State of the Game: The delicate fabric of the game

By Arnold PalmerMarch 17, 2013, 6:33 pm

I marvel at golf. I’ve been immersed in the game now for almost 80 years, yet every day it surprises me or affects me in some new way. Sometimes it’s a swing tip I’ve never heard before. Occasionally it’s a snippet of the game’s rich history that had previously gone unnoticed or maybe it’s that one remaining golf joke I hadn’t yet heard. But the way in which the game most often surprises me – moves me, really – is its endless capacity for good. From the game’s leading professionals to its highest handicappers, from its administrators to its administrated, it is inspiring, even golf-affirming, to know that while ropes may separate the world’s greatest players from their fans, we’re all united in two key ways: charity and the Rules of Golf.

The PGA Tour’s first recorded donation came in 1938 when the Palm Beach Invitational donated $10,000 from tournament proceeds to charity. From then on the game has been rooted in generosity. I can honestly say that I don’t know of a single person in this sport – leading administrators, top players, rank-and-file competitors, journeymen, media, tournament organizers – who is not directly involved with charity. For 75 years that philanthropy has been stamped into the Tour’s DNA. Ask Tim Finchem, who was presiding as commissioner in 2004 when the Tour passed the $1 billion mark in charitable donations, and has set a goal of reaching the $2 billion mark by 2014. I have no doubt we’ll surpass that.


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My family and I have been privileged to play a small role in these efforts. Our tournament at Bay Hill, coming up this week, raises funds for the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, the only hospital in Central Florida built for women and led by women. Helping nurture these institutions was a passion of my late wife, Winnie, and remains a passion and a priority of mine. But I’m no different in that regard from any of my colleagues. From Jack Nicklaus to Gary Player to Lee Trevino to Raymond Floyd to Tom Watson and right on down to the last man on your local mini-tour money list, we’re all in.



You may have heard that Devon Quigley, son of Champions Tour star Dana Quigley, was seriously injured in an automobile accident about a year and a half ago. The resulting medical bills have been astronomical. So Jim Colbert asked me to help with a fundraiser he was putting together in Florida. He told Dana, “I’ll get you some pros.” Jack also showed up. So did Gary and Lee and Raymond and Tom and Ben Crenshaw, Larry Nelson, Nick Price, Steve Elkington, Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins, Tom Kite, Dave Stockton, Mark Calcavecchia and Jeff Sluman and many, many more. The outpouring was so overwhelming, in fact, that Hollis Cavner, who runs the 3M Championship on the Champions Tour, had to be brought in to manage the outing, which, of course, he did for free. The golf course, The Floridian, was donated by another golf lover, Jim Crane. And to top it all off, Jack and Barbara hosted a dinner party at their home. Why? Because (as Jack likes to say) golfers, by nature, are a giving bunch. 

What amazes me about golf, however, is that the PGA Tour family is just the tip of golf’s charitable spear. Look at the work done every day by golfers in your town, city and state. Charity scrambles, golf-a-thons, cause-related leagues, charity auctions and invitationals abound. Not long ago I read in one of the magazines about a league in Colorado comprised of dozens of local businessmen who compete in monthly tournaments at area golf courses. They play a game they love while raising thousands of dollars every year for local causes. There are thousands of golf groups doing the same thing across this country and around the world every day.

Of course, golf is not unique among sports in supporting charities. The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL all have vibrant and productive charitable arms, but golf’s philanthropic web is wider, deeper, stronger, more committed and more resilient than any I have seen this side of the Red Cross. Why? Let me answer that with a few questions. Could it have anything to do with the kind of people who take up our sport? Could it have anything to do with the messages of sportsmanship and respect that continue to undergird our game? Could it be that golf – so often passed from fathers to sons and mothers to daughters – makes us all feel like cousins? Could it be a sense of gratitude for a life lived on grass; for one last birdie in the fading light; for the soothing cycle of another cool evening spent chasing down a purple sky? In the end, I guess “why” we give is less important than that we give. I’m just so pleased and proud that we do.

Beyond revealing the golfer’s giving heart, charity is also an indication of our game’s health. It’s a show of pride for and unity in our sport. We need that now more than ever. That brings me to the rules. In my seven-plus decades in this increasingly global game, we’ve had very few actual disagreements. We’re facing another one right now.


