‘It’s pretty motivating to be out there’
The TOUR’s two stops in Las Vegas showcase a town that’s become popular with the pros
October 05, 2020
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- Collin Morikawa and several other pros call Las Vegas home. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Not until now has that old chestnut meant back-to-back PGA TOUR events. This week it’s the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin, where past Shriners champ Bryson DeChambeau will be the headliner as Vegas resident Kevin Na defends on home turf. Next week, due to some rejiggering amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK – yep, also in Las Vegas.
Although the double-header recalls the back-to-back tournaments at Ohio’s Muirfield Village last July, it is unusual. It’s also fitting, given Vegas’ popularity among TOUR pros as a place to set down roots. Great weather, courses, airports, and no state income tax – what’s not to like? Xander Schauffele says he’ll likely be moving there. Collin Morikawa already calls it home, as do Maverick McNealy, Na, and several other world-class players.
“My coach Butch Harmon is out there in Henderson (a 20-minute drive south),” says McNealy, who finished a career-best 68th in the FedExCup last season. “And there's actually an incredible amount of young players that are out there now. They're calling it the Jupiter of the West – lots of PGA TOUR, LPGA, Korn Ferry, Canada, Latin America, high school players, college players.
“It's pretty motivating to be out there,” McNealy adds. “Everybody is working hard, and I know there's a lot of people out there trying to get my job, too.”
Las Vegas is where Tiger Woods notched the first of his 82 (and counting) TOUR wins in 1996, beating Davis Love III in a playoff. It’s where Chip Beck shot 13-under 59 at the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational at Sunrise Golf Club. It’s the home of UNLV, which has helped hone the skills of future TOUR pros like Adam Scott, Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore. And, yes, it’s the home base for Harmon, who advised seemingly every No. 1 player for some 30-odd years.
No, Vegas isn’t the center of the golf universe, but it’s certainly a major planet.
“Yeah, who knows what's in that Vegas water out there,” says Morikawa, who grew up in Southern California and played collegiately for Cal. “I'll keep drinking it.”
If you can imagine each victory for Vegas as one of those geysers that goes off periodically at the Bellagio, then last summer was geyser-palooza. It was hard to pick a favorite. Morikawa won the Workday Charity Open in a wild playoff against Justin Thomas at Muirfield Village. Danielle Kang, who dates McNealy, won the LPGA’s first two events back after a break of four-plus months, and finished T5 in a bid for three straight.
“That’s Tiger-esque stuff,” Morikawa says.
Then it was Morikawa again, driving the 16th green and winning the PGA Championship at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park to cement his status as the game’s hottest new talent. That was pretty Tiger-esque in its own right. But wait! Lost amid the excitement, almost, was fellow Las Vegan David Lipsky’s win at the Korn Ferry Tour’s TPC San Antonio Challenge at the Canyons, July 9-12, the same weekend Morikawa was holding off Thomas at the Workday.
“We were texting Saturday night,” Morikawa says, “telling each other, ‘Finish this off, let's not screw anything up and do anything stupid.’ That was pretty cool.
“But I think for us as professional golfers,” Morikawa continues, “and what a lot of amateurs don't realize, is where we move and why we move to certain places is to have these games and to compete against other players because that's what keeps us going … to keep things sharp.”
Schauffele, who grew up in San Diego, where he played for San Diego State University and still resides, is leaning toward buying a house in Vegas for more personal reasons. He considered Florida, Texas (Dallas) and Arizona (Scottsdale), but Vegas is just a one-hour flight from San Diego. His girlfriend’s parents live there. And the lack of state income tax doesn’t hurt.
He is, he says, “strongly considering” a move in the not-too-distant future.
California Bay Area transplant McNealy could head up the Chamber of Commerce; so smitten is he with his adopted home, he’s like a human version of the famous sign:
Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.
“There's two TPCs, TPC Summerlin and TPC Las Vegas,” McNealy says, ticking off the benefits of this glitzy desert destination. “TPC Summerlin hosts the Shriners event every fall. Just an incredible staff and fantastic host for all the professional golfers out in Vegas.
“The weather is good but not too good,” he adds, “which is important, because we know what it's like to play in heat, cold, wind, and just about every day is playable but it doesn't mean it's always easy.”
Whom does he call for a game when he’s home? Fellow Stanford product Joseph Bramlett, who happens to be his roommate? Morikawa?
“All of the above,” he says. “There's always a game out at TPC Summerlin. The people I see out there most are Alex and Danielle Kang, John Oda, Shintaro Ban, Aaron Wise is out there a bunch, even Scott Piercy, Ryan Moore, Kevin Na. There's so many guys. Inbee Park is out there.
“Lots of great players, and a lot of people to try and win 10 or 20 bucks off of.”
With a rare two-week homestand at the Shriners and CJ CUP, McNealy and company will be playing for a lot more than that, and, pocket aces, they’ll be sleeping in their own beds.
Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada, indeed.