Tour treading water worried about economy
It featured one of the best golf courses in Quail Hollow, which attracted Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and a host of other world-class players. The gallery was among the largest on Tour. Tournament officials couldnt print tickets fast enough.
For now, its a good thing they didnt print any at all.
The tournament that seemed to have it all, suddenly had no title sponsor.
The staff came to work Sept. 29 only to learn that bidding was under way between Citigroup and Wells Fargo to acquire the banking operations of Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia, which earlier this year signed a contract extension with the PGA Tour through 2014.
On Friday, federal antitrust regulators cleared Wells Fargos $11.7 billion acquisition of Wachovia Corp., capping a weeklong battle for the bank.
Tickets were within five days of being printed when we stopped the presses, tournament director Kym Hougham said.
It was a troubling development for a sport that relies heavily on corporate support, with 11 title sponsors and three presenting sponsors coming from the financial services industry, each paying anywhere from $6 million to $12 million a year.
The Charlotte tournament expects to continue, with the contract assumed by Wells Fargo. In a similar case this year, Hewlett-Packard acquired Electronic Data Systems and took over title sponsorship of the Byron Nelson Championship in Dallas.
We know the tournament will happen, Hougham said. Well still sell out the tournament, but it may be later than normal.
Likewise, golf might be off the hook in the short term. All of its tournaments have sponsorship deals through 2010, with some of the deals through 2012 and others, like Wachovia, signed through 2014.
Its the long term that concerns PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
We have a lot of customers and sponsors in economic sectors that are impacted negatively by the volatility in the economy, Finchem said. Thus far, we have not suffered any major damage. But clearly, if the instability were to continue for a sustained period of time, we will have real challenges.
Some tournaments already are feeling the effects of an economic downturn in the second tier of sponsorships.
The 2009 season starts in Hawaii with the Mercedes-Benz Championship at Kapalua, where tournament host Gary Planos said costs are up, revenue is flat and sponsorship sales have been weak. Then its off to Honolulu for the Sony Open, which already is feeling the pinch.
We had six to eight sponsors that went away abruptly, some who had been with us for years, tournament director Ray Stosik said. We thought they would continue, but the economy forced them to make drastic changes.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational at the end of March, which has MasterCard as a presenting sponsor through 2012, has three associate sponsors. One of them, which tournament director Scott Wellington declined to identify, had to pull out.
I firmly believe well come out of it, Wellington said. But well take a hit next year.
Then there are sports agents, who usually spend October and November trying to find new endorsement deals for their players or renewing the ones they have. In many cases, they are told to call back later.
This year feels a little like it did right after 9-11, said Rocky Hambric of Dallas-based Hambric Sports Management. Its not so much, Were not interested. Its more like, We dont really want to do anything right now. Deals weve been working on for six months that we thought wed be agreeing to in October, they want to see where the bottom is before they decide.
The future is even more muddled on the LPGA.
Two tournaments already were gone before the Wall Street meltdown ' the Fields Open in Hawaii and the Ginn Tribute in South Carolina, a sponsorship that leaned heavily on real estate. Ginn consolidated its two LPGA events to one outside Orlando, Fla.
SemGroup sponsored an event in Tulsa, Okla., but it filed for bankruptcy in the spring. Safeway, which sponsored tournaments in Phoenix and Portland, Ore., also consolidated and now has only the Portland event. The LPGA, which doesnt nearly have the financial strength of the PGA Tour, said it might have to run a Phoenix event with its own money.
About one-third of the LPGA sponsorship deals are up for renewal this year.
We are reasonably confident in next years schedule being similar to this years schedule in number of events and level of prize money, said Chris Higgs, senior vice president of tournament business affairs. Theres still a couple of things to be concluded.
Kapalua, the only resort to host the PGA Tour and LPGA, has no title sponsor its first year with the LPGA.
Its difficult right now, Planos, the tournament host, said. Its been difficult all year. We looked quite a bit, but the right partnership hasnt come about. Well sponsor it ourselves, showing the beauty of Kapalua. The best way of selling it is to show how well we run it.
Finchem said about 15 tournaments have sponsorship deals that expire next year. One of them is the Deutsche Bank Championship, one of the playoff events for the FedEx Cup. Even before the credit crisis, trouble was looming, and it was clear the tour caught a break with the structure of its contracts.
The good news is, the deals for four- to six-years are signed, said Seth Waugh, CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas. Im a little more optimistic that well get through this. But if the contracts were not signed, youd lose a lot of folks.
Finchem is equally optimistic that were going to dodge major bullets.
His tenure has been blessed by good timing. The first big TV contract was negotiated after 21-year-old Tiger Woods won the Masters. The second was finished in the summer of 2001, two months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Purses continued to rise with the creation of the FedEx Cup, which pays a $35 million bonus pool each year.
For now, trouble is in an area not so obvious to the casual observer.
Were getting pecked by lots of little things, as we always are in a recession, Finchem said. If this thing goes all the way through 09, and we start losing sponsors, it might be different.
Turnover in sponsorship is nothing new on the PGA Tour. Five years ago, a dozen tournaments had different title sponsors. Neal Pilson, a TV consultant and former president of CBS Sports, once said the health of the tour is best defined by the waiting list of title sponsors.
