Why Rory’s ‘cutthroat’ comments carry more weight on weeks like this

Mark McGowan

J.B. Holmes (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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It’s now two weeks since Rory McIlroy’s assertion that the PGA Tour needed to become more “cutthroat”, and while the two intervening tournaments have delivered in a way that most of the preceding 2024 PGA Tour events have failed to, this is the first week where there is any real weight to his proposal.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational is a big event, and the Players Championship is the biggest. Save for a couple of sponsors invitations at Bay Hill – Shane Lowry was one of these and more than merited his invite by finishing third – these events had all of the PGA Tour’s stars and even at the 144-man field showpiece event at TPC Sawgrass, each and every one of those who teed it up had earned their right to play.

At the Valspar Championship? Not so much. A quick browse through the field, even for somebody who works in golf, throws up a lot of names that prompt a good deal of head scratching. None more so than one J.B. Holmes.

At his peak, Holmes was a great golfer, a two-time Ryder Cup player, a five-time PGA Tour winner and has top-five finishes in both the Masters and the Open Championship. But that was a long time ago. His last win came at the 2019 Genesis Open, and after sitting out 2022 through injury, he’s played in 15 PGA Tour events, missing the cut 13 times, with a best finish of T67.

If you’re looking for a reason why the PGA Tour needs to be more cutthroat, then look no further. The reason Holmes still has a PGA Tour card is that win at the Genesis Open back in 2019, which earned him an exemption through 2021, which was then further extended to 2022 because the pandemic rendered the 2020 season virtually null-and-void from a promotion/relegation standpoint. He played 19 events in the 2021 season, finishing 210th in the FedEx Cup rankings, but because he sat 2022 out, here he is playing in 2024 on a ‘Major Medical’ extension.

So a win five years ago, with 30 missed cuts and four ‘WDs’ in the 51 events he’s played since – and four of those where he saw weekend action were ‘no cut’ events – means he’s still a PGA Tour player. This is also a player whose only recent headlines came almost a year ago when he played under the name ‘John Bradley’ – what the initials J.B. stand for – in an amateur scramble with some friends and were subsequently disqualified when it turned out that John Bradley was in fact PGA Tour member J.B. Holmes.

To be fair to Holmes, it was a friend who’d entered him as ‘John Bradley’, and he may have been a little unfairly dragged through the mud as a result, but still, that that’s the only reason he’s been relevant in five years speaks volumes.

Medical issues are no joke, and any player that gets injured and is unable to compete at the peak of their ability has my sympathy, but that’s sport. Injuries happen, and athletes are often never the same afterwards. If you’re good enough to make your way back to the upper echelons of your profession, then you’ll do so. If not, then there is no shortage of accomplished replacements, players whose recent performances far outweigh those of the player in question, who are ready to step in and fill the void.

Is that fair? Probably not, but again, that’s elite level sport. It’s not supposed to be fair. Competitive sport should be a cutthroat business. That’s why it’s competitive.

‘Cutthroat’ is should be, but ‘cutthroat’ it’s not.

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