Monday, March 31, 2008

The 19th Hole: Lorena Back on Track

Lorena Ochoa is back on track. She won her first start of the season on the LPGA Tour by blasting a star-studded field at the HSBC Women’s Champions event in Singapore. After watching Tiger Woods win his opening start by 8 shots at Torrey Pines, Ochoa kicked off her season by beating the field by eleven shots. She said that she sought to replicate Woods’ performance. She did just that.

Then, last week, as Woods was stagnating over the weekend at the CA Championship at Doral in Florida, the same thing was happening to Ochoa in her home nation. At the Mastercard Classic in Mexico City, Ochoa laid an egg early in the 54 hole event that prevented her comeback effort in the final two rounds. With a solid final round, though, she finished in the top 10.

Some questions were raised about the early prognostications of grandeur for the youngster’s season. Obviously, the perfect season was ruined after some began to wonder if Woods and Ochoa would track each other all season long. People wondered if Ochoa simply was just too nervous playing in her home nation to take an event there. No one could tell you if that theory is 100% fact or not. But, there was certainly an opportunity to see the health of Ochoa’s game this week.

Ochoa was the defending champion at the Safeway International at Superstition Mountain in Arizona. Ochoa played her short-lived college golf career at the University of Arizona. Her victory in this event last season nearly marked her official turn into the role of #1 player in the world. It would seem that if she could shake what happened just a few weeks ago, then perhaps Mexico City could just be cast off as hometown jitters.

It did not take long for Mexico City to become a quickly fading memory. Ochoa took Superstition Mountain to task and fired an opening round of 65. While that was not good enough for the first day lead – Angela Stanford fired a course record 62 on Thursday – it was a sign that Ochoa was ready to defend. Ochoa did not relent. Stanford did.

By the time the final round on Sunday had begun in earnest, it was clear that Ochoa was making a victory lap and playing a practice round to the clubhouse. Lorena torched the course, again, for a round of 66 and a final total of -22. She won by seven shots.

If there was any doubt about the direction that Ochoa would take in her second year of reign as the face of the LPGA Tour, it seems that can be dismissed now. Ochoa is two of three to start the season and she struggled to win tournaments early in the 2007 season. It was not until the streak following the Women’s British Open that Ochoa began to be known as the dominator she now is. She has resumed that role to start the 2008 season.

Obviously Ochoa was the favorite going into the first major of the LPGA Tour season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which begins on Thursday. Now it would seem silly to consider any other player as a favorite. Every other player of significance in the field that has won or could win this championship would have to be considered a dark horse. It just does not seem plausible that Ochoa can be had considered how she has played for most of the early part of this season.

Now the only business left for Ochoa is to win the event. Last season, Ochoa was a botched 17th hole away from likely gripping the trophy in her hands. Instead, it is Morgan Pressel that defends the title as the youngest major winner in LPGA Tour history. Do not think that Ochoa has forgotten what happened last season at Mission Hills. Also, do not think that Ochoa would not love to replicate the margin of her two victories this season. Ochoa is not only looking to correct a wrong, but she is looking to make everyone forget it ever happened in the first place.

Given how she has played of late, would you bet against that?

Safeway International: Who Wouldn't Sponsor This Thing?

Lorena won by 7. And, as Bill Huffman reports, the crowds were enormous:

A single-day record crowd of 44,600 turned out for Sunday’s final round of the Safeway International, boosting the total for the week to 159,300 fans, which also was a record.

That last number – 159,300 – is believed to be the largest weekly attendance ever to watch an LPGA event.

The only problem in confirming that fact is the LPGA doesn’t keep attendance records, a policy that also is adhered to on the PGA Tour.

The 44,600 who turned out Sunday at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club broke the old standard of 39,700, which was set a year ago during the same round.

Last year, 151,100 fans turned out for the tournament, which also was a record.

Seriously, this event outdraws several major championships on the LPGA Tour. What is it that presents such a difficulty for a sponsor to get behind this event? I would think any sponsor would be knocking down the door to get in on this action!

Oddball Cink DQ

I know people are probably wondering why Stewart Cink got DQ'd on Sunday. I was wondering too. So, here's a good, quick explanation of it:

Tour veteran Stewart Cink made an early exit from TPC Louisiana on Sunday morning after he was disqualified for a rules violation during Saturday’s third round.

Cink was playing the 15th hole when his ball landed on the wall of a bunker. He stepped into the bunker to figure what kind of shot he should hit next, but eventually hit with both feet on the grass. But because his caddy raked the spot where he stood in the first bunker, he incurred a penalty because it’s considered to be testing the surface of a similar hazard.

When Zach Johnson told Cink about the ruling on the putting green Sunday morning, Cink realized he was the culprit and asked a rules official on the second hole of his final round. Five holes later, he was told that he was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

More on TPC Louisiana

Earlier today, I made a post wondering why the Zurich Classic seems to keep producing first time winners. I came to the conclusion that because the field stinks each year, it would seem logical that the odds of a first timer winning the event are much much higher than average events. Basically, it is the same theory behind the alternate field events. Those fields are weak and usually have very few prior winners in them. It makes sense, then, that a first time winner will take the trophy.

This Times-Picayune piece that salivates some of Johnny Miller did not really catch my eye except for his thoughts on TPC Louisiana - a course I don't especially like. I miss English Turn. But, Miller's explanation may lend a hand to why the tournament is always left wanting for a better field.

"I'm not saying it's a bad course; it's a good course," said Miller, who owns a golf design company and golf academy and designed the Thanksgiving Point Golf Course in Lehi, Utah, host of the Champions Challenge. "It's a good test. I can't say it's not a good test. There's nothing unfair about it. But there's something about Pete Dye courses, they are just unpredictable. You could play well, and you could miss the cut, and you could be playing great the week before. That's Pete Dye."

In fact, Miller said area golf fans shouldn't be surprised if more elite players choose to skip the event in the future, including a pair of top-10 players -- Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk -- who competed this year and failed to make the cut.

"Pete Dye courses have a tendency to be funky and basically ruin the leaderboard," Miller said. "Whenever you see a Pete Dye course you see a lot of the top players, including Tiger Woods, really struggle. The best players in the tournament all missed the cut here. That's a Pete Dye-ism. Pete Dye courses are very awkward. There's something about them.

"Furyk misses the cut, and Stricker misses the cut. Now they would never miss the cut in a million years at the San Diego Open or even a Pebble Beach, (courses) that are sort of straight-forward courses."

Because of that, Miller said he preferred the tournament when it was held at English Turn, which played host to the event from 1989 to 2004 and in 2006.

"I just like the finish," Miller said. "I thought the 15th hole was sensational, over the island green. That could have ended the tournament right there. And No. 17 was a good birdie hole, where you could make a birdie. And No. 18 was a brutal par-4, so a lot of great things could happen at the finish of that course. I just thought it had a lot of nice balance."

That's the thing about Pete Dye. He is lauded as a very good course designer in many circles because he takes a unique approach to course design. TPC Sawgrass is seen as innovative and an amazing test of the game. TPC Louisiana is just kind of annoying. But, the Players does have a penchant for producing several first time and/or fluke champions - especially high for an event that years to be in the company of major championships.

Then you have a course like Bulle Rock - the host site for the LPGA Championship. And that doesn't even seem like a Pete Dye design at all. For the design majors out there that study Dye more extensively than I have, do you think there are stages of design in a career - like those of artists?

Events Like the Zurich...

The Zurich Classic champions roll call is a who's who of first time (and mostly only time) winners on the PGA Tour in recent years. Think of the illustrious winners of the event and who they have gone on to become:

2005 Tim Petrovic
2006 Chris Couch
2007 Nick Watney
2008 Andres Romero

Ummm. Now, there have been solid winners in the past - among them DL3, Vijay, etc - so excellent champions are not out of the reach of this event. But, in six of the last seven playings of the tournament, the event has produced all first time champions. What does that say about the event? Does it say that the fields are usually so weak that it is more likely that there will be a first time winner than a repeat champion? Is it the character of the two host courses - English Turn and TPC Louisiana - that make first timers much more likely?

Unfortunately for the people of New Orleans, I think it is much more likely that this event has fallen stature to weak field status. That seems weird to say considering that Retief Goosen, Jim Furyk, and Stewart Cink were in the field this week. But, look at the rest of the field and the final round leaderboard. It does not exactly compare well to the leaderboard at the end of the CA Championship. Not that it should be able to compare well, but it would be nice if it was close.

New Article Posted

As many of you know, I do some writing on the side for sites other than this one. Among them, I write for Sports Central. They posted a piece I did earlier last week about the flattening of distance increases on the PGA Tour, what they really mean, and whether or not the USGA grooves proposal will have a positive impact on the PGA Tour. I think the findings will surprise you somewhat. Here's the link.

