It’s easy to be lulled into thinking the PGA Tour is a perpetual stripe show, a place where every player hits bombs and makes birdies by the bushel and has everything from their courtesy car to their dry cleaning handled for them.
And there’s a lot of that.
It’s why we watch, why we appreciate that a relative handful of the millions of people who play golf can actually dictate what happens rather than look up from every swing and wonder where the ball is going.
When 20-year-old Joaquín Niemann deconstructs the Old White TPC Course at the Greenbrier on a Sunday, shooting a crisp 64 to win his first PGA Tour event by six strokes, it feels as if millennials are threatening to take the PGA Tour hostage. Niemann is now an official member of the new kids on the block, joining Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland in what feels like the PGA Tour’s version of a boy band, none of them having reached their 23rd birthday.
Less than a year ago, Cameron Champ was the game’s newest sensation, the combination of his extraordinary power and a maiden PGA Tour victory in just the second start of his first full season suggesting he might be the player worth putting all your chips on. He may still be but not at the moment.
Let’s take a moment, however, to appreciate just how fleeting the game can be. It’s entirely possible the PGA Tour’s new foursome of stars will only improve with time but there are no guarantees.
Less than a year ago, Cameron Champ was the game’s newest sensation, the combination of his extraordinary power and a maiden PGA Tour victory in just the second start of his first full season suggesting he might be the player worth putting all your chips on. He may still be but not at the moment. Champ’s last 20 PGA Tour starts last season netted 11 missed cuts, a withdrawal and only one top-25 finish. Maybe it’s just a rough patch on the career learning curve but it’s a reminder of how thin the line between good and gone can be on the tour.
Beau Hossler, all the rage two years ago, is on the comeback trail already – at age 24.
Harris English is 30 years old, has two PGA Tour victories and has been a part of the scenery on the tour for long enough that it was easy to take for granted. Then last season, English lost his tour card, falling out of the top 125 in FedEx Cup points.
He didn’t lose his game so much as the edge dulled. He made the cut in 21 of 28 starts last season but finished in the top 20 only once. English regained his tour card via the Korn Ferry Tour Finals and finished T3 at the season-opening A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier last week, giving himself a running start on leaving the past behind.
Still, it’s a cautionary tale about life on the PGA Tour. Like the Eagles sang, they will never forget you ’til somebody new comes along.
• This is a nice week for the Sanderson Farms Championship, the Jackson, Miss., tournament that is making its debut as a stand-alone stop on the PGA Tour schedule, having been an opposite-field event played concurrently with the Presidents Cup, Ryder Cup, Open Championship and WGC-HSBC Champions in recent years.
The tournament doesn’t have many of the top names but it’s another potentially career-changing week for players who can alter the arc of their seasons with a good finish the way Tom Hoge and Richy Werenski did last week at the Greenbrier.
Look for more of the stars to begin playing again when the tour rolls into Napa, Calif., and Las Vegas over the following two weeks. The Safeway Open in Napa has Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Francesco Molinari and Fred Couples in the field.
• Mickelson – at least what’s left of him after his weight-loss program – is killing it on social media. There are thousands of reasons not to like social media but Mickelson is not one of those.
• Tiger Woods has been signing his blog on the Presidents Cup website not as “captain” but as “playing captain” since he began writing it earlier this year.
Should we read something into that?
Not too much.
No question he’d like to play but how much golf is Woods playing now? He’s coming off a minor knee procedure. The first question is how he’ll play in the Zozo Championship in Japan next month, and then we’ll have a better idea of whether he’ll be on his own playing roster or not.
• Niemann’s victory at the Greenbrier may earn him a spot on Ernie Els’ International squad for the Presidents Cup. Els, like Woods, has four at-large picks to make and among the eligible players currently not on the roster are Jason Day, Byeong Hun An, PGA Tour rookie of the year Sungjae Im, Jazz Janewattananond, Erik van Rooyen, Emiliano Grillo, Adam Hadwin and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
Cameron Champ has 11 missed cuts and a withdrawl in his past 20 PGA Tour starts – a dark period after a bright start. Photo: Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images
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