A New Englander's Take on Golf
February 28, 2024
Ah, the perks that come your way when you break through. A big fan of the NHL Anaheim Ducks, Jake Knapp joined broadcasters Kent French (left) and Guy Hebert before an Anaheim game, shortly after finishing T-3 at the Farmers Invitational. Knapp has a Ducks' logo on his PGA Tour shirts.

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.”

I have a passion for playing golf that is surpassed only by my passion for writing about people who have a passion for playing golf, for working in golf, for living their lives around golf. Chasing the best professional golfers around the world for The Boston Globe, Golfweek Magazine, and the PGA Tour for more than 20 years was a blessing for which I’ll be eternally grateful. I’ve been left with precious memories of golf at its very best, but here is a takeaway that rates even more valuable – the game belongs to everyone who loves it. “Power Fades” is a weekly tribute with that in mind, a digital production to celebrate a game that many of us embrace. If you share a passion for golf, sign up down below for a free subscription and join the ride. Should you have suggestions, thoughts, critiques, or general comments, pass them along. And to help support “Power Fades” with contributing sponsorships or advertisements, you can contact me. Jim@powerfades.com

1 – Taste went sour

When it was announced that LIV Golf had signed an exclusive business deal with panini, my approval rating went skyward. Only to be totally deflated when it was explained that we’re talking trading cards, not the delicious sandwich.


2 – Pick up after yourself

Remember, folks, there are some changes to the Rules of Golf for 2024. It is now a one-stroke penalty if you leave the tee box with your tee still in the ground. (Truthfully, I’m not sure the USGA officially made this change, but we all agree they should.)


3 – Put it back behind the curtain

The Seminole Member-Pro is Exhibit A of how an overzealous media attention can suck charm out of anything. Advanced tee times and serious chatter? Yick. It was a far cooler gathering of members and pros when played in anonymity.


4 – Her game is impressive

Patty Tavatanakit has “it” – and I’m not talking about the end of her name.


5 – Where to place the blame

Not since 2014 has Phil Mickelson seen a situation where the captain needed to be tossed under the bus. This time around, however, despite the HyFlyers abysmal performance (zero points after two LIV tournaments, a 10th and a dead-last 13th) he cannot lead a mutiny because he's the captain.


6 – Community auditions

Sorry, but it’s hard to embrace this revolving analyst stuff that NBC is going with for its PGA Tour coverage. You do that with Grapefruit League competition, not the real stuff.


7 – Might want another example

It’s weird how Rory McIlroy points to the Premier and Champions leagues as his vision for a “World Tour” for golf. Elite fütbol players are likely to be involved in more than 50 games per year. There is no let up for them. Golfers want less, not more.


8 – Too many choices

It is said you should envision your shot in your pre-shot routine. Got that part down. My question is, which of the five ball flights I envision do I focus on?


9 – Can you feel it?

If you don’t look at the forecast for the next three or four weeks and come down with golf fever, we can’t be friends.


 

© Power Fades. All Rights Reserved.
26 McKinnon Ave., Milton, MA 02186