Friday, February 29, 2008

New Cut Policy Not Speeding Up Play

Tiger Woods would seem to think so if you read this BBC article.

"It's been an ongoing problem on the PGA Tour for some time," Woods said in his newsletter to fans.

"I honestly believe the pace of play is faster in Europe and Japan."

"It has been suggested the offenders should be penalised with strokes (against them)," he added.

"The problem is you may get one guy who slows down a group by playing at a snail's pace and gets them all put on the clock, which isn't fair.

"I know this is a complicated issue. Hopefully it can be addressed in the near future."

I would be very curious to see Woods' opinion of the new LPGA slow play policy - I think the best out there today, although I wish they would allow for one offense of the rule per tournament before assessing penalties that could change the outcome. Still, Rule 78 - now Rule 78 v2.0 - does not appear to be placating Tiger's interests in speeding up play.

And since every post today seems to be concerned with golf participation, I'll add this paragraph from the article.
Recent figures suggest golf in the US is in decline because people lack the time to play on a regular basis.

Why Not Pile on Golf Participation More?

Larry Bohannan covers golf for the Desert Sun out in California and normally covers pro golf. He took a look at the data from NY Times piece, though, and decided to pen his own short thoughts on why the game is not growing.

First, to my point in a post earlier today...

The New York Times did a story on how the game is shrinking. Pellucid Corp. released its latest golf report saying that not only is the game not growing, but the Generation X and Generation Y folks are staying away from the game in droves.
That is probably the source of some data from the NY Times piece in addition the the data from the NGF itself that seems to indicate a negative trend.
This can hardly be news to the people who run the game. Rumbling of problems have been around for years, from drops in the number of rounds played to the closure of golf courses in meccas like Myrtle Beach, where land was more valuable for homes than for golf holes.
Like I mentioned in my analysis (I hadn't seen Bohannan's work beforehand), these all seem to be clear indicators of decreased wholesale numbers of people playing golf.

Bohannan takes a crack at the reasons for the decline, especially among youth golfers.

Access to the game: Sure, programs like The First Tee and junior golf programs are great in teaching youngsters to play. But once they have learned the game they still have to get on the course. Can you afford to join a private club? Can you get access to daily-fee courses, especially as a youth who might not be that proficient yet? Is the intimidation factor of the game enough to stop you from playing?

Cost: Face it, few recreations are as expensive as golf. Start with equipment, where manufacturers are not interested in growing the game as much as they are in growing their stock prices. Private clubs cost tens of thousands to join, if not more. And public courses are still expensive, especially if you and your spouse play together. Let's see, a $75 green fee means $150 for a twosome, figure once a week for a month is $600 for eight rounds of golf.

Pace of play: Like the weather, everyone loves to talk about pace of play, but nothing ever seems to get done about the problem. A five-hour round pretty much kills a day, weekend play can be deadly slow and for all the talk and plans and GPS systems and clocks put on golf courses, things seem just as slow as ever. For starters, blame amateurs who copy pros' pre-shot routines. And blame pros who play agonizingly slow on television. A lot of people just won't commit that much time to the game, even if they like the game.

You can see some of these running themes through a couple of articles I have done on golf participation in the past couple of years.

Golf's Identity Crisis
Race and Golf: Let the Discussion Begin

Larry has got it. It costs too much, takes too much time, and can be hard to access. Until those three things are fixed, things look bad for golf.

Annika Watch 2008: She's Getting Pasted

The HSBC Champions event was billed as the first in many expected head-to-head showdowns between Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam. Sorenstam, winning 1 of her first 2 events (#70 career), seemed poised to challenge Lorena right out of the gate. Whoops.

Mexico's Lorena Ochoa left her rivals trailing at the $2 million HSBC Women's Champions tournament in Singapore on Friday, carding a seven-under 65 in the second round to extend her lead to seven strokes.

Sweden's Annika Sorenstam clawed her way into contention with a five-under 67 for a share of second place with American Paula Creamer and Kim In-kyung of South Korea on six under par.

The word "Tiger-esque" really does come to mind. In Woods' season debut in San Diego, he whalloped the field. Ochoa is set to do the same this weekend if she maintains the same path.

A Couple of New Links

You might have noticed that I have expanded my links collection on the sidebar recently. I have a few golf-specific and golf-related blogs that I'd like to throw your way to add to your reading list.

First is PGA Tour Review. I found this link through Daniel Wexler's website (another new link). It's a fun site because it takes a look at the tournaments, courses, and some stories that otherwise kind of fall off of the radar. Unlike my site, the fun that the Review makes of golf is funny.

While I have mentioned him, I'll point you to Daniel Wexler's website. The guy does a hell of a job of previewing each week's tournaments and providing daily reviews of the news. They could be your gospel for the golfing week. No wonder, Wexler is an accomplished author.

I also linked to a blog called Capelle on Golf. It is a blog that is just starting, but has some good posts that are not your run of the mill blog post: find an article, quote it, add any insight and/or bash it, then move on. It's off to a good start so I wanted to lend a link to it. In fairness, he linked to me first.

Finally, I am adding a golf-related blog - Eye on Sports Media. The editor, Chris Byrne, worked on the PGA Tour as a caddy for a number of seasons and now runs a blog about sports media. Some posts are golf related, some are not. But, as someone who loves sports media, I am in the tank for a blog like this.

NGF Fights Back Against the NY Times

Geoff Shackelford had a fun post regarding the National Golf Foundation's response to the NY Times report last week that golf participation is declining in the United States. The response was sent from NGF VP Greg Nathan in an email to friends and colleagues in the industry. I've never met or talked to the guy, so I don't count. Geoff was forwarded the comments, so I guess he doesn't either. But, Geoff has friends in high places, so yeah.

Anyway, NGF takes issue with the report.

There were a number of factual errors in the story and the general perception may be that all the data and conclusions are completely consistent with the NGF's perspective. That is not the case, however, and the NGF has forwarded a correction to The New York Times.
Geez! I'm going to go ahead and put factual errors out there as something we will return to later on in the post. You'll see.
The article correctly cites our data showing that the number of Core golfers (those playing eight or more rounds per year) has fallen from 17.7 million in 2000 to 15 million in 2006.
Factual errors, remember?

This drop is due, in large part, to golfers “on the cusp” who have reduced their play from eight or 10 or 12 rounds per year, to seven or less rounds, and thus are reclassified as Occasional vs. Core golfers.
Annual rounds have remained static at roughly 500 million over the past five years. So, effectively, the activity of the 28.7 million U.S.golfers is holding stable at approximately 17 rounds per year, on average.
The NGF postulates that currently there are 28.7 million golfers in the US as opposed to the 26 million cited by the NY Times author.

Added later is a comment regarding data sources that leaves me perplexed.

I’m not sure where the writer found his data for avid golfers (those playing 25 or more rounds annually). These are not from the NGF, though many readers came away with the impression that we were the source.


The article also states that the total number of golfers dropped from 30 million in 2000 to 26 million currently. This is not correct, and NGF did not provide these numbers to the writer. Our data shows that the number of total golfers actually increased from 28.1 million in 2000 to 28.7 million in 2006, an increase of approximately 2%.
I have to say that a number of people have e-mailed me in the past about golf participation numbers that I use in my pieces on the topic. None have ever actually referenced NGF by name until I mention their existence. They are a relatively under-the-radar organization to the average golfer.

Also, I am curious, then, where the writer acquired his data. Still, that does not mean that the data should be presumed to be wrong or off. The USGA does quite a bit of research on its own and I am sure other industry elements are tracking participation.

In fact, if you have $3000 to blow, you can read this industry report from a consulting firm.

The data from the NGF in recent years, though, does not necessarily paint a picture of very mild growth in participation. The NGF itself said it 2003 that the number of rounds across the US is decreasing - at least according to this report. Of course, that does not provide trending data to the present, but it is something to keep in mind.

Also, from a piece on (owned by NCGOA), the NGF has presented pretty damning data that does not directly tie into participation rates - but it may as well. That data is the number of course closings.
To view recent course closings and openings in a different light, consider that 2006 was the first time in six decades that golf had negative net growth: 146 closings versus 119.5 openings. (The NGF isn’t scheduled to release 2007 data until May 2008, but most observers expect the number of course closings in 2007 will be on par with previous years.)
That says something about real estate and, probably, participation rates.

