Friday, August 29, 2008

Volatility = New Chances to Skip Events?

That's what Phil Mickelson said and that's why he LOVES the new system.

Phil Mickelson dropped a bomb Thursday at the Deutsche Bank Championship that probably had a few officers at tour headquarters reaching for aspirin, if not hankies.

Those aren't raindrops from the latest tropical storm falling in Ponte Vedra Beach, those are teardrops of sheer fright. After a handful of prominent players had expressed the opinion Thursday that the new FedEx points system had overreached, Mickelson offered an entirely unanticipated answer.

"I think that the intent was to have more turnover, and certainly it has done that," he said. "I don't feel as though the season, the regular season, has anywhere near the same impact that it had, and so that could be a good thing because now we don't have to play as many events if we don't want to."

"Positioning ourselves for the FedEx Cup is really not important because the last‑place guy, if he wins, vaults into first," he said. "So that could be kind of cool, too."

Hahaha. This is awesome. The Tour made the FEC too volatile and gives opportunities for players to skip more events because all they have to do is play well for four weeks in August and get $10 million. Brilliant.

I am really loving the Deutsche Bank Championship more and more. Phil Mickelson seems to use this event as a way to poke fun at the FedEx Cup and Tim Finchem. And TPC Boston is awesome, too!

Some Lazy Reporting on the LPGA Ruling

Beth Ann Baldry really mailed this one in for Golfweek on the reactions of several people to the LPGA English requirement. Basically, it's the standard lazy piece of talking to a couple of different sides of an argument and forming no conclusions. Read it if you want, but here's the part that interested me.

Richard Lapchick has studied diversity in sports for nearly 40 years. He thinks the tour has “unleashed a public-relations disaster” and predicts the LPGA will have to change its decision “pretty soon.”

Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, can’t think of a single instance when a policy that has garnered this type of negative reaction hasn’t been reversed. While the LPGA points to its English policy as fundamental to its business initiatives, Lapchick said sponsors can’t publicly embrace the rule.

“It’s a decision that’s going to be too offensive to too many people that a large corporation can’t associate itself with it,” Lapchick said.

“It’s as politically incorrect as it can get.”
But the reaction for this really hasn't been all negative. From what I have seen, it appears mixed at worst. Some love it. For Baldry to qualify this as drawing such a negative reaction is lazy.

I will agree, though, that the LPGA has done a number of things in the recent years that have resulted in reversals. First, it was media rights. Then, it was Ginn. Maybe this is next.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

LPGA/English Requirement, Take 2

Yesterday, my initial gut reaction on this LPGA English requirement business is that it was necessary, but hypocritical. (Some folks who read it definitely missed the point. Some focused on the English-being-biz-language part, which was a mistake.)

I've had some more time to think about it since I've been traveling on the road over the past day and here's my final conclusion.

The LPGA shouldn't make players learn English. The stars of the Tour should certainly be encouraged to speak English because it improves their marketability, etc, and can only help the players in their opportunities across the world. But it should be a requirement of membership. Doing so is taking it too far.

The players intrinsically know the value of knowing English, Chinese, Japanese, and any other language. They know that their marketing opportunities and the growth of the Tour is somewhat limited by their ability to communicate with the world. If they choose not to learn a reasonable standard of English - and other languages - then the Tour suffers and they do also.

This is particularly true of the LPGA Tour, whose growth in Asia trumps that growth made in America. For the Tour to get more exposure, better sponsors, etc, the Tour needs every advantage in marketing - including breaking language barriers.

Still, the Tour exists for its players. Carolyn Bivens has said so herself in media interviews. She has also said that it is her goal to get better purses, benefits, etc, for the players. If that is her goal, then she is working for the players. The players do not work for her. Therefore, to make such a requirement out of English goes back on the very nature of her work.

Without the players, the Tour is nothing. The players make the Tour what it is. With that in mind, it should be their choice to learn English - or any other language - because it is their responsibility and freedom to define how the Tour grows globally.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Demading English on the LPGA Tour

I blogged as neutrally as possible at Waggle Room about the story out of last week's meeting of South Korean players at the LPGA Tour Safeway Classic in which Commissioner Carolyn Bivens revealed that the Tour would demand English proficiency for players having been on Tour for two years or more.

After taking some time to think about it - the hypocrisy of Bivens, the importance of English in this culture and the world, and the struggling sponsorship situation - this is a must for the LPGA Tour.

Does it wreak of hypocrisy? Oh yeah. Carolyn Bivens has been on record talking about how Asian players strengthen the Tour and has followed the money that comes with the advent of Asian dominance of the Tour. There's a legitimate Asian swing with another potentially developing in the early part of the season because of struggling Hawaiian events. Bivens wants to follow the money from Asia and Asian fans, but also demands the players speak English.

But, English is the language of this Tour. At least for now, the Tour is US based. The language spoken here - predominantly - is English. Sponsors sign advertising and sponsorship agreements in that idioma (a lil Spanish joke). They pay thousands and millions to play with Tour pros. Any players paired with these groups that speak poor English have a tough time making the experience enjoyable, or at least not totally awkward. With how much sponsorship is struggling here in the US for the LPGA Tour (and golf in general), it would seem that any measure would help.

Invariably, this language requirement will help the Tour here in the States, especially with fans and media that find connecting with Asian players next to impossible at times. Certainly, this is not true across the board. One need not look further than the great LPGA-niched blogs that I reference to know that hardcore, good LPGA fans don't care about any language except that of golf. It is a unifying language to the truest of fans. But for those who don't speak golf, they want English to understand the game's up and coming stars.

Americans tend to root for people who are somewhat like us, or at least willing to immerse themselves into our culture. So many people think of Annika Sorenstam as an American though she clearly isn't. It's the lack of a language barrier and years of excellence that have made our fans so grateful and respectful of her.

Se Ri Pak is a great example of the evolution of feelings of fans for Asian players. When Pak (really Park) arrived ten years ago and took the game by storm, she didn't speak a lick of English. She has worked hard, though, to learn and become proficient in the language. It has made her more endearing to fans who are more likely to think of her like Annika than Na Yeon Choi. Still, there is a gap there because she still gaps in the language.

Do I think it's fair how players will be targeted? No. Does it seem like a suspension of membership for not knowing English is awfully harsh? Yes. But, it does seem important that the Tour make strides to get players proficient in the global language of business. Otherwise, the Tour cannot cash in on opportunities around the world - something it desperately needs to do given the current sponsorship situation.

It is simply my hope, though, that this does not become an arbitrary witch hunt as part of an attempt to Americanize the Asian stars. They offer the same Five Elements of Celebrity as a player of any other nationality. To ask them to shed any more of their natural diversity and cultural appeal other than their language would be too much to ask. Hopefully this does not set such a precedent.

Who Would You Rather Be?

Nick Faldo? Paul Azinger? Both have some critical decisions to make after the Labor Day holiday. Most importantly, they each have to determine their captain's picks to round out their respective Ryder Cup teams.

Azinger has to pick four players from the US Ryder Cup points list. Arguably, he will be picking from a selection of guys having mediocre years, inexperienced up and comers, and veterans that would likely be rookies in the competition.

Faldo, on the other hand, seemingly has a wealth of riches. He has the same types of guys, like Nick Dougherty, Martin Kaymer, and Darren Clarke, but they all appear to be playing well when it counts Faldo, though, only has two picks and will likely hurt some feelings (especially Monty's) if he leaves someone out.

Who would you rather be? Who would you pick on each side?

Reframing the Meaning of the FedEx Cup

In my monthly piece for Sports Central, I touch on how critical it is that the PGA Tour finds and defines a real identity for the FedEx Cup. After having gone to two extremes in the first two years, it may need to stick with one or risk diluting the point by going to the middle.

Check it out!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Safeway Classic and 54 Hole Events

The Hound Dog has a really great summary of the final stretch, including the playoff, at the Safeway Classic. Eventually, Cristie Kerr won for the first time this year and the 11th time in her career.

This was a 54 hole event, which they're trying to phase out of most of the LPGA Tour schedule. For whatever reason, people think it's not as good of an event if you only play 3 rounds. But, what I love about them is the very aspect that caused the playoff this week.

54 holes is not a lot of time to win a tournament. You have to play streaky and hot to win. You can't take a round off and still win - unless you go like 61-61-70.

The stretch of having a half dozen golfers in the mix on Sunday was great, and they were all good names, too. Why not keep that every once in a while? It's a fun change of pace!

You Know Your Place on the Sports Spectrum

...when Notre Dame football - irrelevant for almost 10 years now - sideswipes your television coverage on a network. And that's happening to the Tour and BMW Championships in the next few weeks, which air on NBC.

