Notes Careful for What You Ask Q-School Update
Finchem outlined some bold goals at 'Golf 20/20: Vision for the Future.' One of them was aimed at the NFL.
'We should consider as our first goal to become the No. 1 sport in fan base, surpassing the NFL by the year 2020 and reaching 177 million fans,' he said in November 2000.
He has 14 years left, but the goal looked more out of reach when the PGA TOUR revamped its schedule and one of the reasons was to avoid competition with the NFL. Finchem either underestimated the power of football or overestimated the mainstream popularity of golf.
The next commissioner who might fall into that trap is LPGA boss Carolyn Bivens.
During a news conference last week at Trump International, the commissioner talked about moving the LPGA into the mainstream, then defined what she considers her peer groups. She mentioned the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball, NHL -- then pausing for effect -- 'and yes, the PGA TOUR.'
The LPGA Tour is arguably the best women's sports organization because it has succeeded on its own for more than 50 years without any outside help, the way the WNBA leans on the NBA, for example. To compare it with the PGA TOUR was not a fair fight.
But if that's what she wants ...
The total prize money on the LPGA Tour this year was about $54 million. Total prize money on the PGA TOUR was $260 million.
The PGA TOUR will get about $1 billion from its six-year contract with the television networks next year, along with a 15-year deal with The Golf Channel to broadcast weekday rounds. The LPGA Tour has to buy most of its television time, and some tournaments could not be found anywhere on TV.
There were a record 11 millionaires on the LPGA Tour this year. The PGA TOUR had 93.
And the list goes on.
Five years ago, Ty Tryon became the youngest player to earn a PGA TOUR card when he made it through all three stages of Q-school at age 17.
Tryon would be a senior in college had he stayed an amateur, and it's safe to say he has endured a hard education. He again failed to make it past the second stage of Q-school last week, finishing last in Dade City, Fla.
Youth was not served in other qualifiers.
Casey Wittenberg, who left Oklahoma State two years ago and tried to earn his card through sponsors' exemptions, has yet to get his card. He bogeyed five of his last six holes in Panama City, Fla., and missed advancing by one shot.
Former PGA winners didn't have much luck. David Gossett, Len Mattiace, Neal Lancaster and Chris Smith failed to reach the final stage.
Among those who did well were Anthony Kim, who was medalist in McKinney, Texas; and Jason Day of Australia, who was medalist at the qualifier in Beaumont, Calif.
The six-round final stage starts Nov. 29 in Palm Desert, Calif.
Steven Bowditch attributed his dismal showing on the PGA TOUR to clinical depression. After getting a report from his doctor, the PGA TOUR is ready to give him another chance.
The tour has offered Bowditch a minor medical exemption, meaning he will have five tournaments next year to earn the equivalent of No. 125 on the money list ($660,898). The Australian will need to earn $649,708, for he made only two cuts in his 24 starts, finishing 76th in the Reno-Tahoe Open and 78th in the Southern Farm Bureau Classic.
It is believed to be the first time a player was granted a medical exemption without physical injury.
Bowditch had only two rounds in the 60s. He withdrew twice and was disqualified four times while going 0-for-14 in paychecks at the start of the year. But he appears to be gaining control of his health. He tied for seventh last week in the Australian Open.
His next big event will be Q-school in two weeks in California, where he will try to earn his card in case he struggles in his five events under the medical exemption.
LOST YEAR, BUT NO LOST CLAUSE
Mark Wilson agreed to donate a percentage of his PGA TOUR earnings this year to the MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer). Wilson finished 156th on the money list, and he was to donate $9,800.
Instead, Wilson and his wife Amy gave $30,000, the highest donation by an athlete in the 30-year history of the MACC Fund.
'The greatness of Mark Wilson extends far beyond the golf course,' MACC Fund executive director John Cary said.
Wilson could use some greatness on the golf course next week. He goes to the final stage of Q-school, trying to earn back his card.
END OF THE DEBATE
Scott Verplank was asked for his thoughts on the new Ryder Cup selection process, and was told that points were only available next year in the majors.
Digesting this for a second, he asked, 'Is The Players Championship a major?'
One point for every $1,000 will be awarded at the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.
Another pause from Verplank.
'Well, I guess that confirms it then,' he said. 'There's only four majors.'
Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and the rest of the players at the Women's British Open won't have to worry about any 'No Women Allowed' signs greeting them in the clubhouse or locker room at St. Andrews. R&A chief Peter Dawson told The Daily Telegraph last week that they will be allowed wherever the men are at the British Open. 'They can use the facilities to whatever extent they wish,' Dawson said. 'There will no restrictions. And if they want any of the rooms for special functions, they can have them.' It will be the first time the Women's British Open is held on the Old Course. ... Sophie Gustafson earned life membership on the Ladies European Tour by accumulating 20 points through 12 victories, two money titles and five Solheim Cup teams. ... Billy Casper is returning from a five-year hiatus and will play the Father-Son Challenge on Dec. 2-3 outside Orlando, Fla.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Three players shot 60 on the PGA TOUR, the most in any one season, but none of those players went on to win the tournament: Pat Perez (Bob Hope Classic), Arron Oberholser (Byron Nelson Championship) and Justin Rose (Disney).
'To be a professional (golfer), you have to spend five years on the practice tee hitting balls. If you're a golf architect, you have to spend at least five years in the dirt and on a bulldozer.' -- Robert Trent Jones Jr., on Tiger Woods getting into the golf course design business.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.
Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.
Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.
So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.
How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:
1. Stay healthy
So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.
Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.
Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.
2. Figure out his driver
Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.
That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.
In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.
Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron.
Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”
That won’t be the case at Augusta.
3. Clean up his iron play
As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.
At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.
Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.
That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.
Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”
4. Get into contention somewhere
As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.
In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.
“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”
Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.
And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go.
“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”
Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.
Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA
Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.
The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.
According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.
Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.
The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.
Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.
Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.
“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.
Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.
Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”
With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.
Thomas was asked about that.
“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.
“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”
Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.
“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.
“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”
Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.
“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”
Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.
“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.
Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.
McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.
“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said. “That's what he said.”
The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.
The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.
“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”