Finally, I want to close this post with an interesting twist on this call out. As I posted yesterday, I did a piece calling for the bifurcation of the rules of golf - a set of rules for amateurs and one for pros. Why? Because amateurs want to see the benefits from technology, real or not, and I feel that professional golf needs to be restored to a game of more strategy and skill than power.

In the piece, though, I cite a statistic that is ofter quoted around the golfing world - and it comes from the NGF. That statistic is that golf scores, on the average, are stagnant. Therefore, on the whole, golfers are not getting better. Here's the NGF's exact text on that statement:

Average score is a statistic that is very unlikely to change over time, because the pool of golfers is constantly being refreshed by newer, less skilled ones. Also, average score increases as golfers age, which tends to balance out better scores by younger players.
Makes sense, right? I have used this data SEVERAL times in pieces related to golf participation and technology and taken it as gospel. Well, maybe we should not.

Dick Rugge, Senior Technical Director at the USGA, contacted me yesterday concerning my usage of that data from the NGF. He presented me with some data from the USGA handicapping system (covering millions of golfers, not a sample size) to the contrary of what NGF is claiming. BTW, this also stands as a personal correction for my Sports Central piece.

Now, according to the NGF, only 21% of golfers actively maintain a handicap. But, the point of showing off the data is to prove that the golf industry may not as statistically sure as it could be. Industry sources - including the NGF - seem to be giving indications the golf participation is down. The NGF is saying that scores are staying about the same when the USGA is showing that, among golfers with a handicap, they are steadily improving over time.

So, my question then is: how much do we REALLY know about our golf, who plays it, and its impact on the national economy?

Noose Found at Tilghman's Old House

Ok, Kelly Tilghman messed up but now she is actually the victim in a situation - kind of.

The noose was found at the entrance to Tilghman Estates, which includes the description, "Home of Kelly Tilghman, Golf Channel."

Police have removed a noose found hanging on a subdivision sign where an announcer for The Golf> Channel used to live.

Police told The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News that they haven't received any threats against Tilghman's relatives in the area.

I mean, in the spirit of Eye for an Eye, this seemed bound to happen. In the spirit of ridiculousness, the moron who did this picked the wrong place.

And, the person is way behind the times. We have already moved on to making fun of Nick Faldo for his conflict of interest statements. Is someone going to leave a heap of Nike golf balls outside of the Faldo estate? Look out, Nick!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bifucation of the Rules of Golf

That's right, I'm calling for it. I wrote a piece for Sports Central, that I teased last week, calling for the bifurcation of the rules and equipment regulations of the game. For as much as I would prefer regulation of the golf ball, that does not appear to be the path we are taking. But, it is at least worth having a discussion through that filter about the realities of the two games of golf.

Check out the piece here and let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Quick LPGA Drug Testing Update

Beth Ann Baldry over at Golfweek has a good anecdote about the first wave of drug testing on the LPGA Tour. It seems to have some kinks.

Natalie Gulbis, however, waited for at least 2 hours before someone was available to administer her test.

“I think they have some kinks they definitely need to work out,” said Gulbis, who noted that more administrators were added as the day went along. “But everything was handled very professionally.”

Jill Pilgrim, the LPGA’s general counsel, referred to the day as historic in golf and deemed it “very successful and positive.” She said the tour was more concerned with everything being precise than the amount of time it took to be tested. As players and officials become more familiar with the process, Pilgrim said, it will get faster.
To not get too technical about it, one of the biggest delays is when players do not have a sample to provide, or they are too nervous to be able to do it. There's an example in the piece:
The Aussie was so concerned about what was to follow, she could barely fill out her scorecard.

“I was nervous, anxious,” said Wright, who couldn’t believe she was asked to take her hat off while giving the sample. “It’s like teeing off. Once you get out there, you’re ready to go.”

For Wright, the process of giving a sample with someone in the room was more worrisome than the results.

Masters Interactive on DirecTV

I missed this from last week, but the Golf Blogger had a link that I had to bring up here. DirecTV, which has pretty much every sports package under the sun including NFL Sunday Ticket and NASCAR Hotpass, will be presenting a pay package for the Masters.

The new service will combine live CBS and ESPN coverage of the Tournament with additional views of the legendary Augusta National Golf Club course, access to complete Tournament leader board information, hole-by-hole player statistics, scores, a course tour and on-demand Masters video clips. All Masters channels will be available in both HD and standard-definition to all DIRECTV customers.

The centerpiece of DIRECTV's coverage of the Tournament will be the Masters Mix Channel, offering viewers a unique window on the fabled Augusta course with access to four different views on one screen, including a view dedicated to covering the famed "Amen Corner," another focusing on critical finishing holes 15 and 16, a continuously updated highlight channel showcasing Tournament leaders and their scores, and the CBS national broadcast.

Viewers will also be able to access scores and stats, a top five leader board, Masters trivia and Tournament history by clicking on a small menu icon that appears on each channel.

The Masters Mix Channel will be available on DIRECTV channels 701 (standard-definition) and 706 (high-definition) and will offer the following views within a single screen, including:

-- View One - CBS and ESPN's live coverage of the Tournament.

-- View Two - "Today's Highlights" offers a continuously updating loop of the best shots from the day's play with voice-over providing context and commentary.

-- View Three - "Amen Corner" provides complete coverage of the most famous stretch - holes 11, 12 and 13 - of Augusta National Golf Club. The channel will provide a continuous view of play as the field challenges this most treacherous part of the course.

-- View Four - Holes 15 (the par 5 Firethorn) and 16 (the par 3 Redbud) spotlights this especially difficult part of the course, which can make or break a golfer's round.

It sounds pretty awesome to me, but the article said nothing of cost. Still, this is proof that the Masters is taking new media very seriously. It builds off of the Masters website that shows video with Masters Extra.

A columnist pointed out last season that the aura of the Masters stems, in large part, to the tight and solid package that Augusta National presents through its media partners. This is an addition to that package and they deserve credit for their continued smart marketing of the tournament.

Is PGA National Any Good or Not?

The comments seem to be all over the map about PGA National - host of this week's Honda Classic. I cannot decipher whether or not the course sucks, is marginal, or it pretty good because I keep getting mixed signals. (I'm playing dumb in this post instead of actually being dumb in my others.)

Geoff Shackelford calls PGA National dreadful.

Daniel Wexler notes that the original Fazio design was so bad that they had to have Nicklaus come fix it twice.

This will be the second of six playings at the PGA National Resort’s Champion course, a typically watery Florida layout best know for a pair of dangerous back-nine par 3s (the 179-yard 15th and 190-yard 17th). The present track bears only limited resemblance to the George and Tom Fazio design which originally occupied the site – a course which, despite eventually requiring not one but two complete Jack Nicklaus renovations (in 1990 and 2002), was deemed strong enough by the PGA of America to host the 1987 PGA Championship. Go Figure.
Then, on PGA Tour Review (a new blog find for me), the notation about the course is not exactly glowing.

But, in the midst of lots of "meh" talk about PGA National, Chris Baldwin at TravelGolf seems to love the place! Unfortunately, it's only because has played there in the past.

Which is why the PGA Tour needs more tournaments on courses that are fun for hackers like PGA National’s Champion. This high end South Florida course is a blast even if you manage to miss that big fairway and plop one in the lake on No. 1.

While you’re out there, you want to step back and take in some of the looks from the tournament tees - which aren’t even marked for public play. No. 18 and it’s 200-yard plus forced water clear just to reach fairway is particularly knee knocking.

Of course, none of the Tour guys figure to have much trouble with it at all.

Basically, the course isn't so memorable unless you have actually played it and tanked at it.

Tiger Reality Check?

Since everyone has gone off the deep end (including me) about Tiger's prospects for the Grand Slam, breaking Nelson's streak, winning every '08 event, and never losing again, I thought I would bring in the perspective of someone who is telling everyone to quiet down. Interestingly enough, the writer is someone I normally target as having the wrong opinion - Carlos Monarrez in the Detroit Free Press. In this case, his call for everyone to settle down about Woods is warranted.

Unfortunately, how he got to that logic is flawed. He begins by pointing out something that is fact: Tiger Woods did not dominate any match in his path to the Accenture Match Play title except for the 36 hole finale.

But let's not get carried away, especially with a guy who sweated out a 1-up win in the first round over 53rd-ranked J. B. Holmes. In fact, Tiger didn't dominate in any of his matches until the final, which over 36 holes isn't quite the blowout it seems to be.
I hate to break it to Carlos, but 8 and 7 in a 36 hole match is borderline embarrassing for Cink. It also set the new record for margin of victory in the event finale.

