Homa’s swing, Tiger’s surgery among storylines to watch in golf

Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Another week, another designated event on the PGA Tour.

The Wells Fargo Championship returns to Quail Hollow Club this week, after a one-year hiatus while the club prepares to host the 2023 Presidents Cup. As a designated event on the revamped PGA Tour schedule, the tournament will have a $20 million purse for the first time.

The Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown, a team event featuring players from the top eight countries in the world, also returns to the LPGA schedule this week after a five-year absence.

Here’s what to watch in professional golf this week:

What’s next on the PGA Tour

Wells Fargo Championship
When: Thursday-Sunday
Where: Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, North Carolina
Defending champion: Max Homa
Purse: $20 million

Three storylines to watch:

Homa loves Quail Hollow: Homa is a two-time winner of the Wells Fargo Championship, the first coming at Quail Hollow in 2019 and the second at TPC Potomac outside Washington, D.C. last year. Homa’s first participation in a national team event as a pro came at the 2022 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow as well.

Homa has been struggling with his swing in recent weeks. He tied for 43rd at the Masters and missed the cuts at the RBC Heritage and Zurich Classic (he played with Collin Morikawa on a two-man team). He feels his form is in a better spot now.

“The golf course suits me really well,” Homa said. “I know the place quite well. I’m just comfortable on this course. I feel like I know the greens well and there’s no surprises out here. Big golf course that seems to just suit what makes me comfortable off the tee. It helps that I feel quite good about where my swing’s at, too, but pair that with a golf course I can walk around knowing I’ve done well at makes things a lot easier.”

Finau’s heater: By taking the Mexico Open last week, Tony Finau won for the fourth time on tour since the 2022 Wells Fargo Championship, which is tied with world No. 1 golfer Jon Rahm for the most. Finau won the Mexico Open by three shots over Rahm; it was his fourth victory by at least three shots, which is twice as many as any other tour player since the start of last season.

What’s been the difference for Finau this season? His putter. He ranks 25th in shots gained: putting (.446) this season; he was 85th in that stat (.091) in 2021-22.

“I decided at the beginning of last year [that] my No. 1 goal was, ‘Don’t change your putter grip this year and see what happens,'” Finau said. “That literally was my first goal and just the priority. Anytime I was in a putting rut, I seemed to switch grips or switch putting heads. It was a quick fix and it was exactly that. I’d have a great week or two and then I’d be back in the same mess if not even a deeper hole with my putting further down the stretch.”

Finau believed his ball striking was always good enough to win, but his putter let him down too much in the past.

“I’ve hit it well enough to win more tournaments than I have,” Finau said. “I haven’t been able to execute with the putter. But that’s changed over these last couple years.”

Another designated event: With $20 million in the seventh designated event of the season, 25 of the top 30 players in the FedEx Cup standings and six of the top 10 in the world are in the field. Two players who aren’t here: Rahm and Scottie Scheffler, who is No. 2 in the world.

Rahm played in two of three weeks after capturing his second major at the Masters. Scheffler is facing a busy four-week stretch with the AT&T Byron Nelson, PGA Championship, Charles Schwab Challenge and The Memorial on the horizon.

Rory McIlroy, the No. 3 player in the world, is in the field for the first time since missing the cut at the Masters nearly a month ago. Top players are allowed to skip one designated event to receive their full Player Impact Program bonuses. It was McIlroy’s second absence, so he could lose 25 percent, or $3 million, of the $12 million he earned through the program in 2022.

What’s next on the LPGA Tour

Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown
When: Thursday-Sunday
Where: TPC Harding Park, San Francisco
Purse: $2 million

It’s back: The Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown, which has been on hiatus since 2018 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is back at TPC Harding Park, the site of the 2020 PGA Championship.

The event is a four-player team match-play tournament featuring the best women’s golfers from the top eight countries in the combined Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Spain won the event in 2014, the U.S. in 2016 and South Korea in 2018.

The eight countries will be divided into two pools: seeds 1 (U.S.), 4 (Sweden), 5 (England) and 8 (China) in Pool A and seeds 2 (Korea), 3 (Japan), 6 (Thailand) and 7 (Australia) in Pool B.

