Tour Confidential: Forgotten golf moments of 2023, NBC analyst tryouts

Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy

Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy last January at the Dubai Desert Classic.

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Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us at @golf_com. This week, we discuss forgotten moments of 2023, NBC analyst tryouts and more.

1. As we near the end of the 2023 calendar year, has started its annual countdown of the biggest moments of the year. Of course, we won’t argue that any event was bigger than the PGA Tour/DP World Tour/Saudi PIF merger, but what’s the semi-forgotten story that didn’t receive as much publicity as it should have?

Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): Allegations by Billy Walters that Phil Mickelson tried to wager on the Ryder Cup got a lot of buzz, then faded, only to be followed by gambling-related suspensions against two lesser-name Tour pros. These don’t amount to single one-and-done headlines in 2023 so much as they point to a longer-simmering story about the place of gambling in pro golf and where it might lead. This past year alone brought match-fixing scandals in tennis, snooker and high-level European soccer. This February, for the first time, the Waste Management Open will have an on-site sportsbook. Should make for some extra entertainment at an already wild event. But as the Tour tightens its embrace of gambling, it’s naive to think that the game is immune to issues other sports have faced. 

Ryan Barath, equipment editor (@rdsbarath): As a gear guy, I have to say that the new golf-ball rules need to be discussed in greater detail and better explained to average golfers, especially when it comes to the potential distance losses that are being thrown around. In many cases, these new regulations could help a lot of golfers find more fairways and actually hit the ball farther, and a lot of that discussion was lost in the discourse surrounding the USGA and R&A trying to “make the game harder” for average players.

Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): Really good answers here. counting down the top stories of the year is an annual tradition, but it’s crazy that a golf-ball rollback AND Jon Rahm signing with LIV aren’t even the biggest stories of the past 12 months. You could even add a bizarre few days at the Ryder Cup to that list, too. Here’s my contribution: Remember Teegate? When Patrick Reed flicked a tee toward Rory at the Dubai Desert Classic last January? That led to some wonderful post-tee-flicking comments, like Reed calling Rory “an immature little child” and Rory telling the world he was subpoenaed by Reed’s lawyer at the McIlroy household on Christmas Eve. Man, what a way to kick off 2023 that story was.

2. What was your favorite major moment — men’s or women’s — from the past year?

Sens: Brian Harman’s gritty play at the Open Championship wasn’t a TV-ratings bonanza. But at a time when distance looms so large in the game, and many of the best players look built for the gridiron, it was a refreshing win for the scrappy little guy. And a reminder of the great equalizing elements in golf. 

Carlota Ciganda
Carlota Ciganda leads European Solheim Cup comeback: 2023 biggest stories
By: Nick Piastowski

Barath: As much as I agree with Josh’s take that Harmon was a compelling winner, I think the entire Saturday and Sunday of the U.S. Open were my favorite days watching golf all year. There was just so much going on among Rickie, Rory and Scheffler — along with the great play from the eventual winner, Wyndham Clark — that it was hard to look away.

Berhow: It’s hard to beat the U.S. Open at LACC. McIlroy charging and trying to end his major slump, and a fan favorite in Rickie Fowler trying to nab his first big one. Clark struggled a little down the stretch but finished it off with some grit. It was great TV.

3. According to Front Office Sports, NBC Sports plans to rotate multiple analysts in the coming months instead of hiring a single replacement for Paul Azinger, whose contract was not renewed. Brad Faxon, Justin Leonard, Kevin Kisner and Brandel Chamblee are among the names who have been rumored to get a shot in the chair. What are your thoughts on the “tryout”? And is there a front-runner here?

Sens: It seems odd to turn a job search into a public spectacle. I suppose it generates more chatter, but I’m not sure the upside outweighs the weirdness. Is this a search for the best candidate? Or a popularity contest? Isn’t this why there are screen tests? As for a front-runner, I think Chamblee is just about the smartest and most interesting commentator in golf. But I personally like him in the role he’s in— weighing in on a range of topics and often going deep on them. I’m not sure the lead analyst role in the tower lends itself as well to that. Word is Kevin Kisner can be very funny. That would be a welcome addition to a broadcast that is sorely lacking in humor. 

brandel chamblee and paul mcginley laugh on microphone at charity event
Report: NBC to hold auditions for Paul Azinger’s replacement
By: James Colgan

Barath: I echo Josh in not really understanding the purpose of this exercise, especially considering that the general golf audience thrives on familiarity. Having a rotating cast of characters could really backfire for NBC and make for some uncomfortable situations on live TV since everyone has their own rhythm when calling these things. But on the other hand, it does give them the opportunity to get feedback — especially from social media — from an audience that tends to be pretty hard on those in the booth. 

Berhow: Our James Colgan did a great job breaking all of this down here, but as he explains, this essentially gives the audience a chance to be in on the decision. It’s like American Idol. It seems like an odd decision to make it so public, but maybe that’s entirely the point. I think Faxon would be great here. Brandel might be too, but as Sens said, it’s hard to picture him doing something different than his current analyst role, which he does so well already. 

4. For the first time in a decade, Q-School returned to offer a direct path to the PGA Tour. On Monday, five players picked up their Tour cards and 40 more earned Korn Ferry Tour status. Do you like the return of Q School sending players directly to the big show? Would you change anything?

Harrison Endycott holds trophy after winning 2023 Q-School in Florida
These 5 players just earned their PGA Tour cards at Q-School
By: Kevin Cunningham

Sens: Love the pressure and the stories that Q-School produces. Great to have it back. No changes here. 

Barath: I’m happy to see it back and excited for all the storylines that it will produce in the future. Golf has historically been a meritocracy and Q-School is the greatest divider of those who show up when it really counts.

Berhow: For how confusing the Tour’s priority rankings, different statuses and playoff format can be for most fans, this is the kind of simplicity I love: finish in the top five and snag a Tour card. Great to have it back.

5. Happy holidays! What’s the best golf gift you ever received?

Sens: Scout’s honor, I’ve never received any gadgets or gear or apparel in my holiday stocking. But my wife routinely tells me: Don’t worry about dinner or the dishes or walking the dogs — go out and play some golf; I know you love it. To my mind, that’s the best kind of golf gift. 

Barath: Like a lot of golfers, I tend to avoid any type of golfy gift since I have more than my fair share of goodies already, but one of the most thoughtful golf gifts I ever received was a set of Seamus headcovers made with County of Antrim tartan, which is where my grandfather was born in Ireland. They’re a simple reminder of where I come from and something I love.

Berhow: As odd as it sounds, a yard game named Yolf was one of the most important things I ever received. It was just a bunch of big targets you chip to in the yard, but it was enough to get me outside and practicing and enjoying the game. That’s how it all starts. My son is 3 so he’s not going to read this, but I’m hoping a Gator Golf he gets this year helps get him excited as well.

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