Still, he is on point about Holmes...sort of. The interesting thing to me about Tiger's run this past weekend was that he is like the Duke basketball (which I hate, but I do not hate Tiger) of match play. Duke always gets the absolute best shot of their opponent because of their reputation. In this event, Tiger gets every player's best shot because they know they have no leaderboard to face if they wind up losing.

Carlos does get back on track, though, by pointing out that we have been through this win streak drill before - and that it didn't turn out so well.
Let's not forget something else that happened last year. Early in 2007, Tiger was on another big tear with seven straight wins on the PGA Tour. Just like they are this year, people were speaking of a Grand Slam for Tiger 12 months ago -- until he lost in the third round of Match Play. Then he didn't win a major until his last chance at the PGA Championship.
Considering that Woods finished top 5 in the first two majors and won the PGA Championship, I would say that the hype was met by Woods, but not to the extent that one would hope. Monarrez is correct. We should settle down the Tiger fawning - like this from Bob Ryan at the Boston Globe:
Tiger's performance in the Accenture Match Play Championship at the Gallery Club in Marana, Ariz., will go down as one of the greatest exhibitions of golf the world has ever known. During his six winning matches, he played 117 holes. He had 47 birdies and two eagles, lipping out a 35-foot eagle putt Sunday that would have enabled him to halve a hole with the bewildered Stewart Cink. OK, so maybe the Gallery Club isn't Royal Birkdale or Oakland Hills. It is a challenging enough layout to have been deemed worthy of staging a very prestigious tournament. I didn't notice anyone else ripping off birdies or eagles on 42 percent of the holes.
But, it appears that he missing the point that Tiger continues to find a way to win - even without his best stuff. He is probably the only player in the world that can win a loaded event without his A game. The question then becomes what will happen of the field if Tiger doesn't lose his A game between now and August?

Florida Swing is Changing

Bob Harig explains that the scheduling behind the Florida events - commencing this week with the Honda Classic - is about to change for the second time in 3 years for the 2009 season.

For the second time in three years, the order of the events will be altered in 2009, meaning two World Golf Championship events will be played within three weeks and the Arnold Palmer Invitational will get the much-desired last spot among the foursome.
Next year's order: Honda, CA Championship, PODS and Arnold Palmer.

The interesting thing about this story is that, as Harig mentions, the Florida Swing used to be set almost in stone.
From 1987 through 2006, the order of the four tournaments was exactly the same: The Doral event in Miami, followed by the Honda Classic in the Fort Lauderdale area, Bay Hill and then the Players Championship at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach.
But, the changes to the WGC - its existence, making Doral into a WGC event - and the move of the Players Championship to May have caused a significant shift in the FL swing. We will now see 2 WGC events in a three week span. That could be the death knell for a decent field at the Honda Classic, which is the unluckiest event of the bunch.

What's the proof? Every tournament director quoted in the piece seemed happy with the change. The only tournament director not quoted? Honda Classic.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I'm Going to Miss Captain Jack

Fred Couples is your new President's Cup captain for 2009! Greg Norman is your new International captain for 2009.

Although I think I am going to miss Captain Nicklaus and hearing the players rave about playing for the best player of all time (until Tiger hits 19 at least), Fred Couples will hopefully be a blast as captain. Fred, in Golf World, made apparent his potentially unique approach to the job:

And look for Couples to continue his not-so-subtle lobbying for a captaincy in the Ryder or Presidents cups. Even if he gets one of the jobs on his terms -- golf buddy Michael Jordan and comedian Robin Williams as assistants; no official team functions at night -- Couples knows he would still be under the kind of public scrutiny he has detested. "Maybe so," he says, "But it would still be a blast."
Please let this happen!

Freddy sounds a lot more tempered in the PGA Tour press release, but still, he is beaming with excitement:
“It’s truly an honor to be named U.S. Captain, and I have the challenge of following in the steps of Jack Nicklaus, Ken Venturi, Arnold Palmer and Hale Irwin, who were all tremendous leaders of the U.S. Team,” Couples said. “Starting with the first Presidents Cup in 1994, I have had the privilege of playing on four U.S. Teams and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience each time. We have very few opportunities to play together in team events, and The Presidents Cup has grown into a great event presenting the best players in an atmosphere of great sportsmanship. Making the transition from player to Captain is something I am very excited about.”
True, we have few opportunities for these types of team competitions, but Americans are playing for their country every year. Still, Captain Couples is a guy who has a passion for the format and I'm excited to see how unconventional he can be in his approach.

Greg Norman as the International captain is a bizarre choice. After all, Norman and Tim Finchem have - to be kind - a frayed relationship. From the World Tour/WGC brew ha ha in 1994 to calling for the Tour's books to be made public, Norman has been a thorn in the side of the Commish. For Finchem to have this quote in the press conference either indicates that somehow everything has been put to the side, or someone has drugged the Commissioner.
“I am absolutely delighted to introduce these two great players as the new Presidents Cup Captains,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. “While it may not be easy to replace two legends such as Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, I know both Fred and Greg step into this role with a strong passion, commitment and desire to continue the outstanding legacy Jack, Gary and all the previous Captains have created for The Presidents Cup.”
It should be a fun run to 2009!

FedEx Cup Changes: They're Volatile Now

As expected, the PGA Tour modified the points system for the FedEx Cup so as to encourage more volatility in the points race and increase the number of players with a reasonable chance to win the FedEx Cup from the start and at the Tour Championship. Before I get to making fun of the Tour a little bit later on in the post, I want to say that I support these changes by and large.

They made two changes. One was expected: increasing the difference in points between places by an absolute 2000 for each and every position. So, where a difference used to be 200 points, it is now 2200.

The other change is that the points "reset" done after the "regular season" is now tighter so as to make players closer to one another from the start of the Playoffs. Also, the points for the Tour Championship are increased.

The Tour also did the lazy work for me and identifies the results of the move retroactive to last season.

More volatility: Instead of only two players "playing their way in" to the next event by moving into the top 120 for Deutsche Bank or 70 for BMW, we would have had 11 players moving up into the Deutsche Bank field and 17 into BMW. THE TOUR Championship would have had at least eight players moving in, instead of three.

More chance to win the FedExCup going into THE TOUR Championship: Instead of only six players with a mathematical chance of winning, we would have had 12, and instead of only four players with a realistic chance of winning, we would have had six.

Importance of the Regular Season / integrity & credibility of the Playoffs: The top seeds still had the advantage, and the players in the Top 20 who finished the first three events would still have made it into THE TOUR Championship. At the same time, the players who played best in the Playoffs -- Woods, Stricker and Mickelson -- would still have finished 1-2-3 in the FedExCup.

Examples (Volatility)

Rich Beem, who started as the 134 seed, finished seventh at The Barclays and only moved up to 113th. Under the revised structure, he would have moved up to 68th. Vijay Singh started as the No. 2 seed, but missed the cut at The Barclays. He dropped to sixth, but would have dropped to 23rd under the revised structure. At 23rd, he would be in danger of missing THE TOUR Championship, especially if he missed another cut.

Good example with the Beemer in particular. He, in my mind, was the most obvious person to get shafted by the rigidity of the points structure - at least in the spirit of an anything goes playoff. In the spirit of the kind of season he had, he got what he sewed.

I like how the Tour threw this one in for good measure in the FAQ section.

4. Do you think with this change that the top players will play all four?
Each player, including the top ones, has to decide what strategy gives him the best chance to win the Cup. One or more of them may decide that they will play better by taking a week off. That is a high "risk-reward" strategy. For example, last year, that strategy worked very well for Tiger, since he went on to finish T2-1-1 and win the FedExCup going away. By the same token, the strategy could backfire if the player has an off-week in one of the events he plays. That will be especially true this year, since there are more points available at each event.

Well, the answer should probably read like this:

We really hope so! Now that Westchester is off of the docket, Tiger might just play The Barclays. Since we skipped an extra week to the Tour Championship, most of the Ryder Cup players should have no problem playing. We placated to Phil and Tiger's demands for more cash payment in the FedEx Cup payout. That means Phil won't call out the Commish on national TV. So, a definitive maybe!