Jon Show has more in Sports Business Journal:

Scheduling conflicts will force the final two FedEx Cup playoff events to move up their time windows to accommodate NBC’s commitment to air Notre Dame home football games, which could further affect television ratings for events that will already suffer from the absence of Tiger Woods.
The opponent in question?
The Sept. 4-7 BMW Championship is the third event in the playoffs and conflicts with the Notre Dame-San Diego State game. The season-ending Tour Championship, Sept. 25-28, runs up against Notre Dame-Purdue.
REALLY? Cupcake State bumps golf?! And that is even despite golf nearly doubling Notre Dame's ratings last season. That school has some pull.

Titleist Really Mailed This Graphic In

Golf Observer, one of my favorite golf news sites, is sponsored by Titleist. I don't really like them all that much because of previous wars of words with them from sponsored bloggers, their corporate site, etc. Anyway, I found this graphic - no joke - on the front page of Golf Observer today.

All I can say is, whoa.

Kiwis Love Pinehurst #2

Danny Lee was simply amazing on Sunday at the US Amateur finale versus Drew Kittleson - winning their 36 hole match 5 and 4. Lee birdied 40% of the 32 holes played (13). He was making putts from everywhere.

Lee is a New Zealander. If you remember, and you might not, Michael Campbell won the US Open contested there in 2005.

Even more so, Lee becomes the youngest US Amateur champion ever. He eclipses the mark set by, you guessed it, Tiger Woods.

Ken Klavon has a great wrap up on the day and the potential plans for Lee.

For now, he’ll head back to New Zealand for about three weeks. Then, he said, he’ll start preparing for more tournaments. He might even go to PGA Tour Qualifying School as an amateur. He’s not sure.

He just knows this: for three years he tried qualifying for the U.S. Amateur and always came up short. Until this year. He couldn’t explain why other than finding a relationship to Pinehurst and New Zealander golfers, not exactly a Mensa pairing that would go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Friday, August 22, 2008

New LPGA Qualifications

The LPGA Tour has announced new qualifications for status on Tour for 2009. You can take a look at the specs on the LPGA site. Some of the big things to note are:

  • There is no longer a money list exemption for the Top 90, now it's top 80.
  • Now 10 cards are available for players on the Futures Tour (as predicted earlier this season, particularly as the LPGA Tour gears to become a more global tour and turn the Futures Tour into an American based B-league).
  • Also, there is a battlefield promotion from the Futures Tour.
  • Non-member winners can become exempt in better priority position - Ji Yai Shin, anyone?
The Constructivist over at Mostly Harmless has some analysis of his own that's a good read as well if you're curious about the broader implications. On the whole, though, I like these changes and think they're intended to head in the right direction for Tour membership.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Here's Something to Consider About the Olympics and Golf

There have been some amazing moments in this year's Olympics. From an American standpoint, you'd have to point to Michael Phelps and Nastia Liukin as the highlights. But, there has been a huge cloud (not of just smog) surrounding these games in Beijing. The Olympics conceded the games to Beijing based upon an empty promise from the Communist Party there that they would use this as an opportunity to improve social and economic conditions for all and better civil liberties.

Two recent pieces (here and here) that I read detail more than I need to here about the fakeness of that promise. The International Olympic Committee had good reason to be suspicious of China's promises but awarded them the games anyway. They chose money over social conscience.

It is through that lens that I ask you to see the bid to have golf in the Olympics. Golf could make a lot of money for the Olympics, if Tiger Woods is involved. The IOC sees that and has demanded that a competition of Olympic golf would include professionals (presumably Woods). The folks representing golf - good luck, Ty Votaw - cannot make a promise to have Woods appear. If the IOC sees that, they will turn down golf.

Basically, the IOC is thinking about itself and how it can make money and make itself seem more grand. It is not really about preserving the sanctity of sport. Hell, the Chinese are cheating and we all know it. People are speculating about cheating in Jamaican track and field. I'm sure there are other instances too. Does golf want to get involved with all of that?

Golf - despite its corporate ties and past history of racism and sexism - is better than that.

Sponsorship Woes Not Exclusive to LPGA Tour

I have a post over at Waggle Room (cross-promotion!) on the realities facing the PGA Tour and its strong linkages to the financial sector in the context of an East Valley Tribune piece on FBR.

If you thought the LPGA Tour getting in bed with Bobby Ginn was dangerous, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Tiger's Shelving Makes for Short Memories

The folks running the Northern Trust Open still think that Tiger might actually play at Riviera next year. (Hint: He isn't.)

Tom Pulchinski, tournament director for the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, hasn't had Woods in the field the last two years, but hopes that changes in 2009. Pulchinski said he expects Woods to return faster than expected.

"He'll probably do something more than the normal human being coming back."
Like play at courses he doesn't like? Nah. He's playing 15 events next year and that is it. Maybe less if he goes the Medical Exemption route!

Brady Exber, 52, Makes 2nd Round of US Amateur

I posted about this quickly yesterday over at Waggle Room. Brady Exber made match play at the age of 52 in dramatic fashion at the end of stroke play yesterday at Pinehurst #2. Yesterday, in his first round match, he continued the improbable run by winning in 20 holes.

Ryan Herrington of Golf World reports:

Brady Exber is an anomaly at the 108th U.S. Amateur Championship. At 52, he is more likely to be mistaken for a competitor's father than a competitor himself. Yet after playing the longest match of the first round, beating Josh Anderson (age 19) in 20 holes, he remains the oldest golfer still playing at Pinehurst No. 2.

A standout player in his native Las Vegas, winning Southern Nevada player-of-the-year honors a record eight times and earning a spot in the association's Hall of Fame, Exber has had only nominal success in national competition. He qualified for the U.S. Senior Open last year, finishing T-41 at Whistling Straits. (He missed the cut at this year's Senior British Open.) In three previous U.S. Amateurs appearances, he never made it to match play.
Pretty impressive stuff and I'll keep you posted on his run.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Best FedEx Cup Format

Steve Dennis of the PGA Tour and Geoff Shackelford debate the subject on Dennis is in favor of the current format for a few reasons - each week has meaning, generates a deserving champion, and keeps the stars in it. Shackelford disagrees because the format is tough to understand, there is little chance for a nobody winning, and eliminations in each tournament focus on the crappier players being whittled down to the elites.

For me, I think that the format is on the right path, but it still missing something. That something is a true sense of playoffs. The Tour did a good thing in making the points system much more volatile in nature by narrowing the points reset and increasing the number of points awarded per place in playoff events by 2000. That means that fringe players that perform will be more likely to pave a path to the lucrative Tour Championship and FedEx Cup bonus money.

The PGA Tour has taken the approach that the four events together should combine to determine the champion. I am of the mind, though, that the first three events should lead to a final chase for the cash in the Tour Championship. Players are gunning to get into the final 30 to get a piece of the bonus pool (FedEx Cup).

Why not continue the trend of having three elimination events and then attaching real value to the Tour Championship by clearing the slate? Have the thirty golfers battle for a chance to win the title without having to worry about finishing in a certain place to win. To win $10 million, a player should have to win a marquee event - primarily, the Tour Championship.

You can get there a lot of ways. You could have a 72 hole medal play event and the winner takes all. Boring format, but exciting. The Tour could adopt the LPGA Tour's exciting ADT Championship format of having eliminations after every round - leading to a final round free for all for all of the cash. That's being done already, though the event may die after this year and then it would be for the PGA Tour's taking. Finally, the Tour could have 32 players in the Tour Championship and have a match play tournament.

Perhaps the best situation is a combination of these ideas. Wipe the scores clean for the 30 men who make the Tour Championship. They then play 36 holes on Thursday and Friday. After Friday, we knock it down to 8 players. On Saturday, there are two sets of matches - 8 down to 4 and 4 down to 2. On Sunday, there is one marquee match for everything. Can you imagine a close match play battle leading to a single putt for $10 million? WOW! And that's what the PGA Tour has been hoping for from this format.

This hybrid format leads to the highest probability that Sunday in East Lake matters to determine the FedEx Cup champion. Last year, it was pretty much done by Saturday. Sunday was a coronation and boring for Tiger Woods. While the Tour may tell you that it would be more exciting were Woods not involved (like this year), the reality is that the format should be tweaked to account for the reality of Tiger's dominance.

Look, I know the original intent of the FEC was to determine the best player. Guess what? That player may still be an injured Tiger Woods unless Paddy Harrington wins the FEC. So, the original intent can be shot and forgotten. The intent of the FedEx Cup SHOULD be to make golf exciting and relevant in September season. If there is genuine volatility, regardless of how dominant Woods is, fans will tune in to watch a $10 million putt. If people watch poker in droves for the money, they'll watch golf for the same reason.

Monday, August 18, 2008

PGA Tour Playoff Revenue Pacing Last Year

Jon Show has the goods on the financial impact of Woods' absence from the Tour. It apparently is nominal, at best, which is encouraging news for golf sans-Tiger.

Corporate sponsorship, hospitality and ticket revenue for all four playoff events — this week’s The Barclays, followed by the Deutsche Bank Championship, the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship — are at least pacing even with the same point last year.

