Monday Scramble: The show goes on as PGA Tour enters Week 4 of restart
The PGA Tour safety plan comes under scrutiny, Dustin Johnson gets back in the winner’s circle, Daniel Summerhays nearly authors a story for the ages, Will Gordon nails his audition and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:
1. Seven players, including two of the top five players in the world, withdrew from the Travelers Championship for COVID-19-related reasons.
TAKEAWAY: After a relatively quiet few weeks, the Tour navigated its first PR crisis of the restart. Commissioner Jay Monahan flew to Hartford for an emergency news conference, and even though only three players (Cameron Champ, Denny McCarthy and, later, during the pre-charter screening, Dylan Frittelli) and two caddies tested positive during the week, the total number of WDs was a headline-grabber and led to some golf fans calling for another shutdown.
Neither last month nor last week would the Tour commit to a specific number of withdrawals before it paused the season again. But it’s clear in Monahan’s remarks that the Tour hasn’t approached anything near a tipping point. (Read more of my thoughts here.)
Until players begin to drop out of events because they feel unsafe, the show will go on – even with the challenging optics of playing golf amid a raging epidemic.
2. Dustin Johnson steadied himself during a roller-coaster back nine to win the Travelers Championship by one shot over Kevin Streelman. It was the 21st Tour title of his career.
TAKEAWAY: Largely forgotten over the past year because of injury and indifferent play, DJ reemerged just in time for a packed summer schedule. Though far from at his peak, he still possesses as much firepower as anyone on Tour and got away with a few squirrelly shots over the closing stretch to win in his 13th consecutive season.
In the final round he was typically resilient, overcoming an out-of-bounds tee shot on 13, a near water ball on 15 and then an hour stoppage because of weather, but for once it was DJ’s putter that carried him to a win; he finished the week fourth in strokes gained: putting.
Whether it was one hot week or the beginning of a stretch of sustained success remains to be seen, because on the practice putting green last week he was spotted with six different putters, and this was his third model in as many weeks.
His putter is the key to unlocking his best stuff again, but the Travelers was a much-needed reminder: Golf is better when an-form DJ is wreaking havoc.
3. The Tour announced that it was tightening some of its security protocols in advance of this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic.
TAKEAWAY: As expected, the Tour’s initial 37-page Health and Safety Plan has continued to be tweaked over the past few weeks.
And that’s a good thing!
Try as they might, the Tour brass couldn’t have foreseen all of the issues that would crop up during a tournament week. So they’ve adjusted as necessary. They’ve added another layer of testing for those who fly on the charter. They’ve suspended the $100,000 stipend program for those who violate protocols. They’ve moved the fitness trailer on-site to eliminate the need to use a local gym.
And now, starting this week, another change: No person inside the “bubble” – players, caddies, essential personnel, etc. – will be allowed at a tournament venue until they receive a negative test result. Previously, they could use the practice facility but not access any indoor building.
As said repeatedly in this space, the Tour does not have a traditional “bubble,” at least not the hermetically sealed model that is designed for the NBA’s return plan, with everyone quarantined in one area for months at a time. But three weeks in, with no major outbreaks in three different parts of the country, the program is a success story that is still getting stronger.
The past week should have served as a wake-up call to all involved.
Want golf to continue? Follow the rules that are in place.
4. Brendon Todd, the 54-hole leader, faded with a 75 on the final day to plummet into a tie for 11th at the Travelers.
TAKEAWAY: No one was more accurate off the tee than Todd (51 of 56) last week, but one catastrophic miss with a short iron undid his bid for a Tour-leading third victory this season.
With only 148 yards to the flag on the 12th hole, Todd’s shot came up short of the green, in some long grass above the bunker. With the ball well below his feet, it was a tricky stance, but … the next five minutes were difficult to watch.
Todd came up and out of it, skulling his pitch shot over the green.
Then he couldn’t fly his flop shot onto the green.
Then his putt up the hill didn’t make it onto the putting surface.
He walked off with a shocking triple bogey, ending his chances.
5. In his last round before retirement, Daniel Summerhays closed with a 62 and lost in a three-man playoff at the Korn Ferry Tour’s Utah Championship.
TAKEAWAY: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: Summerhays, 36, was walking away after this home event to spend more time with his family and become a high school teacher/golf coach, and yet for three hours he was the clubhouse leader after a 9-under closing round.