And, another gem right after it:

5. Will the Playoffs be a success if the top players don't play all four?
The Playoffs were an enormous success last year -- strong ratings, record number of spectators, fantastic sponsor activation and support and four incredible tournaments. Steve Stricker's heroics, the Tiger-Phil battle at Deutsche Bank, Tiger's duel with Aaron Baddeley and Steve Stricker at the BMW Championship, and then Tiger's dominance at THE TOUR Championship. We expect the Playoffs this year will provide just as much drama and excitement, and with the minor changes we've made in the points structure, possibly more.

The real answer is that the FedEx Cup was a huge improvement over its predecessor - nothing at all. We had some great tournaments for four weeks. But, this "frequently asked question" was a veiled opportunity to show the Tour's perspective on the FEC. This whole FAQ read like a press release that talked down to the media and fans, but the explanation at the top was extremely helpful. So, as far as communications go, I'll give this a B+.

Wait a second. Did I see "fantastic sponsor activation" in there? I did! Ok. B.

Cut Rule Amended, Couple of Other Changes to Note

One major changes and a couple of significant one offs were announced today by Ponte Vedra just in time for the Honda Classic this weekend.

First, the cut policy was amended just as has been quoted in this blog and reported for a few weeks:

Under the amended regulation, the starting field will still be reduced to the lowest 70 professionals and ties after 36 holes. However, should the 36-hole cut total more than 78 professionals, there will be a second cut to the lowest 70 professionals plus ties at the conclusion of 54 holes of tournament play. Players not advancing to the final round of play will receive their appropriate share of the official prize money in accordance with their respective positions.

The change is effective immediately, beginning with this week's The Honda Classic. PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem said the TOUR would also begin to monitor the impact a cut to the low 65 and ties -- "which is another thing the players seem interested in," he said -- would have, and the dialog would continue.

Some players are NOT going to like that one, but still, a commercial to stay tuned for in the future!

The one offs are quick hits:

The Memorial field will expand from 108 to 120 as the PGA Tour seeks to have invitationals with at least 120 players. Well, at least the Tour has decided to get the mass of invitational fields to at least look like they're full field events.

Starting in 2010, the Fry's Electronics Open will be played at a course in California called The Institute - owned by Fry's. It's going to be renamed the Institute Championship and become an invitational with a field of 120 players. A Fall Series event as an invitational? I KNOW the B and C listers will not be happy.

The GWAA Awards Are Out...

...and since I'm not a member, I didn't win. :(

BUT, you can check the results to see if one of your favorite writers did.

Separate Rules for Pros and Amateurs

How about it? I wrote a hypothetical piece for Sports Central the explores the reasons why it might be a good idea to make an official distinction between the professional and amateur game in terms of rules and equipment standards. I also explain why it is a pipe dream, but one worth discussing. I'll post the link to the story when it is up on the site.

A Little More on Faldo

This post is not so much about his bashing Nike equipment on Sunday, but that he seems to be quickly developing into a Johnny Miller type figure - you either love him or you hate him.

Sal Johnson at GolfObserver lays into Faldo in his Buzz column this week about what Faldo does not do in his broadcasting:

Nick, we want to hear about the players' swings, not that the attendance is good because the parking lot is full. Nick, we want to get inside information about players, not hear how your Mom back in England is about to pour a cup of tea. Nick, we want you to tell us about the course and its special traits, not make fun of all the creatures that you could run into if you hit it off the fairway. Nick we want to get good golf commentary, not stories about deer with no eyes. Lastly, a birdie is a birdie and not a "tweeter."
Johnson even goes further and then says that Faldo isn't even on the same level as Johnny Miller.
Johnny does a lot of homework on the course and the players. He has stats at his beck and call and he doesn't try to jab us with a bunch of B.S. With Miller, we trust every word as the Bible; we don't question his analysis because we know it's spot-on. We can't say the same about Faldo. I honestly don't think he does much homework. He tries to rely on his humor to get him through the day. But in talking with a lot of people about this, lots of golf insiders and media people feel that Faldo could be overexposed and maybe isn't ready for prime time in the big seat.
I'm not going to argue on that point. Johnny Miller does a LOT of homework. It can almost be too much homework at times because he uses it in his analysis so well. It is difficult to argue with Miller's blunt analysis when he has the numbers to prove his points. Faldo is certainly more finesse.

I think Faldo can pull off finesse when he has someone to back him up - either someone in the truck or on-air with him. Basically, like Sal mentions, the CBS team. Faldo without someone to validate his comments is just spewing into the wind. Sal does not like that and I can respect that.

I would like to make a comparison, though, between Faldo and another beloved and controversial commentator. Of course, I am speaking of Charles Barkley on the NBA on TNT. I love the studio team of Ernie, Kenny, and Charles. They have great chemistry and balance out fun with serious commentary about the Association. Charles, though, is the guy who does not use a lot of statistics in his analysis. He calls things as he sees them. A lot of people love that because he is willing to say anything at anytime. Others hate that because a lot of it may be lacking specific proof.

Nick Faldo is golf's version of Charles Barkley. The only problem, potentially, is that golf is so much more of a technical sport to analyze than basketball - especially pro basketball. Faldo needs stats, technical insight, and other specifics to come across as engaged and establish credibility with the hardcore golf viewer.

Then again, for the casual fan, he may be perfect. The casual fan doesn't know that he is speaking without proof and they probably don't care. I had a conversation with a casual golf fan friend of mine recently in which he said he loved Faldo because he said what was on his mind and did not care who he offended. That is the draw of Nick Faldo. The downside is that he can do it - at times - without fact. (Interestingly enough, he had a study to use as fact in bashing Nike on Sunday.)

So it begs the question: do you take a chance on the good (witty quips) and hope to avoid the bad (having no one to play straight man for him, a la Kelly Tilghman)?

Here's a Nightmare Thought RE: Tiger

Well, really two thoughts related to Tiger Woods. First, he HAS had a perfect season in the past.

TIGER WOODS laughed when asked if he ever thought about the perfect season.

"No," he replied. "I've only had one perfect season but it's been a while. When I was 11, I won 36 tournaments that year."

You never lost?

"No, I peaked at 11," Woods quipped.

Second, he may not have actually peaked at 11.

"He's a lot better at that now than he's ever been. Tiger always stays poised and never throws away a shot. He regulates his heartbeat. Physiologically, he's regulating all the time. It's really impressive and it's paying off for him."

Told he made Woods sound like a machine, Cink joked: "Perhaps we ought to slice Tiger open and see what's in there -- maybe nuts and bolts."

Just a couple of quick thoughts, but more for the jokes.

Monday, February 25, 2008

It's Not Worse Than Lynching, But...

Nick Faldo joined the Stupid Editorializer's Club on Sunday during the Golf Channel's coverage of the morning 18 of the Cink-Woods match play finale. (And Kelly, sort of, got in on the fun.) Steve Elling outlines it for those of you who missed it:

Network analyst Nick Faldo on Sunday denigrated his former equipment manufacturer, Nike, during the live telecast of the Accenture Match Play Championship final between Tiger Woods and Stewart Cink, two Nike endorsers.

During the morning session of the 36-hole final, Golf Channel play-by-play analyst Kelly Tilghman noted on the air that it was an all-Nike final. That, in itself, sounded like a free plug, since Tilghman last December emceed a Nike outing for Woods in South Florida.

But Faldo, who also works for CBS Sports, went a step farther on the conflict-of-interest front. A few weeks after signing a new endorsement deal with TaylorMade, he launched into a lengthy discourse about the superiority of the TaylorMade golf ball, and noted how only certain players with high skill levels should bother using the Nike ball, lest it fall out of the sky. Faldo once endorsed the Nike line.

Certainly, the comments of Faldo do not amount to a hill of beans compared to those of Kelly Tilghman. Still, the comments do represent a conflict of interest that player analysts face in broadcasting golf events.

Another great example is from CBS Sports' David Feherty - a Cobra spokesman - when JB Holmes won his first FBR Open by overpowering TPC Scottsdale. Feherty was so glowing in his review of Holmes and the performance of his Cobra equipment that it was sickening. He then later appeared in commercials for the Cobra line featuring several of their staff players.

There are other announcers that border on a conflict of interest. Take, for example, Jim Nantz at CBS Sports. He does the voiceovers and has made some appearances in Titleist commercials. To his credit, though, he never mentions Titleist with any particular favor in his broadcasting. Basically, he knows he is getting paid because of the familiarity of his voice and not because he has the golf game to be able to back a ball.

