Five Key Takeaways From the TaylorMade Driving Relief Match

Mic’d up: the best soundbites from TaylorMade Driving Relief.

Sunday’s TaylorMade Driving Relief match at Seminole finally gave us live golf to watch and discuss. Here are five observations from five PGATOUR.COM writers.
 

 

McIlroy is still golf’s alpha

By Cameron Morfit
 
I’ve been watching a lot of “Billions” during the pandemic, which is one of Rory McIlroy’s favorite shows. I know this because he’s been golf’s ne plus ultra tastemaker since long before the TaylorMade Driving Relief match at Seminole on Sunday, from reading (his fellow pros have started buying some of his recommendations) to exercise (he leads golf’s Peloton pack).
 
He’s No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking and in ways OWGR doesn’t even begin to measure.
 
We found out Sunday, when McIlroy hit a 121-yard shot closest to the pin – securing his and Dustin Johnson’s 11-7 skins victory over Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff – that even after two months of no competitive golf, that hasn’t changed. The defending FedExCup champ remains the game’s alpha.
 
McIlroy made a kick-in birdie from the bunker at the par-4 16th, then a big par putt on 17 to keep the skins carrying over. His final blow in sudden death, the closest-to-the-hole effort from the front tees and with the wind gusting at the 17th hole, earned another $1.1 million (of $1.85 million) for the American Nurses Foundation, his and Johnson’s beneficiary. With that, McIlroy delivered the day’s last fist pump.
 
Fowler-Wolff won $1.15 million for the CDC Foundation.
 
“It’s a huge effort from everyone involved,” McIlroy told Steve Sands on NBC. They were talking about how the event, which, with donations from viewers, generated $5.5 million for front-line health workers, came together. Not surprisingly, McIlroy was in the middle of it.
 
UnitedHealth Group, which donated the $3 million for the skins contest, is one of McIlroy’s corporate partners. Gerry McIlroy, his dad, is a member at Seminole. And John Pinkham, McIlroy’s partner in their pro-member victory there, was the one who first hatched the idea for a charity match in the first place, according to NBC’s on-air interview with club president Jimmy Dunne.
 
What’s more, McIlroy had the best one-liners, explaining that he’d won two FedExCups (for a cool $25 million) and wasn’t going to be unnerved by a short par putt at the first hole. After Wolff blew his tee shot into the dunes at the second, McIlroy casually thanked him for social distancing. And while Fowler also has won the Seminole pro-member, it was McIlroy who utilized his course knowledge to intentionally hit his drive at the sixth hole onto the fourth tee on the way to making his first birdie.
 
True, Fowler had more birdies, 7-4. True, Wolff had cooler (rainbow) shoes and a righteous ’stache. But no one came up bigger in the biggest moment than McIlroy, which was just one more reason among many that for an afternoon, at least, all seemed normal and right with professional golf.
 

 

Golf in the age of social distancing

By Ben Everill
 
Admit it. When Rory McIlroy touched his face a few times, you noticed it. This once innocuous move that previously lived outside your field of consciousness is now part of the everyday norm for most of us.
 
And so with the PGA TOUR due back inside a month, the social distancing and health measures on display were one of my main curiosities when tuning in to the TaylorMade Driving Relief match. Just how might the new normal for golf play out?
 
While this was a special event with some special exceptions — like having a personal flag remover in Mark Russell, the PGA TOUR Vice President of Rules and Competitions — for the most part this star-studded quartet played under conditions the rest of us mere mortals must adhere to as golf courses across the world adjust to life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Seeing them carrying their own bags was cool ,and it was fitting to see Johnson throw his over one shoulder and saunter around like he was Robin Hood slinging arrows.
 
From the first tee, the combatants stood nicely spread out, doing their best to implement the minimum 6 feet of social distancing recommended by the CDC. With each aerial shot, we could see how the players, and those essential to the broadcast, continued to do so throughout.
 
Matthew Wolff and Rickie Fowler gave us an insight into celebration changes on the 11th hole. As Fowler dropped in a long birdie, the silence was deafening. Usually it would bring huge roars but without fans, clearly the dynamic changes.
 
So Wolff produced a celebration dance thrust for his friend. Fowler still waved to an imaginary crowd. “You hear all those cheers,” Fowler smiled at Wolff. “Yeah, I still hear them, they’re going crazy!” his partner answered before Fowler joked about going to press play on his speaker for a crowd sound effect.
 
With limited production staff, we were treated to players with microphones. The insight was incredible and if that one day becomes a new normal on TOUR, we’d all be cheering.
 
When McIlroy won $1.1 million for charity on the 19th hole closest-to-the-pin tiebreaker, he gave out a cheer, a fist pump and turned to celebrate with Johnson … only to realize a simulated air high five was his best option.
 
“Would have loved to give my partner a real high five, it was a team effort,” McIlroy admitted. “It would have been nice to give him one or a little hug or something, but obviously we can’t in these times.”
 
Still, it was clearly a fun day and with over $5 million raised for COVID-19 relief, the new normal was something Johnson can get on board with.
 
“It was fun and all for a good cause, so I really enjoyed being out here today,” he said. “This is how it is going to be for the most part when we come back. It was nice to get out here and kind of see what it will be like.”
 

Golf does its part to inspire

By Sean Martin
 
No offense to Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and the other legends of the game, but my 3-year-old son knew something was up. And I’m not sure he liked it.
 
The grainy footage was the first giveaway. As were the smaller clubs they used from the tee. “Is he hitting 3-wood?” my son asked as Jack Nicklaus teed off in a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match against Sam Snead.
 
I’m only 37, but that number felt like it grew exponentially when I had to explain to him that no, son, there used to be a day when the drivers were made out of wood. How would he know? His clubs already have graphite shafts.
 