Given the decline in attendance and TV ratings for events missed by Woods, whose season ended in June because of injury, the results may signal that the new playoff format is having its intended consequence.

“Hopefully the playoffs and the whole concept is transcending one player,” said Eric Baldwin, director of the Deutsche Bank Championship. This is the first time Woods will miss the tournament in its six-year history.

In my mind, there are some events that are kind of bulletproof regardless of the field. The FBR Open comes to mind and so do both the Tour Championship and the Deutsche Bank event. The Tour Championship has a limited pool of interest in Atlanta, usually with small crowds. The Deutsche Bank is played on a fun course in a great sports area - Boston. No matter who is playing TPC Boston during Labor Day weekend, the fans will come out in droves. That's good to know.

I also think that there will be some serious help to the other two playoff events because they are being contested at alternate/new venues this year. This week's The Barclays will be held at the Tillinghast Ridgewood Country Club and St Louis' Bellerive will host the BMW Championship before returning to Chitown in 2009.

It's with that in mind that the ticket success at the new venues is no mystery:

John Kaczkowski, director of the BMW Championship, said ticket revenue at his event was up 150 percent and hospitality sales were double those of last year. The tournament limited ticket sales this year to weekly booklets and created new hospitality options after selling out of its original inventory.

Barclays director Peter Mele, whose event moved this year from Westchester County, N.Y., to Paramus, N.J., said ticket revenue was pacing five to six times ahead of last year thanks to increases in volume and prices. Corporate sponsorship and hospitality revenue were up 6 percent.

Show goes on to say that ticket revenue at TPC Boston and East Lake is about flat.

The 19th Hole: Tseng Still Learning

Yani Tseng is having a tremendous rookie season on the LPGA Tour. She has won a major championship – the LPGA Championship – and has made almost $1.5 million this season. She has five medal stand finishes other than her victory at Bulle Rock. All in all, it appears that Tseng is heading for great things on the LPGA Tour.

Sunday, though, was an indication that Tseng still has a ways to go before achieving that status on Tour. She entered the final round of CN Canadian Women’s Open with a four stroke lead. Normally, a lead of that size is pretty safe in pro golf. But, for whatever reason, it began to get away from Tseng on hole 3 with a bogey. After getting that stroke back on the fourth, Tseng went into a tailspin until a calming par at the 13th. In total, she dropped seven shots and mixed in two birdies. Her scorecard read 77 and she finished solo third place, behind winner Katherine Hull.

Tseng is such a consistent player that there have to be reasons for the collapse.

First, Tseng was paired with Se Ri Pak in the final round. Despite having won a major championship this year, there is almost no way that having Pak in the pairing did not make Tseng somewhat nervous. Perhaps that had something to do with the final round performance.

Second, this kind of situation has already cost Tseng wins this season. Tseng entered the final round of the State Farm Classic in Illinois with a two shot lead. On a course that yields low score, Tseng was unable to continue making birdies in the final round. She posted even par – better certainly that this Sunday – but it was only good enough to get her into a playoff with Ji Young Oh. Oh had the momentum in the playoff and put Tseng away with birdie on the first playoff hole.

Tseng said after her Saturday round in Ottawa that the experience in Illinois would help on Sunday. "I feel more pressure going into Sunday, but this is my second time (with the 54-hole lead), so I'm not quite as nervous," Tseng said. "There's not quite as much pressure as last time. This time I feel very good, I feel I'm ready to win."

The biggest reason, though, may be that it is very difficult to win a golf tournament going into the final round as an overwhelming favorite. In years of observation of golf, it seems that going wire-to-wire is many times over more difficult than picking off the leader from behind.

Tseng captured her win of this rookie campaign from behind. Almost all observers expected that Annika and Lorena would compete for title of LPGA Champion. Tseng felt little pressure and low expectations entering that final round. She playing stunningly well with Ochoa alongside and posted a final round of 68 – good enough for a playoff she would eventually win against Maria Hjorth.

This loss on Sunday is another step in the process of learning how to win. Lorena Ochoa went through the same maturation process on her way to the top of the world rankings. Ochoa, like all golfers, still struggles with being the frontrunner. Having owned the field for two days in Canada, Lorena could not muster a round under par on the weekend. An event that almost certainly appeared to be hers through 36 holes turned out to be a disappointment. These things do happen.

Still, the approach that Tseng is taking is the correct one. She is learning what it means to be a champion. The best lessons are the toughest and costliest to learn. Much better, though, that they are to happen in her rookie campaign. At the ripe old age of 19, Tseng will have years to take the lessons of this season and transform herself into one of the all time greats in the game. Hopefully, she will learn these lessons well.

Chris Wood Update

From Jason Sobel's Weekly 18...because I don't want to think of the prose to say:

Ten years ago, Justin Rose finished T-4 in the British Open at Royal Birkdale as an amateur, then turned pro the next day. Last month, in the same tourney at the same venue, Chris Wood finished in a share of fifth place.

After his final round, Wood was asked the inevitable question about whether he had any plans to follow in Rose's footsteps by going pro right away. "Not at the moment, no," he said with a laugh. "I'm having a week off." Well, that's exactly what Wood did ... and then he turned professional.

Eight days after completing his run at Birkdale, Wood, 20, made like Rose a decade earlier and joined the ranks of the play-for-pay. This past week he cashed his first career paycheck, shooting 70-67-68-72 -- including a front-nine 29 on Saturday -- to finish T-18 at the SAS Masters.

That already gives him a leg up on Rose, who missed the cut in his first 21 events as a professional.
Congrats to Wood on the great effort. The kid has a world of talent and hopefully he plays more like Rory McIlroy than Justin Rose.

Funk Wins Tradition, Gives Ryan Excuse to Cheer for Maryland

As you know, I'm from Maryland. I went to the University of Maryland for both my undergrad and graduate degrees. This week has been an excellent week for anyone from here. After all, by the transitive property, I know an Olympic champion. (Michael Phelps. Apparently, a great swimmer.)

Anyway, I have another reason to be proud of my Maryland connection this week. After the US Senior Open got away from Fred Funk, he came back this week and won the 4th Champ Tour major of the year called the Jeld-Wen Tradition. He won by three shots over Mike Goodes at Crosswater Club in Oregon.

Sure, it's a phony major. But, it's a major.

Here's the cooler reason to root for Funk.

After splitting his time between the PGA and Champions tours the past three years, Funk plans to play the PGA TOUR full-time next year. He won Sunday despite neck, back and knee problems that led him to visit a chiropractor.
That's pretty darn awesome. Go Funk!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Local Sports Columnist Misses Point, Will Attend Barclays

So, the PGA Tour Playoffs are here and I could not be more excited. Take that how you want.

Anyway, the first leg of the Playoff race is the Barclays. It's being held at Ridgewood CC in New Jersey after a big to-do and fallout with Westchester CC. As you may or may not be aware, Tiger Woods is injured and will not be competing. I can promise you, though, that CBS is intimately aware of that fact and what it will mean for golf ratings on their air. (But, the Golf Channel may have an improvement over last year!)

Ian O'Connor, of the North Jersey newspaper The Record, seems to have lost that point.

[T]he dent [of Woods' injury] didn't cause irreparable damage to the first installment of the PGA Tour's second playoff season, known as the FedEx Cup. In fact, Tiger's absence could serve to improve the game's long-term health.
Really? Because were it not for Padraig Harrington, this season would have been a complete lost cause. Woods would have had exactly zero challengers for the Player of the Year award - which would've been a real blow to the players healthy enough to finish the season. And, with the overthinking of Phil Mickelson and aging putting stroke of Vijay Singh exposed, it could be argued that the game is in some deep doo-doo if Paddy doesn't keep this going.

Even worse, O'Connor is convinced that the Barclays will help determine the rival to Woods.
Golf has burned for legitimate threats to Woods' reign to emerge, anyway, and with Tiger down and out significant events such as The Barclays become the perfect places for those men – whoever they are – to finally declare themselves.
News Flash: It's Paddy Harrington and, at least this week, also Anthony Kim.

Look, I know this is a local paper and the guy is trying to promote an event that is going to feel awfully empty without Woods. (Then again, Woods skipped at Westchester last year.) But fans should feel some comfort in the host course. It's a golden age gem no matter who is playing it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Monty Hopeful to Make Ryder Cup Team, Admits Ignoring Reality

This report speaks for itself.

Colin Montgomerie is still hoping for a wild-card selection to this year's Ryder Cup, even though he's skipping two tournaments this month and can no longer earn an automatic berth on the European team.

"My desire to play in the Ryder Cup is greater than ever -- as I have shown in the past and in my schedule which has been geared toward qualifying," Montgomerie said Friday on his Web site.