Johnny Miller is on the Callaway staff and does voiceovers for their commercials. In a few instances, he may have toed the line of conflict of interest. But I have no recollection of him jumping over it like Faldo did on Sunday. Then again, Phil Mickelson is really the only relevant Callaway staff member of late.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The 19th Hole - Seriously, This is Ridiculous

Just after Stewart Cink defeated Justin Leonard to advance to the final of the WGC Accenture Match Play, reality set in for the 22nd ranked player in the world. The reality was that he was going to be facing the best player in the universe the next day. Lucky him, he was going to face Tiger Woods for 36 holes to determine the champion of the event.

Even as one of the best putters on the PGA Tour, Cink knew he was going to be in for the challenge of his life. Cink had played Woods once prior in a very familiar match play type setting. In another WGC event – the Bridgestone Invitational – Cink took Woods through four extra holes before Tiger ultimately prevailed. I am sure that memories of that encounter came through the mind of Cink as he tried to sleep on Saturday night. What I am more sure of, though, is that Woods remembered that encounter the second after he shook the hand of Henrik Stenson – his semifinal opponent.

Tiger Woods has an incredible memory and the proof goes way beyond the Accenture commercial where he identifies golf course holes. He does not forget. One need not look much further than this very event for proof. Do you recall 9 and 8? Stephen Ames sure does and he has not said a word about Tiger since.

How about Rory Sabbatini? He still has not learned his lesson about angering the supposed new Tiger. It is almost a part of Woods’ routine now to make sure he embarrasses Sabbatini on the course at every opportunity.

Those are some of the guys that manage to get under Woods’ skin, though. The incredible thing about Tiger Woods’ competitive streak is that he can be just as ruthless with enemies as he can with people he considers to be friends – friends like Stewart Cink. Woods was nothing but complimentary of Cink in his post-semifinal comments. He expected a good match. Deep down, though, he knew he was going to throw everything he had at Cink in order to win his third Accenture Match Play Championship.

Sure enough, he did just that. Woods demoralized Cink in the opening 18. He had won five of the first eleven holes before Cink could put a win on the board for the twelfth hole. Despite having a few opportunities in the closing holes of the morning round, Cink could not answer the game that Woods brought. After the opening 18, Cink had to know that a loss was practically inevitable. Woods knew it, too.

Even though he knew winning his fourth straight PGA Tour start, sixth straight global win, and eighth triumph in nine tries, Woods never let up in the afternoon round. Cink managed just a single win in the eleven holes he had to endure in the afternoon Tucson sun. Woods wanted to make a point. But he also wanted to follow the mantra that his father Earl taught him to always finish out strong and play with full focus. It is the combination of that focus and his amazing talent that make him the champion he is.

To be clear, the difference on Sunday was not that Cink was playing terrible golf. He played admirably. The factor was that Woods was so on that it would have been difficult for a four ball team of Nicklaus, Palmer, Hogan, and Hagen to topple him. Interestingly enough, Woods took a step past one of that magical foursome on Sunday and a step nearer another legend with the victory.

Tiger Woods is undefeated globally in 2008. Would it be that big of a shock if he won every event he played this year? Sure, it would be, but have you not thought in the back of your mind while watching him this year that it is actually a possibility? I have. A few weeks ago, I wrote regarding Tiger’s modest comment that the Grand Slam was possible this season. I said that it seemed much closer to probable than possible after his win at the Buick Invitational. It seems ridiculous to try to expand upon that prediction, but one cannot help but be blown away by the golfing display all week long.

It was also ridiculous to make predictions about this tournament. Predicting match play is like playing the lottery. In fact, one would be better off playing the lotto. Still, when I made my bracket this week, I immediately penciled Woods into the winner’s slot. To have that kind of confidence about any golfer in match play would normally be foolish. With Woods in 2008, though, it seemed foolish not to.

Creamer Wins Fields Open

Paula Creamer has a penchant for Hawaii. For the second straight season, Creamer has won in the Aloha state. Yesterday, she pulled away to beat Jeong Jang by a single shot at the Fields Open in Hawaii with a closing 66. She did it in dramatic fashion, too. Two down with three to play, she found a way to win.

Decked out in traditional final-round pink, Creamer sank birdie putts of 12 and 20 feet on 16 and 17 to draw even, then hit a perfect 6-iron at the 18th from 164 yards to within 6 feet to put Jang behind her pink golf ball.

Jang responded with a shot that landed on the front fringe guarding the green, but missed her 30-footer for birdie, clearing the way for Creamer.

She sank the 6-footer, raised both her arms in subdued triumph, then walked over to the back of the green to watch Jang knock down her 4-footer for par. As Jang lined up her final putt, Creamer mouthed the word 'wow' to herself, then accepted a hug from caddie Colin Cann.

Annika Sorenstam finished in a tie for fourth. As big as the win last week was, I think a fourth place finish - even if marred by a lousy final front nine - tells us more that Annika is back and ready to compete.

Singapore should be a blast this week!

Wie Made Cut, Back on Track?

Michelle Wie made the cut in the Fields Open in Hawaii on the LPGA Tour. It is the first of her six exemptions that she can employ as a player without LPGA Tour status. In her second round, she shot 73 on a day where scoring conditions were perfect. But, as shown in the game story, she feels she has been improving each round so far.

Writer Dave Reardon put the positive thoughts of Wie into perspective:

Some of the numbers (six fairways and seven greens missed yesterday) don't agree with Wie's positive assessment of her game. But she's not trying to get back to where she was two years ago all in one round or one tournament.

"You know, it's still very early on," she said. "It's my first tournament back. ... I feel like my distance is coming back. I had a lot of really good solid shots. Had a couple bad breaks on a couple of lies throughout the round. That's what golf is."

The final round of 78 left a lot to be desired and she said as much in her presser on Saturday:

Q. Were you encouraged or discouraged today after such a good opening round?
MICHELLE WIE: Definitely, like I said, there’s a lot of room for improvement, but there’s a lot of positive shots that I gained confidence from this week in the first round, second round and even this round. I hit a lot of really good shots. Obviously, I have to work on improving my bad shots, but just felt like I was a little rusty out there.

She got worse in each round on a course that she has played a LOT of times. I would still be very cautious in pronouncing progress in her game.

The Pro Game Has Changed

RIP Shotmaking. At least according to Craig Dolch and some of his Tour players quoted in the article he wrote for the Palm Beach Post today.

The art of shotmaking may not be completely dead, but it appears to be on life support as a new generation of tour players tee off without ever having to worry about shaping shots or taking something off their enormous distances.

You can blame it on technological advancements with equipment, course setups or swings taught by instructors.

Whatever the reason, it's clear that the days of a player "working his ball'' around a course are going the way of the persimmon driver.

"The kids don't have a clue how to manufacture shots,'' tour veteran Kenny Perry said. "They just grip it and rip it and off they go after it. It's a totally different game now."

Of course, the example that this strategy can work has been Vijay Singh - the only other guy in about the last decade to win the PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

"Vijay proved (that) just hitting driver on every hole was the best way to attack golf courses," Woods said. "If you're driving it well, great. If you're not, you're going to have a wedge in your hand. That's not the way the older players used to do it. They used to shape it, move it around the golf course, and go about their business that way."
And, as is a trend among golf writers, there is a shot at the USGA.

The U.S. Golf Association, which regulates golf in this country and Mexico, has floated the idea of going back to "V-like" grooves that don't impart as much spin on the ball in 2009 for "elite" competitions such as tour events. But many insiders wonder if the USGA will ever follow through, having lost a lawsuit to the Ping equipment company in 1990 when it tried to ban U-grooves.

Purists believe that the USGA has dropped the ball, so to speak, and the only way for shotmaking to become the premium it should be is for the PGA Tour to implement its own set of rules in terms of grooves.

But do not think that Craig Dolch isn't talented enough to get a shot in at Tim Finchem, too.

"I personally think the tour should step in, but Tim (Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner) is never going to go that way," tour pro Tom Pernice Jr. said. "Tim is going to do everything to be as non-confrontational as possible as commissioner.

"That's just his personality. Is that good or bad? Who knows? But almost every other sports organization has their own set of rules instead of us. The problem is with the Ping lawsuit, everybody is scared."

Pernice is correct: Finchem, when asked at last month's Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, made it clear he and the tour are not ready to implement its own set of rules. He says they will continue to monitor the situation, but believes the USGA and the R&A are the ones to make the rules - something he's been stressing for more than five years.