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With the USGA’s and R&A’s decision to recommend a ban on anchored putting and the consequent opposition from the PGA Tour, the PGA of America, golf equipment manufacturers and some rank-and-file amateurs, the stage has been set for something more ominous. I think we’re facing a serious challenge to the rules that govern the global game. My concern is that the fabric that unites us, the tie that binds you to me and me to Tiger and Tiger to you – one set of rules – will be irreparably torn. If both these ruling bodies proceed with the proposed ban and if the Tour, the PGA of America and eventually the average player in effect ignore it, where does that leave us? Where does that leave a guy like Tim Clark, who has for years legally and successfully anchored his putter? Where does it leave the guy at your club or local muni who’s grown comfortable with what has always been a legally anchored stroke? If they decide to ignore the Rules of Golf, how will the USGA maintain a relevant voice in the United States on other vital issues such as growing the game, slow play, golf course maintenance and their charitable work? Does it leave the U.S. Open and the Open Championship adrift from the other majors? Could the USGA’s other great championships or the Tour’s own events be diminished?

I have enormous respect for the USGA and the R&A. Both have been an important part of my life as both a competitor and a man for well over half a century. Many of the friendships I formed when I was playing in U.S. Amateurs, U.S. Opens and Open Championships in the early part of my career thrive to this day. I’ve worked closely with the USGA on a volunteer basis for the better part of my life. Regardless of how you or I or the Tour feels about it, the USGA is charged (along with the R&A) with the responsibility of writing the rules by which we play. They are the final judges. I think – I know – that they take that responsibility seriously.

I hope that behind the scenes the USGA, the R&A, the PGA Tour and the PGA of America – four of the central golf organizations of my life, all of which do remarkable work growing and promoting the game – can come to some understanding and we continue to have one set of rules for everyone. Like most older players, I want to pass along to my grandkids a game that’s stronger and healthier than the one I inherited. That means a game with the interwoven threads of philanthropy and integrity intact.


On GolfChannel.com, Arnold Palmer periodically shares his opinions about issues affecting golf through his column, “Arnold Palmer’s State of the Game.”

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G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 2:12 am

LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.

Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.

“I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”


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McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.

“Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”

McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.

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Bubba on McGrady block: 'Just trying not to get hurt'

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:56 am

LOS ANGELES – A detour to the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game didn’t keep Bubba Watson from leading this week’s Genesis Open, although an on-court brush with Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady nearly derailed his chances for a third tournament win.

Watson enters the final round at Riviera with a one-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay after firing a 6-under 65 in the third round. The day before, the southpaw left the course around lunch time and headed across town to participate in the All-Star festivities, where during the celebrity game he tried to score 1-on-1 over McGrady.

Watson’s move into the lane went about as well as you’d expect given their five-inch height disparity, with McGrady easily blocking the ball into the stands. According to Watson, he had only one thought as McGrady came barreling towards him across the lane.

“When I saw him, all I saw was, ‘This is my moment to get hurt,’” Watson said. “This big tank is about to hit me, and I was like, ‘Just knock it into the stands. Just don’t touch me.’ So it worked out, he didn’t touch me so it was good.”


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Watson’s attempt went against his wife Angie’s advice to avoid the paint area, but it provided a fun moment for a player used to carving up fairways and greens – not to mention the guy who played 15 seasons in the NBA.

“Well, he’s got like just under 800 blocks for his career, so I gave him one more, you know?” Watson said. “It was just, it was a blast. I wanted to see how good he was, see if he could miss it. He hasn’t played in a while.”

Watson took some heat on Twitter from his PGA Tour peers for the rejection, but few were still laughing as he rocketed up the leaderboard Saturday with five birdies and an eagle. Now he has a chance to win this event for the third time since 2014 – even if he doesn’t plan to go toe-to-toe with McGrady again anytime soon.

“Some guys wanted to try to win MVP, so I was trying to pass it and let them have their fun and their moment,” Watson said. “I was just trying not to get hurt.”

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Spieth on third-round 69: 'Putter saved me'

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:37 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth has spent the last few weeks talking about his putting for all the wrong reasons.

Two weeks ago when he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he lost 3.76 shots to the field in strokes-gained putting, and last week he wasn’t much better.

It looked like more of the same at the Genesis Open when he lost about a half stroke to the field on Day 1 with 29 putts, but since then his fortunes on the greens have gotten progressively better.

“I thought each day last week I progressed,” said Spieth, who needed just 24 putts on Friday and moved into a tie for 20th after taking 26 putts on Day 3.


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Spieth said he started to feel things turn around at Pebble Beach after working with his swing coach Cameron McCormick and Steve Stricker, who has become something of a putting sounding board for players on Tour.