However, after a dismal performance at the PGA Championship, he decided to opt out of this week's SAS Masters in Stockholm and a tournament in the Netherlands next week. That puts automatic qualifying out of reach, and Montgomerie must now hope European captain Nick Faldo selects him as a wild card for what would be his ninth Ryder Cup.

That doesn't seem very consistent. He is so committed to making the team that he's going to let a second round 84 at the PGA Championship deter him from playing tournament golf for two consecutive weeks. Now that's the kind of guy I want on my team!

Montgomerie said he would use these two weeks to "put in some serious practice time" ahead of the Johnnie Walker Championship that starts Aug. 28 at Gleneagles in Scotland -- his last chance to impress Faldo.

"I want now to work on my game to compete as well as I can in Scotland at the Johnnie Walker Championship and to have my game to a standard that would allow me, hopefully, to perform at a level to help the team (if I am part of it)," he wrote on his Web site.

Monty, you have no shot. I'd put on the kilt and relive your honeymoon.

It's Time to Shut Down the PGA Grand Slam of Golf

PGA of America owned tournaments for professionals, other than the PGA Championship, are going down the tubes faster than Michael Phelps in a race. Americans have been questioning the value of the Ryder Cup for years and Hunter Mahan has clued us in that Americans may one day boycott the competition because they are playing for free and whored out - his words, not mine. (Actually, they're my interpretation of his words.)

Now, the PGA Grand Slam of Golf can only manage 2/3 major winners. That's understandable since the 3rd is out of commission until 2009 sometime. But, look who they got to round out the field in Bermuda:

By winning two major championships this season, Harrington and Masters champion Trevor Immelman form one-half of the foursome competing in the annual event. Invitations will be extended to the top two finishers in the Major Champions Point List - Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen.
How did that happen?

Well, Mickelson pretty much earned it. In the majors, he went T5, T18, T19, T7.

But Goosen? He went - in order - T17, T14, T32, T24. That got him to 2nd on the point list? What?

Take a look at the points list on They didn't even bother to fill the thing out for the PGA Championship. And with guys like Todd Hamilton in 7th, Greg Norman in 9th, and David Duval in 19th, this is proof positive that no one is scrutinizing this list. I get that you have to have won a major to get on this list. But how about, then, inviting someone like Ben Curtis - a guy who finished runner up in a major this year AND has already won one?

The Dream Lives for Wie

Michelle Wie fired a 2nd round of 70 (-2) to finish 36 holes at +1 in the CN Canadian Women's Open on the LPGA Tour. That puts her in a tie for 35th place, but 11 shots out of the lead of Lorena Ochoa. To get into 2nd, she would have to make up 9 shots over the weekend from where she is now. Can she do it?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

John Daly + Hooters + Photo Signing = Hilarious

I won't ruin it for you, but head over to AOL Fanhouse and take a read. I promise you that you won't regret it.

The Most Fundamental Majors Question

What makes a major? It is something we talk about every May now with the Players Championship. Tim Finchem wants to convince you that enough time has passed that the Players should be a legitimate fifth major - not just in moniker. Most of us laugh because that's ridiculous that the presenter of an event could declare the event a major and expect everyone to accept that. It is also equally ridiculous that a Tour could declare any event as being a major championship.

Grant Boone filed his Grant Me This column pre-PGA, but I had missed it. Read it yesterday and loved it, particularly the part where he talks about how majors got to be that way on the PGA Tour side. Made me ask some fundamental questions.

First, (but later in the piece) a bit of a history lesson on defining the Grand Slam:

Bobby Jones valued the U.S. and British Opens and Amateurs -- the oldest events in golf, even then -- above all other championships and set out to win all four in the same year, which he did in 1930. That pursuit and achievement were awe-inspiring enough, but the legend grew because O.B. Keeler so eloquently dubbed Jones' feat as "having stormed the impregnable quadrilateral." Of course, most people didn't have Keeler's I.Q. so his moniker of those same initials didn't really stick. But the idea of winning four big events in the same year did.

Which is why Arnold Palmer -- whose first "Major" victory was at Jones' Masters in 1958 -- is reputed to have said sometime around 1960 that the modern I.Q. should be the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship. By then, time had allowed those events to calcify in their significance. In 1960, the British Open turned 100. The U.S. Open began in 1895; the PGA in 1916; and even the baby of the group, the Masters, had been around a quarter century. (Plus Palmer must have given special dispensation to the Augusta "tunamint" seeing as how its co-creator Jones, via Keeler, immortalized the notion of trying to win four big events in a single season.)

At that point, it was far more reasonable, not to mention easier to say and spell, for a baseball-crazed nation to latch on to "Grand Slam," a term from Wagner's world, the Major Leagues. But those guys got it right. They borrowed the term because it fit the number of major events -- four runs score on a grand slam, four major tournaments -- as opposed to adopting the idea, then scrounging up four tournaments you think will fit the bill.

It's a good refresher, just like an Arnold Palmer - half iced tea and half lemonade. Boone uses this as ammunition against both the LPGA and Champions Tours in how they define their majors.

The LPGA has called no less than seven tournaments "Majors" through the years. Its current lineup consists of the Kraft Nabisco Championship (nee Dinah Shore), McDonald's LPGA Championship, U.S. Women's Open, and the aforementioned Women's British, an event previously sponsored by Weetabix. Nothing connotes significance quite like breakfast cereal. ("It's a major! No, it's breakfast! You're both wrong. It's a major championship and a breakfast cereal!") In 2001, with the old du Maurier in Canada increasingly wobbly in its sponsorship and finances, the LPGA yanked its "Major" label and slapped it on the Women's British. Makes perfect sense. After all, the men's Open Championship is a major. Except that one predates the American Civil War. The women's version barely predates the Carter Administration. It's not the specific tournament the LPGA chose that's the problem; it's the fact that they would think simply calling a championship a major actually makes it one.

The Champions Tour is worse. For one thing, they have five "Majors." That's more than one-sixth of the tournaments on the schedule. Some need to be stripped of that ranking, beginning with the three which have presenting or title sponsors. Generally speaking, the shorter the name of the tournament, the more prestigious it is. For example, the Masters. That's it. Not the Masters presented by Krispy Kreme. The two most important events for players age 50 and over are the Senior PGA Championship (founded in 1937) and the U.S. Senior Open (1980). You can call them majors. I'm giving the others an honorable discharge.

And he also issues a beautifully written slam at the PGA Tour and the Players.
I'm not sure which is Dumb and which is Dumber: that a tour would suddenly prop up a particular tournament as a major championship or that they'd expect us as golf fans to treat those events with any semblance of gravitas.
In short, Boone seems to be of the mind - and I agree - that majors are defined by the players (not PLAYERS) and fans and writers. The golf public determines what is most prestigious in the game, not the organizations and corporations that present these tournaments. Perhaps in another twenty years, the next great golf phenom will redefine the modern Grand Slam. Maybe the Players will be in it. Maybe it won't.

If you're in charge of defining a major championship, then, what defines it for you? And, if you had to start over today, what four (and only four) events would be the majors?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

CVS Bought Longs Drugs Today - LPGA Implications?

I saw this morning on CNBC that CVS had bought out Longs Drugs for about $72/share. That's a 32% premium on yesterday's stock close for Longs. So, CVS REALLY wanted Longs.

But, Longs Drugs is the sponsor of the fall Longs Drugs Challenge - a long standing (12 years now) LPGA Tour event out in California. It has a pretty small purse at $1.25M this year. Will the buyout impact the health of the event?

I don't know for certain, but I could see this going two ways.

(1) The good scenario - CVS already sponsors a charity silly (in) season team event hosted by Billy Andrade and Brad Faxon every year. That means that they're on board for golf. They also sponsor several golfers, including Camilo Villegas. Maybe this would be an opportunity for CVS to expand its golf portfolio and beef up the purse money for the now CVS Challenge to about $2 million. Or, at a minimum, since the company paid such a premium to get Longs, CVS will be willing to honor any sponsorships that Longs was into before the buyout.

(2) The bad scenario - CVS could be struggling as a company. It's stock price is in the middle of its 52 week range. It trades below the P/E rating of the industry. They could just want to suck up Longs to try to build that ratio and cut out some unnecessary fat in the acquisition. That could mean the end of the Longs Drugs sponsorship, then likely, that event.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Conspiracy Alert! Mangles Azinger

Normally, I am not much of a conspiracy theorist. (And I'm still not.) But, I found something very curious when comparing three stories on the Ryder Cup press conference yesterday. I took a look at Steve Elling's downer of a story about the Americans' chances, TJ Auclair's report that is glowing with optimism at, and the actual transcript of the press conference at ASAP Sports.

Bottom line: Auclair mangled Azinger's words to make them seem more positive than they really were. Check it out at Waggle Room.

Good News! Golf Club Prices are Going Down!

Bad news for the golf companies means good news for you, the golfer, if you've been waiting to get some new clubs.

