By Charlie Rymer
It’s hard to believe we’re already five events into the 2021-2022 season of the PGA TOUR, and we’re two full months from next year. The Ryder Cup was played a week after next season began, but it counts as last season – because it was played this year. Confused? Yeah, me too.
I’ve never gotten use to the idea that the PGA TOUR season wraps around the year end. And don’t get me started on how much I miss the old Q-School. But here’s what is crystal clear. Players who embrace golf this time of year and perform well can set themselves up for a monster season. Scheduling for a PGA TOUR player is a huge deal. Most fans get frustrated that every player doesn’t play every week, and I understand the frustration.
But keep in mind that golf isn’t a team sport. If you play for the Atlanta Falcons and you hate cold and windy weather, you still have to go to Chicago and play in January if it’s on your schedule. If you’re a PGA TOUR player and you hate playing in the wind, you can take the entire Florida swing off. I absolutely couldn’t stand playing in hot weather (for obvious reasons), and so I avoided summer events in hot places as best I could. It was a waste of my time and money. To this day, when asked by friends who to pick in weekly fantasy golf or online betting, I always say “Take the skinny boys on the hot weeks and the fat boys on the cold weeks.” I guess the only issue with that theory is that there aren’t any fat boys playing these days.
But I think you get my point. This time of year, when television ratings are down and most eyes are on football, and when players are beaten up and tired of golf, it’s vital to find some energy and motivation to get out and play great golf. Pull it off, and the next season, or current season, or next year (I’m confused again) can be career-defining.
So who am I looking at over this next year? I’ve got three names for you.
Let’s start with Patrick Cantlay. I first met Patrick at Isleworth in Orlando in a friendly game arranged by the very friendly John Cook. John, with his Southern California ties, has been on Team Cantlay for years now. John received mentoring from the late Ken Venturi, and he loves to pay it forward. Patrick was getting his first start in quite some time the following week in Tampa. He was coming off an extended medical leave and needed a couple of good weeks to get back to fully exempt status.
We met for lunch, and his intensity was off the charts. He only eats eggs, broiled chicken, and steamed broccoli. It took me awhile to get a smile out of him. I eventually broke through with a really dirty joke that I can’t repeat here, and five offers to try my onion rings.
His story is tragic and inspiring. A can’t-miss phenom. Amazing college career. Great play as an amateur in PGA TOUR events. Potentially career-ending, mysterious back injury. Death of his best friend in a horrible pedestrian car accident. And then, on to becoming FedEx Cup Champion and PGA TOUR Player of the Year. He has known the downs and the ups. You can’t throw anything at him that he can’t handle. That day at Isleworth, somewhere on the back nine, I told him that not only was he going to get his money to clear the medical exemption but that he was obviously ready to win on the PGA TOUR.
The next week he nearly won, and easily obtained the cash he needed to be fully exempt. He hasn’t looked back. I think we’re just now scratching the surface of Patrick Cantlay’s potential. Majors are in his future. And possibly Halls of Fame. And I believe he’s going to have one heck of a year that I can’t wait to watch.
John Rahm is one of the most confident people I’ve ever met in my life. Somehow, he pulls it off in an entertaining way. He hasn’t done anything in golf he hasn’t been expected to do, including becoming No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking or his U.S. Open win. Most high achievers who have that much self-belief are really aggravating. And that’s especially true with those who have great ambition and an actual talent level several magnitudes of order below their expectations. I’m sure you’ve been paired in a member-guest with this personality type. In fact, that’s why they have alcohol at member-guests. It’s not for that person: it’s for you. That way, you can chill out enough to keep from throwing the cocky idiot in the lake.
A few years back I was working the range at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. It was early Friday, and I was chatting with Rickie Fowler as he was warming up. Some players like talking to announcers while warming up. Others don’t. The key is to know which is which. Rickie and I were engaged in an intellectual topic like global warming or Brandel Chamblee’s hair (can’t remember which). But then here comes John Rahm, barging in like a freight train, sniffing and snorting because he couldn’t wait to give Rickie the business over how far he was out-driving him. This was like chatter before a high school match. I loved every second of it.
John Rahm is a unique talent and a unique personality. He loves competing at this game as much as anyone I’ve ever seen. He’s confident to an extreme, but in a way that makes you pull for him. John was two positive COVID-19 tests away from having a career defining year … or season. As much as he’s accomplished, he’s just getting started. And I can’t wait to see how the next 12 months play out for him.
And speaking of Rickie Fowler … I was happy to see him finish T-3 in the recent CJ Cup. That’s his best finish in more than two years. His life has changed considerably in that two-year span. He’s married now and expecting a child. He has a new teacher in John Tillery. And he’s not one of the top golfers in the world anymore.
Rickie’s as genuine as they come. Back in the day I was working on a television feature during the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. I ambushed Rickie with a TV crew during the pro-am on a par-4 tee box. A launch monitor was set up. I challenged him to a long drive competition, and he laughed. I didn’t. He said “It’s on,” and I jumped up and swatted one 300-plus with a 121-mph ball speed. His smile went away, and I started with the chatter. He took some BIG practice swings and things got quiet (except for me). He took a swipe at the ball and I heard a little grunt. Rickie had a 122-mph ball speed and got me by 11 yards. Then we had quite the laugh.
Some people say Rickie Fowler is too nice. I say he’s just right. Turn it around, Rickie! A LOT of folks, including yours truly, are pulling for you.
Enjoy this year, or next season, or both … or whatever … whenever … on the PGA TOUR!