Scottie Scheffler’s Players Win welcomes golf into a new era
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Jay Monahan’s team stood alone at the base of TPC Sawgrass’s massive clubhouse, lit by the afternoon sun. Below them, a few thousand people packed the first tee to say goodbye to Scottie Scheffler at the Players Championship.
It has become a tradition that Monahan and the PGA Tour bosses meet here at the first tee to open the final tees of the tournament week – a sort of scheduled victory round for the tour’s flagship event.
The atmosphere was not always solemn. Last year a much smaller crew came here on a gray Monday morning for the same ritual. It had been a cold, rainy week – the weather forced a lackluster finish in front of a subdued crowd. Of course, a larger storm was forming on the horizon, that of LIV Golf, which was only months away from sweeping the professional golf world in a crusade aimed squarely at the Tour.
The year, however, the energy was light. Monahan and company wore sunglasses and warm-weather clothing as they chatted from a cordoned-off area on the main lawn. A brilliant afternoon was to give way to a dazzling evening – one in which Scottie Scheffler would become the third golfer of all time (behind Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods) to win the Players and Masters in a 12-month span. It had been an impressive few days on the PGA Tour, filled with player briefings and sweeping changes, but now they were nearing completion.
So what did the man who ran the largest professional golf tour of this bold new era think of all of this? Good week?
“Great Week,” Monahan said with a big smile on his face.
In hindsight, last year’s players served as a dire omen for the year to come. Monahan’s now-famous “legacy, not leverage” commissioner press conference denouncing the alleged tour; Cam Smith’s eventual victory cementing his status as a top player; and the induction ceremony of Tiger Woods into the Hall of Fame, a moment that marks Woods’ official induction as the game’s principal steward.
The events of the following 12 months changed golf as we knew it. The creation of a new Rivals tour, the steady drain of top talent — including late summer’s crown jewel: Cam Smith — and the Woods-convened players-only meet on a Delaware tarmac that designed a bold counterattack to smash the sport rescue.
If this year’s players follow the same beat, it’s easy to see what got Monahan so excited. Right from the start, the tone of Players 2023 sounded completely different than the year before. Forget an agonizing presser — the tour started the week ratifying changes that would alter the schedule as we knew it. Now the proposed event structure would look more elegant – no cuts, smaller fields, consistent timing. One by one, players stepped forward to voice their support (or disdain) for the changes, none of which had the menacing undertones of last year.
When Monahan finally took the podium, he wasn’t talking about morals, he was talking about reality.
“We looked at all the possible competitive models and it was obvious and maybe even obvious that whatever we do differently, we need to showcase our top performers
compete more often,” he said. “That’s what the fans want and that’s what the fans have been asking for.”
“The Tour doesn’t just compete with LIV and other sports,” reiterated Rory McIlroy. “It competes with Instagram.”
The changes were cause for excitement (and praised almost universally), but they were amplified once the game started. A strange ranking merged the best of the tour’s existing structure with its new one. On the one hand, world No. 50 Woo Lee played his way to the brink of temporary special membership on the PGA Tour with a stunning T6 finish. On the other hand, the most recent ranking has golfers ranked 2nd, 7th, 10th and 11th going into the week.
“It was a bit of both,” Lee said. “Scottie has won a lot of tournaments and everyone wants an underdog to win and play well. I think obviously they preferred Scottie, but I enjoyed the crowd out there. I mean, I’ve been in finals groups quite a bit lately, and to be on the PGA Tour at one of the biggest PGA Tour tournaments is awesome.”
It is in this way that the Tour aspires to enter its brave new future with its flagship event that will highlight both the sport of golf and the sport of golf as it will soon become. And if the Players tournament is going to be a representative tournament for the PGA Tour, what better way to crown a champion than to name a new world No. 1 in a runaway five-shot win? Scheffler, for his part, couldn’t think of any.
“I’m not worried about what’s going on elsewhere,” Scheffler said. “I’m doing what I can to improve our Tour and I think the Tour has done a great job of continuing to improve and they’re improving at a rapid pace.”
A few minutes after Scottie Scheffler clinched Sunday’s win, Jay Monahan’s team returned to the base of TPC Sawgrass’s massive clubhouse once again. The sun began to set, casting an orange glow in the sky beyond. Now Monahan was standing next to a podium in front of a few thousand people, no longer incognito.
Here last year, on a rare Monday evening, Monahan presented the Players Trophy to Jacksonville’s Cam Smith and dropped the first domino in a tumultuous golf season.
On Sunday, Monahan continued the same tradition, marking the official start of a peak golf season that could shape the future of professional golf as we know it. Monahan seemed to understand this as he reached for the trophy, but paused when it came time to give Scheffler the hardware.
“That our 2022 PGA Tour Player of the Year is also our 2023 Players Champion,” he told the crowd. “I think it just fits.”
https://golf.com/news/scotter-scheffler-players-win-golf-new-era/ Scottie Scheffler’s Players Win welcomes golf into a new era