Adam Schupak at Golfweek unveils the mysterious reasons for the decline:

Equipment makers and retailers agree golfers are postponing purchases. To spark sales, some manufacturers are cutting prices: Callaway has lowered its FT-i driver to $399 from $499, and its FT-5 to $299 from $425. From May to July, Callaway also offered consumers who purchased a driver a gift card to purchase as much as $100 of gas. Mark Marney, CEO of The Golf Warehouse, expects such incentives to become more prevalent during the second half of the year.
It's not rocket science - if you price a club to cost way too much, no one will buy it except morons. Golf clubs are like cars because they are long-term investments that depreciate in value the day you take them off of the showroom floor. Therefore, you want modern technology at the lowest price possible and you'll wait until you get the price you want.

But, the club companies see things a different way. They're blaming USGA regulations for slow sales.
Another persistent complaint: USGA restrictions are hindering product innovation. In an analyst report on Callaway, Casey Alexander of New York-based Gilford Securities wrote: “The U.S. market looks like it could produce a year where equipment sales come in down 7 percent to 8 percent, which may not sound that bad until you judge it against 10 years of equipment sales that were plus or minus 2 percent regardless of what the economy was doing.”
Those two sentences do not compute. There are myriad factors more important in determining the golf economy - weak dollar, foreclosures, credit crisis, oil, commodity prices. Just because you can't make a 550cc driver that has a max distance of 400 yards doesn't mean you should blame the USGA. Hell, they should be thanking the USGA. In 2014, we'll all have to have new equipment anyway!

One thing that did bum me out, though, was that people are not warming up to adjustable clubs as I may have hoped. Still, interviews I have conducted across the industry suggested that might be the case. (Catch The 19th Hole Golf Show archives on iTunes for the audio.)

Did the Revamped Ryder Cup System Work?

We won't know Captain Paul Azinger's picks for another 3 weeks, but we do know the 8 players that automatically qualified using his modified system of (basically) a point per $1000 earned.

Steve Elling ain't so keen on it.

The host PGA of America agreed to revamp the points selection system, putting an emphasis on recent performance, and allowed him to wait until the last moment to name his at-large picks, which were doubled to four spots.

The early returns are in: Oops.

Early Monday morning, with the echoes of Padraig Harrington's victory in the 90th PGA Championship still wafting over the grounds at Oakland Hills, Azinger sat back in a chair and eyeballed the names of the eight players who had cemented spots on his team.

"This time I think it's clear that we are the underdogs going into these matches," Azinger said.
We have three rookies in the mix - Anthony Kim, Ben Curtis, Boo Weekley - and a bunch of the usual suspects. But, are there any golfers that you might feel are missing from the usual suspects that might actually help the US cause? (Not named Tiger.) Zach Johnson (16th in points, 1-2-1 career RC record)? Chad Campbell (20, 1-3-2)? David Toms (38, 4-6-2)? Fred Couples (58, 7-9-4)? Davis Love III (64, 9-12-5)?

That's no better than what we got already.

Growing the Game With Bad Setups

We've been talking on here about the Olympics as a venue to potentially grow the game of golf - or, at least, that is the argument posed by proponents of getting golf into the 2016 games. (If Chicago gets those games, which course would you have host? Olympia Fields?! AHHHH!)

Anyway, here is another angle on what is not growing the game - boring courses.

[Steve] Flesch, a thoughtful member of the PGA Tour's player advisory council, expressed more far-reaching concerns for a pricey leisure sport that during this economic downturn is seeing more courses close than open and the number of participants and rounds played continue to fall nationally. He didn't quite accuse this PGA Championship of killing golf, but he came close. "If we're worried about attracting people to come play, if they see how miserable we are out there, why would they go, 'I want to play that game!'?" Flesch told's Cameron Morfit. "It's fun to watch guys make birdies. They smile. The PGA is committed to growing the game; is this how they want golf portrayed?

"The thing that bums me out is I don't know how many of our top 15, 20 guys got chased out of here this weekend. Do you think that's the leaderboard the PGA of America wants up there when they're fighting the Olympics? How are ratings going to be this weekend? People are going to look at Charlie Wi, myself — I'm not saying anybody doesn't deserve to be up there, but people are going to turn around and go, 'Well I've never heard of any of these guys, let's see what's going on with the Olympics.' The PGA has got to be careful. They're getting what they're asking for, is what I'm saying."

Golf is a player driven sport. The personalities (or lack thereof) determine the ratings because viewers want to like and identify with the players and their talents. If course setups hinder the players' ability to collectively showcase that talent, then people may not tune in to watch. In effect, the ratings for the US Opens at Shinnecock and Winged Foot were terrible - per this argument - because the setups were so bad that they could not have possibly identified the best player...just the one that survives.

Weekly Ratings Pain: PGA Championship Edition

I've been doing these segments while we have been under TIGERLESS WATCH 2008, so I thought I would develop an extremely crude graphic for it.

It was not pretty for the PGA Championship. In fact, this is probably the worst yet.
Despite Padraig Harrington's thrilling victory on Sunday at Oakland Hills, the overnight rating for the PGA Championship was 3.0, down 55% from last year's final round at Southern Hills — an event won by (surely you recall) Woods.
Ouch! Let's put this into some perspective.
The three domestic events were down precipitously , with the AT&T Classic off 42% and the WGC-Brigestone lower by 39%. The British Open, on ABC, was down a more modest 11% from '07.
Dick Friedman at SI talks more about what this could mean for the Playoff events.
Such a figure bodes poorly for NBC's return to the Tour over Labor Day weekend for the second FedEx Cup playoff event, the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass. (CBS will telecast the first FedEx event, the Barclays Championship, which Woods did not play in last year.) The Deutsche Bank — which last year featured Woods's gripping Labor Day duel with eventual winner, Phil Mickelson — will be hard-pressed to approach '07's superb 3.4 final-round rating. Nor can NBC be optimistic about the other two FedEx events it carries, the BMW and the Tour Championship. With the possible exception of the Sept. 19-21 Ryder Cup (also on NBC), the Nielsens almost certainly will stay in the doldrums until Tiger's expected return in 2009.

Monday, August 11, 2008

New Blogging Responsibilities

Everyone, just wanted to make an announcement that I am officially taking over for Mulligan Stu over at Waggle Room. Waggle Room is a community organized by SB Nation that allows fans to post to the blog, so long as they register. Stu carried on a tradition of objective, quick hits of the golf news. I'm going to maintain that and hopefully build on it with interviews featuring newsmakers and journalists - again, quick hits of some of the same material you will find on the GNN podcasts.

The GNN Blog will live on how it is today - mid-sized, analytical posts about the stories in the game and other random things. The podcasts will go on as always. And, just to show that my productivity isn't hampered, I even updated the Golf News Net main page too.

So, if you like what you see here, I invite you to come over to Waggle Room, join the community, and begin posting! Also, you'll help me in my quest for golf world domination!

What Makes a Major Memorable?

Rich Lerner is usually right on the money in his line of thinking and writing. At least, I find myself agreeing with him when I read his essays. In his PGA Championship epilogue, though, I think he got it wrong (which I think he also read on air during Live From last night):

Three days of grumbling were finally lost beneath the roars. Majors, we were reminded, are remembered only for what happens Sunday, and so much did on this one.
It's not that I don't think that is true. We remember major championships because of back nines on Sunday. Very rarely do we remember majors because of the stunning quality of four rounds - though some of Tiger's efforts offer modern examples of majors we remember for a total performance.

The problem is that it IS true. Golf fans and members of the media are most likely to remember the final result. If the last nine holes were great, people will remember the major as a great one. This is a problem. It causes people to forget just how awful some course setups are.

Oakland Hills was terrible before the rain came in over the weekend. Were it not for the rain, this would have been a pitiful end to the majors in 2008. But, Mother Nature stepped in, made the track playable, and gave us a chance to experience some pretty enjoyable golf on Sunday.

Certainly, the play of Garcia, Curtis, and Harrington helped. They played extremely well under the circumstances and they are why this PGA Championship will be remembered as it will be. Great play down the stretch can remove the specter of a bad setup from anyone's memory. When we watch the PGA highlights show for this 90th rendition in subsequent years, we won't hear Jim Nantz talk about the lousy setup. He'll read from a script that said conditions were firm, fast, and tough - not boring and unimaginative.

I know that golf's greatest memories are made by the players that find a way to excel on any golf course in any condition. Still, that is the condition that will give a pass to the PGA of America, which chose to set up Oakland Hills like a dog track. We should remember the grumbling. Mike Davis did, and he helped transform the USGA's reputation in a few short years. The PGA of America may be doing the same for the worse if they're not careful - and don't remember the grumbling.

Highway 18 - New Episode and Mini-Marathon

I haven't been able to catch a ton of the Golf Channel show called Highway 18, but I've enjoyed what I've seen of it so far. In effect, it's Amazing Race (which I love to catch when I can) for golf (which I love to do when I can). Makes for some fun.

