The PGA Tour’s West Coast swing begins at The American Express in La Quinta, California, on Thursday.
These past two weeks might serve as a microcosm of what is to come on the PGA Tour in the future.
South Korea’s Si Woo Kim, who won The American Express in 2021, returned to the winner’s circle at the Sony Open in Hawaii last week. He rallied from a 3-shot deficit over the final three holes to pick up his fourth PGA Tour victory, doing so against a leaderboard that didn’t include many familiar names.
None of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking stuck around for the second week in Hawaii, after most competed in the more lucrative Sentry Tournament of Champions to start 2023. The handful of star players who were there, including Jordan Spieth, Tom Kim, Gary Woodland and Billy Horschel, missed the cut.
Conversely, the field for The American Express, the tournament that Bob Hope made famous in the California desert, is absolutely loaded. Five of the top 10 players in the world and 10 of the top 20 are going to tee it up in the Coachella Valley. Scottie Scheffler is there. So is Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Will Zalatoris and Cameron Young.
Changes to the $100 million Player Impact Program requirements have been a good thing for The American Express, which has perhaps its best field in at least two decades. The new PIP rules require players to compete in 20 tournaments, including 12 elevated events, The Players, the four majors (if they qualify) and three other tournaments of their choosing. Many chose to play in La Quinta.
“You want to beat the best, and I’m glad people are coming,” Rahm said during a news conference on Wednesday. “It’s good that more players are trying more events. I think it’s due to some of the new events going on during the year. The fact that we have all those big events that we have to play, if we want to earn that PIP reward.
“That opens up to all those, let’s say lower events, that you need to play. It opens people’s eyes to maybe some events they haven’t played in the past because your schedule changes a little bit. I know I’m one of those.”
Here’s what to watch in men’s professional golf this week:
What’s next on the PGA Tour
The American Express
Where: La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, California
Defending champion: Hudson Swafford
Purse: $8 million
Three storylines to watch:
Where’s Mickelson?: Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson was the official host of the American Express the past three years. But like many of Mickelson’s longtime sponsors, The American Express severed ties with him after his controversial comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian financiers of LIV Golf were published by author Alan Shipnuck in February 2022.
Another big change: The previous charitable arm of the tournament, the Mickelson Foundation, has been replaced by American Express’ Impact Through Golf, which will provide funding to local organizations.
Swafford, a two-time winner of the event, won’t be back to defend his title, either. He is among the PGA Tour players who were suspended by commissioner Jay Monahan for appearing in LIV Golf events without conflicting-event releases. Past champions and current LIV Golf players Patrick Reed and Pat Perez will be no-shows as well.
Two World No. 1s?: Rahm and other players have criticized the Official World Golf Ranking’s new formula for awarding more points to watered-down (but larger) fields than smaller (but more elite) fields, like the Tournament of Champions.
Now, according to calculations by a popular OWGR guru on Twitter, there could actually be co-No. 1s in the new world rankings on Monday — if No. 5-ranked Cantlay wins the American Express and No. 2-ranked Scheffler finishes solo eighth. There have never been co-No. 1s in the OWGR.
(that will change if there are further changes in the field)
— Nosferatu (@VC606) January 17, 2023
Under that scenario, according to the OWGR guru, current No. 1 player Rory McIlroy would drop to third.
Scheffler, who spent much of last season atop the rankings, was asked about sharing the top spot on Wednesday during a news conference.
“That would be pretty funny,” Scheffler said. “I assume that’s never happened before. Yeah, it would be a little bit weird to have two No. 1s. Maybe have a putt-off or something to see who would be the real No. 1.”
Schauffele’s return: Schauffele, who was forced to pull out of the Tournament of Champions after the eighth hole of the second round because of an ailing back, is scheduled to tee off on Thursday. But he acknowledged his back is still bothering him.
“Yeah, it’s just a little sore,” Schauffele said. “I did nothing and I had a lot of work done on it, so it’s a little sore. I’ve gotten in probably more swings than I wanted to in these last three days. So just more work to be done on it. I got to be a little bit more patient in my return.”
Schauffele said he probably spent too much time on the practice range the past few days.
“More swings than I wanted,” he said. “I’m that golfer who is sort of like, ‘Just one more,’ and it’s like 50. You know what I mean? I’m that guy. I think all of us out here who are tour pros are those people and definitely guilty.”
PGA Tour power rankings
1. Jon Rahm
Rahm’s victory at the season-opening Tournament of Champions gave him at least one in seven straight seasons, which tied Justin Thomas for the longest active streak on tour.
2. Rory McIlroy
You can watch the reigning world No. 1 golfer compete next week in the Dubai Desert Classic.
3. Scottie Scheffler
He’ll have a chance to defend four titles before mid-April at the WM Phoenix Open, Arnold Palmer Invitational, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and the Masters.
4. Patrick Cantlay
The California native has three straight top 10s in the American Express and leads players with a minimum five rounds at the event in scoring average (67.17) and birdies per round (6.17).
