Monday Scramble: How about at February ‘U.S. Open’ at Pebble Beach in ’24?
Justin Rose remembers those winning feelings, Pebble Beach event deserves higher elevation, the Tour’s biggest party descends on Phoenix and more in this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble:
More than four years removed from his last victory, Justin Rose played a clean nine holes Monday to extend his advantage and cruise to the title at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
It’s been a long time coming for Rose, who hadn’t won since the 2019 Farmers when he ascended to No. 1 in the world. Since then he has churned through clubs and coaches and caddies, missing more cuts than he had recorded top-10s. But now 42, and with a solid team around him, he felt as though he was finally trending upward again.
“Obviously a win gives you a lot of belief,” he said. “We always know we can do it, but sometimes you’ve got to see the proof.”
Closing rounds of 65-66 spread across three days and two courses helped boost the confidence of the proud Englishman who could have accepted a lucrative LIV offer and sailed into his mid-40s like fellow Europeans Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia. Instead, Rose stuck with it, digging for answers, and his faith was rewarded with his 11th Tour title at one of the country’s most iconic venues.
“What a place to win a tournament,” he beamed.
Rose’s resurgence lifted him back inside the top 50 in the world (to No. 35) and also has to be a welcome sight for European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald, who surely would love to lean on Rose’s vast experience this fall in Rome.
What to do with the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am?
This year the ol’ Crosby attracted just seven of the top 50 players in the world. Of course, the poor turnout wasn’t surprising; the hit-and-giggle is already a polarizing tournament for players, and the next two Tour stops are both designated events. But in this new Tour era, it did at least spark a conversation about what, if anything, should be done to bolster the once-proud tournament.
The simplest solution is to elevate the 2024 edition, all but forcing the top players to show up for a $20 million purse.
That makes sense for a couple of reasons:
1.) AT&T is a longtime Tour sponsor, and it stages two events during the season, neither of which was deemed worthy this year of designated status;
2.) It’s freakin’ Pebble Beach.
“Trying to go to the world’s best courses, when you have the opportunity, would be advantageous for the PGA Tour. I’ll fight for it,” Jordan Spieth said, later adding: “You can make it a U.S. Open in February.”
What isn’t so simple is figuring out how to make that work.
Among the questions: Would Pebble and Phoenix rotate designated-event status? Top players were already turning up in the desert anyway, attracted to the unmatched vibe in Phoenix, the nearly-perfect weather and the underrated TPC venue. Putting Pebble on a pedestal likely wouldn’t demonstrably change that fact. Stars likely would just prepare to go three in a row (Pebble-Phoenix-Genesis), with the AmEx and Farmers fields possibly taking a hit.
Also: What to do with the amateurs? The pro-am portion was scrapped during the COVID era, but it’s also the lifeblood of this event (whether that actually resonates for viewers is debatable). Some clearly enjoy it, but compelling every top player to put up with an amateur tagalong during a six-hour round on bumpy greens in occasionally miserable weather feels like a hard sell.
And, finally: Are three courses still in the rotation? This could depend on the field size, but we wouldn’t mind seeing the top 70 guys play all 72 holes at Pebble – the next Open isn’t slated there until 2027, after all.
So, give us the goods. As Spieth said: It’d basically be a February Open at Pebble.
What’s not to love?
Sure, it seems like common sense: the best golfers in the world, playing together more often, for an enormous purse.
But this year, at the WM Phoenix Open, the Tour’s new vision becomes reality. It’s the first full-field designated event. It’s the first time this year we’ll have the two hottest players in the game – Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm – going head to head. For a non-major, it’s about as big as it gets.
This year’s edition promises to be a helluva show, made even bigger with the Super Bowl being held 30 miles away at State Farm Stadium. (There are some unintended consequences, however: Colleague Rex Hoggard’s hotel room was going to cost $1,800 per night …)
But if it’s truly going product vs. product now with LIV, this is what the Tour wants – no, needs – to see, roughly a dozen or so times a year: 22 of the top 25 in the world in the field. The only ones missing are Cameron Smith (LIV), Abe Ancer (LIV) and Will Zalatoris (one excused PIP absence).
Which means Rory, Scottie, Rahm, Cantlay, Xander, Morikawa, JT, Fitz, Hovland, Finau, Max, Tom Kim, Burns, Spieth, Cam Young, Sungjae, BillyHo, Hideki, Keegan, Lowry, Harman and Tommy Lad … plus 12 other top-50 players … together … in Phoenix … for the biggest party of the year.