So, whenever he’s seen golf on the television in a recent weeks, he’s always asked if I’m watching “old golf tournaments.”
 
On Sunday, the answer was finally no. TaylorMade Driving Relief started during nap time, but when he awoke, he quickly spotted his favorite player, Rory McIlroy.
 
“Is that Rory?!?!” he said excitedly. My wife once heard him announce himself as McIlroy while hitting shots in our backyard. “Now on the tee, Rory McIlroy,” she heard him say before he took a swing with his 7-iron. He’s a Matthew Wolff fan, as well. When he first saw Wolff, back in the 2018 NCAA Championship, he howled. This was back when he associated animals with their noises. Maybe one day he’ll think it’s cool that dad grew up at the same course as Wolff.
 
He loves the game. It’s one of the few things he watches on TV. But I was a bit surprised when he only watched one hole before heading outdoors to hit balls of his own.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he opted for the outdoors. But I thought he’d take more interest in the first live golf in months. But then he reminded me that the real purpose of golf isn’t to get us to sit on our couch.
 
It’s to inspire us. And golf did that today.
 

Seminole makes a splashy debut

By Jim McCabe
 
Much of what has been said in defense of allowing and encouraging golf in this pandemic was on display Sunday in the TaylorMade Driving Relief charity event. Four of the world’s best players demonstrated the game is conducive to social distancing, no one needed to hand off rake bunkers or flagsticks, and while the lack of crowd emotion made for a different feel, it didn’t dull the competition whatsoever.
 
Did watching Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson compete against Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in a team skins game quench our thirst for live golf? Not totally. Our tanks were that dry. But we were thrilled to have it back.
 
There were scores and numbers to report, of course – an improvised 120-yard shootout allowed McIlroy and Johnson to win the skins game, 11 to 7, and money count, $1.85 million to $1.15 million, and more than $5.5 million was raised for COVID-19 causes overall – and that lent an air of competition to the 18-hole match.
 
But in all due respect to the powerful drives and the snippets of elite athleticism shown by McIlroy, Johnson, Fowler and Wolff, the star of the show was the stage, Seminole Golf Club.
 
Prominently positioned in any mention of America’s great golf courses, Seminole is in many ways a mystery to those who aren’t members or those who’ve had the great privilege of an invitation. While it has hosted an annual pro-am for years that is jam-packed with PGA TOUR stars and is famously connected to the iconic Ben Hogan, Seminole is otherwise a blank canvas to many golf fans.
 
That’s because, before Sunday’s competition, the golf course had never been on television.
 
That, of course, cannot be said of Pebble Beach or Augusta National, of Shinnecock and Oakmont, of Riviera and Muirfield Village . . . iconic courses, yes, but all of them have had their share of TV time through the years. Cypress Point and Pine Valley are vaunted courses less known than the above, but even they have had more TV exposure than Seminole.
 
Among the many appeals that sets golf apart from other sports is that the stage needs to be mentioned prominently. For the same reason famed violinist Isaac Stern pointed out a standard in his world: “Everywhere in the world music enhances a hall with one exception: Carnegie Hall enhances the music.”
 
This isn’t to suggest that Seminole is to golf what Carnegie Hall is to musicians. But it is to suggest that if you didn’t come away enamored with, or intrigued by, Seminole, then we’ll have to agree to disagree. With a brilliant blue sky, pulsating sunshine, marvelous palm trees (planted with social distancing in mind), breathtaking vistas, and a set of greens that demand everything of your iron play, it was Seminole in all its glory.
 

 

A little bit rusty, a lot of fun

By Mike McAllister
 
I don’t care if they were rusty. Don’t care if all four players failed to make a birdie on the first two holes despite eight approach shots with wedges (those dang Donald Ross domed greens!). Don’t care if Matthew Wolff and Dustin Johnson seemed to take turns off the tee finding the sandy waste areas or the water. As Rory chided Wolff after an early errant drive, “Thanks for doing your part for social distancing.”
 
The only thing that mattered was that live golf was back, the first time in 66 days when THE PLAYERS Championship was shut down after the first round. Instead of having to cancel or postpone another tournament, this time the news was good, even if the golf wasn’t exactly crisp at historic Seminole for the TaylorMade Driving Relief match. Really, what did we expect? Johnson said he put the clubs away for nearly two months. No wonder he uttered the phrases “bad swing” and “that’s bad” during the telecast.
 
Still, there were enough highlights.
 
• Wolff ripping drives of 356 and 368 yards to win $450,000 for charity on the two longest-drive holes; remember, his competition
included two guys who basically cornered the market in Strokes Gained: Off-the-tee the last 10 years.
 
• Fowler heating up with birdies to win skins on three of four holes in the middle of the round. Certainly he’s very familiar with
Seminole, having won the Pro-Member three consecutive times.
 
• And McIlroy with the clutch shot of the day to win $1.1 million and the final six skins on a closest-to-the-pin contest from 120
yards on the extra hole, the par-3 17th. It came after Wolff teed off first, challenged by his partner Fowler. “Gotta hit a shot,”
Fowler told him. “Just being honest. Rise to the occasion. Show me something.”

 
Wolff did show something by finding the green; Fowler, alas, followed by missing it. Johnson also missed the green, setting up McIlroy — described earlier in the telecast by Bill Murray as “The Irish Fellow” — with one swing for $1.1 million. He made it count.
 
It was the world’s best golfer coming through in the clutch. After the past 66 days, that’s exactly what we needed to see. We needed to see live golf played by the world’s best players, a small indication of hope that things will get better.
 
“It has been awesome,” McIlroy said. “Nice to get back on the golf course and to get back to some normalcy.”
 

 
 
This article originally appeared on PGATour.com.

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