"There seems to be a slippage in recent years in that area," Finchem said of shotmaking. "You could interpret the data different ways. But we have taken the position that the USGA and the R&A should take the lead in that area and we should be in a supportive role."

Dolch's references to both Finchem and the USGA hit on a couple of articles that I have linked in the past week. To the USGA comment, Adam Schupak in Golfweek this week mentioned in his piece that the USGA is sitting on such a large stash of money - and won't use it, says David Fay - because of the fear of a huge lawsuit one day. There was a fear of that on non-conforming drivers when the USGA initially set up the rules around COR. There is probably a prevalent fear today that any ruling related to grooves - even if the ruling forces all of us to buy new equipment - will draw a massive lawsuit to the USGA.

As for Finchem, I quoted a piece from John Hawkins last week in which Hawkins describes Finchem as known to be a strong negotiator and movement killer when need be. In recent actions on Rule 78 and drug testing, Finchem made unpopular decisions (with the help of the PAC and Policy Board). But, he seems opposed to making a potentially unpopular decision by bi-furcating the game between pros and amateurs.

Even though the reality is that the pros play a completely different game than you and I, that is done subtly by the USGA and behind the scenes and in Tour trailers. (Although that is changing thanks to a very good USGA ruling on interchangeable shaft technology.) Tim Finchem does not want to be the guy that overtly ruins the mystique that amateurs and pros play the same game of golf. And this piece highlights a very important reality that Finchem would not want to tinker with: the nature of the Tour game has changed and reverting technology rules back to a prior time would cause maylay among players that simply do not have the game today to play with technology at the level before 460cc drivers and one cover golf balls

Friday, February 22, 2008

USGA is "Beyond the Crossroad"

Golfweek busted out a special report in this week's issue (also found online) about the USGA in light of the looming exit of Walter Driver and the incoming presidency of Jim Vernon. Adam Schupak wrote the lead story of the coverage and it's well worth reading beyond my snipping of it. But, I will still do the customary hack job to highlight some points.

First, I think Schupak quickly identifies the source of my and many people's gripe with the USGA - particularly relating to sponsorship, but also beyond that:

[M]any golf purists bemoan, “What’s next?” A car floating in a lake surrounding a par 3? Could selling the naming rights to the U.S. Open, the association’s crown jewel, be far behind?

As farfetched as those scenarios may seem, they touch on a theme the USGA has wrestled with forever. In the world of sports, the USGA and its championships long have been perceived as one of the last bastions of anti-commercialism.
The thought leads nicely into a description of the work done by Peter Bevacqua - hired by Driver to be the Chief Business Officer for the USGA. It mentions some of the work that Bevacqua has had a hand in making happen: ecommerce efforts (what?!), corporate partnerships/sellouts (two on board, two more coming in RBS Financial and IBM), and other way to "diversify revenue streams." Vomit.

To be fair, my Vantage Point - out in theaters today - is not the only one. Many in the industry actually think this is somehow progress.
“If the pope hires IMG to be his marketing guy, the USGA can certainly get in the modern era,” says Mark Mulvoy, former managing editor of Sports Illustrated and a member of the USGA’s Communications Committee from 2000 to 2006. “It’s late coming to the table. Now it’s a question of what do you have first, the shrimp or the salad?”
Consider that the USGA has revenues that reach the $300 million dollar mark annually as is, and it leads a critic to wonder why the USGA needs more money. It is difficult to see the need for additional cash to govern the game. Especially considering that in my conversations with former USGA Executive Director Frank Hannigan, Hannigan mentioned that the real reason behind the huge cash reserve and annual revenue level seen today is largely due to the very lucrative USGA/NBC Sports deal.

But, apparently the Open has become more costly to make happen.

In 2007, championships and team matches, including broadcast rights, generated more than $100 million in revenue for the first time. Expenses, however, have increased too, doubling in the past 10 years from $67 million to $135 million. In 2006, the USGA had a net operating loss of $6.1 million, its first since 2000. It returned to the black in 2007, earning net operating income of $1.1 million.
Bevacqua attributes the ranging figures due to the venues themselves.
An Open at Winged Foot (2006) or Merion (2013) will not be as profitable as when it’s played at Torrey Pines or Pinehurst (2014), where the sites enable more ticket sales and corporate tents.
The piece then goes on to quote Bevacqua concerning where things are today and where he sees things going:

“We’re beyond the crossroad,” Bevacqua, the chief business officer, says. “Crossroads necessarily means there is some wavering and decisions to be made in which direction you want to head in, and we’ve made it. And we’re all going down the same road.

“My goal is that people will look back five to 10 years at this time and say, ‘That was really a time of transformation. They became modern without losing their identity. They did it in a tasteful way. They never lost their core mission, yet they became a 21st-century organization that is healthy and set up to survive well into the future.’ ”
If you've read anything I've ever written about the USGA, you know that I'm staunchly against commercialization of the organization. Even in the face of increasing costs, the USGA should not be looking to become a bastion of corporate America. After all, ticket costs for the US Open have increased in kind over the years. The USGA has a membership base to pull from for donations. The organization has a reserve that would allow them to cover operating losses almost in perpetuity. In other words, I don't think that the USGA needs money - especially if we are worried about promoting championships.

I never really detail at length my reasons against the selling out of the USGA, though. Let me spell it out. The USGA is one of two governing bodies for the game of golf. They set the rules for the game. They operate national championships that are above the fray of the very corporate PGA Tour. They promote amateur golf, more intelligent agronomy, and conduct research to make sure that technology is not killing the game (I can make a shot here, but I won't because the organization does try very hard).

A governing body is supposed to be above the fray. Could you imagine - and you probably could - if the federal government sold out the naming rights to the Supreme Court building? How about the UBS Supreme Court of the United States of America session presented by Coca-Cola? Ridiculous, yes. Extreme, sure. But the idea is that the body that governs a sport should not be in the busy of making money - much less a profit.

The E-links newsletter is preposterous because it is asking people who play the game to allow the USGA to make advertisement dollars at their expense. In actuality, the USGA should only be soliciting money from people who directly want to give to the cause of the organization OR attend its championships.

The sponsorship with American Express has always reminded me of AmEx's own slogan about enjoying the benefits of membership. People used to join the USGA because they love golf and want to support the organization's programs. Now the USGA is teaming with other organizations - AmEx, RBS probably, etc - to make membership mean more than just loving the game. Why spend so much time on that when that is clearly not the mission of the USGA? Why waste time on getting more members when apparently that stream is not that crucial anymore AND the number of people playing the game is declining?

My frustration stems from the corporate answers that come from people who volunteer to work for the good of the game. Corporate answers never are answers. They are doublespeak or vagaries that leave the average person frustrated. That doublespeak is emblematic of Walter Driver - the outgoing President. I will touch on the interviews that Golfweek conducted with Driver and Vernon in another post, but I think this Driver quote is very telling about both the arrogance and somewhat lack of direction in the corporatization of the USGA.
Driver, too, acknowledges the perceived heavy-handedness on his part and by the Executive Committee but offers no apologies.

“We developed a bias towards action rather than a preference for smoothness,” he says.
Nothing about being right or doing the right thing for the good of the game - just acting. Sooner or later, it will have to be time to judge the results of acting.

Sergio Lost to Boo Weekley

Boo Weekley defeated Sergio Garcia 3 and 1 yesterday in their second round match at the Accenture Match Play. Garcia, who had been carrying two putters in his bag this week in the ultimate act of desperation, must have been really upset when the final handshake was made. After all, the two have a history.

Sergio was DQ'd from the PGA Championship after he signed for an incorrect score that Weekley kept. A few weeks later at the Deutsche Bank Championship, a similar scoring incident happened between the two - that did not result in a DQ.

I am biased toward Weekley because he is one of the great characters in golf right now. And since I am so biased, let me point you to a great profile of Weekley in USA Today by Steve DiMeglio.

In the piece, it says Weekley didn't even know until Wednesday that you could concede putts or shots in match play.

Let me end the post with this highlight that, if Sergio read this piece, may make him all the more angry about the loss.

"I'd much rather watch fishing or hunting or NASCAR or something," Weekley said. "It's got to be moving, man. Golf ain't moving."

Not that Weekley watches a lot of TV. He'd rather have a rifle or a fishing pole in his hand than a remote or a golf club. Forced to choose, he'd pick hunting as his favorite sport.

Weekley doesn't even really care about golf, but he beat Sergio!

