PGA Skins Game: Rory/Dustin vs. Rickie/Wolff First Look
Two weeks after whetting our appetite with the The Match redux, which is tentatively scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, the PGA Tour one-upped itself Monday with the announcement of the TaylorMade Driving Relief charity event. This event has a firm date of May 17 and a chosen venue in Seminole Golf Club in Juno, Florida, and most importantly, it features four real live professional golfers teeing it up in a team skins game for COVID-19 relief efforts.
The top-ranked player in the world, Rory McIlroy, teams up with former World No. 1 Dustin Johnson to take on five-time PGA Tour winner Rickie Fowler and rising star Matthew Wolff. All are Palm Beach County residents and will be familiar with Seminole, even if most of the viewership will be getting their first peak at one of the most exclusive clubs in the country.
A total of $3 million worth of skins is up for grabs, with the teams earning donations on each hole for the charities each will represent. McIlroy and Johnson will play for American Nurses Foundation, while Fowler and Wolff will earn for the CDC Foundation. An additional $1 million in a birdie and eagle pool is also up for grabs.
Odds are not out yet on FanDuel Sportsbook, but we'd expect Rory and DJ to be overwhelming favorites given their form and career success. But Fowler and Wolff are live 'dogs, especially without the pressure of true competition and plenty of rust to go around. Courses in Palm Beach just opened, and none of these guys will have had any live action since THE PLAYERS was canceled after the first round back on March 12.
Seminole Golf Club is one of the highest regarded clubs in America, and with a heavy PGA contingent in South Florida, it's no surprise there is a world-class venue in close proximity. Seminole is listed at 6,836 yards to its par 72, though the yardage and par may be adjusted for the professional competition. Conditions should be in fantastic shape with the course closed during the past few weeks, but Seminole is known for its fast and firm greens.
Situated along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, Seminole challenges golfers with the ocean breezes that can shift on a dime and a design that ensures a new wind direction on each hole. The Donald Ross design holds true, even if the bunkers and greens have been replaced in the years since he designed the course.
For comparable courses, we can look to other short coastal courses with fast greens such as Pebble Beach Golf Links and Harbour Town Golf Links. The other Ross course most familiar to three of these four will be East Lake Golf Club, annual host of the TOUR Championship at the culmination of the season. And finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't speak for the myriad Florida tracks. TPC Sawgrass is a world-class facility a few hundred miles up the coast and just so happens to line up nicely with East Lake.
We'll start with the top of the board. McIlroy was riding one of the most electric 12-month periods of his career and was primed to ably defend his PLAYERS crown before the Coronavirus pandemic forced the Tour to suspend the season. He is not just the most talented but also one of the hardest working golfers in the world, and there can be no doubt he has spent his quarantine honing his game. He's the defending champion at Sawgrass and East Lake, and his sway with TaylorMade is probably the reason this event is even happening. Kudos to Rory, and happy birthday, as well!
McIlroy's teammate doesn't quite share his enthusiasm for the range, as Johnson admitted on Monday that he'd practiced just twice during the shutdown. The rest will likely do him some good, having rehabbed a knee injury over the winter and returning to the Tour not looking quite like himself in three starts to kick off 2020. When his game is on, DJ is right there with the best in the world, having dusted the field in his last Tour win, the 2019 WGC-Mexico. McIlroy held five strokes over the next highest finishers at Chapultepec that week, but he was still looking up at DJ on the leaderboard in a five-stroke hole of his own.
Fowler's career once held the promise of a ceiling comparable to his opponents, but he never quite got over the hump and has seen a slew of talented youngsters pass him by. He is somewhat unfairly maligned for his performance in major championships, but Fowler has had a solid career and is just 31 years old. With a win to his name at TPC Sawgrass and a chip on his shoulder taking on two of the biggest guns in his sport, Fowler could well be the best man on the course over 18 holes.
Rickie will be teamed with another Oklahoma State Cowboy. Wolff was something of a household name for diehards even before bursting on the scene with his victory at the inaugural 3M Open last summer. The 2019 NCAA Champion blitzed the competition at the collegiate level, and even with the first Tour win, Wolff is often overlooked among the brightest young stars like Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, and Sungjae Im. He is just 21 years old and getting an opportunity (thanks to his TaylorMade sponsorship) to participate in a high-profile event with some of the best players in the world with little to no pressure.
The NFL Draft showed that even a sports-adjacent event could capture the nation's attention during this unprecedented time. Real athletes competing on live television, with the added bonus of supporting worthy causes, is enough to give a glimmer of hope on the sports calendar and hopefully a sign of brighter days to come.