A Shorter Season an Opportunity to See the World
Mickelson has been MIA since the Presidents Cup. He did play two more official events, although not many realized he was at Harding Park (tied for 29th), and he didn't stay long in Las Vegas (missed cut). Lefty also played the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Hawaii, but not before stiffing the sponsors by not showing up for the pro-am.
Woods' busiest time of the year came after the year ended.
From the Tour Championship in Atlanta, he went to Shanghai to Japan to Hawaii to Palm Springs before ending his season at his Target World Challenge. Woods then said he needed an offseason, so he chose to take time off during the regular season by skipping Kapalua.
The PGA Tour often boasts that its players are independent contractors, which makes the need for a shorter season somewhat curious. Because if that's the case -- and using Woods and Mickelson as examples -- then these independent contractors can make their season as long or as short as they want.
But maybe this isn't about the players.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in August that change was necessary to keep golf compelling in a saturated sports market, and the solution was to create a blockbuster finish. Whether that works remains to be seen; most casual fans only care about four tournaments each year, anyway.
If there is something good that comes out of a shorter season, the hope is that more Americans will use the extra time to see the world.
The PGA Tour is the biggest and best, if not the richest. Television now brings the stars to living rooms in faraway outposts. Still, there is no greater stimulus for growth than when starved fans overseas can watch players in person.
'There have been very few years when I haven't gone out of the country to play an event or two,' said Jim Furyk, who usually heads to South Africa. 'It's interesting to go to new places where fans haven't seen you play. The reaction to my swing is like stepping back in time 10 years ago.'
The World Golf Championships were not the answer. Even in its infancy, a dozen top Americans did not go to Spain in 2000 for the American Express Championship, prompting Stuart Appleby to needle the Yankees with this classic line: 'They're like a bag of prawns on a hot Sunday. They don't travel well.'
One of the letters Michael Campbell received after winning the U.S. Open -- the first player from New Zealand since Bob Charles in 1963 to win a major -- came from Jack Nicklaus.
'He said to me, 'Michael, from now on you have responsibilities to promote this game around the world.' And that's what I'm doing,' Campbell said. 'I think it's important for guys to go around the world and promote this game. I want to share my success with people from different parts of the world.'
Woods gets plenty of respect for his game, but also for his willingness to travel.
Don't get hung up on appearance money. It's part of the game, and always has been. Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Curtis Strange and Greg Norman all cashed in, as are Woods, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh.
But at least they go.
'I'm sure the world golf population would like to see more guys travel,' Thomas Bjorn said. 'But as long as one guy travels, that's all we need. Golf around the world is Tiger Woods.'
Why should anyone else go?
'They miss out by not seeing the world, for their own good,' Bjorn said. 'I can understand why they don't. They've got it very good here, and they get a lot of things delivered to them. ... But you learn that the world is a better place than we make it out to be. There's a lot of really good people, genuine people. You don't understand that until you go to all corners of the world.'
David Toms, Chris DiMarco, Jerry Kelly and Mike Weir understand. They traveled extensively when they had no other place to play. Toms doesn't get out much now, and doesn't apologize. He spent the last three years on the PGA Tour policy board, and believes his support should start at home.
'I've turned down plenty of money to go other places,' he said. 'One, I don't care for the travel. Two, if it's one of the weeks I'm not going to be home, I'd rather it be on our tour than somewhere in the world.'
That said, Toms has never missed a WGC event played overseas, even going to Australia over the holidays in 2001 for the Accenture Match Play Championship.
Clearly, travel is a way of life for international players.
Els had to leave South Africa, and made his first trip out of the country when he was 14. He came to San Diego for the Junior World and beat a local teenager named Phil Mickelson. The European tour schedule is so global that more events are in China than Scotland.
David Howell got a late invitation to the Target World Challenge and came without giving it a second thought. When it was mentioned that London to Los Angeles was a 10-hour flight, he shrugged.
'But it's not a big flight. We don't see it like that,' he said. 'There's a golf tournament, you go play.'
Americans don't always see it that way.
'We fully understand why the guys don't travel because they have it so good at home,' Howell said. 'For the good of the game, the more times top players turn up together at good tournaments around the world, the better it is for the game.'
Starting in 2007, they will have ample time.
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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters
Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.
Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.
In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.
Koepka is expected to miss the next 8-12 weeks.
“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”
Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking.
Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup
In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.
Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.
Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.
“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”
McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.
“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
September can’t get here quick enough.
Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.
There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.
In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.
“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”
The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”
Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.
Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.
The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.
The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.
“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.
Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.
After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.
It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.
Tweet of the week:
Welp I didn’t get hit by a ballistic missile today so that’s a plus! #imalive— John Peterson (@JohnPetersonFW) January 14, 2018
It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”
The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.
Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake
Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.
While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.
“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.
Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.<
DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi
Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.
“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”
Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).
“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.”
Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.
Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace).
“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”