Match Play: It's Craaaaazzyyy!

I have talked several times about the very volatile nature of match play since you are playing relative to your opponent. Many times, you can win the match with a wide array of scores. There is no "magic number" to win a match, unlike in medal play where shooting a particular number can usually yield predictable results. Case in point - Phil Mickelson lost his match with Stuart Appleby yesterday without making a single bogey.

Phil Mickelson never made a bogey. And lost. Phil Mickelson was 7 under par. And got beat.

"Unfortunately," said Mickelson, second in the world rankings, second in the seedings, "I just didn't shoot low enough."

Appleby did. He was 9 under par. With nine birdies.


As K.J. Choi, who was 2-over the last 12 holes, had only two birdies the entire match and got past Ian Poulter, 1 up, when Poulter bogeyed the first extra hole.

God, I love match play.

NY Times Confirms Participation Trend

I've done several articles about participation in golf over the years. No need to link to them, but the topics have included why people are leaving the game, if technology has an impact on reduced participation, what impact race has on participation, etc. Often times, I cite statistics from the National Golf Foundation that states that participation has not really grown on the whole since 2000 and that the number of golfers has remained flat or dropped every year since. Yesterday, the NY Times confirmed what I have talked about for so long.

Over the past decade, the leisure activity most closely associated with corporate success in America has been in a kind of recession.

The total number of people who play has declined or remained flat each year since 2000, dropping to about 26 million from 30 million, according to the National Golf Foundation and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

More troubling to golf boosters, the number of people who play 25 times a year or more fell to 4.6 million in 2005 from 6.9 million in 2000, a loss of about a third.

The industry now counts its core players as those who golf eight or more times a year. That number, too, has fallen, but more slowly: to 15 million in 2006 from 17.7 million in 2000, according to the National Golf Foundation.

Interestingly, some golf course owners and marketers threw out some ideas:
Was it the economy? Changing family dynamics? A glut of golf courses? A surfeit of etiquette rules — like not letting people use their cellphones for the four hours it typically takes to play a round of 18 holes? Or was it just the four hours?
Who still plays golf in four hours anymore? No one on the PGA Tour.

Later in the piece (I am skipping around in this post), the family dynamic issue is mentioned in greater depth:
“Years ago, men thought nothing of spending the whole day playing golf — maybe Saturday and Sunday both,” said Mr. Rocchio, the public relations consultant, who is also the New York regional director of the National Golf Course Owners Association. “Today, he is driving his kids to their soccer games. Maybe he’s playing a round early in the morning. But he has to get back home in time for lunch.”
I'm sure you could substitute women for men there too, as they make up one quarter of golfers.

Some of those reasons may very well be accurate. Also, as other sports are finding, people in the younger generations simply are not as active as older ones. But how does the industry cope? A small gathering for this particular piece threw out some suggestions:
They strategized about marketing to women, who make up about 25 percent of golfers nationally; recruiting young players with a high school tournament; attracting families with special rates; realigning courses to 6-hole rounds, instead of 9 or 18; and seeking tax breaks, on the premise that golf courses, even private ones, provide publicly beneficial open space.
A final point addressed in the piece was one that I wanted to highlight because it lends some insight into the recent trends of private clubs going public, golf courses being sold, and the closing of many others.

In many parts of the country, high expectations for a golf bonanza paralleling baby boomer retirements led to what is now considered a vast overbuilding of golf courses.

Between 1990 and 2003, developers built more than 3,000 new golf courses in the United States, bringing the total to about 16,000. Several hundred have closed in the last few years, most of them in Arizona, Florida, Michigan and South Carolina, according to the foundation.

Basically, developers expected the elderly to move to the south and want to live near the golf course with their retirement money - or, at the minimum, play a lot of golf in the south. When that did not happen, for whatever reasons, courses had to be shut down.

The industry seems to be facing a problem of changes in society (for the worse I feel), but also of greed. Golf can only expand as much as people will allow it. There are lots of studies out as to why people are turning away from the game - the time investment, the money investment, not knowing where to start, it's tough to learn, etc. Until the golfing community works to better address those issues, golf will continue to be stagnant in its growth.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Will Not Make Predications.

I Will Not Make Predications.
I Will Not Make Predications.
I Will Not Make Predications.
I Will Not Make Predications.
I Will Not Make Predications.
I Will Not Make Predications.
I Will Not Make Predications.

Martin Kaymer has lost 2&1 to Boo Weekley in the first round of the Accenture Match Play.

Tiger is looking bad against JB Holmes. That could really ruin a lot of brackets.

Ernie Explains His Change of Heart...Kind Of

Ernie Els has a blog on his website. A lot of golfers do now. In a recent entry, date 2/18, he explains his change of heart and decision to enter the Accenture Match Play. Or does he?

As many of you will have read in the sports pages over the weekend, I’ve had a change of heart and have decided to play this week’s WGC Accenture World Matchplay in Arizona. I was originally going to spend the rest of this week practising in South Africa, but you know, I had six weeks off over New Year, and then last week I was at home at Wentworth, so I feel like I’m ready to play again. I want to play.
I don't know if that's much of a detailed explanation for his motivations. It could be as simple as he just up and decided that he wanted to play - hence the last sentence. If I had to guess, though, in all honesty, I would think that he was not pleased with how things ended in Dubai and in New Delhi and other recent chokes. He realized that playing against great competition in a format that requires great putting may just be what he needs. Still, I was left wanting for more of an explanation!

At least his blog entries are better than San Antonio Spurs' Center Tim Duncan.

Slow Play Helps Annika Win 70th

That's a loaded headline and it is intentional. The LPGA Tour has developed a slow play policy that can really have a significant impact on a tournament, players' status and bank accounts. In theory, here's the rule courtesy of

The LPGA Tour assumed each player needs 30 seconds per stroke. That 30 seconds is timed from the point at which it becomes your turn to play until you make your stroke.

So, for example, on a hole on which a player takes 4 strokes, that player has 120 seconds total. Now, figure in a "grace period." The LPGA's old grace period was 25 seconds; under the new rules, the grace period is 10 seconds.

So in reality, a player taking 4 strokes on a hole can go 10 seconds over the 120-second total (based on 30 seconds per stroke, remember) without being in violation of the rules.

However, once a player tops that grace period - using 131 or more seconds on a 4-stroke hole, for example - that player is in violation of the pace of play rules.

If a player scores 3 on a hole, they should have taken 90 seconds total to play those three strokes; a total of 101 seconds results in a violation. With a 4, 120 seconds, 131 seconds results in a violation; with a 5, 150 seconds, 161 seconds results in a violation; and so on.

And those severe penalties? The first violation does not result in a warning or in being placed "on the clock" as happens on the PGA Tour. The first violation results in a 2-stroke penalty. The second violation results in disqualification.

In addition, after an LPGA Tour player accumulates five "plus times," or violations, they are fined $2,500. Each violation after that is another $1,000 fine.

The 2 stroke penalty for a first time violation is pretty significant - especially when it happens to a player contending for the tournament. That happened to Angela Park at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay.
[Slow play] cost her a solo second-place finish and an extra $59,586 after being called for slow play at the 10th hole in the SBS Open at Turtle Bay.Park was only one stroke behind winner Annika Sorenstam at one time, but a triple-bogey 7 at 10 gave her a final-round 69 — 209 and a tie for fifth with Japan's Momoko Ueda.

They finished one shot behind Russy Gulyanamitta, Laura Diaz and Jane Park, who shared second at 208. So instead of getting $100,458 for being second alone, Park got $40,872.
Angela Park complains about the application of the rule to the final groupings and says that she was playing well within the rules for the rest of the day. She couldn't understand why it would be applied at such a critical time. She also wondered if the same thing would be done to more established and recognized players like Paula Creamer and the eventual winner Annika Sorenstam. The cynicism speaks of someone who was the first victim in a potential long line of tournament changing penalties.

But, this rule change and its enforcement is for the good of the professional game. Slow play is an epic problem on every major professional golf tour. The PGA Tour misguidedly created a new cut rule in an effort to address slow play. The USGA has imposed a rule change that could very well have the same impact that the LPGA's policy can have. In the Detroit Free Press, Vartan Kupelian quotes Juli Inkster, who sums up the problem well.
"Our tour is very slow and can be monotonous to watch," Inkster added. "Everyone knows who's slow out there. What slows it up a little bit is that women rely a little more on their caddies than the men do. Hey, it's either a seven-iron or a six. Just get up there and hit it."
The more action and the more quickly it happens will be an asset to the game on television and in person. Yes, fans realize that a lot of money is on the line. But, realistically, will an extra 20 seconds or a minute help a player execute a shot that much better than if they did it 5 seconds ago? No.