Its a short list at best right now.
The Tour could not find a replacement sponsor for the tournament in Atlanta, which lost its spot on the spring schedule to the Valero Texas Open next year. Tampa Bay was on the verge of going away until Transitions Optical stepped in.
Through it all, golf was without its biggest star for all but about three months. Woods had surgery on his knee twice this year, the last one after winning the U.S. Open in June. Even Woods doesnt know when he can return in 2009.
Him not playing and the economy taking a downturn, its a punch in the gut, said Greg McLaughlin, who runs the AT&T National and the unofficial Chevron World Challenge, both hosted by Woods.
For now, the real victim could be charity.
PGA Tour events crossed the $1 billion mark two years ago in charitable giving, its hallmark. How much a tournament raises for local charities depends largely on the secondary tiers of sponsorship ' sky boxes, corporate packages, pro-ams.
When you look at it, the appearance that all these events have title sponsors is accurate, McLaughlin said. Look underneath the covers and find out about secondary sponsors.
The Shell Houston Open not only is starting its renewal contracts with such sponsors, but officials are still recovering from Hurricane Ike. It has solid title sponsorship, but tournament director Steve Timms said every tournaments biggest concern is corporate hospitality. In tough economic times, discretionary money is the first to go.
The psychology of this thing is that even if business is doing OK, you should go ahead and cut back, Timms said. Weve just completed our budget process. Well keep it even with 08 numbers. Well be pleased if we get that, and that may be aggressive.
Prize money comes primarily from title sponsorship and TV contracts. The only sting players might feel ' particularly those outside of the top 50 ' are personal endorsements. Hambric said he was thrilled to get Justin Leonards deal with Nike renewed in August.
But he worries about the long term, like everyone else.
If we went into something like a depression, sports marketing is not going to be the last thing to go, Hambric said. For a lot of companies, it might be the first thing to go ' and the last thing to come back.
Day finishes strong, leads Aussie Open by one
Jason Day birdied three of his final five holes to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand in Sydney:
Leaderboard: Day (-10), Lucas Herbert (-9), Jonas Blixt (-7), Matt Jones (-7), Cameron Smith (-6), Rhein Gibson (-5), Anthony Quayle (-5)
What it means: Day has a great shot at his first victory – in his final start – in 2017. It’s been a frustrating campaign for Day, who has dropped to 12th in the Official World Golf Ranking. A win this week, in his native Open, would be a huge boost as he embarks on the 2018 season.
Round of the day: Day’s 2-under 69 wasn’t the lowest of the day, but it was the most important. Day parred his first 13 holes before birdies on Nos. 14 and 15. He bogeyed the 17th, but finished with a birdie at the par-5 18th for the outright lead.
Best of the rest: Blixt’s 66 put him in position to win. Meanwhile, Japanese amateur Takumi Kanaya shot the low round of the day, a 6-under 65, to reach 4 under for the tournament.
Biggest disappointment: No one really blew it on Saturday, but Jordan Spieth was unable to make a move. His 1-under 70 has him eight shots off the lead. Herbert managed an even-par 71 but he had a two-stroke lead until an errant tee shot at the par-3 11th. Speaking of which …
Shot of the day: Not every Shot of the Day is a great shot. Herbert made a long birdie putt on the eighth and was two clear of the field through 10 holes. But he hit his tee shot long at the 11th and was not able to find it. He had to re-tee, made double bogey and lost his advantage. He’s now chasing a major champion in the final round.
Spieth stalls on Moving Day at Australian Open
Moving Day? Not so much for Jordan Spieth in Round 3 of the Emirates Australian Open.
Spieth, the defending champion and also a winner in 2014, continued to struggle with his putter, shooting 1-under 70 on Saturday at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney.
“I was leaving them short yesterday and today it was kind of misreading, over-reading. I missed a lot of putts on the high side – playing wind or more break,” he said. “I just really haven’t found a nice marriage between line and speed to get the ball rolling.”
The world No. 2 started the day eight off the pace and was unable to make a charge. He had three birdies and two bogeys, including a 4 at the par-5 finishing hole.
Spieth praised his ball-striking in the wind-swept conditions, but lamented his putting, which has hampered him throughout the week.
“Ball-striking’s been fantastic. Just gotta get the putts to go,” he said.
Spieth, who is scheduled to compete in next week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, is still holding out hope for a third title in four years at this event. He fired a brilliant 63 in very windy conditions to prevail in ’14.
“Tomorrow is forecasted as even windier than today so you can still make up a lot of ground,” he said. “A few years ago I shot a final round that was a nice comeback and anything like that tomorrow can still even be enough to possibly get the job done.”
South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team
South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.
Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.
Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.
Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.
So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.
Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.
The fourball results:
LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.
LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def. Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.
LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.
KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.
LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee
LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.
NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.
Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer
In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.
The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.
Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.
“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”
Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.
Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.
This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.
Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.
Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.
The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.
Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”
Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”
The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.
First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.
“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”
A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.
“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.
For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.
Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.
“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”
Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?
“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”
Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.
Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.
Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.
Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.
“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”
Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.
While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.