Monday Scramble: Corpuz’s historic stroll at the beach, Straka’s Ryder Cup chances and the case for team golf
Allisen Corpuz goes for a stroll on the (Pebble) Beach, red-hot Sepp Straka overcomes a wet finish, Brooks Koepka blasts a LIV teammate and more in this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble:
In a brilliant display of nerve and distance control, Allisen Corpuz became the first American in 20 years to make the U.S. Women’s Open her first victory on Sunday.
The 25-year-old Hawaiian, in just her second LPGA season, turned a tight chase into a runaway with a final-round 69 at Pebble Beach that gave her a three-shot victory over Charley Hull and Jiyai Shin. (For more on the win, and the moment, read here.)
Corpuz had come close earlier this year at the Chevron Championship, where she shared the 54-hole lead, but on this stage, she showed she was ready to take the next step. Sure, her physical prowess shined: No one in the field hit it tighter to Pebble’s tiny targets than Corpuz, and she ranked sixth in the field in putting. But she held up mentally, too, offering up, for the first time, a tiny fist pump on the 15th green when her birdie putt dropped that gave her a four-shot cushion.
“I just need to get home,” she said.
Corpuz’s unassuming demeanor and resolute approach proved the right combination during a historic week in which the game’s best players all stumbled in their bid to claim the biggest prize in the sport. Jin Young Ko imploded with an opening 79. Nelly Korda ranked last in the field in driving. Lydia Ko couldn’t overcome a quadruple bogey in the first round. Rose Zhang’s putter went cold on the weekend. And six-time LPGA winner Nasa Hataoka, with the best chance to pressure the newcomer in the final group, came home in 40.
So it’s Corpuz who will join the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods as players who won Open titles at Pebble Beach, taking home not just $2 million (the richest prize ever for a LPGA major champ) but also a slice of golf immortality. For this generation of players, at least, it was likely their one and only shot at the iconic venue – the women aren’t slated to return to Pebble until 2035.
For a few moments, it looked like Sepp Straka might have frittered away everything at the John Deere Classic.
His shot at 59.
His shot at the title.
His shot at a Ryder Cup pick.
In control all day, Straka pulled his approach shot into the home hole well left of his target and into the pond, leading to a double bogey.
It was a stunning shot considering he had spent much of the previous hour chasing the Tour’s single-round scoring record. But now, after signing for his 62, his five-shot lead cut in half, there were two players who could not just force a playoff – but also pass him and steal the victory.
“It’s stressful,” Straka said, “because at that point it’s out of your hands. When you’re just sitting there, you kind of feel helpless.
“But yeah, thankfully didn’t need that playoff.”
Both Brendon Todd and Alex Smalley fell short of Straka’s 21-under 263, allowing the Austrian to capture his second-career PGA Tour victory.
It was an important triumph in many ways. It helped validate his 2022 Honda Classic title. It bumped him from 50th to 18th in the FedExCup, moving him closer to his goal of advancing to the Tour Championship for the second-straight season. And, yes, it put him squarely on European captain Luke Donald’s radar for a potential wildcard pick in two months’ time, especially with Rasmus Hojgaard overcoming a six-shot deficit Sunday to add another trophy in Denmark.
“I’m glad my game is in good shape,” Straka said. “Hopefully I can make a push for that.”
Outside of a tie for seventh at the PGA, Straka has had a quiet year, with just two other finishes inside the top 10. This victory moved him up to 27th in the world – ahead of players such as Justin Rose (29th) and Shane Lowry (30th), both of whom are virtual locks to receive captain’s picks if they don’t qualify automatically.
Straka is an above-average iron player and putter who can clearly get hot with the best of ’em, as evidenced by his final 54 holes at the Deere; his first-round position (T-133) was the worst by an eventual Tour winner since the circuit started keeping records in 1983. Straka made a tweak on the greens after the first round – the toe of his putter was too high at address – and he filled it up to the point that he was 11 under through 14 holes Sunday. That he “settled” for a 62 on the par-71 layout was the only disappointment.
“As fun as the 59 would be,” he said, “I think winning the golf tournament is always more fun.”
With one harsh interview, Brooks Koepka inadvertently illustrated the most interesting part of the LIV Golf model that should be integrated, in some way, into the new landscape.
The competitions themselves have failed to resonate, with viewership numbers so low that the league stopped reporting them. Sponsorships and partnerships have been slow to trickle in, too. But there’s definitely something there with the team model – once, of course, the right players are included.
In a roundabout way, Koepka showed the possibilities when he blasted his mercurial teammate, Matthew Wolff – the once-promising 20-something who has mostly produced disappointing results over the past few years. How much of that malaise can be attributed to his mental-health struggles is unclear; Wolff claimed his move to LIV was partly because he didn’t enjoy the lone-wolf nature of the big tour, but he apparently hasn’t found happiness in the team-friendly league either.
Wolff looks largely disinterested (as he did at times on Tour), has skipped qualifiers for major championships and drew Koepka’s ire by loafing during a competitive round earlier this summer following a bootcamp-style workout that pushed the team members to the limit. Koepka reportedly tried to shop Wolff around to other teams this summer, but the move never materialized.