Fixing slow play also helps the players better establish a rhythm to their rounds and prevents backups on tees that can slow momentum. Players riding a hot streak on the LPGA Tour know that they will have ample ability to continue it to its natural conclusion instead of running into slow players that will stop it for them.

That's progress. It may take an application of the penalty to get us talking about it, but it's progress.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's Time to Bash the WGCs...

Tom Abbott, over at the Golf Channel, penned a few paragraphs about a topic I have been harping on for over 3 years now - the myth of the World Golf Championships and how they are a spectacular failure. Since I don't feel like linking to my own old stuff, here's some of his current stuff:

The series of three tournaments is 10 years old now and according to its slogan is “celebrating 10 years of global competition”. Global? Alright, in the past the tournaments have gone global, visiting Australia, Ireland, Spain and England in addition to the United States, but now all three are played on U.S. soil. The events come under the banner of the International Federation of Tours, of which the Asian, Australasian, Sunshine and European tours are all part.

Why aren’t we working towards building relationships with sponsors to move these existing events around the globe? As a golf fan I’m disappointed.

I am also disappointed in the fact that only one of these events has a truly unique identity. Although it was derived from the fledgling Anderson Consulting Matchplay, I believe the WGC-Accenture Match Play is the only WGC that stands out on its own. The WGC-CA Championship and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational were existing events (Doral and the NEC World Series of Golf).

Both were solid events in themselves; they didn’t need WGC attached to their titles. In fact, I think both have lost some of their identity because of that addition. You could argue that having the WGC solidifies their place on the schedule, but what’s the point of creating this global series when a) you don’t play globally and b) two-thirds of your events are old events re-hashed.
I thought I would just put this out there as a refresher. On second thought, I found my 2006 column entitled "Colonizing the World (Golf Championships)." May as well quote some of the similarities:
It is under these conditions that PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem has decided to eliminate the "world" part of the World Golf Championships. In the new contract period, all of the World Golf Championships events are being held in the United States. It did not take very long for the domestic press to notice. And, apparently, the rest of the world has taken notice and they are not happy about it.

To be fair, US courses have dominated as host sites for the World Golf Championships over the years. Only 10 of 28 WGC events have been held outside of the United States - and most of those have been of the poorly attended World Cup. But, at least the WGC had one token event in each cycle that was held outside of the United States. Sure, the WGC has never been truly global, but there was an occasional attempt made to placate the global golfing community.

Now, it seems like the PGA Tour has decided to abandon the strategy of appeasement and simply convert the WGC events into regular Tour invitational events that serve as monthly anchors on the schedule. For the US, this is not such a bad thing. It actually provides a full schedule with one special tournament per month on the docket. But, is having that worth angering the international community?

Accenture Match Play Predictions

I'm going to go through the 4 quadrants of the bracket, which you can find here. (Or several other places.) It's time to man up, go on record, and pick some winners. I have a PDF file of the bracket with my selections. Enjoy! I'll be wrong!

My lackluster predictions.

Tim, You've Got a Problem

Tim Finchem participated in a "roundtable" discussion with Larry Dorman of the NY Times and formerly VP at Callaway (the golf industry works that way), TGC's Rich Lerner, and TGC and Golfworld's Tim Rosaforte. Basically, it turned out to be a jumbled garble of business speak, awkward delving into Finchem's interests, and an all around promo for the PGA Tour that did not seem to be too successful.

Honestly, I'm not really sure of the intent. It could have been to make Finchem look less like a tiny robot and more like a vibrant human being. That probably only half worked. He spent a lot of time talking about value streams and sponsorship, but I slept through that part.

I suppose I find the timing of the interview very curious. It comes at a time when Commissioner Finchem is consistently under attack from the very players (PLAYERS?!) he is leading. That's not good PR for him, and it isn't really for the Tour because it then appears that it is the top 5 guys and then a bunch of complainers. The players may have legit gripes in their universe, but when 90 guys were millionaires last year on Tour, the average fan doesn't care about player gripes.

Finchem appears to be fairly shrewd in his planning, although the execution is usually mind-numbing. The guy would not have been commissioner of the Tour this long and paid the outrageous sum he is if the Tour Board did not think he was doing a great job. At a time where the players are making it evident that many of them disagree with that assessment, Finchem had to go on the offensive and make himself known to people as more than the Man Behind the Curtain.

Unfortunately, if you watched it (or have the insomnia to read the transcript from Geoff Shackelford), you may not have gotten the point.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Phil Wins, Avenges Last Year

Phil Mickelson won the Northern Trust/Nissan/Los Angeles Open by two shots on -12 over Jeff Quinney - a bridesmaid last year at the Bob Hope event as well. The win avenges a playoff loss by Lefty last season to Charles Howell III.

Phil joins an illustrious list of legends that have won at Riviera. He also gets off of the list of players who HAVEN'T won at Riviera - including Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Hell, Tiger won't even play at Riviera because it might mess up his early season rhythm.

To his credit, Phil has consistently tried to win at this course because of his ties to it as an amateur and his desire to win the event. Before last season, he had almost no success to speak of at Riviera. Eventually, though, he found the strategy that worked for him at Riviera to deliver him a win.

The PLAYERS v. Finchem

John Hawkins, Golfworld standard bearer for reporting, writes a short piece summarizing the recent string of decisions by the PGA Tour and its player-represented Policy Board that have left the players complaining, clamoring, and barking for a player union.

Yes, the open complaining really seemed to take shape with the formation of the FedEx Cup and its payout structure that was a retirement bonus. (That has since largely changed.) Then, there was drug testing and the Rule 78 cut rule (that will probably be repealed at the Honda Classic in two weeks). Don't forget the 15 year partnership with the Golf Channel that turned a lot of heads.

If you have kept up with the news, you know all of that and the Hawkins piece is just a refresher. The interesting thing to keep in mind about all of these changes that the Tour has made - with the exception of drug testing - is that the Tour has acquiesced to the player complaints as soon as they become significant enough.

Consider this, though, from the Hawkins piece about the Commish:

The tour pros basically represent themselves -- not very successfully, some will tell you. Finchem, an attorney by trade whose bio heralds his abilities as a college debator, is a sharp tack with a history of subduing revolts of all shapes and sizes. Certain lieutenants on his staff may dance with two left feet when trying to win friends and influence players, but their boss is very adept at it. That's why he's still sitting in the big chair.
I don't see how that can be true given the recent string of changes. The payout for the FedEx Cup had to be modified. The cut rule is going to be modified and largely go away for all intents and purposes. He still has TGC as the broadcast partner and there will still be drug testing. It seems like he has a winning percentage in his battles against the players, but it also seems like he has to give in a whole lot.

The question, then, is whether or not Tim Finchem knows what he can actually get and proposes well beyond those means knowing that he will have to give something back. If he is that intelligent, then he deserves a lot more credit as a manipulator than he gets. If not, then he does deserve the lip service as such a spry negotiator.

Annika Watch 2008: 1 Start, 1 Win

I missed posting this over the weekend because I don't normally have a chance to during Saturday and Sunday. Annika Sorenstam finally nabbed LPGA Tour win #70 with a two stroke victory at the season opening SBS Open at Turtle Bay.

Here's what Annika had to say of her round and the win:

"I'm obviously very, very thrilled," said Sorenstam, who has now won her past two starts in Hawai'i — six years apart. "It's great to win tournaments. There's some tournaments that mean a little bit more and they come at a special time. This is one of them, as you know for many reasons.

"I played solid for three days. It's nice to see, for me anyway. I'm hitting some good shots, playing some good golf. It's been a while. That's what I love to do is just play good golf."
To speak of how solid her final round was, consider this:
Sorenstam, at 37 now 18 back of Kathy Whitworth's record for tournament wins (male or female), was at her dominant best. She hit every fairway and missed just one green in the final round, her only glitch a three-putt bogey at the 11th. She thinks it will be easier for her now.
Annika played great from start to finish and, while she didn't face a challenge from Lorena Ochoa, she still has pesky challengers that would just not go away from her. In picking up win #70, she may have picked up the confidence and the push she needs to get to 80.