Change is coming on the PGA Tour. It is certain. This year has given us hints of a future where the FedEx Cup playoffs are condensed and played earlier, the PGA Championship is in the spring and more official events are played in the wrap-around schedule.
One thing that won’t change is the Memorial Tournament. Why? Jack Nicklaus.
“I don’t think the Memorial Tournament will change,” he told me on PGA Tour Radio last Sunday. “What it is, how it’s play or when it’s played, I think it’s going to stay right where it is. I think tournament golf is strong and it will remain strong.”
Everything that Nicklaus has meant to the game of golf – greatness, power, dedication, architecture, history – is encapsulated in the game’s annual trip to Dublin, Ohio. It is that legacy, and the man behind it, that give professional golf its core.
Nicklaus, of course, isn’t alone. The Tour’s dedication to the Memorial and Arnold Palmer’s Invitational at Bay Hill shows how important those properties are to golf, the same way Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones were in previous generations.
While every great tournament needs a great home, infrastructure and community, having a legendary namesake gives it lasting power.
So, as the Tour continues to evolve, who are the next players to lend their name, influence and oversight to a regular stop in professional golf?
Phil Mickelson – A man who seems like the likeliest scenario, would Lefty create a new stop, or merely enhance a current tournament? His hometown event at Torrey Pines seems like the natural fit, but the politics surrounding his losing the bid to redesign the North Course might make it a murky proposition. Instead, how about Palm Springs? He became the official ambassador for the CareerBuilder Challege this year, and his celebrity status could rejuvenate the event that Bob Hope built.
Rory McIlroy – The only young player who seems like a lock in this spot, McIlroy’s investment in the Irish Open has already given the tournament increased exposure and international stars. Rory’s legacy is global, but his heart is local. There may be other places for his brand to thrive, but the Irish Open will be more relevant for decades now.
Tiger Woods – The elephant in the room of this article. His World Challenge is title-sponsor challenged and unofficial, but his foundation has run several PGA Tour tournaments quite well. Woods has had more influence on current Tour events than the casual fan realizes. When will one become his Memorial? Will any of his designs become worthy of an event? Like his career right now, his inevitable tournament legacy is frighteningly unknown.
Fred Couples – The most likable player of his generation, does this Hall of Famer have the cache to be on the marquee? The Houston Open just lost Shell and may need footing in the future. Couples starred in college there. He’s also from the Pacific Northwest, and maybe golf has a regular home there.
John Daly – Just think of the possibilities for the pairings party, corporate chalets and fan entertainment! Purists are shuddering, while opportunists are salivating. A tournament in need of a shot of adrenaline (or whiskey) may roll the dice eventually.
The Other Winner
Each week, I highlight a player who, while not winning, took something big away from the previous weekend.
Bubba Watson – Despite an incredible 11-over-par run on Par 3’s, Bubba was in contention on Sunday at Muirfield Village. He even led midway through his front nine. It was his best finish in an individual, official stroke play event since March of 2016. Entering the week 125th in FedEx Cup points, his putting this season was atrocious. It corrected itself on the speedy greens during the Memorial.
While his inability to close the deal on Sunday saw some similar breakdowns in focus and attitude, there was more good Bubba than bad all week, a welcome sign.