THIS WEEK’S AWARD WINNERS …
Sigh of Relief?: Cameron Young. The extent of Young’s Saudi commitment hasn’t been publicly announced, but surely those at Tour HQ were relieved to see the reigning Rookie of the Year fall two shots short of Abe Ancer at the Saudi International. Young and a handful of others (including Lucas Herbert, who placed solo third) had received conflicting-event releases to play in what is now an Asian Tour event, raising some eyebrows since the tournament is sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – the same organization that is bankrolling LIV Golf – and Young had expressed interest in LIV but rejected an offer because, at 25, he felt he still had much to accomplish. Had Young won the tournament, however, that seemingly would have complicated matters – all three of the previous winners of the Saudi event (Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell, Harold Varner III) eventually joined LIV Golf, and this year’s champion, Ancer, defected last summer.
Back Online: Phil Mickelson. Despite saying earlier in the week that he still had to be “guarded” in what he said publicly, Mickelson seemed to be back to his old pot-stirring ways on Twitter, riffing that a Tour/LIV match would never happen because – and he was actually serious here – “we would dominate them so soundly.” (And you thought his crazy MFers line was the most ludicrous thing he’s said in the past year.) Conveniently, Lefty went dark over the weekend, even with ample time on his hands, following a missed cut in Saudi Arabia and a long flight back to California. Still, since Brooks Koepka retired from the role, it’s fun to have the Troll King back in our lives.
An Important Hearing: DP World Tour and LIV rebels. An arbitration panel in London this week will determine the fate of the LIV golfers who still wish to compete on the DP World Tour. Banning the players would close another OWGR loophole and make Donald’s job less stressful. But deep down, we can’t help but wonder if European tour CEO Keith Pelley is secretly wishing that LIV players will be allowed a pass – after all, the Rory-Reed spectacle (with Richard Bland, Poulter and others figuring prominently) transformed what would have been another ho-hum event into must-see TV.
Jammin’: Daniel Gavins. Even with a three-shot lead heading down the last, Gavins somehow made the end of the Ras Al Khaimah Championship interesting, rinsing two balls on the 72nd hole and then needing to drain a 27-footer for double bogey just to seal his second European title. Afterward, he celebrated by … rocking out? A fascinating Sunday, to be sure.
Federal Investigation Required: Pebble pro-am title. Providing proof that perhaps he can still win in February, Green Bay Packers quarterback (for now) Aaron Rodgers teamed up with Ben Silverman to capture the rain-shortened pro-am portion of the Clambake. It was peculiar, however, since Silverman, a winner last week on the Korn Ferry Tour, shot 1 over par for three rounds and missed the cut, meaning that Rodgers – playing off an, ahem, 10 handicap – carried the load for a team that finished at 26 under, all while shrugging that he hadn’t played since training camp. Uh-huh.
End of an Era?: WGC-Match Play in Austin. Golfweek reported last week that this is likely to be the final year that the Match Play will be held at Austin Country Club, a shame, honestly, since we’ve grown to love the fun, quirky course that stages the Tour’s lone match-play event. It does, at least, present the possibility for further change: Match play needs to be a staple in the Tour schedule, but will it move away from its current spot, two weeks ahead of the Masters? (Please!) Will the big-money Tour Championship adopt a head-to-head component to crown the FedExCup champ? The 2024 schedule is being discussed now, so stay tuned.
Money Can’t Buy Happiness: a LIV Golf experience … for 100K. Ever wanted to dine and have scintillating dinner-table conversation with the Koepkas? No? Huh. Well. Here’s your chance anyway:
Still Ballin’: Pierceson Coody. Had the same rules been in place a year ago, Coody would be on the PGA Tour right now after finishing last season No. 1 in the PGA Tour University rankings. Instead, he’s apprenticing for another year in the majors, and it’s destined to be just that – one year. The former Texas star came from behind to win in Panama, his second KFT title in the past eight months. By season’s end, he won’t just earn his card, but he might challenge for the No. 1 priority seed.
Tough Scene: St. Andrews’ 18th hole. Photos surfaced over the weekend of, like, a new patio area leading to the Swilcan Bridge on one of the most famous holes in golf. Not surprisingly, it didn’t go over well – so much so that the St. Andrews Trust had to respond to the furor, first issuing a statement that attempted to explain why it would seek to alter the iconic bridge in the first place, then sending out another backtracked completely. Common sense prevailed. Thankfully.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Maverick McNealy. It’s one of his favorite tournaments in the world, and it’s also been a safe haven of sorts for the NoCal kid, who had a pair of top-5s at Pebble in the past few years. But McNealy never got going, carding rounds of 71-71 and then withdrawing midway through the third round with what was described as a left shoulder injury. The issue isn’t expected to be serious, he said, but the disappointment of a WD in his hometown event will linger. Sigh.