Koepka surely knew what he was getting with Wolff – a mega-talent who can lack motivation – but that didn’t stop him from ripping him publicly, telling Sports Illustrated that the 24-year-old was a quitter and wasted talent. A day later, Wolff called the biting criticism from his captain “heartbreaking,” and he responded by finishing last by three shots. His performance sank the team, as well, with Smash GC placing second-to-last.
Why does any of this matter?
Because these sorts of conflicts are commonplace in team sports. Rifts among teammates. Tiffs between coach and superstar. Transactional news is big business – cuts, trades, demotions, rumors and speculation – and now that off-the-field dynamic has finally been brought to golf.
No, it’ll never be the defining characteristic of the new PGA Tour – that’s legacy tournaments like the Genesis and Bay Hill and Memorial – but with the marquee names involved, the regular season could get a whole lot juicier. It can be a compelling subplot to what are otherwise mundane non-major weeks.
THIS WEEK’S AWARD WINNERS …
An Open Favorite, Again: Cam Smith. Look who’s once again rounding into form for his title defense at The Open. It’s been a good, if not great, LIV season for Smith, who had yet to win before the London event but still had seven-consecutive top 12s. More impressive was his play in the majors, where Smith has been able to cling to a top-10 world ranking because of a pair of top-10s at the PGA and U.S. Open. But Smith is clearly flying high before heading to Liverpool, winning by one over a hard-charging Patrick Reed at Centurion Club in the circuit’s first return stop. If Smith is not among your top 4 favorites for The Open, along with Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, well, you’re doing it wrong.
Welcome Back …: Jay Monahan. The PGA Tour commissioner has been out nearly a month because of an undisclosed medical issue, but he said in a statement that he’ll return to work July 17. Monahan’s health and job status have been the source of much speculation, particularly because his setback came on the heels of the controversial deal with the Saudis that blindsided the membership and led to some to call for his resignation. Monahan didn’t participate in the lengthy Policy Board meeting two weeks ago in Detroit, but he’ll have much to do once he clocks back in next Monday. Speaking of which …
Goodbye …: Randall Stephenson. The longtime AT&T chairman resigned from the Tour policy board citing “serious concerns” about the framework agreement that the Tour had entered into with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. As a result, the four remaining independent directors will now work to select Stephenson’s successor, drawing from a pool of candidates who are public figures “with a demonstrated interest in golf.” Whoever steps in will play a significant role in reshaping the future of the Tour.
So Long For Now: Michelle Wie West and Annika Sorenstam. Both missed the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open, but that wasn’t really the point. Wie West is calling it quits, at age 33, after a career that never quite lived up to its monster potential but has fulfilled her in other ways: as a wife, a mother, a trailblazer (she inspired newly minted champ Allisen Corpuz!) and a well-adjusted adult – no sure thing, of course, after her polarizing teenage years spent in the spotlight. Her legacy is still being shaped as she enters the next chapter of her life. Though Sorenstam’s goodbye didn’t feel quite as formal – she’ll soon play in the U.S. Women’s Senior Open – her special exemption at Pebble was no less special given her career record that included 10 major championships.
Coffee Golf SZN: Scottish Open. We’re beginning one of the great fortnights of the year, with the Scottish Open leading into the season’s final major at Royal Liverpool. Nearly all of the big names will be teeing it up in the co-sanctioned event at Renaissance Club – Jon Rahm is among the notables absent – in the final tune-up for The Open.
Cleared for (Partial) Launch: Will Zalatoris. While taking in the scene at Wimbledon, the Texan also revealed that his doctors have greenlit some light chipping and pitching practice. It’s been a lost year for Zalatoris, who earned his breakthrough victory at the FedEx St. Jude Championship last summer but has been sidelined because of a series of back issues that led to him undergoing a microdiscectomy this April. Zalatoris said that he’s targeting a fall return to competition – and this news puts him right on track. Great to see.
Don’t Overcomplicate This: Ludvig Aberg, European Ryder Cupper. Need we accumulate any more evidence? The 23-year-old has already announced his bad intentions, drawing praise from everyone he’s played with on Tour, and he fired a closing 63 at the Deere to post his best finish yet – a tie for fourth. For Captain Donald, it’s going to come down to this very question: Do you want to roll with a dynamic birdie machine who is the future of the team or burn a pick on a proven commodity who will likely just be stashed on the bench?
Sigh: Cameron Young. It was another close call for the reigning Tour Rookie of the Year, who held the halfway lead at the Deere but backed up into a tie for sixth. Perhaps it was a positive sign that he had a chance despite ranking 45th in the field in iron play – easily the worst among the chief contenders. It still added up to a much-needed high finish for an uber-talented player who had yet to post a top-10 since the Masters. Ranked 46th in the FedExCup standings, he has work to do just to make it to East Lake.
She’s Comin’: Rose Zhang. Quick Q: Will her tie for ninth at Pebble mark the worst result she’ll have the rest of the year? It’s a distinct possibility. The 20-year-old couldn’t make anything over the final two rounds of the USWO, taking 62 putts, and yet she still posted her second-consecutive top 10 in a major as a pro. It would surprise absolutely no one if she picked off one of the next two majors. She’s ready, already.