There are 5 teams and they're on a race through Florida - convenient because TGC is located there, as are the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, and several host courses for both tours. The teams do golf related challenges and then get knocked out if they finish last twice.

TGC let me know they're having a catch-up marathon on Tuesday night, with a new episode at 10pm. So, I thought I would pass that along if you're interested in catching onto the show for its last 8 episodes - particularly if you want a break from the Olympics, or America's Best Dog. (Really, CBS?!)

Ranking the Major Championship Setups

This PGA Championship could have been simply awful were it not for rain. With how things were going through the first 36 holes and a cut at +8, Oakland Hills was ready to crown a champion at about +5. Then, Mother Nature stepped in and the rain soaked the course to make it still firm, but playable. Were it not for the rain and the cool temperatures, this could have been a terrible finish.

In terms of performance for the year, the best major setup clearly went to the Davis staff at the USGA. It's not even close. Birkdale was not setup very well, but was fairly adaptable in practice. Augusta National was not setup well and was not adapted at all in response to the windy conditions. Oakland Hills got saved, but was on pace to be the worst.

Therefore, here we have:
1. US Open - Torrey Pines
2. Open Championship - Royal Birkdale
3. The Masters - Augusta National
4. PGA Championship - Oakland Hills

Last year, I would have said:
1. PGA Championship - Southern Hills (particularly after the 2001 US Open)
2. Open Championship - Carnoustie
3. The Masters - Augusta National
4. US Open - Oakmont

How a year changes things!

Ryder Cup: It's Not All Bad for Ben Curtis

He just found his way onto the Ryder Cup team through automatic qualifying and displaced Steve Stricker from an automatic slot by finishing tied for second place. Here are the automatic qualifiers:

Player Points
Phil Mickelson 5,342.500
Stewart Cink 4,952.665
Kenny Perry 4,480.700
Jim Furyk 4,423.892
Anthony Kim 4,035.296
Justin Leonard 3,379.274
Ben Curtis 3,120.061
Boo Weekley 2,785.095

So, how do we feel about that line up?

Well, Azinger got what he wanted: winners. All of these players except Furyk and Curtis have won this season on Tour.

He also has three rookies that fit in well with this quote:

"I've said this all along," Azinger noted on Wednesday, "that to me, experience is important but it is also overrated. I mean, experience now, anyone who has played Ryder Cup in the last six Ryder Cups has experience getting their (butt) beat. So, I mean, I'm not looking for experience."
Ok, fine. Then that's what he is getting. How about those four captain's picks TBD? Here are 9-15:

Steve STRICKER 2663.568
Woody AUSTIN 2422.983
D.J. TRAHAN 2372.566
Hunter MAHAN 2304.517
Sean O'HAIR 2282.822
Rocco MEDIATE 2273.660
Brandt SNEDEKER 2248.887

You almost certainly have to pick Stricker because he is fairly close to 8th. Austin would seemingly get in because of what he brings to the team emotionally speaking. Then, you have four golfers for two spots. None of them have Ryder Cup experience, all have approximately the same number of points, and none really did that much this week.

Brandel Chamblee at The Golf Channel seemed to be of the mind to pick young players that have not experienced European ass kickings. He even went as far as to suggest Parker MacLachlan get a look. No. But, I can see a case for a bunch of young kids getting a chance over older players.

JB Holmes is someone that Azinger reportedly wants to pick, but can he justify it given that Holmes is 17th on the points list and his performance on Sunday? If he can justify Holmes, then why not 19th placed Bart Bryant? I would much rather have a match play grinder like Bryant.

No matter what, though, you have to consider this:
Ben Curtis' tie for second shot him up from 20th to 7th on the Ryder Cup points list (the top eight make the team automatically), but no other American player from fifth through 20th made any kind of statement. Boo Weekley tied for 20th, Holmes and Jim Furyk tied for 29th and D.J. Trahan and Sean O'Hair tied for 31st. Anthony Kim disappeared without a splash on Sunday, shooting 75-77, as did Justin Leonard (72-80). Add in the terrific performances from Euro team members Harrington, Garcia, Henrik Stenson (tied for fourth) and Justin Rose (tied for ninth) and it isn't a stretch to say the Europeans are the favorites in Kentucky next month.

Harrington With a Tiger-esque Statistic

Usually, at the end of majors season, fans are treated to a statistic showing the aggregate score for all four majors for the players that make all four cuts. Harrington posted +7 for the year. That was almost 15 shots better than second place Phil Mickelson. Normally, that position is reserved for Tiger Woods.

Tiger competed in just two majors and finished in aggregate at -6. Harrington was +7 for those two majors. Still, he came on at the best times and in the toughest of conditions. Arguably, Birkdale and Oakland Hills were the two toughest major venues this year. For Harrington to have won on the two toughest layouts - even without Woods in the field - he deserves a ton of credit.

The real question in whether or not Woods STILL is the player of the year? I would argue yes given his submitted resume for the year, but Harrington sure is making a strong case.

Garcia Makes Some More Excuses

He said something similar to this with Peter Kostis on CBS TV and said it again in the press room.

“There's guys who get a little bit fortunate in majors,” Garcia said. “They manage to get things going their way. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened to me.

“That doesn't mean I'm not on the right track. I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's just a matter of time.”
While I will not disagree with Garcia that luck has a hand in majors' fate, it seems like this one really is on Garcia more than the 2007 Open Championship. He made critical mistakes at 16 and 17, and 18 was really just icing on the cake.

After going out in 31, Garcia had all of the momentum on his side. He could have easily posted 65 if he had played his cards right. Instead, he posted 69. Rather than winning by two, he lost by the same margin. Meanwhile, Harrington was steady in the face of that uncertainty.

The 19th Hole: The Void is Filled

After the US Open, golf observers were concerned about identifying the player that would assume the position of best golfer other than Tiger Woods. It appeared that there were a number of candidates for the position.

At first, it appeared that Kenny Perry may be the man to take on the task. With two wins in three weeks, Perry looked to be turning back the clock while surging to career heights. But, after skipping the Open Championship to play on the PGA Tour in Milwaukee instead, it appears that Perry has lost some of that momentum.

Then came Anthony Kim. The young American has been having an excellent season, including a win at Tiger’s AT&T National. He had a fantastic effort in his first encounter with links golf, but has been in the middle of the pack recently.

Of course, there have been mentions made of the usual suspects – Garcia, Mickelson, and Vijay Singh come to mind. Despite some success this season for all of them, none has stepped up with real significance in Woods’ absence.

From all of the faces in the crowd, Irishman Padraig Harrington has clearly asserted himself as the man Woods must beat upon his return to competitive golf. First, Harrington defended his Open Championship in almost impossible conditions at Royal Birkdale. Then, on Sunday at the PGA Championship, Harrington was aggressive, clutch, and everything he needed to be to capture his first major championship on American soil.

Making crucial putts on each of the final three holes, Harrington came into the house in 32 strokes and finished with 66. On the last hole, his major championship experience proved invaluable. After driving the ball into a fairway bunker, Harrington chunked his bunker approach into the long, thick rough. With a playable lie, Harrington hit a crisp 7 iron to fifteen feet. If he could make a par, he would almost certainly win the championship. Putting before Sergio Garcia, who was threatening a par of his own that may force a playoff, the Irishman struck a perfect putt right into the heart.

In that moment, Harrington was going through so many emotions. From the look on his face, one had to be shock. Maybe he was shocked that he was again beating Garcia for a major championship. Certainly, the situation must have dawned on him that he had just won consecutive majors. Perhaps even, deep in his head, he realized that he had won his third major championship in his last six tries.

During the course of approximately a month, Harrington went from an Irish hero to a golfing legend. He defended his Open title with one of the most incredible approach shots in history – his 5 wood to the revamped 17th at Birkdale. Then, he proceeds to start hot and finish hotter at an extremely difficult golf course. In both victories, Harrington demonstrated so many of the same things that we have come to expect from the player most noticeably absent from the proceedings. He showed that he had unwavering confidence, a tremendous eye for strategy, and a pair of steady hands that just seemed to guide the ball to his destiny.

Padraig Harrington elevated his status in a way that no other player could have given the circumstances. He again won a major championship and proved that he is definitely not a fluke. There is a legitimate reason to discuss the Paddy Slam after getting proof positive that this man can win anywhere on any stage. And, upon Woods’ return around the Masters next year, there will be a threat for his next attempt at the single season Grand Slam. In fact, Tiger Woods will have to stop Harrington’s march to owning all four of the game’s most cherished trophies.

On Sunday, the game of golf won by virtue of Paddy Harrington capturing the PGA Championship. A new challenger has emerged to become the best player in the world and it was almost unimaginable one month ago. Even better, fans will be waiting in anticipation to find out if the legend of Padraig Harrington can grow out of the shadow of another icon of the sport.

