Dell Technologies Championship: First Round Thoughts

Gallery preference and a surprise contender mark the first day of play

At TPC Boston in Norwood, Massachusetts, the second leg of the FedEx Cup Playoff is underway.

Dustin Johnson is the leader after one day at -5.  Four people are just behind him at -4, including Sergio Garcia.  The field is loaded once again, with over a quarter of the 100 golfers within four shots of the lead so early in the tournament.

Luke List has zero career PGA Tour victories, five top ten finishes, and none of those ten in any of golf’s most visible tournaments.  Like many of the people who fill out the Tour, List is proof positive that with enough work and a little bit of being in the right place at the right time, people are often rewarded.  List does not lead the Dell Technologies Championship after Friday’s first round, but his 68 was good for -3 and a shot at potentially breaking through at the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

A native of Seattle, List was on the Nationwide Tour until 2016, laboring hard to make the big Tour behind his big driver, still one of the longest off the tee of anyone out there.  His performances, however, were unreliable, and he couldn’t put together the kind of season he needed in order to move up in the golf world.  In 2012, he earned his PGA Tour card after finishing fourth on the Nationwide Tour money list, as well as winning his first and as yet only tournament.  He was sent back down the very next year, failing to retain the card.

2017 has been a career year for List already, and he’s extremely likely to return for next season.  Three of those five top ten finishes came this season, including a third place at the Shell Houston Open and a second place finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship.  Moreover, he’s still in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and seems to be in good position to continue on past TPC Boston.

To get to -3, List had a wild round.  He started on the back nine, and immediately opened with three bogeys.  Four holes later, he was under par after birdies four times in a row.  He finished that nine at -2, then started trading off between bogeys and birdies on the other side.  In all, List bogeyed five different holes and birdied eight, leaving just five holes where he scored a par.  That is an uncommon round for players of all levels, and has List in fair position.  “Yeah, one par is usually never a good sign” said List, “but when you throw in five birdies, you’re going to be okay.”  Like Johnson and Fowler yesterday, List suggested par would be a good score on the revamped 12th.  He did not get that score Friday.

List’s post-round comments had an important lesson in them for golfers everywhere:  “My attitude’s been a lot better.  That’s something for me that I always fight.”  Those of us who will likely never go -3 on any course, much less a championship track like this, can certainly understand that.  Golf is a game of frustration, and managing that frustration is one of the most important parts of playing well.  This is as true on the highest level as it is for the guy who has lost a club this year to their own anger.

Thirty golfers qualify for the final leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs at the Tour Championship.  List, who came into the tournament 52nd in the standings, would be poised to move up in a big way if he can build off his strong start on the edge of the Great Woods of Norton, moving on not just to the next tournament but potentially all the way until the end of the season.

TPC Boston’s fourth hole can be an eagle opportunity in the right wind. (Tim Williams/Sports Talk Florida)

The crowd plays favorites at golf tournaments, being able to follow individuals throughout the course rather than staying in the same place all the time.  This can be an interesting learning experience, finding out if golfers’ popularity and talent match, or if there’s one person outside of contention that the crowd loves.

During the morning session on Friday, the crowd was with the group of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Thomas.  The top three players in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, as well as three phenomenal golfing talents, are sure to draw a larger gallery than most.  Of the early tee times, their group had a larger crowd than any other two.

Johnson, Spieth, and Thomas were not the largest crowd of the day, however.  Two time champion Rory McIlroy drew a sizable contingent to rival the three players at the top of the standings, and Sergio Garcia fresh off his redemption at Augusta had a group that was willing to make some noise on his behalf.

All of these guys, however, paled in comparison to Phil Mickelson, who seemed to have a percentage of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts following his every shot.  If Phil didn’t have the largest crowd—and from my view it seemed like he did by a wide margin—he certainly had the most active contingent.  When he began to approach the 16th green a woman yelled “We love you, Phil!”  There was no room around that hole when Phil’s group went there.  The course’s signature hole was packed in a way they can only top in Phoenix, and it’s only the first round.

Kids follow almost every group and hope for autographs.  The kids following Phil were organized.  I saw three who got to the green before the group.  When they all stood on the same side of the roped-off area where players walk between holes, one urged the others to go to the other side, so that they had a better chance of catching him.  These are kids whose phones were equipped with a device made for hanging them off of ropes.  I would call them pros if there weren’t such a thing, sadly, as professional autograph-seekers.

Mickelson was the guy people came to see, more than anyone else out there on Friday.  Lefty has always been a fan favorite, but now at 47 I had been wondering if a season near the middle of the FedEx Cup standings might damper people’s enthusiasm.  If anything, the opposite was true.  With Phil Mickelson approaching his athletic Best-By Date, people are bringing the family to make sure they all got to see Phil at least this once.

Phil heated up on his second nine, finishing at -2 and putting himself in a good position in the tournament.  With a three day weekend ahead, expect his following to only grow and get louder.

Photo: AP Photo/Christian Palma

Last week’s champion at the Northern Trust, Dustin Johnson picked up right where he left off.  Johnson birdied his first hole of the tournament—the par 4 tenth—and never looked back, en route to a -5 66 that made him the leader in the clubhouse at the time he walked off the golf course.

Jordan Spieth, part of the same group as Johnson, struggled on that same tenth hole, carding a bogey and struggling to a +3 score after nine holes.  His swing came back together on his second nine, and he could have been under par for the day had he made a couple of short birdie putts.  Still, he managed to finish +1 and salvage his round.

Justin Thomas, who filled out Johnson and Spieth’s group, put together a steady round at even par.  He birdied the fourth, but bogeyed the fifth, and had nice and predictable pars the rest of the way to finish with a 71.

An important update:  The PGA Tour itself, as well as a number of golfers playing this weekend, have pledged to donated or have already donated money in the name of relief for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.  Of course there would be a relief effort had this hurricane landed anywhere, but Texas and the Houston area are a part of the PGA Tour in a big way, so it was only a matter of time before people began to offer their help.

The Tour, as well as Dell Technologies, have donated $250,000 to the American Red Cross.  Chris Stroud, a Houston resident, pledged 10,000.  Jhonattan Vegas has put in $25,000 to JJ Watt’s crowdfunding campaign.  Bryson DeChambeau announced after today’s round that he’s going to put $250 up for every birdie, and $500 for every eagle, that he cards in this tournament.  Athletes from all over are contributing to the relief fund, and this list is by no means comprehensive for golf.  Sergio Garcia and his wife have pledged $2,000 for every birdie and $5,000 for every eagle.  Phil Mickelson announced yesterday that he’s offering $100,000.  There have been more than I’ve mentioned, and there will likely be more on top of that as the weekend goes on.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.