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Morning 9: Is it Rory’s time? | Stricker WDs | Why Valhalla is a great major venue

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By Ben Alberstadt with Gianni Magliocco.

For comments: [email protected]

Good Tuesday morning, golf fans, as we gear up for the PGA Championship from iconic Valhalla.

1. Is now the time Rory finally ends major drought?

BBC’s Iain Carter…”But given the imperious form he showed in Charlotte last week, perhaps this is the PGA Championship to rekindle the ruthless streak of old. And not just because he is back at Valhalla (the Nordic word for the hall of the fallen).”

  • “It also became clear last week that McIlroy is somewhat persona non grata to the PGA Tour’s Policy Board. His views on a global future for this damagingly split sport do not seem to chime with the American dominated body.”
  • “His offer to return to the board from which he resigned earlier this year was rejected and he has been left as a mere non-voting member of the “transaction committee” dealing with a potential deal with Saudi Arabia.”
  • “McIlroy insists there are “no hard feelings” but there should be.”
  • “No player has worked harder for their sport during this period of unprecedented tumult and the board has rejected someone many people regard as the game’s most articulate and enlightened international voice.”
  • “Now is, surely, the time for McIlroy to feel slighted and respond with his clubs. Play as though he has a chip on his shoulder, but in the knowledge that he is generationally the most consistent golfing force out there.”
Full piece.

2. Scheffler in for PGA Champ after birth of child

Jaclyn Hendricks for PGATour.com…”Scottie Scheffler and wife Meredith’s bundle of joy has arrived.”

  • “The couple welcomed their first child, just weeks after Scheffler claimed his second Masters victory in three years.”
  • “Sports Illustrated’s Bob Harig tweeted Saturday that the baby was born and Scheffler will play in this week’s PGA Championship — the second major of the season.”
  • “There’s been nothing official from Scottie Scheffler, his team or the Tour… But word is he will be at Valhalla for the PGA next week after winning four of his last five tournaments, including the Masters. He is currently on the Tuesday interview schedule for 3:30 p.m. #babyborn,” Harig wrote over the weekend.”
Full piece.

3. “Erik van Rooyen, friends and family live in honor of ‘Trazzy’”

  • That’s the headline of Ryan Lavner’s superb piece on Erik van Rooyen and his departed best friend Jon Trasmar. An excerpt would be an injustice. Go read it!
Full piece.

4. Stricker out of PGA citing fatigue

AP report…”Steve Stricker decided Sunday to withdraw from the PGA Championship at Valhalla, citing the difficulty of playing four times in a span of five weeks.”

  • “Stricker, 57, was eligible by winning the Senior PGA Championship last year. He, John Daly and Phil Mickelson are the only players to have competed at Valhalla each of the previous three times the PGA Championship was held there.”
Full piece.

5. Why Valhalla is a great venue for major championships

Garrett Morrison for The Fried Egg…”But before we start slinging mud (of which there will be plenty in Kentucky this week), let’s pause to think about why Valhalla tends to generate close final-round battles featuring elite players. It’s not magic: the course has long par 3s and 4s, narrow fairways, and smallish greens surrounded by rough and bunkers. This style of design and setup, which practically defines the PGA Championship’s modern brand, gives an outsize advantage to a skill that many star players share: power. Length off the tee and the ability to muscle the ball out of rough to a well-protected green will be near-prerequisites for contending at this week’s PGA Championship. If Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, and Bryson DeChambeau show up with any kind of short-game and putting form, they will be in the mix on Sunday. And the presence of such A-listers on the leaderboard will further burnish Valhalla’s reputation as a serious venue.“

  • “It does not follow, however, that Valhalla is a great golf course. In fact, I find it a fairly mediocre and bland one. Very few holes offer multiple options of the tee (the exceptions being the short par-4 fourth and the double-fairway par-5 seventh), most of the greens lack memorable contouring, and the recovery shots from around the fairways and greens are one-dimensional and repetitive. So even if Sunday turns out to be a barn-burner, the first three rounds, when the focus will be on the course and the shots demanded, will probably be sleepier, aside from the inevitable Blockie walk-and-talk.”
Full piece.

6. Dunne resigns from policy board

Mark Schlabach for ESPN…”Jimmy Dunne, who last year helped negotiate the PGA Tour’s controversial framework agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, resigned from the tour’s policy board on Monday.”

