State of the Game: It's just fine, Arnie says

By Arnold PalmerJanuary 6, 2015, 3:45 pm

In May of 1994, Sports Illustrated ran a cover asking, “Is Tennis Dying?” Of course, the cover generated a lot of attention, but the answer was obvious. While the sport may have been experiencing challenges at the time it was far from dead. In fact, between 2000 and 2012 U.S. participation in tennis was up 31 percent.

In 2014 some analysts questioned whether golf - a sport that has been growing worldwide for about 500 years - is dying. You’ve heard some of the eulogies:  Participation, they say, is down. That’s not exactly accurate. Sure, golfers are always leaving the game, but new golfers are always joining and if you ask the National Golf Foundation the churn we’re seeing is in line with historical norms.

The critics cite the problems experienced by one or two sectors of the industry while ignoring the solid results of others. For instance, nearly all of the Chicken Littles screeched in July when 500 PGA professionals were laid off from a national sporting goods retailer. The media played up the fact that the layoffs were due to softening sales of golf equipment. What the headlines didn’t mention is that those golf equipment sales were down just 2 percent from the previous quarter.

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For six years, the doubters have been describing Tiger Woods and his recent struggles as a drag on the game. Sure, a healthy, winning Tiger is good for the sport, but I think that as we look ahead to 2015 we’ll have the best of two worlds: a returning, rejuvenated Tiger and a roster of talented young players who want to take him on at his best. As I see it, there are actually two pieces of very good news for Tiger as 2015 begins. The first is that after years of being hindered by injuries, Tiger finally took the extensive break his body needed. From what I’m hearing, he’s shown real discipline in easing himself back into competitive form. 

The second bit of good news for Tiger was his decision to go coach-less for a while and re-think his approach to the golf swing. And when he did hire instructor Chris Como, Tiger referred to him as a “consultant,” not a “coach.” We can argue about major championships and whether Tiger will ever surpass Jack’s 18 majors, but what can’t be argued is this: Tiger Woods is the most dominant, most skilled player we’ve ever seen. A person with that kind of ability may need coaching, but on a limited scale. I love that idea. Look at the better players of my era - Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd. They had pros they worked with from time to time, but out on Tour, thousands of miles from home, each of them learned to be his own best coach.  I think Tiger can do the same.

Another very hopeful development for the game was last summer’s U.S. Women’s Open victory by Michelle Wie. Aside from Tiger himself, I doubt that the golf world has ever put so heavy an expectation on a young professional. Imagine that as she entered 2014 she was only 24 years old and was already considered by many a bust. Then, after a win in April and her memorable performance at Pinehurst, you could almost see the confidence brewing. I have a feeling that her win at Pinehurst changed everything for Michelle. Injuries, long her nemesis, kept her from playing her best as 2014 came to a close, but I see great success for her ahead.

Then there’s Rory McIlroy. What a pleasure he is to watch. His power and flexibility are hypnotic. He seems to be maturing from a boy into a young man and as he does so his game is only improving. I fully expect that he’ll contend at this year’s Masters. A green jacket would complete for him the career grand slam at the age of 25. I’ve got 60 years on the guy and I haven’t completed the slam…yet.

Another promising sign for the game can be found right here at Golf Channel. As hard as it may be to believe, Golf Channel will celebrate 20 years on the air on January 17, 2015. We seem to grow stronger with each passing year, something that simply couldn’t happen without a vibrant, healthy industry to support us. How those 20 years have flown by. I remember like yesterday standing beside my friend and co-founder Joe Gibbs and throwing the switch to put Golf Channel on the air. Our recollections of the birth of Golf Channel can be found in a recently published book, “The Golf Book: Twenty Years of the Players, Shots and Moments That Changed the Game” (to which I contributed the foreword). The book, by veteran golf writer Chris Millard, takes a look back at the last two decades of the game and it dedicates an entire chapter to the rise of Golf Channel.

The last chapter of Chris’ book, is titled The Next Twenty. It makes a very strong case for the future of our sport. It details the likely growth of golf in Asia and the global boost that the game is likely to enjoy as a result of golf’s return to the Olympic Games in 2016.  I think he’s right. Golf has had a couple of tough years, but we’ve had them before. In fact, all sports go through cycles. Think of the NBA before Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Think of boxing after Muhammad Ali. Finally, before we bury golf, we might want to note that Golf Channel's ratings last year were the second best in its 20-year history. The fact of the matter is that golf is alive, well and booming worldwide.

Here’s to a happy, healthy 2015 for all of us. And lots of great golf.

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

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“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.