Friday, March 28, 2008

USGA's US Open Challenge Finalists Set

I'm against the idea, in principle, of pimping out the US Open for a synergistic reality TV show to promote the Open. But, in reality, I think it would be great to play the Open setup as it was intended for the field and see how I would do. Larry Dorman at the NY Times has the skinny on the finalists (not so interested in them) and the celebrity threesome that will accompany the winner. The threesome is Tony Romo, Justin Timberlake, and Matt Lauer - so...kinda cool?

If you want to vote for your fave finalist, go to the hilariously labeled website: Really? Someone did not try hard enough at GoDaddy.

Anyway, the larger point of the post is that I found the confidence of some of the contestants hilarious.

“I believe I would shoot between 88 and 92,” wrote Philip Dembure, a former soccer player. John Atkinson, 38, a lifelong nonsmoker found to have inoperable lung cancer last March, wrote, “If I can beat America’s deadliest cancer, then I can definitely break 100 at its Open.” Matt Rice, the police officer , was nominated by his wife, who wrote: “Break 100? Bet my husband shoots his personal best on TV.”

Ross Troike, the former Navy Pilot, said, “Pressure is staring at the back of an aircraft carrier on a pitch-black night after flying for two hours over Iraq knowing there is only enough fuel for one attempt to land or you’re swimming in the Persian Gulf.” He is thinking 82. Erik Norton, the hedge fund trader and former captain of the M.I.T. golf team, promises he “can offer the celebs a lot of color commentary on many of the subjects with which they are fascinated” and “a full supply of self-deprecating angles on me!”

I was speaking with Clay Long, the head club designer over at Nicklaus Golf, in an interview for The 19th Hole last month and he said that he thought there was no way someone would break 100 with that kind of handicap on the Open set up. I will put money down that none of them could.

What got this started in the first place anyway?

The golf reality show was born from an idea first expressed by Tiger Woods at last year’s Open at Oakmont — that a 10-handicapper had no chance to break 100 on an Open setup.

For as much as I have ragged the USGA under Walter Driver, I do find it cool that the USGA can make fun of itself a little bit and indulge the #1 player in the world.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Annika's OK With 2nd Place

Bill Huffman, out in front on all things Safeway International, has a small profile of Annika Sorenstam that shows that Annika is really starting to put things into perspective.

Going into this week's Safeway International at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club near Gold Canyon, the sweet-swinging Swede seems, if anything, comfortable with just being herself.

"I think I'm just in a different situation, a different place in my life,'' said the 37-year-old Sorenstam, who owned the top spot in women's golf for much of the past decade until Lorena Ochoa wrested the title away early last year.

"Last year, (a back) injury sidelined me for two months, and I got a different perspective on life. ... But then this is my 15th year on tour, and a lot of things have happened. I'm not the best player out here, but I've achieved a lot.''

Consider the torch officially passed when the former #1 admits she is no longer #1. It is very interesting that the injury really put life into perspective. Then again, she has so much going on outside of golf that it would be difficult not to have to put things into their proper place. She has her academy, a budding golf design business, and a marriage in a year that will lead to a family. I think it is safe to say that she can move on from being the kind of player she was for nearly 15 years confident in the mark she has left - 70 wins, 8 Player of the Year awards, etc.

A Clear Up on the Wie WD

It was brought to my attention that the injury tweak to Wie's wrist was clarified in another news story and that she, in fact, tweaked it at a practice facility where she could hit out of deep rough. Jill Smoller just used a bad choice of words there to describe the injury. Still, it proves something about Wie's wrists that she still cannot have them hold up with confidence. And that is kind of important since she was all over the place last season.

Let's Talk About Anger Management

It seems like once or twice per year, the media decides to make a big deal of incidences in which Tiger Woods gets really PO'd on the course when a photog snaps a picture of him in the middle of his swing. Woods drops some f bombs, someone reports it in an article, and then people wonder if Woods should be saying those kinds of things on the course.

I'm going to conduct a survey here and you raise your hand if each of these is true.
(1) Have you ever dropped a f bomb on the golf course?
(2) Have you ever dropped a f bomb when someone gets in the way of you doing your job?
(3) Have you ever threatened physical harm to someone if they don't quit annoying you?

Among every person that reads this post, you will have raised your hand to one of those questions.

Does that mean that Tiger should be saying things like that? No. I am pointing out, though, that we have all been in situations where Woods was at the CA Championship. Other pro golfers experience it all of the time. Some handle it similarly to Woods, others are a little more docile. Still, a lot goes on in a golf tournament that fans on TV - and even in person - would scoff at if they knew.

Athletes are human beings. They talk trash, they cuss, they get mad, etc. It happens in every sport. To force them to be held to some arbitrarily higher standard of "we'll admonish you when we hear it" seems unfair. Yes, I know that kids idolize Tiger Woods and that he is setting a bad example for them when telling a photographer that he'll break his f'n neck. But, that is where the parent comes in, explains the situation, and puts things into perspective.

So, everyone, just calm down a little bit and move on to other more pressing problems - like a celebrity chef being grazed by a stray bullet on the course at this week's Zurich Classic.

Is a Tough Course Also a Great Course?

We debated this on The 19th Hole Golf Show last week in light of the press release from PGA National/PGA Tour touting how difficult the Bear Trap played over the course of the Honda Classic - 356 over par, 100 more over par than last year. I came down decisively on the side that harder != better. Geoff Ogilvy, a PGA Tour winner, agrees:

Some people walk away thinking, ‘Geez, that course must be great because the pros can’t make any birdies on it.’ Other people walk away saying, ‘Well, that course must be boring to play because the pros can’t make any birdies on it.’ Everyone seems to be pretty split on the idea whether hard is good.
...kind of reading between the lines there, but you get the idea. He actually is right that people are split on it because of a Golf Digest survey that indicated that over 52% of respondents said that last year's record winning score for the Masters was good because they like to see the pros suffer a la the US Open. Unfortunately, then, 50% of golfers are wrong.

John Huggan backs me up with the data in his column from last week.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Economic Impact on PGA Tour

Geoff Shackelford found this one and I thought it was pertinent in light of the posts I have done recently about the health of LPGA Tour events. I also mentioned that some of the PGA Tour stops could be considered in trouble for various reasons. But, Gary Smits takes a look at the PGA Tour as a whole and asks whether or not the economic downturn will have an impact.

"I don't know if we're impervious," Finchem said recently. "We have a lot of long-term stuff with fundamental building blocks at the tournament level. Ads and TV ratings are on a shorter leash, but so far we haven't seen any falloff."

Finchem said the economic outlook for the Tour is not as dire as in 1999 and 2000, during the bust. For example, the Tour had to fill nearly 10 title sponsorships within a year, including an umbrella sponsor for its developmental tour to replace

Currently, the only events without title sponsors are in Tampa and Atlanta. Umbrella sponsors such as FedEx (the FedEx Cup, the Tour's season-long points race), Nationwide (the Nationwide Tour), and Charles Schwab (the Charles Schwab Cup on the Champions Tour) remain in place on a long-term basis.

In addition, Northern Trust recently signed on as title sponsor to the Tour's stop in Los Angeles and MasterCard renewed its presenting sponsorship contract with the Arnold Palmer Invitational, through 2012. Barclays, which already is title sponsor of the first PGA Tour playoff event, signed Mickelson to a sponsorship deal last week.

Joe Ogilvie, one of the player-directors on the PGA Tour Policy Board, said the standard six-year title sponsorship contracts and the six-year television contract with NBC and CBS (and 15-year deal with The Golf Channel) are proving to be a saving grace for the Tour.

"We have long-term commitments in place, and companies were able to budget," he said." When some of the title sponsorships begin running out in 2010 and beyond, there might be some softness, but so far, I don't see it."

It is times like these that makes Tim Finchem appear very smart. That 15 year deal with TGC locks up a price for broadcasting the Tour for a very long time. The arrangements with major sponsors in the form of long-term deals will always help sustain in economic tough times.

If you consider the sponsorship mix of the PGA Tour, there are way more sponsors that are marketing to demographics that are largely above the fray of any recession: the upper middle class to the upper class. Seriously, when will BMW ever be in trouble? Still, I noted in other posts that some events are in trouble because of weak industry activity. Here's some proof:

Ginn Resorts, which is title sponsor of a Fall Series event and this week's Champions Tour event in Palm Coast, is experiencing financial problems.

And the Tour is top-heavy in title sponsorships in financial institutions and auto makers, which could have long-term effects.

