Throughout the remainder of 2024, ClutchPoints' contributors will use this space to banter on hot topics in the game of golf. In the wake of Austin Eckroat's first career win at the Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches, Michael Corvo and David Rooney discussed the trend of longshot winners to start the PGA Tour season. This is The DisCourse, No. 1 of 18.

Michael: David, thanks for getting some takes off with me.

In a pivotal year for the PGA Tour — which lost Jon Rahm to LIV Golf in late 2023 — its first nine events have underscored the dilution of star power that, to me, is undeniably preventing the tour from generating mainstream momentum.

By this point, last year, you'll recall, the PGA Tour had already handed trophies to Rahm (twice), Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Si-Woo Kim, and Justin Rose. In other words: the two best players in the world/reigning Masters champions, a legit crossover star (Homa), and two popular figures (Rose, Kim). Each victory was rife with weekend drama.

Here are 2024's winners, their pre-tournament odds, and their Official World Golf Ranking entering the year (Signature Events in bold).

  • The Sentry: Chris Kirk — 200/1, OWGR: 52
  • Sony Open: Grayson Murray — 440/1, 133
  • The American Express: Nick Dunlap — 300/1, amateur
  • Farmers Insurance: Matthieu Pavon — 125/1, 93
  • AT&T Pebble Beach: Wyndham Clark  — 60/1, 10
  • WM Phoenix Open: Nick Taylor — 125/1, 51
  • Genesis Invitational: Hideki Matsuyama — 80/1, 46
  • Mexico Open at Vidanta: Jake Knapp — 40/1, 174
  • Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches: Austin Eckroat — 100/1, 101

The only names that “casuals” — folks who tune in for majors whom the PGA Tour eternally strives to convert into junkies — might be familiar with are Clark (the 2023 U.S. Open champ), maybe Taylor, and Matsuyama, the 2020 Masters winner.

Inconveniently, Clark's win at Pebble (and his Saturday 60) was marred by the final round being called off for weather. Taylor's cold-blooded putting happened during Super Bowl LVIII, due to the attention-sucking slopfest at TPC Scottsdale. Even Hideki's triumph at the Genesis, while historic, was overshadowed by Tiger's weird weekend. (I was at Riviera, and the absence of Rahm, the defending champion, was palpable.)

The West Coast swing was a bogey. The first stop in Florida was dampened by weather delays and a Monday AM finish.

David, do you find the unexpected crop of winners to be an exciting or concerning development?

David: On the one hand, this unprecedented run of unheralded winners creates excitement and may bring the next generation of star players to the public's attention. On the other hand, golf is a sport with an outsized reliance on its stars, and unknown players being in the spotlight may not be a good thing.

Golf is a game where fans spend time following each player. This means they get to know the player and follow them throughout a tournament and, more broadly, throughout their career. Unfortunately, a person can only keep track of so many players. This necessitates that fans will more closely follow stars, and grow attached to them. Fans remember players such as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and the like.

Michael: You’ve identified a key part of the problem. With so many recognizable names smashing and HyFlying for the Saudis — and no unification agreement expected for a minute — I'm not sure why a casual would check in with the PGA Tour right now (not to mention the negotiating leverage a quality, popular product provides).

To paraphrase Rick Pitino, Prime Tiger Woods is not walking through that door (though he is playing a pro-am alongside Tom Brady on Monday that would surely garner more interest than the Cognizant, if it wasn't private.)

So David, if you were PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan for a day (not a role I envy, even hypothetically), what's your agenda? Do you explore creative ways to market non-star, human-interest stories? Or do you simply hope that stars wake up as major season approaches? (At least Full Swing is back on Netflix!)

David: Thanks, Michael. Well, you're certainly right — I don't envy Monahan at all. That being said, if I were in his role, I think I'd have to do something different. Perhaps a midseason event for all previous winners with a special prize or a bonus cash prize could be in play. Maybe add a donation to a charity of the winner's choice as well. It could be held at one of the famous country clubs, with a lower price of admission. Say, if it were to be held at Augusta, people who might never be able to afford to go to The Masters, would potentially still be able to have a chance to go and see the pros play at Augusta National.

I'm thinking Monahan could take inspiration from the NBA in-season tournament, which gave lesser-known players a chance to shine while also giving more meaning to the games. This kind of event would let those lesser-known golfers get a moment in the sun where fans could get to know them. Because it would only be winners participating, every player would get time in the spotlight, announcers could give their backstory, things to make the fans connect with them more and build that “bond” that they have with guys like Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler and Justin Thomas.

This would also give the stars more incentive to “wake up” as you put it. If I'm McIlroy, I might use a lower-profile tournament to try out something new, or, if I'm losing, I might phone it in to preserve my health. He might accept a lower finish trusting his natural talent to bounce back later in the season, and believing that trying out something new will pay dividends throughout the season to offset a lower-ranking finish in one particular tournament. This midseason tourney would make each individual event matter more.

Michael, do you think a tournament would draw enough attention to be worth it, and would it motivate the star players? Or do you think a different approach might be better?

Michael: Wow. This is a concept I hadn't considered yet, but I think you're onto something. The PGA Tour has tried to sprinkle stakes throughout the season in the form of sponsored points races, but these standings amount to convoluted spon-con, not digestible stories to track.

I love the idea of a celebratory weekend that co-opts elements of the in-season tournament, All-Star Weekend, and The Match. For instance, a mid-summer event — streamed live on Netflix — at a hallowed course (I doubt Augusta would do it, but we can dream!) featuring skills competitions, major champs, LPGA stars, celebrities, and exciting up-and-comers from around the world. After a Saturday of festivities, a combination of the winners of the skill events (if amateurs win, great!), the top players in the points standings, and other notable stars compete in a Sunday scramble, with a major cash prize on the line. The broadcast will be designed to showcase the talent and personality of the competitors. I'll start the pitch deck.