5. Tony Finau
Finau has three victories and six top-10s in his past eight starts. That’s a heater. He has 74 birdies or better at The American Express the past three years, most by any player.
6. Will Zalatoris
Zalatoris returned from a more than four-month hiatus because of a back injury and tied for 11th at Kapalua.
7. Justin Thomas
The reigning PGA Championship winner tied for 25th in his first start of 2023 at Kapalua, where he had won twice before.
8. Max Homa
How many times will Homa be asked about carding a 9-under 61 to set the Los Angeles Country Club North Course record as a Cal senior in 2013 between now and June’s U.S. Open that will be played there?
9. Cameron Young
The 2022 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year has the length to go very low this week, maybe low enough to pick up his first PGA Tour victory. He tied for 13th at Kapalua.
10. Tom Kim
A year ago, Kim made his fifth PGA Tour start at The American Express on a sponsor’s exemption. He was ranked 154th in the world. This week, he is 14th. He tied for fifth at the Tournament of Champions and missed the cut at the Sony Open.
LIV Golf’s TV deal looming?
“Coming up next, after another hour of ‘Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,’ live coverage of the second round of the LIV Golf Invitational Mayakoba in Mexico.”
After months of speculation, it seems LIV Golf finally has a domestic TV partner. It’s probably not the cable network you imagined would broadcast the Saudi-backed circuit’s second season, but one that had been rumored to be in play for weeks. According to various reports, LIV Golf is on the cusp of signing a media rights deal with The CW Network, which is known more for re-airing episodes of “Bob’s Burgers,” “Family Guy” and “Divorce Court” than broadcasting live sporting events.
In fact, The CW currently has no other sports properties. It will reportedly share advertising revenue with LIV Golf, which will not receive TV rights fees in the deal. In March 2020, the PGA Tour reached a nine-year media rights agreement with CBS Sports, NBC Sports and ESPN that will pay the tour more than $6 billion over the life of the deal.
LIV Golf will continue to pay for production costs, as it did during its inaugural season, when tournaments were streamed on YouTube, DAZN and the circuit’s official website.
“I think it is a very positive step in the right direction,” an agent with LIV players told ESPN on Wednesday. “I think it was critically important to the future of LIV Golf that they get some type of broadcast partner. At this point, getting eyeballs was critical to the ongoing success. I think this will undoubtedly get us eyeballs.”
The second LIV Golf season is scheduled to tee off at El Camaleon Golf Course in Mayakoba, Mexico, on Feb. 24-26. The league, which is fronted by two-time Open winner Greg Norman, has announced the sites of only seven of its planned 14 tournaments in 2023. Events will also be held in Arizona, Australia, Singapore, Oklahoma, Spain and West Virginia.
A full announcement of LIV Golf’s 2023 schedule and the 48 players on its 12 teams is expected in the coming days.
The CW, which is majority owned by Nexstar Media Group, is distributed to 123.5 million homes across the US. While LIV Golf has vowed to grow the sport and reach a younger audience, The CW’s average viewer is 58 years old, according to NexStar.
“The main thing is they’re now on network TV,” the agent said. “If the Lakers and Warriors are playing on TV, I don’t think people care if it’s on channel 8, 12, 24 or 36. They care that they can tune in and watch. They’re now on a channel that’s on everyone’s channel lineup, whether it’s a 14-year-old or an 85-year-old.”
The Sports Business Journal first reported the potential deal between LIV Golf and The CW. LIV Golf had reportedly been in talks with Fox Sports about broadcasting its tournaments on FS1 or FS2, with LIV Golf paying for airtime.
Best social media of the week
Storytime with Fred Couples is always fun.
Joe LaCava drove @fredcouplesgolf to every event for 22 years. 😳
All because of a mishap Fred made in the desert. pic.twitter.com/lwt1PXdld6
— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) January 17, 2023
And we thought Jim Furyk’s swing looked confusing.
In this bag I’d go A or C. But I have a theory on this- if you grew up in the north, putter goes with the driver. In the south, it goes with the wedges. Just something I noticed as a kid….. https://t.co/QQmvdQI2DP
— Jim Furyk (@jimfuryk) January 17, 2023
Those trophies come with a couple of nice invitations, too. Argentina’s Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira won the Latin America Amateur Championship, earning trips to the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open.
Gordita al agua?
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 18, 2023
That’s a deep bunker.
Golf game video game coming
EA Sports is poised to release its first golf game on console since 2015 this spring, and it plans to reveal a deep-dive gameplay trailer of EA Sports PGA TOUR on Thursday.
First look at EA SPORTS PGA TOUR Gameplay 👀⛳️
Full deep dive on gameplay coming this Thursday at 11am ET 🗓️
— EA SPORTS PGA TOUR (@EASPORTSPGATOUR) January 17, 2023
According to previous EA Sports news releases, players will get to compete in all four majors, FedEx Cup Playoffs, The Players, as well as additional tournaments in the LPGA, U.S. Amateur and Korn Ferry Tour.