Friday, August 8, 2008

And It's Official, Ginn Tribute RIP

We got it from the AP:

The organizers of the LPGA's Ginn Tribute hosted by Annika Sorenstam announced Friday they couldn't obtain the sponsorships needed to keep the tournament through 2010.

Ginn Companies chairman Bobby Ginn blamed a faltering economy and less corporate funds for the demise of the tournament at RiverTowne Country Club.

"The golf tournament business is primarily fueled by economic support," Ginn said in a statement. "We did everything in our power to generate the sponsorship necessary to continue with the Ginn Tribute, but given the current market and corresponding cuts in corporate spending, it was an uphill battle."

Also got a typo:

While South Carolina is a golf destination ... the LGPA Tour has struggled to find a footing.

So that whole denial thing in The State from Ginn? Biding time.

Now, does the Ginn Open become Annika's event?

Dennis Walters Receives PGA Award

I've written about Dennis Walters in the blog before and had him on The 19th Hole. What an ambassador for golf this guy is. And on Wednesday night, he received an the Distinguished Service Award from the PGA of America for his achievements. The Local Knowledge Blog at Golf Digest has the details that you can read.

Here is the most phenomenal part of the story, for me at least:

Walters, who by putting one-handed after balancing himself on leg braces and a single crutch can still break 40 over nine holes at his home course, the Ritz Carlton in Jupiter, Fla., keeps his golf advice simple.
Seriously, that puts almost every golfer on the planet to shame. Walters is an incredibly talented man and deserves a ton of respect for what he has achieved.

Congratulations, Dennis!

Circle What's Wrong With This Picture


I have had a few days to digest the USGA and R&A's decision to go forth with grooves regulation beginning in 2010 for major professional competitions and 2014 for amateur players. When the proposal was made almost 18 months ago, I was soundly against the decision to regulate grooves. At the time, I thought that the only way to get to appropriate regulation of golf technology would be through scaling back golf ball technology. The decision to try to regulate grooves appeared to be a weak attempt by the USGA to back door into the true regulation required.

Over time, though, I have come around on grooves regulation. In fact, this year, I went so far as to demand that it happen. I backed it in the shadow of doubt cast over the future of the regulation in the early part of the year, particularly because of the R&A's reported stalling on the acceptance of the rule change.

In the linked column, I noted PGA Tour data that I had analyzed to discover that players - on the whole - have not modified their club selection approach to par 4s and par 5s. Therefore, I drew the conclusion that the regulations for drivers already put in place by the USGA had no real impact on how players approach these holes. Additionally, the tightening of course setups by the PGA Tour in recent years has had a statistically insignificant impact of how professionals play from the tee.

The conclusion to draw from that fact now seems clear. Professional golf is a distance game. For the average professional, the rule off of the tee is to hit the ball as far as possible. This agrees with the USGA's initial research that indicated the lack of correlation between hitting fairways and winning golf tournaments. It also agrees with research I have done - even before the USGA proposed grooves regulation.

Therefore, if golf is a distance game and hitting fairways do not matter, then players feel more confident hitting their approaches from closer to the hole and in the rough than from the fairway and further back. In effect, this eliminates a crucial skill of the game from the equation. What is to blame for that? The USGA evidence suggests, and I agree, that golf club grooves allow players to spin the golf ball better in tandem with current golf ball technology.

Current U grooves allows players to have better control over shots from the rough and, combined with distance gains, lets them play with a shorter club in their hands. Regulating the size and shape of those grooves will reduce professionals' ability to control the ball from the rough. The stated hope of the USGA and R&A is that this will restore the importance of rough in tournament play. While that may be true, that stated hope is missing the point.

The real goal of this regulation should be that players would be encourage to put the ball in the fairway more often. On the eve of the PGA Championship, Trevor Immelman spoke very candidly about the reaction professionals will have to this regulation and spoke about how players will pursue shorter drives to put the ball in the fairway. In effect, this regulation could move the needle on the PGA Tour data I analyzed earlier this year. Players will leave distance on the table to avoid the rough and have ball control from the fairway. They will leave distance on the table by switching to a softer golf ball that will allow them better control from the rough than current golf balls. This is de facto golf ball regulation, and that is what I wanted in the first place.

This regulation is not perfect, though. After all, this regulation is reactionary. It is not proactive. With an 18 month window before this formal announcement of acceptance, and another 18 months before implementation at the professional ranks, the golf manufacturers may have sufficient time to develop golf balls that respond to the new grooves in a very similar fashion to the existing standard of U grooves. Basically, the manufacturers could out-maneuver the USGA and R&A before the standard even becomes enforced.

Immelman also spoke about how his sponsor, Nike, is already working on a golf ball that will allow multi-piece distance and control in conjunction with V grooves. No wonder a lawsuit is not imminent from the manufacturers. They would rather spend money beating the rule than fighting it.

If that does happen, and the manufacturers dupe the ruling bodies, then the USGA and R&A will be left with little recourse but to regulate the golf ball more than it does today. Fortunately for the ruling bodies, they have set a precedent for working with the manufacturers to design regulation and work out the kinks before implementation. They could do so again for regulation of the golf ball, if needed, and manage to avoid the massive lawsuit that causes the USGA to save money hand over fist.

In the end, this is a positive step forward for professional golf. No matter how we get to the end result, it will help restore skill to the game that is missing today.

Perry WDs, Golfweek Puns, Ryan LOLs at Pun

This from the great recap of the first round at the PGA:

Kenny Perry withdrew after the first round of the PGA Championship Thursday night because he suffered a scratched cornea Tuesday night while adjusting a hard contact lens.

But remember, his focus this year was never on the majors.
That wrote itself and I still laughed (at the joke).

Still, as the new recipient of a hard contact lens this week, I can understand the problem. They're much different to handle than soft lenses and take some getting used to for the wearer. It sounds like Perry has had years of experience with them, but this still stinks for him.

Tom Meeks, Is That You?

The conditions at Oakland Hills for day one of the PGA Championship reminded me a whole lot of the Tom Meeks era of US Open setups - boring, way too long, way too penal, and not encouraging many roars (then again, there weren't a lot of people there).

Lee Westwood went off on the setup after a 77 that ruined my fantasy team...

...and his chances to win a major this year.

"The course is 7,500 yards long, the greens are firm, and the pins are tucked away," Westwood said of Oakland Hills (official yardage: 7,395). "They are sucking the fun out of the major championships when you set it up like that. The fairways are narrow, and unfortunately if you miss the semi [rough] by a foot you are worse off than if you miss by 20 yards. I asked my partners [Geoff Ogilvy and Zach Johnson] if I was out of order, and they said 'No, if you are slightly off-line, you are crucified.' It is too thick around the greens as well. It takes the skill away from chipping."
That sounds about right from the scoring and what I saw on television. Westwood also observed something that may not have been expressly noted to the field.

Comparing Thursday's conditions to the practice rounds, Westwood wondered if the PGA had dispatched an army of workers overnight to "brush back" the rough, changing its direction so that the blades point toward the tees, instead of toward the greens.

"I can't think of a reason why they would do it other than to irritate the players," said Westwood, whose round included five bogeys, one double-bogey, and no birdies. "[The rough] is five inches long. Why brush it back at us? It makes no sense. People want to see birdies, and they have not seen me make any. I can't see anything wrong with being 9- or 10-under-par for the week."

They actually did do that! And I think that's just plain ridiculous. John Hopkins puts this into perspective:
While mowing fairways back towards the tees to bring balls to a halt sooner has been fashionable since it first appeared at Augusta a few years ago, the practice of doing the same to the rough is surely unnecessary.
Augusta's rough is like an inch and a half. You can rake that however you want and basically the effect is the same. But on 3.5", deep, thick rough, that's bad news bears.

Here's a final thought from the piece.

Major golf has officially gone mad. The PGA is the new U.S. Open, the U.S. Open is the old PGA, and the new Masters (where 8-under can again win) is the old Masters.

At least the British is still the British.

I've been saying most of this for two years now. Nice to see that people are noticing it now. But that Masters comment is misguided. Augusta National is ruined.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ryder Cup Team BETTER Without Tiger?!

Normally, when I mention the Detroit Free Press, it's to make fun of Carlos Monarrez - the lovable columnist who almost always gets it wrong. This time, though, it's not Carlos that I want to analyze. It's Drew Sharp. Sharp makes a claim dumber than all of the claims Monarrez has ever made: that the US Ryder Cup team is actually BETTER for not having Tiger Woods on it.

What. Here we go!

The idea of addition through subtraction of the world's best player sounds crazy, but the Americans become less aristocratic without Tiger's special care and feeding.

Whom to pair with him? How to keep him motivated?

Drew, the Americans haven't found a pairing that consistently has worked in the Ryder Cup since Tiger has been a professional. Remember when we thought that Chris Riley and Tiger might work? Or how about the Davids Toms and Love III? American captains and players have done a lousy job in this format of findings teams that work.