Four-ball matches will be played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. One point will be awarded for a victory, a half-point for a tie and zero for a loss. The top two teams from each pool will advance to Sunday, which will begin with two semifinal matches of two singles matches and one foursome match.

The first place team from each pool will face the runner-up from the opposite pool. The winners of the semifinals will play in a championship match, while the losers will play in a consolation match using the same format as the semifinals.

Late changes: Team England had two late scratches to their four-player roster on Saturday, when Georgia Hall (foot) and Charley Hull (illness) pulled out of the event. They were England’s highest-ranked players at Nos. 10 and 17 in the world, respectively.

Bronte Law, one of the other players on the team, wasn’t happy about the late WDs. Hall and Hull were replaced by Alice Henson (No. 172 in the world) and Liz Young (No. 216).

“So quite late,” Law told reporters in San Francisco on Tuesday. “But yeah, very happy to have both Alice and Liz here. They’re both very patriotic, very team oriented, and I think that that’s a testament to kind of what this tournament is about and is more important than the individuals in the team.”

Law said she learned the news on Sunday in media reports.

“Didn’t get any sort of message from the two that decided to not play,” Law said. “Was disappointed about that. But it’s beside the point now. We’re here, and this is our team, and this is Team England.”

Law said Hull did text her on Tuesday to apologize.

“I think anyone with some level of decency would send their teammates a message that they weren’t coming,” Law said. “Not find out from other players on tour who have heard things from them saying things at the tournament last week. I don’t think that that’s a lot to ask for.”

The Americans are loaded: The U.S. team is ranked No. 1 in the event for good reason. The roster includes Nelly Korda (No. 2 in the world), Lexi Thompson (No. 6), Lilia Vu (No. 12) and Danielle Kang (No. 14).

Thompson was part of the 2016 U.S. team that rallied from an 0-2 start to claim the crown at Merit Club outside Chicago. Thompson is one of four players in the field who has played in each of the three previous iterations of the International Crown. She has a 7-3-1 record in the event.

Korda, Vu and Kang are making their debuts.

JT checks in on Tiger

Justin Thomas said he has checked in on his good friend Tiger Woods, who is recovering from fusion surgery on his right ankle. It might be several weeks before Woods is walking again and months before he’s playing golf.

“It’s pretty much Groundhog Day for him at this point,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he wasn’t surprised to hear that Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, had been hired by Patrick Cantlay.

“The thing about Joe is he’s as loyal as loyal gets,” Thomas said. “There’s so many guys out here that would have him caddie in an instant. When he was loyal to Tiger and Tiger’s probably telling him, ‘Go caddie, go do whatever,’ and that’s just not the kind of guy Joe is.”

“But at the same time, very similar to Bones [Thomas’ caddie Jim Mackay], he’s competitive and he’s a caddie. I mean, they love to caddie and they love to win golf tournaments and they love being in that moment. I’m sure that weighed into his decision as well. Obviously,I don’t know the details and don’t know how long it is or what’s going on, but I know that that’s something that would never ever, ever be done if Tiger would not OK that.”

As the tours turn

On Tuesday, a U.S. District Court judge in Georgia granted PGA Tour player Kevin Kisner‘s motion to quash a subpoena from LIV Golf, which had requested extensive documents from him and would have required him to testify in a deposition related to the circuits’ ongoing legal battle.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall of the Southern District of Georgia ruled that the subpoena was likely untimely because Kisner was served after the March 30 deadline established by the U.S. District Court for Northern California. Hall also ruled that the subpoena was too broad and had “no limitations in place to what this shall cover, and the requests therefore impose an undue burden and expense on Mr. Kisner.”

Among other subjects, according to the judge’s ruling, LIV Golf wanted Kisner’s documents and communications with “anyone relating to or referencing a threat/risk/consequence of joining LIV Golf or the Premier Golf League” and related to his “interest in LIV Golf or relating to his decision to play or not play in LIV Golf.”

The judge’s ruling might be a good precedent for PGA Tour players James Hahn and Cameron Young and Tiger Woods’ longtime agent, Mark Steinberg, who are also fighting LIV Golf subpoenas in federal courts. Hahn and Kisner are past members of the PGA Tour’s Players Advisory Council.