"Anything to do with residential development might be a problem pretty soon," Ogilvie said.

"You look at retail, like cars, which would be a problem, but we have a great relationship with Buick, and they have Tiger on their team. They're one U.S. car brand that is doing well."

Smits is right that if many of the Tour's financial industry sponsors experience some part of the subprime and credit crunch fall out, that they may be less likely to back the Tour. But, most groups with the PGA Tour are generally out of that mess. Thank God there is no Countrywide Open.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Golf Social Networking Sites

Ok, so I saw an advertisement on for a social networking site called That was a new one for me, so I went to take a look. I have also seen as a golf social networking site. It basically is a copy of MySpace, but golf specific. Are there any others out there that I am missing? I want to get a feel for the whole golf social networking world. Or, are these two the MySpace and Facebook of golf?

ADD on 4/1/08:

I was emailed about this post by another blogger named Josh Morgan. He actually did a post concerning Stracka. They're employing a technique of promoting their product that is known as paid reviews. In essence, they are soliciting space on blogs for posts that are "reviews" of Stracka in a positive light. This is done to increase their Web search optimalization - placement on Google, basically - and get positive "reviews." It is not an unprecedented practice, but it is a bit shady considering that the product does seem to be pretty solid. What's worse, though, is that it appears that Stracka employees were creating fake accounts and posing as users of the site to add comments to the sponsored posts that pimp out Stracka. Shady.

Your thoughts?

LPGA Schedule Health in Question?

I found a new blog the other day, written by a guy who goes by the moniker of Hound Dog, about the LPGA Tour. I've enjoyed reading it so far and there is a link on the sidebar for it. Anyway, Hound Dog had this post the other day listing his endangered LPGA Tour events. Here's his list:

1. Fields Open
2. Corona Championship
3. Safeway International
4. Longs Drugs
5. SBS Open
6. MasterCard Classic
7. Jamie Farr
8. Samsung

It's a pretty grim assessment from the perspective of a LPGA Tour fan. Realistically, let's go over the list.

1. Fields Open - rumors of the tournament needing a new home and a new sponsor leave this tournament as a primo pick to be off of the schedule for next year. It is a 72 hole event and generally draws a good field, but it is tough to generate a big crowd in Hawaii unless a native daughter (Michelle Wie) is playing and is a contender. The only reason that the PGA Tour has any level of success there is because of its better ability to pick off high profile sponsors.

2. Corona Championship - you can probably kiss this one goodbye because the Lorena Ochoa Invitational is likely to replace it in the long term. Corona is behind the Ochoa event. Even in the face of the Once Every Four rule, it is tough to peg a memory of significance on this event.

3. Safeway International - I honestly would not place it this high. In fact, I wouldn't call it that endangered. This event has managed to survive through many sponsorship changes. It has a lot of local support. This will endure.

4. Longs Drugs - another event fitting the profile of the Safeway, but on a much smaller scale. It is a long time LPGA Tour event. The purse is pretty low, though. Still, how can there not be an interested sponsor for a solid LPGA field late in the season? Especially compared to the Fall Stinker Series on the PGA Tour?

5. SBS Open - this one could probably move further up the list. It has the smallest full field purse on Tour. Then again, it may have just received CPR in the form of Annika Sorenstam winning the event. It is likely to live at least another few years on that alone.

6. Mastercard Classic - a lot of complaints about hills, walking times, and smog make this event one that is more likely to move than to die. The LPGA Tour wants a presence in Mexico beyond the Ochoa event. To have 3 events in Mexico is probably a bit much, but 2 seems reasonable. After all, the PGA Tour is expanding to Mexico and Puerto Rico.

7. Jamie Farr - see Longs Drugs, basically.

8. Samsung - this event, owned by IMG, used to be meaningful until the ADT Championship became the most innovative tournament in golf today. A 20 player field for a million bucks on a mediocre gimmick course? Try 30 players playing for a million dollar first prize in a gimmick format that almost everyone loves. It's much better.

Realistically, though, I could see half of these tournaments going away. That means that it is more likely that only 2 will drop off the schedule next year. Still, I don't think that is Hound Dog's point. The point is that the health of many LPGA Tour events can be called into some question from season to season. This is almost 25% of the schedule. You are not likely to call 25% of the PGA Tour schedule into question from season to season. But, to prove the point that the LPGA Tour is not unique to this problem, consider the following events are on trouble on the PGA Tour:

1. PODS Championship - no sponsor, no help from Tour
2. Wyndham Championship - lousy participation
3. Zurich Classic of New Orleans - always tenuous on sponsorship
4. AT&T Classic (Duluth, GA) - losing a sponsor
5. any alternate field event that you want to pick, but only one
6. Ginn sur mer Classic - probably fits because it is based on real estate

So, this goes to show that no tour is immune from the struggles to find sponsorship and keep events alive.

Tavistock Cup Question

How can Henrik Stenson be allowed to participate in these matches? The guy lives in Dubai. There has to be some kind of rule against maintaining primary residence in the Middle East and being an active member of a golf club in Florida. There is no way he gets that many rounds at Lake Nona every year. He's a ringer!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Club Warz!!1! Nickent vs. TaylorMade

Got this email tonight from the good folks at Nickent Golf. Apparently, they're getting sued by TaylorMade-adidas for a claim they made in a recent marketing campaign.

Nickent Golf was informed Friday that one of it's competitors, TaylorMade-adidas Golf Company, has filed a lawsuit involving our advertisement that a Nickent 4DX driver had finished as the #1 overall driver model at the Moonah Classic, the most recent 2008 Nationwide Tour. We are a small company with great products, and we wanted to tout the fact that we have a driver that is good enough to finish as the #1 driver model in a Nationwide Tour event.

There has been no misleading information disseminated by Nickent, as the Darrell Survey, the mechanism responsible for keeping track of golf club equipment usage at professional events, clearly shows that the Nickent 4DX T Spec was the #1 driver model at the Nationwide Tour Moonah Classic with 28 clubs in play. It was the first time Nickent has taken the #1 driver model distinction on the Nationwide Tour and it was deemed worthy of a small advertising campaign, especially since the event was the Nationwide Tour's most recent.
Seriously, TM-adidas? Pretty much everyday, someone makes a false claim about golf products - or claims that are very loosely based on scientific fact and research. Since the USGA has effectively limited what the club can do, any claims of technological breakthroughs to jack up distance are wrong. How often are those made? Count 'em on your fingers.

I do think it is funny that this is a window into the niche industry and balance sheet reference to lawsuits that is common to golf manufacturers. Normally, the claims are more worthwhile than this (the NATIONWIDE TOUR?!), but these are not uncommon.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter! Chris Berman Not at the Masters!

Remember when I mentioned several months back about ESPN attaining coverage of the first two rounds of the Masters, basically as a quid pro quo from Augusta for being the international provider of record to broadcast the event everywhere but the US? Maybe? Anyway, at the time, I mentioned that there was absolutely no way that Chris Berman - the man who bastardizes the US Open's first two rounds - would be let near the gates of Augusta National. And guess what? I was right...again!

This past October, from the moment ESPN announced it had entered the
mix to televise the Masters, the fear and loathing among golf fans in
anticipation of Chris Berman's smothering presence has grown by the day.

With the Masters just three weeks away, e-mails, once expressing
mere anguish, have begun to arrive carrying vague "goodbye-cruel-world" threats. The imagined sounds of Berman on the telecasts - "K.J. Choi To The World, for par" - have made people tense as a mousetrap.


Berman will have nothing to do with this year's Masters telecasts, no presence whatsoever. There's not even a pro-am for ESPN to show him clowning in. Mike Tirico will be the only ESPN person seen through the network's Thursday and Friday, 4-7 p.m. window. And Tirico is assigned to conduct interviews from Butler Cabin.

The rest of ESPN's telecasts will be in the hands of CBS and CBS personnel. Berman won't even be a member of ESPN's three-man, on-site "SportsCenter" team.
Apparently, this had to be written because the NY Post was getting lots of concerned emails about the telecast. They should have just read me, or any other golf blogger...I think we all said the same things. I think we all said this, too:
It therefore stands to reason that the Masters boys, who keep a firm grip on everything from TV announcers to tickets - the grains of sand in the bunkers are numbered - made it clear from the start that Berman not make ESPN's cut. Either that, or ESPN preemptively volunteered to bench Berman.
Don't think it was the latter.

Wie WDs from Safeway: "It's My Wrist"

Seriously, for how long can someone have their wrist hurt?

