DUBLIN, Ohio — For the 48th time, the Memorial Tournament will tee off at 7 a.m. local time Thursday, but for the first time it’ll tee off as a PGA Tour ‘designated’ event, in which the winner will earn $3.6 million — nearly $1 million more than a year ago.
This year’s field includes seven of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and eight of the top 10 in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup points standings.
“We’re a designated event this year and we expect to be going forward,” Memorial Executive Tournament Director Dan Sullivan said at a May 9 media availability at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
“We have been and continue to work with the TOUR with how that is defined. Nothing’s been ultimately decided yet but it will be soon after the tournament. We’ll have an opportunity to ensure the Memorial has every attribute needed to be successful.
“Professional golf is in a really interesting place today and it has been playing out over the last 18 months to two years. It’s changed the way professional golf at least in the United States is recognized. For the Memorial Tournament it’s a really good thing. All of the assets, benefits and attributes created by Jack and Barbara Nicklaus from 48 years ago are coming true today.
“We are still at the top of the game with a world-class field.”
After last year, the first in which Muirfield Village was opened up since both the pandemic and Jack Nicklaus oversaw the latest renovation of the course, this year will be a full go, with increased support, ticket and corporate sales.
Sullivan believes the response from last year was a tremendous one and the weather managed to hold off during the day, something which can certainly not be said for many previous events.
Still, Director of Grounds Chad Mark admits that there has been a lot to learn over the last few years, after the renovation.
In Mark’s opinion, 2021 was more about “survival,” whereas 2022 was closer to what was done in the past, though he admits the course maybe peaked early last year.
“I think we had some comments early in the week that the greens were too firm and too fast,” stated Mark. “We eliminated a spring aerification last year to try and keep greens firmer for the tournament because firmness seems to be what gets these guys.
“We learned a lot about our golf course from an agronomics standpoint as we went through last summer and I feel our staff is in the best position they have been since we came out of the renovation to perform for the Memorial. The components are different but we’re there now.”
Mark stated that, after some nervous times with early-May rain and 40-degree temperatures, the turf was growing a lot more lately and things were coming along well. It is his aim to top the rough out at four inches.
Last year, Billy Horschel led Aaron Wise by five shots heading into the final round and all he wanted was for Sunday to be over so his wife Brittany and children Skylar, Colbie and Axel could celebrate with him, as the quartet were all together watching in person for the first time.
As Horschel walked to the 15th green, he faced a 52-foot putt with several feet of break, and all he did was bury it for an eagle 3.
Though Horschel made some errors leading up to that 15th hole, that eagle, his first in 576 lifetime holes played in the event, he knew the tournament effectively ended with that make.
“I was very calm, I watched the coverage again a couple of times but I was calm as could be, at peace with everything,” he recalled. “I knew I was playing well and had a couple of shots that didn’t turn out how I wanted but I was never panicking. The ball was still in my court and I knew it was going to turn my way and get back on track.
“I just wanted to get to 18 as quick as I could because I wanted my family to run out on the green, a special moment I’ve never had before.”
The victory last year was his seventh on the PGA Tour, though he has been working to regain his swing, something he said has been coming along. After taking three weeks off, he missed the cut at the PGA Championship and tied for 40th place at the Charles Schwab Challenge.
Horschel has three top-10 finishes this season.
“Anytime you’re a defending champion of a tournament, you’re excited to come back to a place that you had success at,” said Horschel. “It doesn’t happen often in the game of golf. We’re not Tiger Woods where we’ve won 80-plus times in our career and we’re defending what seems like every other week.
“When you do have that opportunity to win that tournament and come back next year, it’s a special moment and you try to soak it all in.”
Si Woo Kim
Honorable mention: Sahith Theegala
Guest picker: Moon Golf Club general manager Josh DeNinno
Xander Schauffle: After his driver adjustments, looking for the frequent Top 10-er to come out on top in the loaded field.
Patrick Cantlay: How can you not pick him at this golf course? He’s absolutely lights out, already won twice, top five four times. Jack’s course has been tweaked since the last time he won, but he’s certainly going to be right there.
Scottie Scheffler: Because I have to, right? He remains on fire and but he’s as cool as a cucumber which is going to be needed on what I’m expecting to be lightning greens from the dry weather.
Long shot — Billy Horschel: Can he repeat? Not likely the way he’s playing but Billy’s done some surprising things in his career so maybe he does defend that title.
Julia Wingard attended the Memorial Tournament media day and was along to take some photos, mostly of this author making an absolute fool out of himself on the course. Here are a few select images from the day.
On Wednesday afternoon, Larry Nelson will be honored as this year’s Memorial Tournament honoree.
“Larry Nelson is an incredible story. He didn’t play golf until he was 19 or 20 years old,” Sullivan said. “He was enlisted in Vietnam and didn’t play golf until he was married. He goes from never playing, to three years (later) becoming a pro and winning three major championships. That’s incredible.
“To do it the way he did it and be so humble and be gracious with how he won and conducts his life is truly amazing. He’s not known because he doesn’t have that dynamic personality and didn’t grow up in the game. Players didn’t know who he was, but they found out quickly.”