Then there was all sorts of heartbreak. First, he missed a par putt on 18 that would have been the difference. Then he was caught by Kyle Jones and Paul Haley. Then he drove into the fairway bunker on the first extra hole, laid up and left his par putt a roll or two short.
It was a nice win for Jones, sure, but the conclusion had some serious Stewart Cink/Tom Watson vibes.
Summerhays will end his career with only one title, on the then-Nationwide Tour in 2007, which he actually won as an amateur.
Best wishes on the next stage of his career.
WHAT ELSE WE’RE TALKING ABOUT …
Without status on any tour, Will Gordon is at the mercy of Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions (like the one he received at the Travelers), and this time the 23-year-old Vanderbilt product took advantage. He played in the final group Saturday and eventually tied for third, automatically getting him into this week’s field in Detroit and locking up special temporary membership for the rest of the season, meaning he can now receive an unlimited number of sponsor exemptions as he chases a full card for 2020-21.
Gordon has already shown he has the goods – the Travelers was his fourth top-21 in seven starts.
Missed cuts are nothing new to the game’s elite, but they are to Collin Morikawa.
For 22 consecutive events since he turned pro out of Cal, Morikawa had played the weekend on Tour. The depth is greater than ever, he’s seeing courses for the first time and learning how to deal with life as a pro … and yet Morikawa’s 22 in a row was the second-longest streak since 1990 (Tiger Woods, 25).
Morikawa’s run came to an end at the Travelers, where he shot 3-over 143 and missed the cut by a mile.
“We’ll be back ready for more,” he said in a text afterward.
No doubt about that. One year out of school, he’s already cracked the top 30 in the world.
The U.S. Open might be the U.S. Invitational this year, but the USGA has done a stellar job rounding out the field for what (we hope) is the second major of the year.
The top 70 in the world as of March 15 are now exempt, which means that 50-year-old Phil Mickelson won’t need a special exemption. Also notably getting spots are the top 5 on both the Korn Ferry regular season and Finals points lists; the top 10 from the European Tour’s UK Swing; and the top 7 amateurs in the World Amateur Golf Ranking who are not already exempt.
Sure, the Winged Foot Open won’t have the dreamers and longshots like usual, but it likely will be one of its strongest fields ever.
Fun While It Lasted: Phil Mickelson. Well, Phil played well for two rounds, taking the halfway lead with the second-lowest 36-hole total of his career (127). Of course, he was listless over the weekend, going 71-71 to drop into a tie for 24th. But this, he said, was a “great week of progress.” Considering the three straight missed cuts coming in … sure?
See You This Week: Webb Simpson. The fifth-ranked player in the world withdrew from the Travelers because a family member tested positive for the virus, but Simpson said in a statement over the weekend that everyone has now received the all-clear. Thus, he’ll be the top-ranked player in the field as the Tour moves to Detroit.
Whoop There It Is: Whoop bands. After Nick Watney credited his fitness tracker for identifying an elevated respiratory rate before becoming the first Tour player to test positive for the virus, every player, caddie and essential personnel received a Whoop band. That’s great, but in the Tour statement announcing Frittelli’s positive test Sunday, Frittelli said that he was thankful for the “minor increase (0.3)” that helped alert him something was amiss. Dangerous precedent there, citing a 0.3 increase, so let’s not freak out everyone who has a minor bump …
Nice Gesture, But …: Chase Koepka. Tip of the cap to the Travelers folks who invited Brooks’ younger brother (who had Monday-qualified into the Travelers but withdrew, despite testing negative, out of an abundance of caution) into the 2021 event, but a year is a lifetime to someone like Koepka who doesn’t have any status and needs every opportunity he can get. Hopefully some other tournament steps up and offers him a spot – soon.
Worth Monitoring: Jason Day’s situation. Before the third round, Day didn’t feel well and requested a COVID test. It takes time to turn around the results, and so the Tour accommodated Day and sent him off last Saturday, as a single, once he tested negative and was cleared to play. Typically, when you don’t show up for your scheduled tee time, you’re disqualified from the tournament, but apparently these are different times. It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes a trend moving forward.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. Back-to-back top-10s to start the restart, but JT just couldn’t get anything going at TPC River Highlands, where he tied for third in 2016. Rounds of 71, though far from disastrous, weren’t enough to make the cut. Sigh.