I know that Denis Watson had his career cut significantly shorter on the PGA Tour because of a wrist/back related injury, but that was striking a massive tree root in a competitive golf round. Michelle Wie hurt her wrists - separately - by practicing, and then the other by falling down. And, apparently, one year later she has not gotten any better. How do I know? Michelle Wie withdrew from the Safeway International next week.

The best part, though, is the reason.

Wie's agent, Jill Smoller of the William Morris Agency, said the Stanford freshman reinjured her left wrist when she accidentally hit a ball that was embedded in thick rough on the driving range at Stanford on March 13.

WHAT? Raise your hand if any of you have ever (a) hurt your wrist at the driving range, or (b) even seen "thick rough" at the driving range? The point of the driving range is to simulate hitting from the fairway. Either Jill Smoller is the worst possible replacement for Greg Nared that William Morris could find, or Wie is hitting balls out of a pasture and calling it a driving range.

Wie already played in one event this season. She made the cut, but played worse in each round - culminating with 78 in the final round. Of course, I am making no illusion to that to suggest that Wie is a quitter, or a wimp. Ok, yes I am.

LPGA Sponsor Woes; Sign of Trouble?

We reported last week on the fact that Safeway is out as sponsor of the very popular (FBR esque) event at Superstition Mountain in Arizona. The East Valley Tribune continues their breaking coverage and asks some serious questions.

If you are a fan of the LPGA and the Safeway International, you’ve got to be a little bit scared. Four tournaments into the 2008 season and already two of those four events are on the endangered list and need sponsors if they are to return in 2009.

For those keeping track, the Fields Open in Hawaii — the second tournament of the season won by Paula Creamer — reportedly is not only searching for a new title sponsor, it also needs a new course to host the tournament.

Bill Huffman, the article's author, certainly takes a cynical point of view for the rest of the piece relating to the Safeway-LPGA relationship. Still, he has a good point that he makes early. When the LPGA Tour loses sponsors, it has a tougher time in replacing them with other quality sponsors in the same location as the tournament. He takes a guess later in the piece that there is a 50-50 chance that the AZ event will continue beyond this season. His rationale:
Now if this were the PGA Tour, I suppose Tim Finchem would just reach into his commissioner’s hat and pull out a new sponsor. But this is the LPGA,
where Carolyn Bivens rules with reckless abandon and sponsors are much harder to sell on the concept of watching women play golf. But it’s not about gender. The largest obstacle in securing a sponsor —for men’s or women’s golf — is finding the right fit in the community, or that elusive chemistry known as “bang for your buck.’’

Unfortunately, the Phoenix-Scottsdale area has proven time and again that it does not have the type of big corporate money it takes to support a professional golf tournament.

Chances are the LPGA does not have the “right fit’’ to save the Safeway
International despite the tournament’s popularity. So in the end, it will be up
to TGF, the Banner Health folks, Superstition Mountain and the local golf
community to solve what presently looks like a doomsday scenario.

I have to disagree with him because all of the aspects of an attractive tournament are there. The LPGA Tour's best demographics are women of all ages and an increasing number of amateur golfers that can learn more from watching fundamentally sound women than by watching hard-swinging men. I'm sure that there is a sponsor somewhere in there.

Personally, I would put out US Airways. They are based out of Phoenix - in part - because of their merger with America West Airlines. The airline is starting to turn a profit, and anything that would help the image of the airlines would be something most welcome. While they are charging you for a second bag, headphones, or anything else, they may as well throw some of that into the 2nd best golf tournament in the state...right?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Some Guys Are Just Slow, Right?

Sean O'Hair had some response to Johnny Miller's counting of his practice strokes at Bay Hill last week, and the criticisms leveled at the PODS the week prior.

"One thing I don't understand is at Tampa, I deserved every single bit of the criticism that I got about my pace of play because I was holding the group up," O'Hair said. "Something people need to understand is that I wasn't in that situation for two years. I was a little bit nervous. There was a lot of things going on in my mind and I'm not going to step over a shot until I'm committed to the shot.

At least he did admit nervousness. That's not necessarily a valid excuse for breaking the rules, but I could have guessed that was the case. After all, JB Holmes said they are playing for a million every week, so he will go as slow as he wants. At least O'Hair was not indignant.

"As far as last week, I actually heard that I was criticized a little bit more than Tampa. The thing I don't understand is that we played the front nine in 1:42. We waited on every single shot on the back nine. So when you're watching the telecast, is he sitting there saying that? No.

No, he didn't say that. They did move through the front side fairly quickly. 1:42 is pretty good for a final round. I think the thing to point out - and what I have been saying - is that slow play is endemic, not isolated. O'Hair's example backs that.

"I mean, to me what does it matter if I take two practice swings or eight practice swings? I do what I have to do to play well. Obviously what I'm doing right now is right. But I think it's a little unfair to criticize somebody about their routine and talk about how slow they are when basically you're waiting on every single shot.

"We waited for almost ten minutes on the 16th tee, and I took eight practice swings because obviously we were just standing there not doing anything. If I walked up to the 16th tee and the fairway was clear, I might have taken two or three practice swings. You know, he can say what he wants to say. I can't control that. But I have a little bit of a problem with criticizing somebody when you're on time."

Overall, a fairly good defense for himself. He could have taken more practice swings in advance of his turn to play. It's ready golf. Good on him, though, to try to explain things in a rational way. May not have been as good as Obama's explanation speech, but it is solid.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Guess at the Impact of the Ball on Distance

The equipment editing crew at Golf Digest asked some tour players about the last time they used a persimmon wood in either practice or competition. They got several responses, but the most interesting - in my mind - was Phil Mickelson's.

Phil Mickelson says he last used persimmon during practice for the 2007 EDS Byron Nelson Championship, conducting an experiment of sorts. "It was an old Wood Brothers," said Mickelson. "Callaway did some tests three years ago with a persimmon driver and a ball from the 1990s, comparing it to an HX Tour ball and modern driver. There was a 50-yard difference. The testing said it was 25 yards driver and 25 yards ball. So I tested it, and that turned out to be about right. I couldn't believe how different the launch conditions were -- and that was a driver I used to play with."
Obviously, there is no published study to verify the Mickelson quote, but we could take it at face value. Very interesting finding. The beginning of the period attributed to the recent boom in driving distance through technology of over 20 years cited in the last 10-15 years or so almost coincides with the death of persimmon on the PGA Tour. E. Mike Johnson explains:
Calc's last use coincides with persimmon's twilight on the PGA Tour. The last significant year was 1997 when 11 players used wooden drivers in 43 events. Mac O'Grady was the last player to use persimmon in a tour event (Ben Hogan driver, 2004 B.C. Open), but the last full-time player to do so was Bob Estes (2001 WGC-Accenture Match Play in Australia) with a MacGregor 945TW that he bought for $700.
I'm not trying to draw a comparison specifically with distance increases and the death of persimmon on Tour. But, it clearly has something to do with it - as well as the ball. Don't forget the ball.

Captain Zinger With Another Zinger

Paul Azinger is considering recruiting the hottest Nationwide Tour player for one of his four Captain's Picks for the Ryder Cup. This is a little old, but Rex Hoggard has the details.

Last week at the PODS Championship, Azinger offered his idea that if a Nationwide Tour player were to win three events on the secondary circuit and receive a “battlefield promotion” to the PGA Tour prior to the matches he would consider that player for one of his four captain’s picks.

Some bristled at the notion. Others dismissed it altogether. But on Tuesday at Bay Hill, Azinger passionately backed up his claim that he wants to take the hottest Americans to Valhalla, regardless of pedigree or position.

“If he wins three in a row or three out of four or whatever. He wins that last one the week I’m picking I think he’s as confident as anyone else,” Azinger said. “I had some players say to me, ‘You can’t pick a guy like that. He’d be too nervous.’ I’m just saying I’m not afraid to do anything I have to do to get it right.”
Hell yeah, Zinger. Break the rules down and do what it takes to win this thing for once! The reality is, though, that is not likely to happen and Azinger knows it.
Azinger, who never played the Nationwide Tour, likely did his homework before stepping to the Nationwide ledge. Seven of the eight players who have earned “battlefield promotions” have been Americans, and the earliest a player has ever made the jump is Aug. 5 (Heath Slocum in 2001). Which means, at least to Azinger, that if their is a three-time lottery winner it will occur virtually on the eve of the matches.
Still, it is pretty cool that he is willing to do anything to win - regardless of the good ole regulars who would have made the team...and probably lost.

Really?! Daly Exempted into Buick Open

Did we not just have a talk about this? It happened this week and Carlos Monarrez (someone I routinely disagree with) is defending it on simple grounds:

I'm coming to Daly's defense this week because he has been unfairly criticized recently by his coach, by fellow players and by the media.