“I got set up really nice. I got really comfortable on the greens even though they were very difficult to putt last week and this week,” said Spieth, who rolled in a birdie putt of 14 feet at No. 12 and a par putt of 35 feet at No. 14. “Any putt, I either made it or I left it just short today. It was one of those days that with the way I struck the ball, it was an off day, but that putter saved me and allowed me to shoot the lowest score so far this week.”

Spieth’s third-round 69 is his best of the week and moved him to within seven strokes of the lead, which is held by Bubba Watson.

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Bouncing back: Watson seeks a third Riviera win

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:25 am

LOS ANGELES – Yeah, but can Tracy McGrady smoke a 7-iron from 203 yards to kick-in range for eagle on Riviera Country Club’s opening hole?

The way Bubba Watson’s mind drifts there’s no telling if, as he began his day at the Genesis Open, he revisited his play from Friday night at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. If he did, it would have been an apropos conclusion after McGrady sent his weak floater into the cheap seats midway through the second quarter.

Either way, Watson made it clear playtime was over on Saturday. The eagle at the opening par 4 ½ sent Watson on his way to a third-round 65 and the outright lead at the Left Coast event that’s starting to feel like a second home for the lefthander.

In 11 starts at Riviera, Watson already has two victories. A third on Sunday could get folks talking about renaming the layout Bubba’s Alley. Or not.

What is certain is that Watson has emerged from a funk that sent him tumbling outside the top 100 in the world ranking and he’s done it in quintessential Bubba style.

If Friday’s detour to the celebrity game received worldwide attention it was only a snapshot of Watson’s Tinseltown itinerary. He taped a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage show, visited with Ellen DeGeneres and watched a taping of The Big Bang Theory. You know, L.A. stuff.

Oh, and he’s curved and carved his way around Riviera with signature abandon.

“You've got to hit shots from every different angle, you've got to move it right to left and left to right, so it's just fun,” said Watson, who also led by one stroke when he won here in 2016, his last victory on the PGA Tour. “Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look like I putt as good as the other guys.”


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He “hammered” a 7-iron from 203 yards at the first to 1 ½ feet for his opening eagle, chipped in at the sixth to begin a run of four birdies in five holes and played the three par 5s in 3 under to move into a familiar spot after enduring his worst season on Tour in 2017 when he failed to advance past the second playoff event.

That he’s turned the tide in Los Angeles is as predictable as it is peculiar. Despite Watson’s record at the Genesis Open, Riviera wouldn’t seem to be the tonic for all that ails Bubba.

Ask a player - any player will do - the keys to playing Riviera and the answers range wildly from it being a bomber’s course to the need for ball-striking precision. But the word that comes up with regularity is "patience."

“Patience and pretty much just not being stupid, to be honest,” Justin Thomas said when asked the key to his third-round 67 that left him tied for eighth place. “Just stop trying to hit at pins with 5-irons and 6-irons, and when I hit in the rough, realize just try to make a par. When I get in places, when I'm out of position, realize that sometimes even bogey is what I need to make.”

While that thought dovetails with conventional wisdom, Watson’s not exactly known for his patience.

“Oh, for sure I do. Haven't you seen me in the last 12 years?” Watson laughed when asked if he had patience on the course. “The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have. The tougher the shot, I've been able to focus better. When I get my mind on something, I can focus and do pretty well at the game of golf.”

While Bubba drifts between artist and antagonist with ease, both on and off the golf course, his primary challenge on Sunday is the picture of thoughtful composure.

Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the Tour last season after struggling with back issues for years, began the third round with a share of the lead but quickly faded on the front nine. He rallied on the closing loop with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 18, where he capped his day with a 54-footer that assured him a spot in Sunday’s final threesome. Although he’s just 25 and playing his first full season on Tour, Cantlay’s approach to the game is patently different from Watson’s.

“I feel like if I can just engage and not worry about where I am on a particular hole or what's going on and I just engage and stay present in whatever I'm doing at that particular time, it all turns out better than what you would expect,” explained Cantlay, who attended nearby UCLA and played dozens of practice rounds at Riviera. “Making sure you stay present and having that confidence in yourself that if you just click in and focus, it all will be good and that's kind of the head space I'm in.”

It will be a clash of wildly contrasting styles on Sunday – Watson, who admitted he “(doesn’t) focus very well,” and Cantlay, whose approach to the mental side of the game borders on the clinical.

One player relishes the challenge of hyper-focus, the other is Bubba, but that’s not to say Watson is void of patience, only that he needs to be properly motivated.

“Like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn't, so it worked out,” Watson smiled.

And besides, T-Mac can’t bomb it like Bubba.