2022 SEASON IN REVIEW: NIBLICKS GC
Written by MIKE McALLISTER
This 2022 review of Niblicks GC is part of a series of stories looking back at each of the 12 teams during the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational season.
The Niblicks GC season can be judged by this single moment: When Smash GC captain Brooks Koepka had his choice of seven other teams to play in the quarterfinals of the Team Championship in Miami, he didn't hesitate in choosing the Niblicks. It's likely the other captains would've made the same decision.
The Niblicks ranked last in points and never finished in the money during the regular season. Meanwhile, the roster was in disarray for the first half, with three different captains in the first four events. The lineup was finally sorted out with the arrival of non-playing captain Bubba Watson and his good friend Harold Varner, but the club still struggled for good results. The team's best week in Bangkok came after consecutive last-place finishes, and was followed by a next-to-last place in Jeddah and a quick exit in Miami.
Perhaps the best news is that Watson is on track to resume playing in 2023; it can't hurt to add a two-time Masters champ and one of golf's most unique talents to the lineup. Should be fun to see what else the Niblicks have in store for next year as they try to avoid being the team everybody else wants to play.
Graeme McDowell began the season as captain; he drafted Bernd Wiesberger, Oliver Fisher and Turk Pettit for the inaugural event in London. For the next event in Portland, McDowell remained captain but had a completely different lineup with James Piot, Hudson Swafford and Travis Smyth. McDowell then transferred to Cleeks GC to play for Martin Kaymer. Swafford was elevated to captain for Bedminster, whle Piot remained on the team, Pettit rejoined the team and Peter Uihlein was added to the roster. It wasn't until Boston that the lineup was finally solidified, as Bubba Watson joined LIV Golf and became the non-playing captain (and on-course broadcaster) while recovering from knee surgery. Harold Varner III also joined LIV in Boston, becoming the ninth different player for Niblicks as he replaced Uihlein. The Varner-Swafford-Piot-Pettit lineup stayed intact for the rest of the season.
Niblicks GC starts
TEAM: Round 2 in Bangkok was the best single-round performance the Niblicks produced as a team. With James Piot's 65, Harold Varner's 66 and Turk Pettit's 68, the three counting scores were a cumulative 17 under that Saturday at Stonehill. The only team with a lower total score was Fireballs GC at 20 under. After two rounds, Niblicks were solo second (-27) to Fireballs (-30), the club's best position after any round this season. Alas, with a chance to finish in the money, Niblicks came up one shot short of tying Cleeks GC for third place, shooting the fourth highest total (-9) in the final round to fall back to fifth place.
INDIVIDUAL: Harold Varner's 4&3 singles match win over Smash GC captain Brooks Koepka in the quarterfinals of the Team Championship was among the best single-day performances by any player on any team this season. Koepka had all the momentum, having won the individual title in the final regular season event in Jeddah. But Varner produced seven birdies in his first 10 holes on a tough Trump National Doral to cruise to victory. Koepka didn't play poorly; Varner just played light's out. "I think I would have beat a lot of people," Varner said afterwards. "It was good. You've just got to take care of what you can take care of. It just sucks we didn't make it as a team. I don't really have much to say because winning isn't winning if you're going home."
HAROLD VARNER. Brought on at the same time as non-playing captain Bubba Watson, Varner made an impact both inside the ropes and inside the team room. He produced one of the Niblicks' three individual top-10 finishes during the regular season (7th in Bangkok), carded a team-best scoring average after his arrival, counted in each of the 12 rounds he played in the regular season, then produced the team's lone match win at the Team Championship. Just as important, he gave the team a veteran leadership presence alongside Watson, while also providing a fun-loving swagger.
Others considered: James Piot, who turned professional in May to join LIV Golf, had the highest finish of any Niblicks player in the Individual Champion standings at 30th, and he also had the best finish in any single tournament (5th in Bangkok).
Regular Season Counting Scores
LONDON (+8), 8th place
Rd. 1: Fisher 73, McDowell 74
Rd. 2: McDowell 71, Wiesberger 72
Rd. 3: McDowell 66, Pettit 70, Fisher 72
PORTLAND (-2), 7th place
Rd. 1: Piot 73, Swafford 74
Rd. 2: McDowell 71, Smyth 71
Rd. 3: Piot 69, Swafford 71, McDowell 73
BEDMINSTER (-4), 7th place
Rd. 1: Uihlein 70, Pettit 71
Rd. 2: Pettit 67, Piot 73
Rd. 3: Swafford 70, Piot 71, Pettit 71
BOSTON (-2), 12th place
Rd. 1: Varner 67, Swafford 69
Rd. 2: Piot 69, Varner 70
Rd. 3: Varner 70, Swafford 71, Pettit 72
CHICAGO (-1), 12th place
Rd. 1: Varner 70, Swafford 73
Rd. 2: Piot 70, Varner 72
Rd. 3: Varner 72, Piot 72, Pettit 74
BANGKOK (-36), 5th place
Rd. 1: Varner 67, Piot 69, Swafford 70
Rd. 2: Piot 65, Varner 66, Pettit 68
Rd. 3: Piot 68, Varner 69, Pettit 70
JEDDAH (-12), 11th place
Rd. 1: Piot 66, Pettit 66, Varner 68
Rd. 2: Piot 67, Varner 69, Pettit 70
Rd. 3: Swafford 69, Varner 71, Piot 72
QUARTERFINALS: Lost to Smash GC, 2-1
Varner def. B. Koepka, 4&3
Piot lost to Uihlein, 5&3
Pettit/Swafford lost to C. Koepka/Kokrak, 2&1
Prize earnings: $1,000,000
By The Numbers
9 – Total players appearing in the Niblicks lineup in 2022
11 – Rounds under par in Bangkok (out of 12 total played)
30 – Rounds under par (out of 84 total played in regular season)
65 – Lowest round shot by any Niblicks player (James Piot in Bangkok; par 72)
69.25 – Harold Varner's scoring average in 12 regular season rounds
71.11 – James Piot's scoring average in 18 regular season rounds for the Niblicks
71.619 – Scoring average for all Niblicks GC players during the seven regular season events (course average was 71.0)
71.77 – Turk Pettit's scoring average in 18 regular season rounds for the Niblicks
72.00 – Hudson Swafford's scoring average in 18 regular season rounds for the Niblicks
The Final Word
HAROLD VARNER ON NEXT YEAR'S NIBLICKS
Our team is going to be awesome. We're going to be good. Just want him [Bubba Watson] to be healthy. We could have used him but you don't get to choose that life. It's called adversity; it is what it is. I had a great time with the guys. They are awesome. I want to see Turk and I want to see Piot progress. Those are two things that I care about the most.