It seems Daly's main transgression these days is that he's being himself. Big John. J.D. The Lion. Call him what you will, but he's just the same tell-it-like-it-is, chain-smoking, beer-guzzling, troubled, endearing, honest heap of humanity he has always been.

Fans love him for it. After all, it's not about what sports writers, coaches and other pros think of Daly. It's about what he gives fans -- a refreshing dose of honesty among the cookie-cutter world of pro golf.

That's why it was a no-brainer for the Buick Open to offer Daly an exemption for this year's tournament when he asked for one. If you remember the Tiger-like crowds Daly and his pal Kid Rock attracted to the final round of last year's tournament, Buick officials would be fools not to beg Daly to return to Warwick Hills in June.

It is the same argument that has been made for years about why Daly should be given exemptions. Using my Internet lingo translator, it goes like this:

OMG! Daly is like da fanz 4realz! We be invitin' him to da turny! Sry ur an alkoholik. K thx bye!

Carlos then goes on to talk about the sideshow that Daly has made in the past few weeks. Then he comes up with this one:

Daly's life is a wild and entertaining soap opera. But critics say they're tired of it, that he's wasting his talent and being unprofessional.

OK, let's say that's true. What's the answer? Should we make Daly conform to someone's idea of good behavior with bed checks at 8 p.m. and oatmeal for breakfast? We already have 143 other robots on the course most weeks. We don't need another.

The truth is that Daly's behavior rarely hurts anyone but himself. Instead of trying to change Daly and impose some vague notion of propriety on a man who's only trying to be himself, maybe it's time for Daly's critics to ask themselves why they have the right to ask anyone to change.

Could not be further from the truth, especially from the perspective of the game of golf. His behavior embarrasses his sponsors (that's why he has none), the Tour (Finchem is afraid to do anything), and he totally disrespected Arnold Palmer on Wednesday (though he did a classy thing in playing a make up pro-am round on Sunday). Daly's behavior has an impact on a lot of people.

Still, I think more potent is that the criticism of Daly's behavior - at least mine - is that Daly is an alcoholic. He has an addiction. Whether he chooses to admit it or not, he has an addiction. By offering Daly opportunities to play, the Tour and tournaments are validating that behavior. That is dangerous thinking just to get more tickets sold. It is borderline exploitation.

I love John Daly for every part of his personality - EXCEPT the part about being an alcoholic. It can end a life. It can ruin other lives. Glossing over that because fans want to see him play just seems wrong to me.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tiger 360 - What?

The Golf Channel is trying to capitalize on Tigermania v. 5.0 with a new series premiering tonight called Tiger 360. I have no idea what it means, or what it will do. And it may just be So and So 360 - following a new golfer each episode. We will see, but wanted to alert you.

Oh Yeah, Asian Tour? Well, WE Don't Need YOU!

That, in effect, in what Australasian PGA Tour head Ben Sellenger (and guest of The 19th Hole) said about the Asian Tour's decision to "not accept" the OneAsia Tour. To not completely butcher what Sellenger said, here's what he really is on the record as saying.

“The concept isn't ultimately reliant on the Asian Tour putting their stamp of approval on it,” Sellinger said.

“If you look at the strength of the parties that are involved, it doesn't really affect it to any degree.

“Ideally, we'd love for them to be involved. We think it is in the best interests of golf, but with all the other regional bodies in Asia Pacific pushing this forward it's something that can still work extremely well.”

Well, there you have it. So, it is a bit of he said-he said as the Asian Tour is saying they were never included and Sellenger saying that they have chosen not to be a part of it. Obviously, someone is lying somewhere.

The 19th Hole: Something Else to Showcase

Tiger Woods won his fifth Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on Sunday with a 24 footer that curled about 8 feet into the cup on the 72nd hole of the tournament. The win marked Woods’ fifth straight PGA Tour victory, 7th consecutive global win, and furthers talk about the potential to win 12 events in a row. In other words, all of the buzz surrounding Tiger’s current round of dominance continued and was heightened.

If you want to read about what Woods accomplished, there are about 20 columns being written today by columnists around the country and world that will go into more depth. I’d like to talk about something different that was showcased on Sunday. That is the reality of slow play on the PGA Tour.

Sean O’Hair was paired with Tiger Woods in the final group on Sunday at Bay Hill after firing a sensational 63 on a tough and beat up Bay Hill. He rocketed nearly 50 places between the beginning and end of the third round. That was a heck of an achievement and proof positive that his game is in form, even after capitalizing on Stewart Cink’s massive collapse the week before at Innisbrook. He earned the right to be featured alongside the greatest player alive.

The problem for O’Hair and his Sunday performance is two-fold, though. First is the obvious point that O’Hair did not win and played himself out of contention in the first few holes of the day. To his credit, though, he battled back nicely and finished in a logjam for third place.

The second problem is much great, in my mind. Sean O’Hair was exposed as one of the slowest PGA Tour players this side of Ben Crane. He joined the likes of Crane and Sergio Garcia among those players that are nationally known as slow pokes. Although O’Hair’s slow play was not unknown in golf circles (hell, it was on display last week with a smaller audience), Sunday at Bay Hill made O’Hair look very bad.

In particular, on the par 3 17th hole, O’Hair was not even ready to make a club choice after the green cleared. He could not remember that he had the honor from two holes prior. Then, he took about 10 practice swings before hitting his iron shot just long enough to stay dry. What exactly did the 10 practice swings do for him that one or two could not? Would he have hit it the necessary 7 yards further had he taken an eleventh practice stroke?

That is not the only example, but it is the most glaring. NBC’s Johnny Miller took notice, too, and started counting the number of practice strokes O’Hair took on seemingly every hole. At one point, Miller correctly wondered whether or not taking so long to hit the ball is actually causing problems instead of eliminating them. After all, the longer it takes someone to hit the ball, the more time there is for bad thoughts to creep into one’s head. Eventually, the bad thoughts will sabotage even the most technically sound golf swing.

O’Hair’s pace of pace is particularly interesting to highlight since he was paired with Woods. On his website, Woods recently railed against slow play on the PGA Tour and claimed that the pace of play is much faster in Europe and Asia. That was after winning the Accenture Match Play and playing the ultra slow JB Holmes in the first round.

Holmes recently responded to the comments about slow play from Woods and Australian Adam Scott. Holmes said that he did not care that people thought he was slow because he is playing for $1 million first place each week. He also should not care because the PGA Tour is afraid to enforce its existing slow play rules or adapt the LPGA Tour’s very strict slow play policy that is working.

Slow play makes the game tougher to watch in person and on television. The experience is more draining than exciting when you are shouting, “Hit the ball!” at the television. I understand that players want to be able to have ample time to play their shots for a lot of money, but 5 extra practice swings to count down from 10 because your sports psychologist said so is not going to dramatically improve your game.

The PGA Tour needs to clamp down on slow play. Five hours to play a round with two players is simply unacceptable. If I can play by myself in 2 hours, then PGA Tour players should be able to get it in under 4 as a pair since they are much better.

In the time it took me to write this column, Sean O’Hair would have finished one hole of golf. Scary, huh?

Perplexing News: Safeway Out at Superstition Mountain

The Safeway International is one of - in my opinion - the best non-major events on the LPGA schedule. Gets a lot of fan support and community backing. Now, though, Safeway has backed out as sponsor to concentrate on their tournament in Portland, the Safeway Invitational, that they have sponsored for much longer.

Despite attracting the largest crowds on the LPGA, as well as all of the top female players in the world, the East Valley event will be looking for a new sponsor in 2009, said Tom Maletis of the Portland-based Tournament Golf Foundation.

Safeway had been the sponsor for the past five years at Superstition Mountain, but the latest two-year extension ran out this year.

Maletis said that while the Pleasanton, Calif.,-based grocery chain will end its role in Arizona, it will continue to sponsor the Safeway Classic in Portland. TGF owns and manages both tournaments.

“Both tournaments had grown to the point that, to really ensure that the level of quality be maintained, they needed to concentrate on one event, and that will be the tournament in Portland, where they have been a sponsor for over 15 years,” Maletis said.

Both events seem to attract good LPGA Tour fields, so Safeway isn't picking a winner or loser here per se. But, 151,000 people came last year to see Lorena win. That kind of attendance outpaces a lot of PGA Tour events. Why the change then? Methinks you can blame the economic downturn/recession.

Maletis acknowledged that the economy “is a little tough these days,” but he declined to comment on Safeway’s current state of economic affairs, which included a 400-person layoff in February, including 70 administrative personnel.