Young, the 16th-ranked player in the world, who had previously been linked to potentially joining LIV Golf, filed his motion to quash the subpoenas at a federal court in Florida, where he lives.

“LIV’s frantic attempt to notice and serve Mr. Young by (or as close to) the March 30 deadline is no coincidence; it knew it had missed the cut but sought to circumvent the Court’s order,” Young’s attorneys wrote in a motion to quash. “When Mr. Young raised the passage of the deadline, LIV backtracked, claiming that the deadline applied to only the parties. But LIV’s position is unsupported by the record and belied by its own actions.”

A federal judge in Florida has scheduled a May 10 hearing to consider Young’s motion. A hearing is scheduled for May 30 in California to hear Steinberg’s arguments.

“In discovery, Plaintiffs took advantage of the discovery rules to invade the privacy of and burden some of the world’s most famous professional golfers –demanding documents and depositions — even as LIV’s financers have vowed to fight any discovery into their own affairs all the way to the Supreme Court,” Young’s motion said.

Band back together

It has been a rough stretch for Kisner, a four-time winner on tour, who was ranked as high as 14th in the world during his career. He is currently 55th in the Official World Golf Ranking and 187th in FedEx Cup points. Over the past month, Kisner missed the cut at the Masters, withdrew from the RBC Heritage (after carding an 8-over 79 in the first round) and skipped his scheduled start at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Kisner, 39, quietly split with his longtime swing coach John Tillery in November. After working with a couple of other coaches since then, Kisner confirmed to ESPN on Tuesday that he’s back with Tillery now. Kisner isn’t in the Wells Fargo Championship field this week.

“Curiosity led me to search for an alternative when playing poorly,” Kisner told ESPN. “I realized over time that JT knows my tendencies more than anyone, and I look forward to us finishing off a successful career together.”

Tillery, who also works with tour pro Sepp Straka, confirmed that he’s back with Kisner as well.

Finau family time

One of the lasting images of the PGA Tour season will probably be Finau playing a par-3 course with two of his sons on Sunday night, hours after he captured his sixth tour victory at the Mexico Open.

“I look at myself, I’m kind of a part-time golfer, full-time father,” Finau said Tuesday. “That’s kind of my thing. My kids are only young once and my boys are only young once. I want to make sure I’m there for them as much as possible. That’s also why I have them travel with me.”

Finau’s wife, Alayna, and their five children regularly travel with him to PGA Tour events. He said his younger son, Sage, didn’t really like golf until he made a 12-foot putt during the Par 3 Contest at the Masters.

“Everybody went crazy and it kind of changed his whole persona about golf, he wanted to hit the next putt and the next putt,” Finau said. “Ever since then he’s been asking me to play golf, so I took him out a couple times last week. It was just cool to cap off an amazing week with my boys and be on the golf course. I fell in love with the game of golf playing evening golf with my dad and my brother and it brings back memories that are just unforgettable.”

Bigger purses for the Epson Tour

More and more money has been making its way to the LPGA Tour. For the first time, women’s professional golf’s elite circuit is awarding more than $100 million at its 33 events. The first major championship of the season, the Chevron Championship at The Woodlands, Texas, had a $5.1 million purse, the biggest in the tournament’s history.

Some of that money is starting to make its way to the Epson Tour, the official qualifying tour of the LPGA. Sources told ESPN on Tuesday that the Epson Tour is set to announce that the Black Desert Resort Championship, scheduled for Sept. 7-9 at Soldier Hollow Club in Salt Lake City, will have a $375,000 purse, the richest in the tour’s 43-year history.

The winner of the Black Desert Resort Championship will take home $56,250. The purse is $40,000 more than any other event on the Epson Tour’s 2023 schedule. Over the past decade, the Epson Tour has grown from staging 15 tournaments with $1.6 million in prize money to handing out more than $5 million this season.

The Black Desert Resort Championship kicks off the final five-event stretch of the Epson Tour’s season. The top 10 players on the money list earn their LPGA Tour cards. The season concludes at the Epson Tour Championship, Oct. 5-8 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

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