  • “In Dunne’s resignation letter, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, Dunne wrote that “no meaningful progress has been made towards a transaction with PIF” and that “my vote and my role is utterly superfluous” now that player directors outnumber independent directors on the policy board. Dunne’s resignation was effective immediately.”
  • “It is crucial for the Board to avoid letting yesterday’s differences interfere with today’s decisions, especially when they influence future opportunities for the tour,” Dunne wrote. “Unifying professional golf is paramount to restoring fan interest and repairing wounds left from a fractured game. I have tried my best to move all minds in that direction.”
  • “Along with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, Dunne and policy board chairman Ed Herlihy secretly negotiated the framework agreement with the PIF, which is financing the rival LIV Golf League. Monahan and PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan announced the deal on June 6. Most PGA Tour players — including some player directors — were unaware of the deal until it was announced on TV.”
Full piece.
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Tour Rundown: Rose blooms, Rory rolls

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This week last year, I found myself praying to the weather goddesses and gods that Rochester would be spared their wrath over the next seven days. The 2023 Oak Hill PGA Championship (that was slated for August when the contract was signed) was on the horizon, and I wanted my region to show well. Things turned out fine, with all four seasons making an appearance, a PGA Professional (Blockie!) stealing hearts, and a proven champion in Koepka (although I was pulling for Viktor.)

This year, no concerns. Louisville will shine this week at Valhalla, but we’ve matters to consider before we look to four days of coverage this week. Nelly did not win on the LPGA this week, so who did? The PGA Tour held two events in the Carolinas, and Tour Champions celebrated a major event in Alabama. Four noteworthy events to run down, so let’s head to RunDownTown and take care of business.

LPGA @ Founders Cup: Rose blooms

There was a sense that Rose Zhang might have a role in the 2020s version of the LPGA. After winning everything there was in amateur golf, she came out and won her first tournament as a professional. That was last May and, let’s be honest, who among us thought it would take 12 months for Zhang to win again? Rhymes with hero, I know.

This week in New Jersey, eyes were on Nelly Korda, as she made a run at a sixth consecutive win on the LPGA circuit. Korda ran out of gas on Saturday, and that was just fine. Madelene Sagstrom and Zhang had turned the soiree at Upper Montclair into a battle of birdies. Gabriela Ruffels came third at nine-under par. No one else reached double digits under par but Sagstrom and Zhang. They didn’t just reach -10…they more than doubled it.

Sagstrom had the look of a winner with five holes left to play. She was three shots clear of Zhang, at 23-under par. The Swede played her closing quintet in plus-one, finishing at 22-deep, 13 shots ahead of Ruffels. That performance we’d anticipated from Zhang? It happened on Sunday. She closed with four birdies in five holes to snatch victory number two, by two shots. Spring is a lovely time for a Rose in bloom.

PGA Tour @ Wells Fargo: Rory the Fourth is crowned in Charlotte

Xander Schauffele is a likable lad. He has an Olympic gold medal on his shelf, and a few PGA Tour titles to his credit. Even X knows that even par won’t get much done in a final round unless conditions are brutal. They weren’t brutal at Quail Hollow on Sunday. X posted even par on day four. It kept him ahead of third-place finisher Byeong Hun An but gave him zero chance of challenging for the title.

Paired with Xander in round four was the King of Quail, Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irishman had previously won thrice at the North Carolina track, and he was champing at the bit to gain some momentum on the road to Louisville. While Xander scored increasingly worse along the week (64-67-70-71) McIlroy saved his best round for the final round. Thanks to five birdies and two eagles, McIlroy ran away with the event, winning his fourth Wells Fargo by five over Schauffele.

PGA Tour @ Myrtle Beach Classic: a little CG won the inaugural week

It always seemed odd that the PGA Tour had zero stops along the Grand Strand each season. This week’s event seemed odd in that the golfers played the same course each day, and there were zero handicaps involved. Most events at Myrtle Beach involve hundreds of amateurs at dozens of courses, with all sorts of handicaps.

The Dunes Club is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. course, down toward Pawley’s Island. It claims what used to be considered an unreachable, par-five hole, the watery 13th. Nothing is unreachable any longer, including a 22-under par total for a six-shot win. Chris Gotterup, a former Rutgers and Oklahoma golfer, played sizzling golf all week and won by a sextet of shots. Gotterup opened with 66, then improved to 64 on Friday. His Saturday 65 sounded a beacon of “come get me,” and his closing 67 ensured that second place was the only thing up for grabs.

Chasing the podium’s second level were a bunch of young Americans. In the end, Alastair Docherty and Davis Thompson reached 16-deep, thanks to rounds of 64 and 68 on Sunday. They held off six golfers at 15-under par. The victory was Gotterup’s first on tour and should be enough to get him a Wikipedia page, among other plaudits.

