Wies Brave New Economic World

By Adam BarrOctober 7, 2005, 4:00 pm
Ten million dollars. Twenty million. Majors, Masters, two tours, sponsors exemptions, girl golfer poised to become world woman ' the layers of potential in the Michelle Wie story go deep and wide.
But will golfs latest phenom deepen and widen golf participation?
Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie has millions of reasons to smile.
Fortunately, theres a template. True, Michelle Wie is not Tiger Woods, Tiger is not Michelle. Even the stages onto which they stepped upon turning pro are different, albeit just nine years apart. But in that almost-decade, we have had a chance to see what the coming of a monumental talent has ' and has not ' done to move the golf worlds economic needle. And the No.1 lesson?
Its all about execution.
Tigers professional debut in Milwaukee in 1996 and the heady weeks leading up to it ' including a stunning third U.S. Amateur win, with Nike chief Phil Knight following every stroke of the final at Oregons Pumpkin Ridge ' had everyone feeling the euphoria of potential. The air seemed thick with the aroma of money on the wing, flying into numerous wallets, 401 (k)s and vacation homes. Surely this rising tide would lift an armada of boats. The industry was home free. Even those ordinarily reserved in their economic forecasts couldnt suppress a triumphant grin. Rounds, equipment sales, minority participation and more were expected to rise.
It didnt exactly happen that way. No doubt, Tiger Woods, architect of an already amazing career before the age of 30, has done great things for golf. General interest, however such things can be measured, has increased. Golf is closer to the mainstream of world culture. But the number of core golfers in the United States, those adults who play at least eight rounds per year and an average of 37, those who spend close to $1,500 per year on fees and equipment, has hovered between 11 million and 13 million since Tigers debut, with a peak of 14.1 million in 2000. The trend line is upward, but compound annual growth has been about 1 percent over the last 13 years, a rate that has equipment manufacturers trying to steal market share from each other instead of finding markets to expand into. (All figures are from the National Golf Foundation.)
Tigers presence made golf one of the only sports to show a positive trend in television ratings (NASCAR was the other). But the blessing was two-edged, because ratings history has shown that the numbers often dip when Woods doesnt play or is out of the hunt. Thats one of the reasons the PGA Tour is said to be reengineering its 2007-2010 television rights negotiations approach to be less Tiger-dependent.
Woods status as a minority ' he is African-American and Asian ' can be said to have increased golf awareness and interest among minorities. Again, interest is a hard thing to measure with any exactitude, and although there may be more minority golfers now than in 1996, no clear-cut, year-to-year statistical evidence yet supports that assertion. But anecdotal evidence, especially from large cities with diverse populations, backs up the idea that minority participation has increased ' but it has hardly been the revolution some expected.
Did we ask too much of The Tiger Phenomenon? Perhaps. At any rate, he has held up his end. What we have learned is that interest alone wont do the job. It needs to be converted into behavior ' buying behavior, playing behavior, golf behavior.
Theres more people that watch, but theres not more people that play, said Sean Toulon, executive vice president of TaylorMade-adidas Golf. That said, I think Michelles great. Shell definitely get people talking about golf more.
But what will convert interest into intent?
Rounds that dont take six hours would help, Toulon said. Rounds that are less expensive would help. How do we get golfers into the gameand staying into it?
Ah. Familiar problems. The time, expense, and difficulty hurdles to greater golf participation have become the industrys evil triad. Now that we have seen how one amazing players beginning can pump interest, but wont (by itself) pump money, perhaps we can make the best of this second chance. Oh, and we still have the first guy around. And others who can raise the crest of this second wave: Sorenstam, Els, Mickelson, and more.
How to best use the inevitable celebrity of Michelle Wie is best left to the marketing experts. But in a culture super-obsessed with celebrity (and with Wie hooked up with the William Morris Agency, which has a 106-year track record in the entertainment industry and the contacts to go with it), the effort could involve innovative alliances with everyone from new Wie endorsee Sony to powerhouses in cosmetics, food, travel, movies ' you name it. And that tide will indeed raise many boats, including those sailed by the superstars named above.
If the execution is there, it could be a brave new world for golf ' a world much bigger than one teenagers $10 million.
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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

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The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

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As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.