Scottie Scheffler was named PGA Tour Player of the Year in a vote compromised by the defection of his only competition
[Feature image – Getty images: Andy Lyons]
The lodge brothers met virtually and cast their votes secretly. We don’t know how many ballots were returned. We don’t know who finished second. We do know who won: Mr Scottie Scheffler is your PGA Tour Player of the Year, in a vote of his peers.
Scheffler won the Masters and three other times: Phoenix, Bay Hill, the Match Play. That is (let’s help the PGA Tour pay some bills here!), the Waste Management party, the Arnold Palmer MasterCard event, and the Dell we-still-make-laptops tournament.
That is some year. Plus, Scheffler remains a card-carrying member of the PGA Tour, and a Texan by way of New Jersey. After his Masters win, I asked him if his musical tastes ran more to Bruce Springsteen or Willie Nelson. He hedged, playfully, and offered to send me a playlist. Plus, there was the whole Sunday-morning cry with his young bride. A most likable fella. Noted here because elections are, when the final votes are counted, really a form of you-like-me popularity contests. If you had a vote, it would be difficult not to vote for Scheffler, right?
Difficult, but not impossible.
That’s because you could make the case that Cameron Smith had a more impressive year. Cam Smith of Jacksonville Beach (at least for now) and Brisbane.
The PGA Tour has been selling the Players as the fifth Major for decades now. For many years, no tournament in the world has had a deeper field. (The Tour’s LIV suspensions threaten the future of that sentence.) Smith won the Players in March. He won The Open in July. Could there be two courses more different than TPC Sawgrass and the Old Course? That’s like a tennis player who can win on grass and on clay. Smith started the year by winning the Tournament of Champions in Maui. (Thank ye, Sentry!)
No, I’m not counting that for much. But it is, as Tiger used to say, a W. Tiger has 82 Tour wins and nobody has more. (Talk about a legacy!) Two of them came in the T of C. (Shoutout to Mercedes!)
So whose year would you rather have, Scheffler’s or Smith’s? That is, whose on-the-course year?
I’d lean in Smith’s direction. I’m not talking about his decision to join LIV Golf. That’s a different matter, at least in theory. By the way, and it’s really more than that: the long-term value of his Players win took a massive hit when he made the move to LIV. He lost the parking space at TPC Sawgrass and the five-year tour exemption. The PGA Tour also kept him off this year’s Presidents Cup team. It’s bizarre to me that the tour decides the eligibility requirements for the International team. But as they say: their house, their rules.
The players who participated in the Player of the Year voting cast ballots with their wallets, of course. At least some of them did. I say that because that’s a natural impulse, to vote your self-interest. LIV is a threat to the PGA Tour. That makes Smith, likable bloke though he is, a threat to the PGA Tour. No chance he was going to win this thing.
Although he did win the PGA of America’s Player of the Year Award. That’s a numbers vote, pure and simple. Certain tournaments get a certain number of points. This is from a late-August (end-of-season, pre-FedEx Cup playoffs) PGA of America press release: “Cameron Smith captured his first PGA Player of the Year Award, presented by the PGA of America for excellence by a PGA Tour professional. Smith tallied a career-best 96 overall Player of the Year points, just 2 more than Scottie Scheffler (94).”
A numbers game. Numbers are ruthless in their efficiency.
Woods was the PGA Tour Player of the year 11 times. Eleven! The last time he won it was in 2013.
There’s a great deal to admire about Woods, but I wouldn’t put his 2013 golf year on the list. That’s the year there was a saga over his drop on 15 in the Friday round of the Masters. (Yes, club officials made a mess of it too, but Woods could have cleaned the whole thing up by withdrawing from the tournament.) He took a ridiculously aggressive and incorrect drop (in my opinion) on the 14th hole in the fourth round of the Players Championship.
He failed to call a penalty on himself when he caused his ball to move, fractionally, in the woods in the second round of the BMW Championship outside Chicago. A rules official, Slugger White, had to do it for him. Woods began the year by missing the cut in Abu Dhabi after receiving a two-shot penalty for an illegal drop. The first of four rules debacles in a year.
But Woods won five times, including the Players Championship, and his fellow tour players honoured him as the PGA Tour Player of the Year. Maybe I should not have been surprised, although I was.
Regarding the outcome of this year’s voting, my colleague Alan Shipnuck said this: “To me this is the beginning of the devaluation of golf’s traditional status markers. Cam won the biggest tournament of the year and the tour’s flagship event. He should be POY, but LIV politics prevents that.”
In my timeline, I’d place the start of the devaluation at 2013.
The world of professional golf was once an ideal place to practise do-the-right. (Or is that my romanticised view of it?)
Now, unfortunately, the world of professional golf looks more like the world, fullstop.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.