and the FedEx St. Jude and fourth at the BMW Championship and sixth at the Open and inside the top 10 just about everywhere else. And then he began his 2024 with a second-place finish at last week’s Dubai Invitational, when he saw his lead slip on the 18th hole when he found the water off the tee.

It was only fitting that this McIlroy win came in classic McIlroy form; he faded to the middle of the pack through two rounds before climbing the ranks with a Saturday 63 and seized the lead with three birdies on the front nine Sunday before holding on the rest of the way.

“On Friday night, I thought [if I shot] 10-under for the weekend, I would have a really good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I shot 11, and ended up winning by one. I’ve played the game long enough to sort of know how these things are going to go. Thankfully I played the golf I needed to β€” and just incredible to get my fourth win here at the Emirates.”

He remains a work in progress, he said, despite the win. He’s battling a left miss that cost him last week and hampered him this week, too. And he was reluctant to look so far ahead as major championship season. Still, the double-digit comeback meant something to him after an experience at last year’s Masters:

“I’ve told this story numerous times now about the first green on Friday, and Brooks [Koepka] was on the eighth green and I saw the big leaderboard, and I was already 10 behind at that point,” he said. I was 10 behind after two days this week and ended up winning the golf tournament. That’s a massive β€” I feel like I’ve taken that learning already and put it into practice a little bit already. That’s a huge thing for me.”

Still winning. Still learning. No golfer will be under more scrutiny in 2024.

5. Golf’s future remains uncertain

It’s been nice, having actual golf tournaments to talk about rather than theoretical future tours. But this week included some chatter about a hypothetical vision for the future of the game, a topic advanced by McIlroy’s musings.

“The way I view it is a bit like Champions League in football,” McIlroy said, describing a hypothetical top tour. “It’s like the best of the best in Europe, and then all of the other leagues feed up into it.

“There’s lots of different tours getting interest and a lot of great players. But if you want to create something that is real value for the game of golf, I think it’s this top-level tour, and then all the other tours feed into it. And there’s promotion and relegation and you have to earn your way in, and you have to earn your spot to stay in, as well. I think that’s really important, too.

“I think it has to be global in nature, and to me, you need to figure out a structure where all these other tours feed into that so it gives people a chance to come up.”

What he’s describing sounds like the PGA Tour, particularly its Signature Events model, but with a more global presence. What he’s describing sounds like LIV but with more cache and a greater emphasis on meritocracy. But it’s not clear to me how what he’s describing works with ongoing negotiations between the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour and the PIF β€” particularly given that in his vision, LIV gets relegated to a team series in the game’s shoulder season.

LIV’s first event in Mexico tees off next week. A few league spots remain in flux, including one on the league-owned Cleeks and another on Jon Rahm’s new team. Their season debut will go head-to-head with the PGA Tour’s Signature Event at Pebble Beach. How will the dynamic of negotiations change once the leagues are pitted against each other once again?


A few more.

PGA Tour players go ridiculously low. This is not new news but a straightforward setup without notable weather serves as a reminder that no, you probably shouldn’t sign up for Q-School. The three-day cut was 13 under par! Thirteen under! And Dunlap was 27 under through three rounds.

Justin Thomas is still very good. Remember his T12 finish at the Wyndham last year β€” which left him just shy of the playoffs? He’s finished 5th (Fortinet), 4th (Nedbank Golf Challenge) 3rd (Hero World Challenge) and now T3 at the AmEx. That’s impressive stuff. He also entered this week at No. 28 in the world, leaving him on the edge of the top-30 cutoff for Signature Events. Now he’s No. 23, leaving him with some wiggle room.

The Hojgaards are coming. Both of ’em. The 22-year-old twins played in the same group on Saturday in Dubai and both played well all week, with Nicolai finishing T7 and Rasmus T11. While Nicolai has PGA Tour status and one single shot kept Rasmus from getting it, too, these two both feel like they’ll have a say in Europe’s golfing future.


Monday Finish HQ.

I was en route back from men’s league basketball last week (crushing loss, hurts to even write about) as I watched the themostat creep from 34 degrees to 33 and then to 32 and then 31…

By the time I crept all the way home I came across a couple cars that had slid β€” slowly, luckily β€” off course and ended up somewhere they wished they hadn’t. There’s no tragic nor happy ending to this story except to say that Seattle is a funny winter city in the sense that there’s not enough bad weather to fully invest in snow-and-ice-proofing everything, but it also happens enough (a couple full-on freezes per winter, in my experience) that it’s fairly debilitating when it does get sketchy. Especially the hills.

Anyway, it’s back to 47 and drizzle this morning, so life is good.


3 things to watch this week.

1. The Green Room.

I’m curious if the Green Room is gonna end up being, like, too dark. But for now, this is terrific stuff.

Here’s James Morrison: “If anybody wants to employ an overweight golfer, call me, please. ASAP.”

2. Golf β€” on CBS!

Torrey Pines drone shots, gang. And that music! It’s Farmers Insurance Week. This is where Tiger Woods used to play his first event of the season, which means in my mind it’s where the West Coast Swing officially begins. See you there, Jim Nantz. (Just remember: Wednesday start this week!)

3. West Florida Szn

Florida’s underrated Gulf Coast will be in the spotlight this week as the LPGA takes to the Drive On Championship at Bradenton Country Club, a cool old-school Donald Ross course. Nelly Korda lives nearby, so she’s an easy favorite. But all four major champs from last year are competing, too, including defending champ Celine Boutier β€” though when she won this “tournament” last year it was in Arizona.

Go low, gang. Even if you’re not playing golf. See you next week!

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