At This PGA Show Excitement and Uncertainty Go Hand in Hand
There is the annual excitement that accompanies the golf industrys biggest gathering, a surge of adrenaline at seeing the combined commercial might of the game to which so many have devoted their working lives. There is the buzz about new products, this time including an aggressive entry into a new segment for the largest sporting goods company in the world as Nike introduces its new golf clubs. And there is that undeniable temptation to handicap the year ahead, to speculate on whether Titleist will loosen Nikes golf ball foothold, whether Precepts bet on a second stage in the soft ball fad will come in, or whether Callaway can make a go of the C4, a very light driver that is neither metal nor wood.
But accompanying the industry head rush is an inbox full of problems and uncertainty. This is the first industry meeting since September 11, a day whose utter darkness still tempers any exuberance. Even if the effects of that tragedy could be ignored, recreational golf is still a game saddled with the puzzle of flat participation over the past six years (one executive calls it the three-million-in, three-million-out-each-year problem). The included challenge of attracting juniors who will become lifelong customers involves competing against other leisure activities that require much less investment of time and money (soccer, basketball, and video games, to name just a few).
Also, even though the U.S. Golf Association has relaxed its proposal on clubhead size limitations by 75 cubic centimeters, the industry feels beleaguered by repeated attempts to regulate driver distance for recreational players. (The proposed limitations come a year after the debate on spring-like effect off of driver faces began to boil over.) Also, ball manufacturers still bristle at the USGAs plans to introduce a new Overall Distance Standard to replace the one made in 1976; the ball makers see no need for a new standard.
The golf industry owes a lot to Tiger Woods on many levels, but as this show opens, the most relevant gift from Tiger may be hope. Whenever things seem tight, industry vets remind themselves that golf still has the most recognized athlete in the world, one whose prominence was immune even to the return of his predecessor to basketball. Without Tiger as a touchstone for a possible resurgence of the game, many smaller golf companies, weary of red ink and escalating marketing costs, would probably give up.
With all that in mind, here are some of the questions that this show will raise, and perhaps answer:
1. Order, please: Most golf equipment companies say their orders declined for about 10 days to two weeks after September 11, then picked up considerably. But with the recession now endorsed as official by the government and the business press, exhibitors worry that order-writing will be down at this show. Add anything but good spring weather to that, and the industry could have a disappointing start this year.
2. Nikes pyramid of influence: By releasing a better-player iron first, will Nike irritate most recreational players? Or will they have those golfers aspiring to use clubs like those in the bags of their heroes, such as David Duval and (eventually) Woods?
3. Ball dominance: There are no caves to clear out; this war is being fought out in the open. What will Titleist bring as a Pro V2, and can it make as big a noise as the unprecedented Pro V1 did? What will be Nikes return salvo? Now that TaylorMade-adidas Golf is essentially in charge of Maxfli, what will happen to that troubled brand? And will the industry pay more attention to Spalding balls, or to rumors that Spalding owner KKR is about to sell to another holding company with a split-it-and-sell-it reputation?
4. When does the cycle break down?: How long before consumers get tired of being asked to buy new every 12 months?
5. Does the show have a future?: Ping is in this year, but has decided not to come to the 2003 PGA Show. Will other companies examine how well their trade-show marketing dollar works? The Las Vegas show became a second-tier flea market in short order. Show owner Reed Exposition will be working hard to make sure theres no domino effect in Orlando.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.