To: Kevin Van Valkenburg

From: Phil Landes (aka Randy)


Good tidings, sir! I’m writing you today in a sort of shock. I find myself more enthused about the game of professional golf than I have felt in quite some time, which you know for an old skeptic such as myself is no small statement. What we’ve witnessed Scottie Scheffler and Nelly Korda accomplish, respectively, on the golf course over the last month-plus has been simply incredible, and quite honestly, not something I was sure was even possible in this post-Tiger, post-Annika era of optimization and modern technology. But here we are! We’ve watched two young, American stars clearly, emphatically, separate themselves from their peers. And it has stirred something in me, damnit. I have thoughts I need to share, and several questions for you.

Let’s start here–I can’t get over the parallels running between what Scottie and Nelly are doing. Nelly has won her last five starts, Scottie four of his last five starts (the one non-win resulting in a runner-up). Within their runs, both have captured their second major championship. Their games are similar too— both are supreme ball-strikers, elite around the green, and emerging from public (and painful at times) putting struggles. Personality-wise, both come across as reluctant superstars, not necessarily seeking or relishing the spotlight in which their games have thrust them. But both also seem to be extremely comfortable in their own skin, having built-up support systems of friends, family and coaches to help them block out the noise and concentrate on the one thing each desperately loves: winning golf tournaments. Can you remember two athletes within the same sport, on opposite sides of the gender divide, with so many similarities intertwining in real-time? It’s amazing.

I also want to get your thoughts on what a second major championship portends for both Scottie and Nelly. It feels like more often than not once that second major hits—we saw it with Tiger, we saw it with Inbee Park—the generationally great golfers win more majors quite quickly. So how fun is it that Scottie and Nelly have reached the entryway to generational greatness, and we, as fans, get to see if they’ll burst through or not? If they’re meant to, the next couple of years are going to be a hell of a lot of fun.

Kevin, I wonder: Is it okay to allow myself to feel giddy as a golf fan right now? Or am I setting myself up for disappointment? Is there anything more fulfilling as a fan, though, at least when it comes to individual sports, than witnessing the minting of the next legend of the game? Can you imagine if we get two at the same time?! I don’t know, KVV, spring is in the air, flowers are blooming, and I’m carrying on like a sappy romantic. That’s what these two have done to me. What have they done to you?



Large Randall,

Seeing your big, cynical heart melt like a spring glacier brings me — a hopeless sports romantic — no small amount of joy.

You’re right, there is something energizing about watching a star athlete leave the atmosphere in real-time. Somehow, we’re lucky enough to witness two people do it at the same time. The second major always feels a bit like validating a skin. A lot of professional golfers can flash their way into ONE big win, on a week where everything clicks and the stars align. But a second major carries so much more significance. It’s proof that you are part of the game’s history. It also reminds me a little of this Steve Martin quote that I love, about the craft of standup:

It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical: Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.

I think that taps into what I love about watching Scottie and Nelly in this current moment. They seem to have embraced the idea that volatility would be easy, and it suits their personalities more to reject complacency and say “I don’t have my best, but the hell with it, I’m winning anyway with what I’ve got today.” That’s the special sauce when it comes to the molding of an all-time great, and I think that’s why this feels different (at least to me) than when Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka won a handful of majors. Inbee Park’s major run in 2013, where she won three straight and six majors in a three year stretch might actually be the bar that both Scheffler and Korda are chasing.

I think disappointment is inevitable, but you also have to leave room for what’s possible. That, to me, is the actual fun part of being a fan. I’ve always disliked the kind of fans who are so married to negativity, and the idea that nothing in the present can ever live up to how good someone was in the past, they refuse to enjoy what was right in front of their face.

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are good examples of this phenomenon. There are certain fans who are so invested in Michael Jordan’s legacy that they spent the entirety of Kobe’s and LeBron’s careers arguing until their last breath that they’ll never measure up to their Basketball God. And it’s not that I disagree as much as I just don’t care. Wouldn’t it just be nice to enjoy what we’re watching without being mad, like we have to defend a maiden’s honor? What is this, feudal England? I just want to watch sports and be entertained, man. I don’t want to be an online knight taking up arms on behalf of Michael Jordan’s legacy.

That said, you’re about to see a lot of this unfold with Scheffler as it relates to Tiger Woods. If he wins the PGA Championship next month, it will be the victory that launches 1000 takes, many of them insisting that a Scottie Slam could never live up to the Tiger Slam for reasons X, Y, Z. There will also be a lot of people who refuse to enjoy it for made up reasons like “Scottie is boring” which is very funny to me as someone who lived through Tiger’s prime and watched him treat even the most banal interview obligations like a deposition.

Here is a question I want to volley back to you: Is one of Nelly’s and Scottie’s superpowers the fact that neither of them appear to be (for lack of a better term) extremely online? I’m so impressed (and envious) of the way they’ve essentially decided that golf is all that matters to them, and all the branding and discourse is kind of pointless. They will answer questions, fulfill their sponsor obligations, and occasionally hop onto a podcast (which we are grateful for) but for the most part, they are just interested in playing golf. Scheffler doesn’t even have a Twitter account, which rules. (If Elon cared about golf, I bet that would enrage him. He would just create a Fake Scottie and slap a blue checkmark on it.) I find them to be old souls in a way that’s refreshing, and wonder if some of their peers might benefit from unplugging.

Speaking of peers, do either of them need rivals to make this year interesting?