Kenny Perry nailed it before the Buick Open six weeks ago when he suggested that despite the challenges of losing the greatest player around, the United States "may become a tougher team" in Woods' absence.

They would have to be tougher in terms of talent because Woods cannot lend his services. That would definitely not imply that they're better despite Woods' meh record in the event (10-13-2). Also, Kenny Perry should not be quoted in reference to toughness - skipping qualifying for the US Open and an exemption into the British Open to do nothing and play in Milwaukee (a.k.a. kill time).

But, Sharp decides that this is something to be lauded in making the Ryder Cup team better because he wants to be there. I have to thoroughly disagree. Just because Hunter Mahan said what a lot of guys really think doesn't mean that guys don't want to play on the Ryder Cup team. They want to play on a fun Ryder Cup team. You know, like the Pres Cup teams that Jack Nicklaus captained.

Last, though, I have a statement in Sharp's column that I kind of agreed with at first and then disagreed with vehemently.

Azinger would never admit it, but actually his job just got a little easier.

Ok, so Zinger doesn't have Tiger. That means he loses a guy who is basically a crapshoot to win or lose his matches. Yes, Woods is the best player alive, but he is not the best Ryder Cup player alive - that goes to either Monty or Sergio. Therefore, Zinger didn't really lose much in losing Woods. In exchange, he did lose some expectations from some of the golf community.

But, for anyone who follows golf, the expectations were not tempered. People know that Woods is marginal in the Ryder Cup. Therefore, having him on the team or not really doesn't mean much in terms of points. And that means that we should basically expect the same from Azinger without the benefit of having Ryder Cupper Tiger Woods. (See action figure.)

Here are our 8 automatic qualifiers for the Ryder Cup if we made the team today.

Cink (3-5-4), Mickelson (9-12-4), Perry (0-2-0), Furyk (6-12-2), Kim (NR), Leonard (0-3-5), Weekley (NR), Stricker (NR).

They have records that are WAY worse than Tiger's 50% point rate. That means that it is possible that the Americans could actually do worse on their own home turf than they did at Oakland Hills. Even with somewhat tempered expectations, how does that make Azinger's life easier or Woods' absence a positive?

Golf Channel Claims Increased PGA Tour Audience

I did not see this column yesterday, but it is in the Orlando Sentinel and is Josh Robbins' Golf Confidential. In it, he talks about how the Golf Channel is seeing gains in viewership this year for their PGA Tour coverage.

[Golf Channel] executives point to Nielsen Co. data that show their network can enjoy modest growth even without Tiger. From last year to this year, the Golf Channel actually has seen a ratings increase of 5 percent in its hole-to-hole coverage of nine tournaments Woods didn't enter in 2007 and couldn't enter this year because of knee trouble.

For the network, these are encouraging numbers. The statistics indicate that the Golf Channel has a core group of die-hard golf fans who will watch even without Tiger.
To some extent, I think you have to account for the increased number of homes to which the Golf Channel has access now that they are the home of the PGA Tour. That earned the network a lot of street cred. The question, then, is if this 5% is just because more homes get the Golf Channel, or the channel is increasing in popularity.

Either way, here's something to take away from comparing 2007 to 2008's PGA Tour telecasts.
At a time when broadcast networks are seeing less than 3 percent growth in PGA Tour viewership, the Golf Channel delivered an impressive 19 percent increase over its 2007 PGA Tour coverage with households and a 21 percent increase with its key demo, men 25 to 54.
Again, this may lend a hint to the increase in viewers for non-Tiger events. People finally realized that TGC is where to go for PGA Tour coverage and started getting access to it through satellite and cable.

Finally, from the second piece, something to prove why the Olympics will do nothing for golf.
[G]olf programming is watched by the most affluent television viewers, and the network has been ranked No. 1 in median household income six years running. Golfers not only aspire to play better, they aspire to achieve the better things in life.

My Article on The First Tee in Local Magazine

I have a piece in Press Box this week - a Baltimore based sports paper. It's on The First Tee, which is a youth golf initiative that I back very firmly. We've been fortunate enough to have Joe Louis Barrow, head of the national program, on The 19th Hole. I hope you'll enjoy the piece, even if you're not from the area.

Press Box: First Tee Gets Kids Swinging

Golf in the Olympics: The Battle Continues

Fact or Fiction over at (which they've stopped doing on TV, it seems) debates the merits of having golf in the Olympics. My stance is that golf in the Olympics is a terrible idea. With that in mind, I have a problem with Ron Sirak's assumptions as to why golf should be in the Olympics.

There could be no more significant grow-the-game program for golf than making it an Olympic sport. Just imagine what it would mean for the golf economy and for the talent pool of the game if China or India, for example, got seriously committed to developing world-class golfers.
They are already starting to get serious about developing the game. Go ahead and Google golf in China or India and you'll see articles that point you to the growth of the game among the new middle and upper classes.

Before we get anywhere in growing world-class golfers, though, there has to be a generation of stability in the class system. I assure you that won't be completed by 2016. The fact is that - in most cases - money is required to get into this game at a world-class level.

Additionally, the game is growing in these two countries on its own. It does not need an Olympic distraction for a boring 72 hole event.
Having golf in the Olympics also would expand the fan base of the game by putting the sport in front of those spectators who love sports but might not necessarily watch golf. And once you get new people in the tent, a certain amount are bound to come back. It's a no-brainer: Golf in the Olympics would be great for the game.
Over half of the world lives on less than $1 dollar per day. Golf does not exactly represent a sport that all classes can appreciate. Combine both of those facts together and its not all that likely that golf will grow much, if at all, by having an event in the Olympics.

Also, Sirak seems to ignore the Tiger phenomenon when he says that once you get people watching, they'll keep coming back. That's BS. Read Tom Bonk's wrap up column every week and see the kind of ratings pain the Tour is feeling in his absence. That happens every time he doesn't play. People watch golf to see Tiger. If he's not there, it's a non-starter.

Last, golf will not be able to supplant sports like soccer, rugby, and cricket (the last two of which are being considered for reinstatement to the games) in terms of international attention. The Olympics will not change that one iota.

Baltusrol Gets 2016 PGA Championship

Seriously, where has my life gone? 2016?! I will be 33 then! Anyway, just wanted to pass that along.

Can we be looking forward to a regional majors pissing match between the PGA of America and USGA - which is rumored to be bringing Oakmont in as the 2016 Open host?

Fields Out as LPGA Sponsor

We all knew this was coming, but Golfweek confirms it.

The Fields Corporation, title sponsor of the Fields Open in Hawaii, has announced it will not renew its title sponsorship for the LPGA tournament for 2009, leaving an early-season hole on the tour’s schedule for next year.

Fields officials said the Japanese entertainment company will concentrate its future marketing efforts primarily in Japan. There had been speculation the event was in trouble and might not return, one of several LPGA tournaments that is having title sponsor issues.
That's not really news, but this sounds interesting:
“I think our No. 1 objective is to get more U.S. tournaments (with) full fields,” Inkster said.
That seems to fly in the face of international expansion of the LPGA Tour. I'd be very curious to know the explicit objective of Commissioner Bivens. I don't know it one way or the other, but I'm not certain that Inkster and the Commish would see eye-to-eye on that.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Geoff Shackelford has a good recap post of reactions in the media room from players at the PGA Championship to the rules change that has been approved by the R&A and USGA.

My favorite reaction, though, is from Masters champion Trevor Immelman.

[Y]ou can change the grooves, but then they're going to have to scale the golf courses back, because you can't give guys no advantage with grooves. Because you got to understand one thing: As soon as we change the grooves, we're probably going to have to alter the ball we use, because if you're not getting as much spin, you're probably going to have to start using a softer golf ball.

In the last few years, we're using harder golf balls because the drivers allow us to launch the ball higher off the tee. So we need less spin, and we have had good grooves on our irons, so we have been able to launch the ball to create enough spin.

So we're going to have to go back and the manufacturers are going to have to go back to the drawing board. And I know Nike has been working on this since the USGA started sending the smoke up that they may be doing this. I had a look at a few prototypes where they have started working on some different groove variations.

And I like I was saying, as we change the grooves, we're going to have to start maybe looking at the way our golf ball is performing. And at that point the R&A and USGA may have to decide how they're going to set the golf courses up. Are we still going to have rough that is this deep (indicating). And like today out there, we have got guys the rough is pretty juicy here but you still got guys with these rakes out there making sure that it stands up this high. It's quite interesting.

But so I think that you're going to have to give and take. So that's where they're going to have to figure out how are they going to give and take. Because they can't just keep taking.
Couldn't be more true. Trevor has the point down, though. This rules change should compel players to seek balls that don't go as far in an effort to gain better control from the ball in the rough. Instead of relying on the club, they'll have to sacrifice something from their golf ball. Immelman also is right that course setups will have to change in response to the rule change.