PGA Tour Champions @ Regions Traditions: Vindication for Dougie

Doug Barron, if I recall correctly, was suspended by the Powers That Be, way back in 2009, for testosterone. He was naturally low in the hormone, so he took supplements. This did not sit well with certain admins, so he was put on the shelf for 18 months. Not cool.

In 2019, Barron came out on the Tour Champions. He won in August. The next year, despite the craziness of Covid, he won again.  Barron hit a dry spell for a few years. He kept his card, but accrued no additional victories. In late April, Barron showed serious signs of life, with a t2 at Mitsubishi. This week in Birmingham, he jumped out to a lead, lost it, then gained it back on Saturday. With major championship glory on the line, Barron brought the train into the station with 68 on Sunday.

Stephen Alker, the man who could not lose just two years ago, gave serious chase with a closing 63. He moved up 11 slots, into solo 2nd on Sunday. He finished two shots back of the champion. Two shots ain’t much. Cough once and you drop a pair. Third place saw a three-way tie, including last year’s winner (Steve Stricker) and runner-up (Ernie Els.) Despite the intimidating presence of the game’s greats, however, Doug Barron had more than enough of everything this week, and he has a third Tour Champions title to show off.

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Equipment

Did Rory McIlroy inspire Shane Lowry’s putter switch?

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Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from a piece our Andrew Tursky originally wrote for PGATour.com’s Equipment Report. Head over there for the full article.

The timing of Lowry’s putter changeup was curious: Was he just using a Spider putter because he was paired with McIlroy, who’s been using a Spider Tour X head throughout 2024? Was Lowry just being festive because it’s the Zurich Classic, and he wanted to match his teammate? Did McIlroy let Lowry try his putter, and he liked it so much he actually switched into it?

Well, as it turns out, McIlroy’s only influence was inspiring Lowry to make more putts.

When asked if McIlroy had an influence on the putter switch, Lowry had this to say: “No, it’s actually a different putter than what he uses. Maybe there was more pressure there because I needed to hole some more putts if we wanted to win,” he said with a laugh.

To Lowry’s point, McIlroy plays the Tour X model, whereas Lowry switched into the Tour Z model, which has a sleeker shape in comparison, and the two sole weights of the club are more towards the face.

Lowry’s Spider Tour Z has a white True Path Alignment channel on the crown of his putter, which is reminiscent of Lowry’s former 2-ball designs, thus helping to provide a comfort factor despite the departure from his norm. Instead of a double-bend hosel, which Lowry used in his 2-ball putters, his new Spider Tour Z is designed with a short slant neck.

“I’ve been struggling on the greens, and I just needed something with a fresh look,” Lowry told GolfWRX.com on Wednesday at the 2024 Wells Fargo Championship. “It has a different neck on it, as well, so it moves a bit differently, but it’s similar. It has a white line on the back of it [like my 2-ball], and it’s a mallet style. So it’s not too drastic of a change.

“I just picked it up on the putting green and I liked the look of it, so I was like, ‘Let’s give it a go.’”

Read the rest of the piece over at PGATour.com.

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Equipment

Spotted: Tommy Fleetwood’s TaylorMade Spider Tour X Prototype putter

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Tommy Fleetwood has been attached to his Odyssey White Hot Pro #3 putter for years now. However, this week at the Wells Fargo Championship, we did spot him testing a new putter that is very different, yet somewhat similar, to his current gamer.

This new putter is a TaylorMade Spider Tour X head but with a brand new neck we haven’t seen on a Spider before. A flow neck is attached to the Spider head and gives the putter about a 1/2 shaft offset. This style neck will usually increase the toe hang of the putter and we can guess it gets the putter close to his White Hot Pro #3.

Another interesting design is that lack of TaylorMade’s True Path alignment on the top of the putter. Instead of the large white center stripe, Tommy’s Spider just has a very short white site line milled into it. As with his Odyssey, Tommy seems to be a fan of soft inserts and this Spider prototype looks to have the TPU Pure Roll insert with 45° grooves for immediate topspin and less hopping and skidding.

The sole is interesting as well in that the rear weights don’t look to be interchangeable and are recessed deep into the ports. This setup could be used to push the CG forward in the putter for a more blade-like feel during the stroke, like TaylorMade did with the Spider X Proto Scottie Scheffler tested out.

Tommy’s putter is finished off with an older Super Stroke Mid Slim 2.0 grip in blue and white. The Mid Slim was designed to fit in between the Ultra Slim 1.0 and the Slim 3.0 that was a popular grip on tour.

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