“I think it’s more about wanting to enhance the tournament in Portland,” he said. “From that standpoint, we are moving the 2009 tournament there from its long-time venue at Columbia Edgewater Country Club to nearby Pumpkin Ridge, where they’ve held two U.S. Opens.”

That's a bit of a bombshell in and of itself since I love Pumpkin Ridge.

Las Colinas is OK!

The Tour inspected the joint and said everything is good enough to play.


Irving, TX – The completely redesigned TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas will host the 2008 EDS Byron Nelson Championship, April 23-27, according to officials from the PGA TOUR, Four Seasons Resort and Club and the Salesmanship Club Charitable Golf of Dallas, the Championship’s sponsor.

After a thorough review of all aspects of the golf course by PGA TOUR, BentleyForbes, Four Seasons, and Salesmanship Club of Dallas, the PGA TOUR is pleased to announce the TPC Four Seasons will host the 2008 EDS Byron Nelson Championship.

"So many parties have pulled together under challenging weather conditions to get the course ready and make this announcement possible,” said Henry Hughes, Executive Vice President and Chief of Operations for the PGA TOUR. “D.A. Weibring has been the driving force with tremendous support from both BentleyForbes and Four Seasons. The Salesmanship Club will undoubtedly continue to produce record charity dollars to benefit the less fortunate in Dallas. The PGA TOUR is proud to congratulate all involved in this huge accomplishment."
It's good enough! Yeah! I have not seen photos of the course since DA has redone the place. Just in case you want a course preview, though, has it!*


Friday, March 14, 2008

TPC Las Colinas in Trouble for Nelson?

The Byron Nelson Championship is just 6 short weeks away and there have been a lot of changes made to the TPC Four Seasons by DA Weibring. A problem has surfaced - a fungus problem, supposedly - that has put that quality work in jeopardy and the tournament site into question.

More from Bill Nichols:

There's so much speculation from players and caddies about the popular tournament that it's hard to separate fact from fiction. Among the rumors: A fungus is ruining the new grass, and the tournament is moving to the TPC at Craig Ranch.

PGA Tour officials examined the course Monday. They are awaiting results of a soil sample that will probably come Friday. A decision on the redesigned layout is expected early next week at the latest.

One certainty is that D.A. Weibring's remodeling job got a big thumbs-up from the Tour. But with only six weeks to go, durability of new grass is a concern.

Tim Finchem commented on the visit and the implications of the timing of it.
"We're at a point with Las Colinas where we're building staging down there, so we've got to make a call," Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. "The visit that was done Monday was very positive. There's no question about the quality of the golf course. But we've got to have good grass, and the greens need to come through."
I spoke with DA Weibring last year about the changes they were implementing. He seemed incredibly excited about them and was getting a lot of support from the players that demanded the change.

Click here to download my September 2007 interview with redesigner DA Weibring on the project.

OneAsia Tour is On...Without Asian Tour

We blogged about a story a few weeks ago that came from Reuters saying that the Asian Tour's chief executive, Kyi Hla Han, had been claiming they had been ignored by the mastermind behind the formation of the OneAsia Tour - the PGA Tour of Australasia.

Now, the Asian Tour is officially saying they will not be a part of the concept scheduled to begin next season.

"We are not going to accept it," Kyi Hla Han told Reuters. "We don't feel there can be two entities in the market place."


Han said the Asian Tour had decided not to come on board having received no cooperation from the other circuits in the region.

"We have repeatedly asked help from the Australian Tour, the driving force behind this, but they have ignored us," the Myanmar national said.

"We've asked them to help set up talks, they had meetings in February, they didn't invite us.

"It's our position that we are a success and have been accepted in the marketplace already. I don't think we can accept two organisations."

I think the comment is a bit awkward. After all, there already are more than 2 entities in the market. And a bunch of them are teaming up to form OneAsia.
The Japan Golf Tour Organisation, the China Golf Association, the Korean Golf Association and the PGA of Australia have agreed to give their "complete support" to the proposed tour, the Australian PGA announced on Friday.

The golf circuits of Japan, China, South Korea and Australia -- the "Founding Tours" -- have agreed to form an interim board with a chairman to be named in the coming months, the Australian PGA said.
Well, there you have it. I find it curious that the Asian Tour is so sure of itself. After all, we did a study last week of the purses on the Asian Tour that are NOT co-sanctioned events. The picture was not as glorious as the Tour would want an outside observer to think. Were it not for the European Tour's co-sanctioning relationship with the Asian Tour and claiming the majors and WGCs on their schedule, the Tour may very well be struggling to survive.

Here's the release from the PGA Tour of Australasia website.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Special Comment on John Daly

It's time to have a chat about John Daly. We do this every year and this is going to be the one and only time I address the subject this season.

John Daly's relationship with Butch Harmon was terminated by Harmon on Monday. Daly was notified, apparently, through the press reporting of the move. Harmon said that Daly is more concerned about drinking than playing golf. I would imagine that a lot of what Harmon did was motivated by the behavior reported in the Hooters tent at the PODS Championship - where Daly missed the cut and was being caddied by friend and Tampa Bay Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden. Reports indicate that the entire week was a mess - and, to boot, Daly did not make any money and did not really seem to care.

Harmon began his relationship with Daly - which only lasted 3 sessions - under the auspices that JD would prove his commitment to golf and not to drinking. Golf would have to come first, or the relationship would end. It became obvious that golf is not first, so Harmon followed through on his promise. Good for him.

Harmon did the right thing. It is far too often that people associated with John Daly do not take tough enough of a stance in confronting his behavior. Daly's posse seems to encourage his rowdy and destructive behavior. Sure, there is nothing wrong with fun. But, there is something wrong with an addiction, and it appears clear that Daly has an alcohol addiction that he cannot kick with the group that surrounds him. Where was Gruden with the tough love approach?

There have been articles for months now wondering if PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem will call Daly into his office and lay down the law. It does not appear that has been done. Or, if it has been, Finchem cowered in his opportunity. John Daly needs to know that there is a recourse for his friends, colleagues, sponsors, and professional opportunities - as a whole - for his negative behavior.

Yes, he has lost sponsorship deals. (Hooters dropped JD recently and he has no sponsor on the bag. That's why he wrote his book.) But, he still has tournament directors clamoring to offer him a sponsor's exemption even though he has 1 win (Buick Invitational) in the last 13 seasons. Why? Because John brings a circus atmosphere that people want to see. Despite his flaws, people connect with him in a very real way. I know I do to some extent. For that reason, people come to see him play and wish him well even if for only 2 rounds.

Still, this gives him opportunities to play. It is also a subtle validation of his behavior. In fact, it could almost be creating a perpetual cycle for Daly's antics. Tournament Directors invite Daly because he is raucous and flawed, but brings a crowd. He is not necessarily invited for his talent - which he still has in spades when he is committed to golf. Daly realizes the true reason for why he is invited and then determines that he should keep acting as he is in order to stay relevant in golf and keep getting sponsor invitations.

Tim Finchem must step in, along with his friends on Tour and the sponsorship community, to have an intervention of sorts with Daly. Addiction experts will tell you that an addict will not commit to change until they recognize that they have hit rock bottom. So long as Daly can be on the PGA Tour, get invitations to play, and have public support for him from players and fans - despite no progress in his lifestyle - then nothing will change.

Suspend Daly for a year. Take away his ability to play in the United States on the PGA and Nationwide Tours. He will find out quickly that will be his rock bottom.

Lopez Out as Hope Host; Arnie Stepping In?

Unceremoniously, the Hopez is no more.

George Lopez's two-year run as host of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic has come to an abrupt halt, after his name . . . "hosted by George Lopez" . . . was removed from the tournament website.

There is no longer any mention of Lopez on the home page, although his image is still used.
Well, why? After all, Lopez put in a lot of effort to get his Hollywood pals to come play in this event at a course that the players despise.
Tournament President John Foster said the Hope is a couple of weeks away from announcing something different for next year.

"We're trying to bring a special guy out of the hat," he said.

That would probably be Arnold Palmer, who would serve as the host for the 50th anniversary of the tournament, if it all works out. Palmer, 78, won the first edition of the event in 1960.
There is a good chance that this may be a one time deal, especially since the idea is around commemorating 50 years of the event. Then what do you do? Bring Lopez back? Tough one, but it's hard to not take Arnie up on the offer of hosting when the event is going into the toilet quickly...on one of his designs.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fantasy Picks for This Week: Duh Edition

I don't normally share my Yahoo! Fantasy Golf picks for each week, but I thought I would this week.

A Flight:
Tiger Woods
Vijay Singh

Doesn't matter who else you pick because there's a good chance that will be 1-2 this week.

You're welcome!

Hey, Remember Colt Knost?