Our friends at The Athletic have a piece with more fun tidbits about Scottie and Nelly, if you didn’t see it yet. A particular nugget I really enjoyed, courtesy of Justin Ray, is the only other time we’ve seen World Number Ones win majors in back-to-back weeks was in 2007 when Tiger and Lorena Ochoa pulled off the feat. Not bad company to keep there.

Anyway, thank you for that Steve Martin quote! I had not seen or heard it, but he captures the banality of greatness perfectly. And it’s funny you brought up Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, because those two have been on my mind a lot lately thinking about the lineage of greatness. Roland Lazenby, in his book, “Michael Jordan: The Life,” said Michael only ever blessed Kobe as a comparison to himself–”he (Michael) said Kobe had done that work to deserve the comparison. He says Kobe’s the only one to have done the work.” I can’t help but wonder if Scottie and/or Nelly are truly worthy of comparison to a Tiger or Annika. It’s one thing to compare results, as we are doing, but the only thing that matters is the work, right? And maybe only Tiger or Annika can tell us who is worthy if anybody is worthy. I’ll tell you what, that each is unconcerned with social media, and the trappings of our online culture, only bodes well in my book that they at least have a chance to ultimately prove worthy comps.

You know, your thoughts on letting personal allegiances blind us to greatness really hit home. As the hardest of hardcore Mickelson fans, I didn’t truly appreciate Tiger’s greatness as it was happening. I never derived an ounce of happiness or satisfaction from it, and while that’s a shame on a certain level, I believe allegiances and rivalries and staking yourself to a side, is really what makes being a fan so much damn fun. So I hear you on the Jordan v Kobe v LeBron arguments and how people will blind themselves from appreciating what’s before them, but I can’t quit those people. Is there anything better than having a drink and passionately debating who is better than whom? I don’t think so. If Scheffler wins the PGA and Nelly gets it done in the USWO, bring on the debates! Let’s hear the hot takes! God knows that’ll be more enjoyable than figuring out where the next source of investment in PGA Tour Enterprises is coming from!

And that brings me to your question on the need for rivals to push Scottie and Nelly this year. We certainly don’t have to have ‘em this year–go out and stack majors you crazy kids–but we’re absolutely going to need them eventually. I mean, come on, rivalries are fun as hell. If work ethic provides the path to greatness, rivals are the weigh stations along the way. I realize golf isn’t as conducive to rivalries as other sports, but I think we’re due a couple, no? And I guess the natural question for you, Kevin, is who would make the best, most interesting foils for Scottie and Nelly?




Before I throw out some fantasy scenarios, can we agree that golf rivalries in general are weirdly unsatisfying?

People loved to claim that Tiger and Phil were rivals (and as huge Mickelson fans during his prime, I think you and I both wanted to believe they were) but how many times did they truly duel when it mattered? I believe the 2001 Masters is the only time they were paired together in the final round of a major where one of them emerged as the winner. I could point to a couple of majors, like the 2010 Masters or 2013 Open, where Phil left Tiger in the dust, but it never felt like they had their Duel in the Sun moment, where everyone else was playing for third place.

I remember writing a piece for ESPN that threw a little cold water on the idea of a Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth rivalry in 2015, suggesting it would never feel like Magic and Bird because the game was too deep, and they wouldn’t face each other often enough for it to feel meaningful. Little did I realize they would win one major between the two of them over the next decade, making any rivalry talk meaningless.

The rare times that golf does give us a clear rivalry that’s compelling, it usually has something to do with a difference in age, nationality or personality. So in the case of Scheffler, we need someone who can serve as a stark contrast to his humility and politeness. We need someone cocky and brash, someone who doesn’t play it safe and likes to pop off to the media. Does that character exist? I think the ideal scenario would be a mixture of Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm, particularly since the LIV vs. PGA Tour divide would help fuel some of the tension there. Bryson is showing some promise, but it’s hard to tell sometimes if he wants to chase social media fame or majors.

I suspect Rahm is already annoyed that Scheffler has been anointed as the heir to Tiger because just a year ago, it felt like he was that guy. Hopefully, that provides the motivation needed to get back to Scheffler’s level because, just being blunt, his Masters title defense was incredibly soft. I hope he shakes off the malaise in time for the PGA Championship.

Finding a rival for Nelly might be a harder question. Lilia Vu has the game, and the same number of majors, but what if her back injury lingers throughout the year? They’re both such polite, soft-spoken women, they don’t offer much of a contrast in terms of personality. I do like that they each represent their own aspect of the American dream: first-generation Americans with the broad worldview that comes from your parents growing up somewhere else. Lilia seems unafraid of the big moment, which bodes well for her as soon as she gets healthy. Nelly is going to intimidate a lot of players with her length and steely demeanor, but I doubt Lilia will be one of them.

In summary, Randy, we have an embarrassment of riches in the game right now. Even if Scottie’s and Nelly’s rivals don’t emerge, their pursuit of greatness might be all the framing that we need. It’s not so much that I believe Scottie can catch Tiger (or Jack), or that I believe Nelly can run down Annika Sörenstam, it’s that I love the idea of watching two athletes who are burning with the motivation to try.

I know plenty of people will still long for something that’s already come and gone. I don’t want to take that from them. Tiger and Annika were a lot of fun. But I’m like you, I didn’t appreciate it enough as it was happening. I’m not making the same mistake if one — or both of them — offers us a second chance.