Dazed by an avalanche of rhetoric and splintered by levels of contentiousness that doesn’t really serve much of a purpose, this nauseating PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf soap opera has sadly created one unfortunate byproduct: We have lost sense of just how special it is to win on the PGA Tour.
Take it from someone who poured a ton of effort into his chances, but never quite found the PGA Tour winner’s circle.
“Of course it’s still meaningful. It’s still the best overall Tour in the world, even with the star power LIV has taken,” said Eddie Loar, a.k.a. The Big E in The Big D.
“Jake Knapp changed his life.”
Ah, yes, the 29-year-old with the infectious personality, sweet golf swing, and backdrop of humanness that prompts you to embrace his story with a wide smile. Knapp is the reason we’re here today to remind one and all that there is a professional golf dream that many have chased, but relatively few have realized.
So if you’re looking to complain about the PGA Tour being a two-tier system – some weeks a star-studded Signature Event, other weeks a field dominated by unheralded names looking to answer the door to opportunity – don’t pester Loar.
The onetime standout at Oklahoma State gave pro golf a long and diligent try – 54 PGA Tour tournaments, two wins in 147 Korn Ferry Tour stops – but walked away with his head held high. With the sort of passion that led him to chase his dream throughout the world for nearly 20 years, he remains a golf fan and one whose opinion carries priceless perspective.
“While we fixate on the significant changes made to the (PGA Tour) top tier and LIV, as well, there’s plenty of great players left,” said Loar. “I for one have loved seeing (Nick) Dunlap, (Matthieu) Pavon, and (Jake) Knapp win this year.”
Knapp’s feel-good story resonated to those who followed his performance in the Mexico Open at Vidanta. Great junior player, shot 61 to make it into the 2015 US Open at age 21, lost Korn Ferry Tour status in 2021 so he took a job as a bouncer and played minitours and Canada, got back on KFT, and earned his PGA Tour card in 2023.
“People would say no one knows him, but I think these stories are tremendous,” said Curtis Strange. “You love these stories; they give you something to talk about.”
Before he would develop into a two-time U.S. Open winner, Strange had to find his way on the PGA Tour. The first of his 17 wins, in Pensacola in October of ’79, did wonders. Likewise, before Mark Calcavecchia won an Open Championship, there was his first win, in 1986 at the Southwest Golf Classic, to set him in motion.
You better believe those wins matter.
“You know why? Because (Sam) Snead, (Ben) Hogan, and (Byron) Nelson won on the PGA Tour. You compare yourself to those who’ve won on the PGA Tour. It means something.”
Said Calcavecchia: “Absolutely, winning on the Tour still matters. There’s history there. Loved seeing (Jake) Knapp win last week. I remember my first win so well. Man, you can say you’re a PGA Tour winner. That’s pretty cool.”
Clearly we are in uncharted waters with this PGA Tour and LIV dichotomy. The disdain, the bickering, and the hatred on both sides is evident, but by now it appears senseless. Enough already. They are going to share space, whether you like it or not, so find that slice of the big golf pie that pleases you.
For yours truly, the quest to win a PGA Tour tournament remains most intriguing. Some, like Loar, can speak from experience and give genuine praise to the Jake Knapps of the world.
Jim Renner, now 40, can do likewise. Good enough to make it onto the PGA Tour for three seasons and 76 tournaments, the young man from Plainville, Mass., never won. But there were brushes that could be considered in the circle of “coulda, woulda” and they leave nice memories.
“It’s one of those things where I’ll think about it if someone brings it up,” laughed Renner, because yes, someone had called and brought it up. “But it doesn’t eat at me.”
There was a chance at the Reno-Tahoe tournament in 2011 then a T-2 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2014. “Yeah, you can wonder, ‘What if?’ If you win, who knows? Now, more than ever you’re going to have these types of tournaments (like Knapp’s win in the Mexico Open) that are great opportunities and a win can change everything.
“But remember, every week there are great stories, but only one player can be the winner.”
In his ninth season and 206th tournament, Tim Clark was that “one player.” A 66-67 weekend provided an emphatic win in the 2010 Players Championship.
“It’s extremely hard to win on Tour and until you do it, you never know if it’s ever going to happen,” said Clark, who won a second time in ’14 but soon thereafter was forced to step away from the game because of back issues.
“When you do win, it’s a huge feeling of accomplishment.”
Clark knows what it felt like to win and he brushes aside all these strength-of-field questions given that the Signature Event at the Genesis Invitational a week earlier was heavy with top-50 golfers, while the Mexico Open wasn’t. “A void has to be filled and who’s to say they’re not going to step up (Knapp and others).”
Clark eschews the contentiousness that consumes those on both sides of the PGA Tour and LIV debate. He’s got loyalties and friendships and is a fair man who will offers his thoughts, but what he prefers to do is focus on what provides him the most pleasure.
Which is watching all golf, as one who played at the elite level and one who has loved the game all his life.
So Clark talked about tournaments that tickled his fancy – Erik Van Rooyen’s win at the World Wide Technology last November; Knapp holding tough despite hitting just two fairways Sunday; and in Morocco, 54-year-old Argentine Ricardo Gonzalez, who had only played in 12 PGA Champions Tour starts, posting an emphatic victory to secure full status in front of family and loyal supporters.
“In each case, you could see that winning was a big deal,” said Clark. Van Rooyen dedicated his win to a friend who was in a hospital dying of cancer. Knapp pointed to a tattoo, initials of his grandfather, his biggest fan and most inspiring supporter. Gonzalez was hugged wildly as emotions flowed and celebratory bottles popped and liquids were poured on his head.
“You could see this was a big, big deal to them. It was real passion and having been there, I love to watch that. That’s what is great about the game, that winning is important.”