Colt had a hell of a summer last year. He became only the second player ever (Ryan Moore the other) to win the US Am Pub Links and US Am in the same year. He had a decision on his hands - stay an amateur and take the free invites to the majors as a result of the wins, OR turn professional, lose the invites, and try to earn your way into the upper echelon. He chose the later, and it really has not paid off for him.

Dena Davis took note of that this week - don't think I haven't too - and so I'm going to use her writing to pull another I Called It! It is my second this year after Tadd Fujikawa's struggles.

I’m reminded this week of his perhaps not-so-smooth decision to go pro last fall and forfeit his U.S. Pub Links Amateur Champion spot at Augusta National next month. (In September, Knost picked payday over a few months of patience -- and pimento sammiches at the most coveted invite in golf.) Well, this week, we find our Colt hero in the Bay Hill field on a sponsor's exemption. Since going pro, he's earned only a small cache of money and has not seen much success – making just two cuts in four starts (two on the Nationwide, two on the PGA TOUR). In fact, Tom Scherrer has had a more productive and lucrative past six months.

Playoffs Hurting Other Events?

I love editorializing my headlines. It is true, though, if you think about it from the perspective of Tiger Woods' scheduling. Jack Vickers shut down the International when he realized that Tiger Woods was never coming back there (and that the Tour wasn't going to let him have his own $10 million event). Other tournament directors speak of the Tiger Tour and the impact it has on their event's viability if he does not enter.

Doug Ferguson decided it was an opportune time to take a look at Tiger's schedule in light of going for his 5th title at Bay Hill this week. It's not that you don't know this stuff, but it is worth repeating sometimes.

Woods will be going for his fifth title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He opened his 2008 season by winning the Buick Invitational for the sixth time. He also has six victories in the Bridgestone Invitational, six more at the World Golf Championship that now goes by the name CA Championship.

He has four green jackets from the Masters, four Wanamaker Trophies from the PGA Championship.

Woods, perhaps more than any other golfer, is a creature of habit.

He has won 63 times in his PGA Tour career, yet he has trophies from only 24 tournaments. Vijay Singh has a far more diverse record, winning 31 times at 23 different tour events.


Consider another statistic that illustrates how his schedule works in his favor. Woods has won 52 times at the 17 tournaments tentatively on his 2008 schedule (that doesn’t include two victories at Doral, which has been merged into a WGC).
But, don't think for a second that this is unique to Tiger Woods. Tiger has modeled his playing schedule after Jack Nicklaus - the man he idolizes next to his father. So, it would seem that Jack would have played a similar, limited schedule, right? He did.
It would be easy to suggest he only plays the courses on which he has had success, but that’s true for everybody. Jack Nicklaus won 73 times in his PGA Tour career at 37 different tournaments, although the schedule looked much different in the 1960s, before Nicklaus and Palmer led a revolt that created the PGA Tour.
The rest of the piece provides a couple of anecdotes for how tournaments compete for Woods' precious open dates - about 2 per year it seems. Ferguson correctly notes that Woods has slowly dropped events from his schedule, including Riviera, Disney, the Nelson, Pebble Beach, and Kapalua. What is the motivation, though, for the more recent drops of Nelson, Disney, and Riviera? One tournament director takes a shot at it:
Kym Hougham of the Wachovia Championship said, “It’s a dwindling opportunity because of the majors, the WGCs, and now the playoffs,” Hougham said. “It’s like in college, when you have requirements and electives. We’re the electives. And there are lot more requirements now.”

The four majors, three WGCs, three playoff events and The Players Championship take up 11 spots on Woods’ schedule. There has been only two additions to his schedule since 2002—Wachovia and the AT&T National, his own tournament.

Therefore, the only conclusion one can really draw is that Woods is doing two things. (1) He is dropping a few events from his schedule to focus on majors and be a dad, too. (2) He is cutting out room on his schedule to play in the Playoff events, in lieu of playing in other events. (3) He has to play in his own event.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Does Golf Really Try to Encourage Participation?

We hear all of the statistics that indicate golf participation is down - no matter what the NGF says. To couple it, though, we do not hear much talk about what the industry is doing to try to remedy the problem. Sure, we hear about the things that keep people away from the game:

  • Takes too long to play
  • Costs too much to play
  • Access to courses and improvement is too tough
But, we do not see many stories coming out about golf courses that are addressing these problems and turning them around into better participation. Bob Carney over at Golf Digest's Editor's Blog seems to have realized the lack of solutions - just complaints - and he comes to a startling conclusion. Golf isn't trying hard enough.
The fact, is golf isn't hungry. It talks hungry. It issues press releases as if it's hungry. If it were really hungry, there would be free clinics for kids every month at every public course. If it were really hungry, there would be after-school junior hours where kids could get access to local courses. If it were really hungry there would be nine-hole leagues for every conceivable human subdivision, from singles to sorority sisters, heck, maybe even six-hole leagues.
Could not agree more, and participation pieces I have done would suggest the same thing. Why are we not appealing to juniors more? Why are we not trying to get women into leagues? There are several things that can be done. The PGA's Play Golf America initiative will tell you that they have given thousands of lessons and clinics and that we are retaining those players at a good clip. But what about 3 years down the line? What about courses that do not have the luck of benefiting from the PGA clinics?

Golf just does not seem to be working at the grassroots level to get improvement on the mend. Is it because courses are looking to the sky - the USGA (for the good of the game) and the PGA of America (Play Golf, AMERICA) - for answers? Or, do they not really care?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Florida Swing = Choke Swing

I was redesigning part of Golf News Net today and I wound up checking out some old commentaries that I had done in 2007. I did a commentary last season on the epidemic of chokejobs in the Florida Swing last season. Mark Wilson practically backed into his 2007 win at the Honda because of late faltering by Boo Weekley and Camilo Villegas. Calc managed to pull away slightly at last year's PODS Championship, but it really was not a case of him blowing the field out of the water. He held on by a shot over John Senden.

Flash forward to this season, and we have a case of much of the same. Given the incredibly testy winds at PGA National in the 2008 Honda, it is no surprise that Els won by surviving more than thriving. Then we have Stewart Cink pulling a case of his namesake by blowing a 54 hole lead after a great Sunday start. It really seems like playing like crap is a trend on this new Florida Swing.

A couple of others were pointing out things that led me to synthesize this position.

First, Brian Murphy at Yahoo! Sports:

Surely, you’ve noticed the trend by now. Every week Tiger does not play on Tour, we witness somebody endure terrible heartbreak at his own hand. These are truly tragic figures in the Shakespearean sense – characters whose demise is brought about by their own doing.

If it’s not Justin Leonard shooting 72 in the final round of the Hope to blow the lead, it’s Vijay Singh making a hat trick of bogeys at Pebble to blow his lead. If it’s not Aaron Baddeley missing three chances to put away Tiger in the Match Play, it’s Ernie Els taking a four-shot lead on the back nine at Dubai and sliding it through the paper shredder of his psyche.

Mark Calcavecchia chipping into a hazard at PGA National … Phil Mickelson making an 11 at Pebble.

I’m feeling their pain. Can anybody loan me a DVD of Nicklaus-Watson at Turnberry? I need a pick-me-up.

Not a bad suggestion.

Then Geoff Shackelford weighed in on the mediocrity of it all.

It is difficult to make a positive case for these two courses at this time of year when the tournaments can be very painful to watch. It may not even be the courses, though. (Calc's was a course thing, in my mind.) It may very well be the PLAYERS.

Now Ernie is Ready to Quit

Ernie Els decided to come play the Accenture Match Play at the last minute for any variety of still unknown reasons. He was originally supposed to start his year at the Honda, which he won. I guess riding that potential streak was what compelled him to show up at the PODS Championship. He did not win that, so now he's tired - and he's withdrawing from Bay Hill.

Ernie Els withdrew Monday from the Arnold Palmer Invitational because of fatigue, two weeks after winning on the PGA Tour for the first time in 3 1/2 years.

According to Els’ management company, he was tired and needed rest before the Masters.

Els ended an 0-for-47 drought on the PGA Tour when he captured the Honda Classic at the start of the Florida swing. He played last week at the PODS Championship, where he missed the cut by one stroke. Els is expected to play next week in the World Golf Championship at Doral, and he has said he would play in the Houston Open before going to the Masters.

So, he will be back for the free money next week. I cannot blame him for dumping Bay Hill this year, especially considering the shape of the greens!

Ultimate Game Pining for LPGA Team

The Ultimate Game, if you remember from last year, is a 64 team field of 2 person teams where each team ponies up $50,000 just to get into the event. By winning matches in the format, they earn more and more cash. Ultimately, the purse is $2.4 million with $1 million to the champions. You have to win 2 matches to get your cash back.

There is a catch, though. You cannot have status on any major men's tour in the world if you enter the event. Notice, I said men's. That means a LPGA Tour player could jump in on the action. Cristie Kerr was intending to do so with instructor Jim McLean, but the date of the event changed and that create a problem.

The problem is the new dates of the Ultimate Game, with a May 3 and 4 finals, are the same dates at the LPGA's SemGroup Championship in Oklahoma. SemGroup is one of Kerr's sponsors, so Kerr is obligated to play in that event. Jastrow said the shame is that Kerr has already made a few trips to the Stadium Course and was shooting low scores at the course from the men's tees.

But other LPGA players could still join the field, Jastrow said, if the LPGA gives them an exemption for the week.

If an LPGA player did play and did make the weekend semifinals or finals, to be broadcast by The Golf Channel, the Ultimate Game would have to pay a sanctioning fee to the LPGA for putting one of its players on television. Jastrow said that wouldn't be a problem.

"We would love that. We'd be happy to pay their sanctioning fee if we had an LPGA player reach the weekend," Jastrow said.

A lot of the players seemed to enjoy the SemGroup event last season, so getting defectors may be hard to do. But, it would be great promotion for the Ultimate Game if this somehow happened to work out with another prominent LPGA Tour player.

Tiger As Your Caddie?

Apparently, Buick has convinced Woods to strap on the bag for some amateurs after the season ends. The AP reports:

General Motors (GM) Buick brand is offering weekend hackers the chance to have golf superstar Tiger Woods serve as their personal caddy for nine holes.

The "Tee-Off with Tiger" contest, kicking off Monday, runs through Sept. 28. It also offers participants the chance to win Buicks driven by Woods at golf tournaments during the contest period.

The contest asks participants to record their scorecard predictions for each of 18 holes Woods plays during four rounds at tournaments during the contest period. Picks also can be made at random.

Accurate picks can net a chance for Woods to caddy Oct. 20 at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

Here's a hint: make lots of picks in the 60s! And a question - will Tiger yell at crowds like Steve Williams does? I kid, I kid.

Cink Responds to Collapse

John Romano profiles the Cink collapse in the St. Pete Times. Good on Cink to man up for the loss, but Romano brings an interesting point to the discussion.

There are a dozen players on the PGA Tour just like Cink. Players whose names are familiar, whose accomplishments are applauded. The difference is Cink is regrettably becoming known for something more. For something a little less inspiring.

He is no longer a guy who is consistently around the top 25 money leaders. Now, he is the guy who seems to fall apart when the stakes are the highest.

To his credit, Cink is not running from that characterization.

"It's no coincidence. I just haven't played very good final rounds," Cink said. "It's like I'm a little bit tentative. I got tentative on my putts a couple of times. You don't have room to be that way when you've got the best players in the world lined up behind and ready to pounce on my mistakes."

He knows he is known as a choke artist, but how in the world do you fix something like that? I think a guy he could talk to about that would be Sergio Garcia. Maybe they could have a players' group.

The 19th Hole: It's In His Head Now

Stewart Cink made his first start this week since the WGC Accenture Match Play by playing in the PODS Championship at Innisbrook outside of Tampa. If you remember, and Cink certainly does, the tall Georgia Tech product advanced all the way to the final of the tournament for the first time in his career. Unfortunately for him, he faced Tiger Woods in the finale of the event. Woods crushed Cink 8 & 7, setting a record winning margin for the championship, and flat out embarrassing Cink on a national stage.

The question for Cink this week was whether or not the loss would have a long-term sting in how he approaches tournaments. After all, Woods was supposed to beat Cink in the final of the event. Certainly the margin of victory was a bit of a shocker, but Cink played good golf in the process of getting obliterated. Cink could walk away saying he gave it his best shot, but simply ran into the buzzsaw that is Tiger Woods.

For the first 53 holes of the PODS, it seemed like Woods had nothing but a positive impact for Cink. Cink had positioned himself as the leader of the championship in very difficult conditions, despite having to play 27 holes on Saturday to catch up from rain delays.

Then, on the final hole of his third round, 28th of the day, and in total darkness, Cink’s unraveling began to take shape. He decided to finish out the hole instead of coming in early on Sunday to make one putt. A potentially easy par in the daylight turned into a costly bogey in the night – all to avoid having to get up early. That may very well have cost him the championship. It appeared to set his momentum back considerably, even though there was no way he should have made a putt in pitch black conditions.

He came out on Sunday and managed to stem the tide working against him. With birdies in the first two holes, Cink opened up a sizeable lead – one that appeared to have enough cushion to get him his first win in nearly four years. Then bogies on three and eight left him even on the round and without as much of a lead to brave the very difficult back nine at Innisbrook.

Cink was holding on up until the 13th, when he proceeded to bogey consecutive holes. In the meantime, Sean O’Hair was lurking and getting closer just a group ahead. Sensing that the tournament may be slipping away, Cink began to get wild with his swing. Ultimately, on the 16th hole, those damaged mechanics proved to be his fatal blow in his bid to win. An errant drive to the right landed in the water hazard and resulted in the double bogey that cost him the championship. He could not believe it.

Sean O’Hair eventually won comfortably by two shots. Cink was left in a massive tie for second place – an almost symbolic finish. Still, could Tiger Woods claim Cink as another victim due to the massive beating at the Accenture Match Play? That link is not necessarily so certain.

Unfortunately, Cink has made a career of losing 54 hole leads. He is now 1 for 9 in his career when holding a share of the 54 hole lead in a tournament. He has also found himself in the final group in 3 of his last 5 PGA Tour events. Cink is still winless.

The Woods final in the match play event probably did not help his confidence, but it may very well have further engrained a mindset that Cink cannot finish an event. Cink is not known as a closer and it would seem inevitable that a negative thought would creep in his mind every time that he is in this position. That is just the nature of the human mind – if a pattern develops, it is hard to ignore the constants. In this sport, the only constant in failure is yourself.

Hopefully, Cink can overcome this mindset in time because it is clear that his significant talents are being wasted because the string of failures from the final group has added up in his head. He has said himself that he feels he has underachieved as a pro. But, until that happens, Cink will have to wait for someone else to collapse ahead of him to capture his next PGA Tour win.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Radio Appearance Recap

I was invited to appear on the Bunker to Bunker Golf Show this Saturday. The show originates out of Arizona on KTAR. I was on to talk about the recent chatter surrounding a PGA Tour player union. Head over to their website to find out more about the show.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Stat Attack: Lorena, Just Like Tiger

I wanted to show just the level of domination that Lorena Ochoa is exhibiting on the LPGA Tour over the past season or so. With her 11 shot win in Singapore, I thought it was about time to prove that she is doing the same thing as Tiger is on the PGA Tour. Here's the data to back those claims.

First, let's talk about margin of victory for each player over their last 9 wins.

Player Event Margin
Lorena Ochoa Safeway Intl. Presented by Coca-Cola 2
Lorena Ochoa Sybase Classic 3
Lorena Ochoa Wegmans LPGA 1 (Playoff)
Lorena Ochoa Ricoh Women's British Open 4
Lorena Ochoa CN Canadian Women's Open 3
Lorena Ochoa Safeway Classic 5
Lorena Ochoa Samsung World Championship 4
Lorena Ochoa ADT Championship 2 (Format)
Lorena Ochoa HSBC Women's Champions 11
Tiger Woods Buick Invitational 2
Tiger Woods WGC CA Championship 2
Tiger Woods Wachovia Championship 2
Tiger Woods WGC Bridgestone Invitational 8
Tiger Woods PGA Championship 2
Tiger Woods BMW Championship 2
Tiger Woods TOUR Championship 8
Tiger Woods Buick Invitational 8
Tiger Woods WGC Accenture Match Play 8&7 (Format)

With a little bit of statistical work (averaging), we can see that their wins do not look all that different.

Lorena Ochoa AVERAGE MARGIN LAST 9 4.00

That comparison only draws yet another similarity between the records of Woods and Ochoa. For some more eerie likeness, check out these numbers.


Lorena Ochoa FACTOR LEAD OVER 2nd PLACE 1.90
Tiger Woods FACTOR LEAD OVER 2nd PLACE 2.05

Lorena Ochoa WINNING % OVER LAST YR + '08 34.60%
Tiger Woods WINNING % OVER LAST YR + '08 50.00%

The only huge difference for the two of them is winning percentage, and the clip of 35% is still nothing to scoff at by any stretch. Just goes to show you that there is another player like Tiger right now in the world. It also just happens that the player is a woman.